Three university professors are resigning as editors at a scientific publisher in protest at its decision to retract research linking climate change scepticism to conspiratorial thinking.
Professors Ugo Bardi, of the University of Florence, Italy and Björn Brembs, of the University of Regensburg, Germany, launched scathing attacks on the Switzerland-based publisher Frontiers. Professor Colin Davis, of the University of Bristol, has also resigned in protest.
The academics said the journal should have stood by the authors of the research, with one saying the publishers had caved in to pressure from “delusionals.”
Frontiers staff and the three research authors, led by cognitive psychology professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, had signed agreements preventing them from discussing the nature of the complaints, but DeSmogBlog revealed sceptics had claimed the research was defamatory.
Frontiers last year formed a partnership with the publishers of the high-profile Nature journal.
Brembs described Frontiers' retraction decision as “an outrageous act of a scientific journal caving in to pressure from delusionals” who, he said, were “demanding the science about their publicly displayed delusions be hidden from the world.”
Brembs, an associate editor at Frontiers, wrote on his blog: “Essentially, this puts large sections of science at risk. Clearly, every geocentrist, flat earther, anti-vaxxer, creationist, homeopath, astrologer, diviner, and any other unpersuadable can now feel encouraged to challenge scientific papers in a court.”
Bardi, a chief specialty editor at Frontiers, said he had resigned because the journal “has shown no respect for authors nor for their own appointed referees and editors.”
He said the retraction was another example of the intimidation of scientists working on the climate change issue.
Davis confirmed to DeSmogBlog he had resigned from his associate editor role at Frontiers in Cognitive Science (a specialty journal under the Frontiers in Psychology umbrella). He said: “My resignation was in response to Frontiers' handling of the retraction of the paper by Lewandowsky et al. The retraction itself was very disappointing.”
The research paper, Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, was carried out while Lewandowsky was at the University of Western Australia.
Despite the apparent concerns from Frontiers, the Perth-based university has agreed to host the paper on its own web server.
The research analysed public comments, mostly by climate science sceptics, made on blogs and then categorized the comments as showing various attributes such as “nefarious intent” and “unreflexive counterfactual thinking.”
The categorized comments were in response to the publication of a previous paper that found a link between climate science denial and the acceptance of conspiracy theories, such as NASA faking the Apollo moon landings.
In a retraction statement, Frontiers said a “detailed investigation” had not identified “any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study.”
In the wake of media coverage, Frontiers published a second statement claiming it had not been threatened and that they had not “caved in to threats.”
Professor Davis told DeSmogBlog he found the second statement “hard to fathom, to put it mildly.”
Frontiers editorial director Costanza Zucca has told Retraction Watch there was “no contradiction between the two statements.”
Frontiers said it “must uphold the rights and privacy of the subjects” named in research, even though the “subjects” were public statements.
DeSmogBlog also revealed that Canadian climate sceptic blogger and mining industry veteran Stephen McIntyre had used quotes illegally hacked from a private internet forum to try and back his complaints. There is no indication McIntyre was involved in the hack.
The private forum was hosted by the website Skeptical Science, founded by University of Queensland academic John Cook, a co-author of the Recursive study. None of the hacked comments cited by McIntyre were made by any of the authors of the Recursive paper.
Lewandowsky said: “Are public statements by people who knowingly made them in public, subject to scholarly analysis? Or is it only stolen correspondence by third parties made in the expectation of privacy that can be used to allege malice on the part of someone who never said anything malicious himself?”
DeSmogBlog has twice approached Frontiers for comment but has not yet had any response.