The Lewandowsky Ethics Switch

Lewandowsky had to obtain approval for his survey from the UWA Ethics Committee. Simon Turnill has just received remarkable information on this process through FOI, described in an excellent post here. Documents here.

The information showed that Lewandowsky used bait-and-switch. Lewandowsky had obtained approval for a project entitled “Understanding Statistical Trends”. The original proposal had nothing to do with his bizarre online conspiracy theory. Lewandowsky switched the proposal in August 2010.

In addition to Simon’s points, note that Lewandowsky stated the following in his ethics proposal:

Because I am interested in soliciting opinions also from those folks, I would like to withhold my name from the survey as I fear it might contaminate responding”

Nonetheless, Lewandowsky’s name was prominently displayed at some of the anti-skeptic blogs. Lewandowsky’s fears that the survey would be contaminated seem to have been justified.


  1. kim
    Posted Oct 11, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Permalink

    Hide the pumpkin under the thimble.

  2. Skiphil
    Posted Oct 11, 2012 at 11:15 PM | Permalink

    “modified slightly” (according to Lewandowsky’s amendment letter) would not seem to be at all accurate in describing a survey that would no longer be about “understanding statistical trends”

    UWA may well bend over backwards to accommodate its errant professor’s behavior, but such dramatic shift in the purpose and details of the study probably should have required a new ethics approval. What Lewandowsky actually did differs dramatically from the original approved study, and the amendment letter is inaccurate in describing the changes.

  3. Posted Oct 11, 2012 at 11:38 PM | Permalink

    One of the standard questions on the application to the Ethics Committee is:

    Does recruitment involve the circulation/publication of an advertisement, circular, letter, email list, bulletin etc.

    Lewandowsky’s answer was “No”.

    So, not only did Lewandowsky “bait and switch” his “study”, he subsequently switched his bait to cover up his deception in the “recruitment” emails he had previously declared he wasn’t going to “circulate”.

    Perhaps it was this particular provision that he chose to mis-read when he was initially hiding behind the ethics committee to avoid disclosing the skeptic sites to which he had “circulated” a virtual invitation to participate.

    In light of all this, his insistence – during the course of his post “publication” diversions – that those who did receive “his” invite (as opposed to one from Charles Hanich, whose name he knew had used in order to deceive the recipients) owed him an apology, is almost beyond belief.

    Amazing. Simply amazing.

  4. Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM | Permalink

    Check the Turnill site; an update has surfaced
    Were two studies done? Seems the grant was repurposed.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  5. tlitb1
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 12:53 AM | Permalink

    Wow! On Stilts. I would suggest to anyone to do what I did any just click on the documents link and following the pdf email history from the bottom up.

    What you see starts with a dry painstaking record involving an application with tick boxes and dry exchanges on what looks like a moderately interesting paper that involves getting people to estimate extrapolate graphs of climate data disguised as share prices to no doubt give some plausible way to examine comparative thinking and expectation bias. An application referenced RA/4/1/4007. Note that number.

    That number is the same used to the top of the exchange and after following it I think it should be self evident that something disturbing has happened to anyone claiming any care about “ethics”.

    Looking forward to the ensuing wordsmithing from down under 😉

  6. Bob Koss
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 1:25 AM | Permalink

    Here is the Turnill update mentioned by Keith D.

    UPDATE: Bizarrely, a paper exists which is roughly in accordance with the original ethics application:

    “In a large experiment, participants extrapolated global climate data, presented graphically either as share prices or temperatures.” (Link)

    So it looks (allegedly) as if Lewandowsky, having completed the paper for which the approval was sought, submitted an amendment to that same ethics application in order to then use it a second time for a completely different paper.

    • A. Scott
      Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM | Permalink

      Re: Bob Koss (Oct 12 01:25),

      If indeed he did do the other paper as noted – then his application for an “amendment to the procedure for RA/4/1/4007” for this entirely new work is, notwithstanding all the other issues, both grossly unethical and snip

  7. sHx
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 3:21 AM | Permalink

    It should be noted that Lewandowsky already produced a paper, entitled “Popular consensus: Climate change set to continue”, which appears to be directly related to his initial application to the UWA Ethics Committee. The abstract:

    Most domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions cause anthropogenic global warming (AGW), reflected in increased global temperatures during every decade since 1970. Notwithstanding, some public figures have claimed that warming stopped in 1998. In a large experiment (N = 200), participants extrapolated global climate data, presented graphically either as share prices or temperatures. Irrespective of attitudes towards AGW or presentation format, people judged the trend to be increasing, suggesting that presentation of climate data can counter claims that warming has stopped.”

    I noted this paper at the tail end of Bishop Hill’s ‘Opengate’ thread with these remarks: Facts be damned. Presentation and perception is the king in winning the CAGW debate, or so the tree-hutters have been told by their cohorts in the academia.

  8. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 3:21 AM | Permalink

    I seek to make a small variation to the question in the grant application papers ‘It seems like the criminals and welfare cheats get all the breaks, while the average person picks up the tab.’ I seek the change because I want to keep the questions hypothetical rather than common knowledge.
    The variation for which I seek Ethics Committee approval is instead ‘If the cap fits, should one wear it?’
    No person above the status of Full Professor will be personally affected by the proposed change, though there might be ethical damage to those of lower standing, such as those learning about hypothetical ethics.
    I’d appreciate an overnight reply if possible, because we all know that time is money and I’m hearing nasty rumours that criteria for grants might be made tougher after I release a draft of my next paper whose title and content keeps changing, but no matter, it’s me writing.
    Free for dinner tomorrow night? XXX

  9. AntonyIndia
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 6:28 AM | Permalink

    The manager of UWA’s Human Research Ethics Office, Mr.John Peterstone seems to be lawyer:

  10. bernie1815
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 7:54 AM | Permalink

    There seem to be parallels here to loose way UEA enforced research standards wrt Jones, Briffa et al. and the way IPCC enforced its standards wrt to the inclusion of papers and responses to review comments. The rules are there apparently to stop those with whom one disagrees not to ensure standards or integrity.

  11. RC Saumarez
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Permalink

    Having done invasive clinical (cardiology) trials, I find this whole thing bizarre.

    In Medicine, the ethics committee is expected to decide whether a proposed trial is, at first sight, rigorous, whether it imposes risk on a patient participating in the trial, if the risks are acceptable in relation to the question being asked and whether the patient has sufficient information to make an informed consent.

    In the context of this trial, did the committee ask if the trial design was rigorous? Presumably it carries no risk to the participant. The final question of informed consent seems to be highly dubious – were the participants aware of the structure of the “trial” and the way in which it should be used. To modify an ethics proposal in the way described for a clinical trial would be regarded as highly unethical and, if it was modified so that the risks were altered, the proponent would be disciplined.

    One could argue that Prof L’s trial was nonsense and it did no harm, thereby excusing him, but in a wider ethical sense it does immense harm in trying to discredit people and their views by an underhand method.

  12. Skiphil
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 12:48 PM | Permalink

    Here’s an argument that should be considered and developed further (adapted from my comment at WUWT):

    Research on human subjects is much more sensitive when/if there is any potential harm to participants. “Harm” introduces higher standards of scrutiny and hurdles to clear for a study to be ethically acceptable. Experimental trials of life-saving drugs may be justified more readily than spurious* psychology studies, even if risk or harm in the latter may be judged to be minor.

    *truly a “spurious” study should not be ethically justifiable at all, since it is a waste of subjects’ time and attention

    Lewandowsky & co. will say they can’t “harm” anonymous survey participants. BUT, if the purpose and procedure of the study is shown to be unscientific propaganda, designed to smear “skeptic” participants (and of course skeptics far and wide, but research ethics tends to focus on the well-being of study participants), then in fact the study serves to harm (some of) the participants. This is particularly problematic if there is undisclosed harm without benefits (e.g., as in medical benefit to patient).

    Related to harm, how can there be genuine “informed consent” if skeptic survey-takers aren’t informed that the purpose of the survey is propagandistic, to ridicule and marginalize them?

    The steps of the argument (this is just a preliminary sketch, not a complete and rigorous argument) are as follows:

    * Survey/study is badly designed for tendentious purposes
    * Even aside from issues about faked responses or insufficient skeptic responses, presumably some real “skeptics” participate.
    * Real (undisclosed) purpose of the survey is to (falsely) tell the world that said skeptics are nutters who believe the moon landings were a hoax and other conspiracy theories.
    * Skeptic participants are harmed by participation in a dubious unscientific survey designed to discredit their judgment, cognitive competence, and ability to participate in democratic public life.

    Can anonymous survey participants be “harmed”? Certainly their interests can be harmed, if a deceptive study is used to smear them. Even though they are never named, they know they took the survey and the resulting study seeks to marginalize their credibility and participation in public life and decision-making.

  13. Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

    There’s a new paper by Lewandowsky et al at
    entitled: ”Misinformation and Its Correction
    Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing”
    John Cook is part of the “et al”.

    • pjm
      Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 2:12 AM | Permalink

      It is an interesting article. Unfortunately it doesn’t say much about strategies which a person can apply to themselves in order to overcome their own, sometimes unconscious, biases.

      • Geoff Sherrington
        Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 6:37 AM | Permalink

        If the new paper had been available in the 1938, we might have had methods to avoid the British PM, home from Munich, descending aircraft steps, waving a paper and saying “Peace in our times”.
        Some of the example problems are surely intractable.
        BTW, In Ausralia at least, the journal “The Australian Skeptic” has long been at the forefront in asking awkward, logical questions of anti-vaccination movements.
        The author calims that retraction has a high failure rate, but I’d be happy to see a retraction and apology from the author for false labelling of the ‘skeptic’ in the main paper under discussion.
        It can be inferred from his papers that there is doubt that Prof Lewandowsky knows the difference between ignorant opposition and views that conflict with, but are intellectually superior to, his.

  14. X Anomaly
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 3:30 PM | Permalink

    The share price is gistemp up side down?

    • HaroldW
      Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

      X Anomaly: “The share price is gistemp up side down?”

      The exemplar graph shown at the ACM link, “Share Price MajorScoop Corporation” is an excellent match to 150-index, where index is GISS’s stations-only temperature anomaly in hundredths of degrees C. I used the Wayback machine to access the file as it would have appeared towards the end of 2009.

      The other graph in the documents link, “Share Price SupremeWidget Corporation”, is the same data, but plotted with a trend curve added. Interesting change in appearance which might well affect people’s extrapolations. The appearance changes even more if one creates a separate trend segment from 1998 (say) on.

  15. Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

    ‘ethics’ are for the little people

  16. manicbeancounter
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 6:54 PM | Permalink


    One minor point that this FOI release reveals is the Prof. Lewandowsky made sure that he was not connected to the requests to publish the survey on “skeptic” blogs. This was not made clear in Lewandowsky’s posting of 10th September when he demanded an apology from me (blogging under my “Manicbeancounter” pseudonym) for suspecting that he had not contacted “skeptical blogs”.
    Was this a factor in your initially failing to identify that you had been contacted to post the survey at Climate Audit? Was the University of Western Australia identified?

    Steve: Lewandowsky said that he contacted various blogs. I originally did a search for “Lewandowsky” and found nothing. Subsequently Lew said that his assistant had made the contact, so I searched for “” and located an invitation. Since Lew felt that his association with the survey would contaminate responses, the larger issue is that he was identified at Deltoid.

    • Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 3:27 AM | Permalink

      At another blog Lewandowsky was identified, and the survey ‘primed’ for the readers.

      “Prof Stephan Lewandowsky describes it thus: “the rationale behind the survey is to draw linkages between attitudes to climate science and other scientific propositions (eg HIV/AIDS) and to look at what skepticism might mean (in terms of endorsing a variety of propositions made in the media)”.

  17. A. Scott
    Posted Oct 12, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Permalink

    The original application was for a simple 5 minute in person process involving the participant looking at a handful of graphs and them making predictions from them. Further, the application indicated it would target the public at large including UWA people, and would be completed in person.

    This original project had the stated goal:

    The project seeks to explore people’s understanding of statistical trends in time-series data. If we are monitoring a stock price what do we think will happen to it in the future? Participants will be shown simple graphs of time series (samples enclosed) and will make predictions about future trends

    The completed work noted above may be similar, but according to Lewandowsky’s amendment request was not likely related to this application.

    In the amendment request Lewandowsky submitted a completely different proposal.

    They dropped the graphs altogether, and substituted new questions – on conspiracy theories, free market, and life satisfaction – identified in his request as “H&G&Kahan,” “BCTI” and “Happ&Sat” … which he notes are attached.

    However, that is not what was “attached” – the conspiracy questions from Swami 2009 are not mentioned in his amendment letter, nor are by all appearances the Heath and Gould free market questions.

    They also now intended to target “denizens” of climate science blogs, and used an online survey to collect their responses.

    He characterized his request as an “amendment” to the earlier work yet this new proposed work bears no relation to the scope or purpose of the originally described work.

    Further, although he includes apparently the conspiracy questions he makes no mention of them – ridiculously claiming the “survey will only be modified “slightly” – by removal of the core original “graphical extrapolation task” and replacing pretty much completely the survey questions.

    Most importantly he makes no mention that the focus of the paper, as we now well know, had changed dramatically … from “Understanding Statistical Trends” to showing an association between conspiracy ideation and motivated rejection of science – associating climate skepticism with the Moon Land is a Hoax conspiracy theory..

    He asserts … despite that:

    (a.) the original premise,
    (b.) the original questions, (c.) the original sample group
    (d.) the original sample methods

    … had all changed significantly … that “in all other respects, the approved procedure remains unchanged”

    Sorry – I don’t see a single material part of the original work that was approved remains in the “amended” project. I think characterizing this “amendment” as fraudulent is entirely warranted by the evidence.

    I would also note that those who defended Lewandowsky – claiming he was not advocating for the “cause” (as opposed to advocating his professional work) are proven wrong – by Lewandowsky’s own admission – stating he wanted permission to withhold his name from the survey details, giving the following rationale:

    The reason for this is that I have been writing on the climate issue in public (e.g, and my name alone routinely elicits frothing at the mouth by various people (e.g., [JoanneNova] not to mention the hate mail I receive. Because I am interested in soliciting opinions from those folks, I would like to withhold my name from the survey as I fear it may contaminate responding.

    There is no better admission of guilt, or indictment, of his harsh and vitriolic rhetoric – his outright partisan cause advocacy – than his own admission and words, and his noting the results.

    This is a perfect example why scientists when I grew up were expected to avoid advocacy on positions related to their research. You cannot be an advocate and the dispassionate researcher and relator of science both.

    That the ethics office jokes about this shows how deeply flawed the system as it stands has become.

    • tktom
      Posted Oct 14, 2012 at 6:16 AM | Permalink

      A. Scott – Excellent summary of the issue here

    • Watchman
      Posted Oct 15, 2012 at 8:51 AM | Permalink

      Probably worth noting that the Ethics Committee were probably making their judgement on Professor Lewandowsky’s assurance that the survey would be ‘modified slightly’ – it seems that someone (Ms Kirk?) then failed to check the changes against the earlier documentation (or just didn’t realise the significance of it) before sending this to the relevant approver.

      The issue is therefore that as you point out, this is not a slight modification, and the presentation seems to be designed to deliberately mislead the Ethics Committee by implying a minor change to existing approval, rather than what is in effect a new application (which would probably have had no ethical issues – the execution and analysis is the issue with the paper). This does look to me like a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation – I cannot see how anyone could fairly argue that degree of change was a slight modification.

      Incidentally, it is normal to accept academic’s word at face value within Universities (because otherwise we generate a lot more paperwork and it is thus easier to hide inconvenient facts) – so the fault here lies squarely with whoever decides to abuse this system, not the misled Officer who had to deal with the enquiry (and may not be happy to find all this attention on her).

  18. pjm
    Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 2:10 AM | Permalink

    The Lewandowsky article referred to by Bob Koss and sHx is at

    The result (last paragraph) was that

    “Notably, although extrapolations overall diff ered little between presentation formats, people’s perceptions were related to their attitudes only when the data were identi ed as temperatures; however, even for those few individuals in that condition who explicitly rejected AGW, extrapolations were still (just) signi cantly positive.”

    Put this together with the last clause of the abstract, which is repeated in the last clause of the 2nd-last paragraph: “suggesting that presentation of climate data can counter claims that warming has stopped”.

    Together we have, to paraphrase, “sceptics will admit it is warming when the data shows it” and “convince people it is warming by showing them the data”.

    Steve, you’ve been asking for the data for years. Now here is an eminent psychologist backing you up. I hope Mann and the others are listening.


  19. DEEBEE
    Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 8:57 AM | Permalink

    From Lewandowsky’s comment I postulate that it take less than two years to nurture a pair of cojones

  20. jim
    Posted Oct 13, 2012 at 9:54 PM | Permalink

    On the basis of the information available
    the ethics approval at UWA was less than

    I formal complaint to the Australian
    NHMRC requesting they investiagte/audit
    UWA ethics approval might be appropriate.
    A deficient ethics application is sufficient
    reason to retract any paper from publication.

  21. Jeff Norman
    Posted Oct 14, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

    I am waiting for the usual suspects to show up claiming that these changes were minimal and such minimal changes are always included in the approvals processes for research projects. This will be followed up with rhetorical interpretations of certain phrases revealed by the FOI request and links to different research project applications that are claimed to show support this contention but that on close reading reveal nothing of the sort. Standing by…

  22. Posted Oct 14, 2012 at 1:45 PM | Permalink

    Lewandowsky’s new paper on misinformation at
    contains an interesting detail relevant to the discussion of the change to his research proposal discussed here.
    In note 1, he defines misinformation as “any piece of information that is initially processed as valid but that is subsequently retracted or corrected”.
    On this definition, nothing said by Lewandowsky can ever be misinformation, since he never retracts anything. (Unless you put the accent on the “..or corrected”, in which case everything said by Lewandowsky is, by definition, misinformation).
    There’s a profound philosophical problem here, which deserves to be known as the Lewandowsky Paradox.

  23. Skiphil
    Posted Nov 23, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

    Lewandowsky continues to spew vile misinformation, parts II and III

    At his vanity blog “Shaping Tomorrow’s World” which has proved impervious to rational discussion Stephan Lewandowsky has two posts subsequent to ones discussed at CA. One equates Sandy to a “frankenstorm” caused by CAGW and links to SL’s discussion on ABC. The other post talks about yet another paper on his bogus survey work.

    Frankenstorm Sandy and Tobacco

    Posted on 31 October 2012 by Stephan Lewandowsky

    What does “frankenstorm” Sandy have to do with smoking? Well, quite a bit actually, in an indirect way. I talk about the underlying cognition of tobacco and climate change here, for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

  24. Skiphil
    Posted Dec 12, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

    Lewandowsky 2012 does not seem to be pending or “in press” at the journal Psychological Science.

    Can anyone find anything on it’s status?

    Lew was at AGU recently spewing to some blogger for NPR, but the great article on conspiracist ideation seems not to be making its journal debut??

  25. Skiphil
    Posted Dec 12, 2012 at 1:55 PM | Permalink

    P.s. I did not insert that incorrect apostrophe above. Sometimes the auto-correct function does the wrong thing.

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] McIntyre writes about it: The information showed that Lewandowsky used bait-and-switch. Lewandowsky had obtained approval […]

  2. […] Climate Audit by Steve McIntyre Skip to content Hockey Stick StudiesStatistics and RContact Steve McProxy DataCA blog setupFAQ 2005Station DataHigh-Resolution Ocean SedimentsSubscribe to CAEconometric ReferencesBlog Rules and Road MapGridded DataTip JarAboutCA Assistant « The Lewandowsky Ethics Switch […]

  3. […] The Ethics Application for Hoax Simon Turnill originally discovered and reported the machinations of Lewandowsky’s ethics application for Lewandowsky’s Hoax (noted up at CA here). […]

  4. […] The Ethics Application for Hoax Simon Turnill originally discovered and reported the machinations of Lewandowsky’s ethics application for Lewandowsky’s Hoax (noted up at CA here). […]

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