When the news first came out that Charles Monnett, observer of the famous drowned polar bear, was under investigation by the Obama Administration, I cautioned that:
- If you read between the lines in the news articles, we really have no idea what is going on. The guy could have falsified his travel expense reports
- The likelihood that an Obama Administration agency would be trying to root out academic fraud at all, or that if they did so they would start here, seems absurd to me.
- There is no room for fraud because the study was, on its face, facile and useless. The authors basically extrapolated from a single data point. As I tell folks all the time, if you have only one data point, you can draw virtually any trend line you want through it. They had no evidence of what caused the bear deaths or if they were in any way typical or part of a trend — it was all pure speculation and crazy extrapolation. How could there be fraud when there was not any data here in the first place? The fraud was in the media, Al Gore, and ultimately the EPA treating this with any sort of gravitas.
As I expected, while the investigation looked into the polar bear study, the decision seems to have nothing to do with polar bears or academic fraud. The most-transparent-administration-ever seems to be upset that Monnett shared some emails that made the agency look bad. These are documents that, to my eye, appear to be public records that you or I should have been able to FOIA anyway had we known they existed. But despite all the Bush-bashing (of which I was an enthusiastic participant), Obama has been far more aggressive in punishing and prosecuting leakers. In fact, Monnett may be able to get himself a payday under whistle-blower statutes.
I am not sure it is worth beating this dead horse any further, but I will make one final observation about Lewandowsky. As a reminder, the study purported to link skeptics with belief in odd conspiracy theories, particularly the theory that the Apollo 11 landings were faked (a conclusion highlighted in the title of the press release).
Apparently the study got this conclusion based on a trivial 10 responses out of hundreds from folks who self-identified as skeptics, but due to the horrible methodology many not actually have been such.
But here is the interesting part. Even if the data was good, it would mean that less than .2% of the “skeptics” adopted the moon landing conspiracy theory. Compare this to the general population:
A 1999 Gallup poll found that a scant 6 percent of Americans doubted the Apollo 11 moon landing happened, and there is anecdotal evidence that the ranks of such conspiracy theorists, fueled by innuendo-filled documentaries and the Internet, are growing.
Twenty-five percent of respondents to a survey in the British magazine Engineering & Technology said they do not believe humans landed on the moon. A handful of Web sites and blogs circulate suspicions about NASA’s “hoax.”
And a Google search this week for “Apollo moon landing hoax” yielded more than 1.5 billion results. (more here)
By Lewandowsky’s own data, skeptics are 30-100 times less gullible than the average American or Brit.
By the way, I have spent a lot of time debunking silly 9/11 theories. Here is one example of a science-based response to the Rosie O’Donnell (a famous climate alarmist, by the way) and her claim that burning jet fuel can’t melt steel so therefore the WTC had to have been destroyed by demolition charges set by Dick Cheney, or something like that.