This article in the Times Higher Education calls for “an open data adjudicator to combat ‘disinformation.’”
Stephan Lewandowsky warns that academics can ‘lose control’ of their data and see it used as ‘political propaganda’
By John Elmes
June 2, 2017
Independent national bodies should be set up to adjudicate on how much of the data underpinning research needs to be released to satisfy scholarly needs while preventing its being used as “disinformation”, a leading academic has said.
Stephan Lewandowsky, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol, told the World Conference on Research Integrity that “open data is highly political” and that there is a danger that some people will use scholarly information as “noise, nonsense, commercial interests or political propaganda”, to further their own interests.
“There is a difference between evidence-based science on the one hand, and political noise on the other,” he told delegates at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. It was unfortunate, he went on, that openness and transparency facilitate science but at the same time they “disproportionately also aid in the dissemination of noise and politically motivated disinformation”.
Open science meant that academics no longer had jurisdiction over their data, Professor Lewandowsky said, and people could now “cherry-pick” the bits that they wanted for their own ends. He cited as examples the tobacco industry, which, he said, had reproduced research data after removing evidence of the negative association between smoking and health, and climate science, where universities have been “peppered” with data requests for emails between researchers and other information.
“If you make your data openly available as a researcher, you will lose control [of it],” Professor Lewandowsky said. “There are some concerns being articulated about the implications – especially in biomedical data – about letting go of them entirely and making them publicly available.”
Speaking to Times Higher Education after his presentation, Professor Lewandowsky said that “open data is terrific, but we have to be open-eyed”. He said that one solution was to ensure that the availability of data was “enshrined or agreed upon” during the peer review process.
“In some circumstances, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve made data available, because whoever says that you haven’t will continue saying that and will always ask for more; and sometimes you can’t deliver more because it would be unethical to do that. Having that established during peer review is a good idea,” Professor Lewandowsky said.
Professor Lewandowsky added that having an independent national body that could resolve disputes around the availability of data was “crucial”. “I think that’s something that would be doable, especially in the UK, because it’s a very well-organised and relatively small community – unlike the US, which is immense,” he said. “The research councils would be, in theory, capable of administering such a thing.”
In his keynote, Professor Lewandowsky advocated “symmetry” between the expectations of those who want information and the academics who produce it.
“I think we’re entitled to expect the same rigour, accountability and preregistration on the part of people who want our data for their own purposes as we expect of ourselves,” he told the audience. “At the moment, we don’t do that. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. If somebody wants my data, sure they can have my data; but why shouldn’t they preregister their analysis plan for my data in the same way I preregistered mine?”
Professor Lewandowsky told THE that applying the “same principles and scrutiny to people who want your data as you do to the people who generated them” is the “obvious solution” and would minimise loss of control of data. “Why shouldn’t they say what they’re going to do with the data?” he asked. “In fact, you could even argue that if it’s politically sensitive, their proposed analysis…needs ethics approval.”
I’ve submitted a comment:
The idea that the release of “data underpinning research” needs to be “adjudicated” in order to prevent its being used as “disinformation” is an odd one. But Professor Lewandowsky’s attitude to the release of data underlying his own studies has always been complex.
In a 2013 paper “ NASA faked the Moon Landing, therefore climate science is a hoax,” by Professor Lewandowsky, a partial release of data revealed that the headline claim of a statistical relationship between belief in an absurd comspiracy theory and climate scepticism was based on an invalid statistical analysis of just ten out of over a thousand respondents to an on-line survey. Further requests for release of the rest of the data were refused. Instead, Professor Lewandowsky produced a second paper “Recursive Fury” (since retracted) accusing me and a number of other named critics of suffering from various psychological ailments, including paranoid tendencies and an inability to reason. When this paper was retracted by the journal’s editors he wrote a third paper (“Recurrent Fury”) apparently based on the same data making the same accusations relating to unnamed individuals whose identities could eaasily be ascertained via a simple Google search. Finding myself defamed on the basis of misquotations for a second time, I requested the data, but received no reply.
Professor Lewandowsky advocated “symmetry” between the expectations of those who want information and the academics who produce it. “I think we’re entitled to expect the same rigour, accountability and preregistration on the part of people who want our data for their own purposes as we expect of ourselves,” he told the audience. “…If somebody wants my data, sure they can have my data; but why shouldn’t they preregister their analysis plan for my data in the same way I preregistered mine?”
The “analysis plan” underlying my critique of Professor Lewandowsky’s oeuvre is made clear in a number of articles at
It is to justify my frequently expressed claims that Professor Lewandowsky is a liar and a charlatan. He can begin to refute my first claim by backing up his statement above that: “If somebody wants my data, sure they can have my data” by releasing the data for the two non-retracted papers I mention above.
Should I have said what I really think? That the idea of inviting Professor Lewandowsky to give a keynote speech at a World Conference on Research Integrity intrigues me as much as the idea of inviting the champion slug in my garden to lecture me on the importance of eliminating slime on my lettuces? That Professor Lewandowsky has co-written an article in Nature that suggests (ever so scientifically) that it might be people like me who challenge his scientific findings who wrote him an email calling him a Nazi kike? That Professor Lewandowsky in defending the morality of Dr Peter Gleick who lied in order to obtain private documents which enabled him to fabricate a false document in order to defame the source of the documents he had fraudulently obtained, has demonstrated that he is perfectly capable of writing emails to himself accusing himself of being a Nazi kike?
[Declaration of Interest: I don’t like Professor Lewandowsky.]