Tag Archives: Conspiracy

The Nunes Memo is out, here it is

This is a memo from the White House to Devin Nunes telling Nunes it is OK to release the memo, followed by the memo itself.

(At this point you may want to know about this guy, the person running against Nunes for his seat in the House.)

The memo is from the staff of the House Intelligence Committee to the majority (Republican) members of that committee, with the subject line “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Continue reading The Nunes Memo is out, here it is

Is the Trump-Russia scandal a decade long plan just now unraveling?

From the Washington Post:

The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering everything from the president’s private discussions about firing his FBI director to his White House’s handling of a warning that President Trump’s then-national security adviser was under investigation, according to two people briefed on the requests.

White House lawyers are now working to turn over internal documents that span 13 categories investigators for the special counsel have identified as critical to their probe…

The requests broadly ask for any document or email related to a series of highly publicized incidents since Trump became president, including the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn and Comey…

Mueller also asked for any email or document the White House holds that relates to Manafort…

Mueller has requested that the White House turn over all internal communications and documents related to the FBI interview of Flynn in January, days after he took office, as well as any document that discusses Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December. Mueller has also asked for records about meetings then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates held with White House counsel Don McGahn in late January …

Sources also stated that Mueller is moving very quickly and is vigorously engaging a grand jury to carry out this aggressive phase of the investigation.

Meanwhile, also from the Washington Post, Manafort is said to have offered a Russian Oligarch and Aluminum Magnate Oleg Deripaska, who has been discussed at length before, private briefings pertaining to the 2016 presidential campaign. The Associated Press reported some time ago that prior to

… signing up with Donald Trump, former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,”…

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

It has been looking for a long time like Manafort is behind much of what we see. It is even conceivable that Trump and his clan have been idiot-puppets either under the threat of extortion or out for the money. One could even suspect that Trump et al would have been essentially broke were it not for Faustian deals organized by the Russians, as prelude to Putin’s bloodless coup. Of sorts.

Looks like this is going to happen any time now:

The Argument Against Anthropogenic Climate Change Is On Drugs

First, a note on Lewis Carrol, Alice and Wonderland, and drugs. The current revisionist version of that work is that Carrol was not referring to drugs when he has Alice or other characters imbibe or smoke various substances (including ‘shrooms) and in so doing experience dramatic changes in reality. Uh huh, sure. The argument is based on the belief that Lewis Carrol did not do drugs. That argument is absurd, of course, because Alice in Wonderland and related works ARE FICTION. If these stories can only involve thematic metaphor to drug use by the author actually being on drugs while weaving the yarns, then what exactly do we expect Stephen King’s life to be like? But, I digress and we shall now get on to the point of this post.

There is a new paper by the Conspiracy and Consensus team exploring how climate science deniers, in a conspirational mode, are, essentially, on drugs. Not real drugs, just the metaphorical ones invoked when we think or utter, “What did he say? Man, he must be on drugs.” To be clear, this paper does not actually make the drug connection directly. The connection to the Alice down the rabbit hole metaphor is in the great disparity and incongruence among ideas proffered or claimed simultaneously by the deniers of climate science.

Here’s the details on the paper: Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. Synthese (2016). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6.

Click the link to get your free copy.

The authors make two key observations, and then explain them. First observation: The climate change denier community is capable of saying, seemingly at the same time, completely different things that contradict each other. Second observation: Same as the first one, but this also applies to individuals. In other words, the internally conflicting disparity of ideas does not solely represent heterogeneity in the denier community. It indicates a lack of need or desire for consistency or internal coherency. Science deniers do not care that they, as a group or as individuals, saying that even though paleo-temperature data from proxies are unreliable, a claim (which is incorrect) can be made that the middle ages were warmer than today. They can say that we can’t really measure atmospheric CO2 levels in the past, but they were higher in the past at particular points in time. And so on. The paper provides numerous examples.

The authors explain this lack of coherency by the fact that there is coherency, but at a different level. Given (or, as an assumption) that this is conspiratorial ideation in action, the deniers know (but are wrong) that there is a conspiracy at a higher level to obscure or hide the truth, or to make stuff up, etc. Therefore, any given idea, no matter how much conflict it implies with other ideas, is acceptable as long as it doubles as a finger pointing to the man behind the curtain, the deep and high level conspiracy. If an idea supports the idea that there is a conspiracy (any conspiracy, or just an unspecified conspiracy of some sort, not a particular one) then it is an OK idea.

I would either mildly disagree with this explanation, or take it one sept further and fully agree with it. I’m still thinking about it.

In dueling with deniers, one thing that very quickly becomes apparent is an utter lack of concern for honesty. One could ask the question, was honesty absent from the beginning, as a character trait of these individuals, or was it sacrificed in service of strong conspiratorial ideation? I think the lack of honesty is critically important, because this is what make it impossible, in a conversation, for the interlocutors to agree on what we are all getting at, or to acknowledge when we are going in a good vs. bad direction with intermediate conclusions or provisional ideas, or to in any way come to any kind of understanding about pretty much anything.

An honest conversation moves towards something, and that something is defined and redefined, and increasingly better understood, as part of the conversation itself. Deniers are not even moving towards a better and more coherent conspiracy. They are, rather, denying every aspect of the mainstream, coherent, consensus-seeking conversation, no matter what it is. You can test this, by engagement in comment sections of newspaper articles and blog posts. You can trick these folks into saying something that favors a normal interpretation of climate science, by simply letting them know that you are agin’ ’em, and then stating the opposite of what you want them to say. In the trenches, detailed positions are not necessarily developed and framed just in reference to the conspiracy by a higher power (the government, the academics, etc.), but also (or maybe mostly?) in simple opposition to whatever a scientist, climate change “believer,” etc. is saying.

That applies, by the way, to about everything one might talk about. On this blog, several folks who showed up as science deniers discovered a conversation about firearms, and engaged fully. And, the same tactics prevailed. I’m not sure how important that is, but those conversations might be worth a look.

This could be all about the Ultimate Conspiracy, and the dishonesty simply arises from the incoherence of the necessary arguments. Or, the Ultimate Conspiracy could be the final (and ultimate) excuse when everything else fails, and fail it must if ever the conversation goes on long enough for everyone to understand that the deniers have contradicted themselves and each other on everything they’ve said.

Either way, the utter lack of honesty must matter. The adherence to honesty in the normal, honest conversation about policy or science, or science policy, is critical. When that breaks down, and people involved in the conversation are working with other objectives, that is when you get serious problems (including post-modernism within academia, damaging political positions in state houses and national capitols, and utter craziness on the internet.) I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that disregard for honesty, or the inability to grok honesty, or something, is associated with a range of pathologies. I’d love to see this explored more.

<li><a href="http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/9/23/1573393/-Alice-in-Denialand-Mad-as-Hatters">ClimateDenierRoundup has more on this paper, here.</a></li>

<li>Graham Readfearn has this: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/sep/23/how-climate-science-deniers-can-accept-so-many-impossible-things-all-at-once">How climate science deniers can accept so many 'impossible things' all at once</a></li>

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper has this: <a href="http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2016/09/climate-science-denial-rational.html">Climate Science Denial: A rational activity built on incoherence and conspiracy theories</a></li>

And, now, a musical interlude.

A Conspiracy And Dunces? Journal Frontiers Tosses Authors Under Bus.

Recently, the OpenAccess journal Frontiers retracted a paper written by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, and Michael Marriot Hubble called “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation.” The paper discussed conspiracist ideation as implicated in the rejection of scientific work …

A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and the rejection of other scientic propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, in press; LOG12 from here on). This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking. For example, whereas hypotheses were initially narrowly focused on LOG12, some ultimately grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors of LOG12, such as
university executives, a media organization, and the Australian government. The overall pattern of the blogosphere’s response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science, although alternative scholarly interpretations may be advanced in the future.

Professor of Psychology Stephan Lewandowsky.
Professor of Psychology Stephan Lewandowsky.
Since the retraction it has become clear to me that the journal Frontiers has acted inappropriately. One could argue that the journal has been unethical or possibly libelous and left itself open to very legitimate civil action, but I’m not a lawyer. More importantly for the academic community, Frontiers has demonstrated itself to be dangerous. Academics who publish with this journal in any area where there exists, or could emerge, a community of science denialists or other anti-academic activists risk having their hard work ruined (by retraction) and, astonishingly, risk being accused by the journal itself of unethical behavior that they did not commit. For these reasons, I urge members of the academic community to pressure Frontiers to change their policies and issue appropriate apologies or other remediation. Academics considering submitting material to Frontiers should consider not doing so.

Here are the details.

As stated, “Recursive Fury” paper was retracted by the journal in association with this statement:

In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors.

According to the authors, this statement was the outcome of negotiations between them and Frontiers and was part of a legal agreement. The authors tell us that they did not agree with the decision, and were disappointed with it. The Australian Psychological Society and other organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists shared their disappointment with Frontiers’ decision with the authors. Other than that, the authors have had very little to say publicly until now (See: Revisiting a Retraction by Stephan Lewandowsky). In fact, Lewandowsky has continued to serve as a volunteer co-editor for an upcoming issue of the journal, and continues peer reviewing work for them. Furthermore, Lewandowsky and as far as I can tell the other authors have not supported any particular action regarding this screw-up by Frontiers, opting, rather, to let things play out for a period of time.

Then, Frontiers got weird.

The journal released a second, longer, and very different statement about the retraction. When I read the statement I felt it accused the authors of at least two counts of unethical conduct, and the statement indicated that this is why the paper was retracted. So, at this point, Frontiers clearly had lied once or twice (depending on which, if any, of the contradictory statements is true). Also, the assertions made in the second retraction were clearly wrong. As far as I can tell the authors used correct and proper methods for obtaining their data, reporting the data, and reporting the results. Yet, the journal makes an almost explicit statement that the authors acted unethically.

Since the second retraction incorrectly, in my view, accused four well established academics of unethical behavior, the journal had become dangerous. The second retraction statement notes,

Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics.

The source data for this paper was information fully available in public view on the Internet. The data was collected using widely available search engines such as Google. From the methods section:

An on-going web search in real time was conducted by two of the authors (J.C. and M.M.) during the period August-October 2012. This daily search used Google Alerts to detect newly published material matching the search term “Stephan Lewandowsky.” If new blog posts were discovered that featured links to other relevant blog posts not yet recorded, these were also included in the analysis. To ensure that the collection of hypotheses pertaining to LOG12 was exhaustive, Google was searched for links to the originating blog posts (i.e., rst instances of a recursive theory), thereby detecting any further references to the original hypothesis any derivatives

The search for data was later narrowed to focus on a subset of highly active internet sites, but still, all public (even if removed, as per the usual methods of finding blog posts and comments using “wayback machine” like technologies).

I’m not sure if an analogy is really needed here, but this is a bit like a peer reviewed paper that studies statements made by Winston Churchill in public contexts during World War II. Except the conspiracy-ideationalizing anti-science internet trolls aren’t Winston Churchill.

The bottom line regarding Frontiers: If you publish there, and some people don’t like the work you did, they may manipulate Frontiers into throwing you under the bus. If you are an editor there or on the board, you may find yourself unwittingly part of an academic scandal that leaves you liable in part, or simply associated with, extremely questionable behavior. Rather than enhancing careers at the same time it enhances knowledge, this particular journal has become radioactive. My suggestion: Run away.

In order to fully document and underscore the problem, Stephan Lewandowsky has posted a full description of what transpired between the authors and the journal. It is posted HERE.

A few bullet points taken from the text and modified slightly (to be bullet points):

  • In the second statement, the journal seemed to state that the paper was retracted because it “did not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects.”

  • In the contractually-agreed retraction statement, signed by legal representatives of both parties, that Frontiers “…did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study.”

  • In the second statement the journal said that it had received no (presumably legal) threats.

  • There exist public statements of individuals who explicitly stated that they had threatened the journal or had launched defamation complaints (see Lewandowsky’s post for links). Also, this claim contradicts the contractually-agreed retraction statement, which ascribed the retraction to an “insufficiently clear” legal context.

  • This legal context involved English libel laws in force prior to 2014. Those laws were sufficiently notorious for their chilling effect on inconvenient speech for President Obama to sign a law that makes U.K. libel judgments unenforceable in the U.S.

  • Frontiers revealed the existence of a new paper that we submitted in January 2014 and that according to their latest statement “did not deal adequately with the issues raised by Frontiers.”

In his post, Lewandowsky provides a detailed summary of events behind the scenes. Read his post to get these details. The crux of it is this: Frontiers had told the authors that there were no ethical issues with the paper, but a few changes might be made to reduce legal risks. Further back and forth happened, and during this time the legal liability context changed because of changes in English libel law. A second “replacement” article was produced, apparently going beyond and above what was necessary, but for some reason Frontiers chose not to use it. (They give a reason but the reason seems weak given what we know about the article and about what Frontiers was asking for.)

Lewandowsky sums up as follows:

Throughout the entire period, from March 2013 until February 2014, the only concern voiced by Frontiers related to the presumed defamation risk under English libel laws. While the University of Western Australia offered to host the retracted paper at uwa.edu.au/recursivefury because it did not share those legal concerns, Frontiers rejected an anonymized replacement paper on the basis that non-identifiable parties might feel defamed.

No other cause was ever offered or discussed by Frontiers to justify the retraction of Recursive Fury. We are not aware of a single mention of the claim that our study “did not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects” by Frontiers throughout the past year, although we are aware of their repeated explicit statements, in private and public, that the study was ethically sound.

This brings into focus several possibilities for the reconciliation of Frontier’s contradictory statements concerning the retraction:

First, one could generously propose that the phrase “did not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects” is simply a synonym for “defamation risk” and that the updated statement therefore supports the contractually-agreed statement. This is possible but it puts a considerable strain on the meaning of “synonym.”

Second, one could take the most recent statement by Frontiers at face value. This has two uncomfortable implications: It would imply that the true reason for the retraction was withheld from the authors for a year. It would also imply that the journal entered into a contractual agreement about the retraction statement that misrepresented its actual position.

Third, perhaps the journal only thought of this new angle now and in its haste did not consider that it violates their contractually-agreed position.

Or there are other possibilities that we have not been able to identify.

I just noticed that Frontiers has struck up some sort of arrangement to work with the internationally known and usually (but not always) venerated Nature Publishing Group. I wonder if this means that Nature Publishing Group has lowered its ethical standards, or if Frontiers will be made to make amends to these authors and the rest of the academic community.