FOI: Coyne ridiculous
Feb 2, 2016
Bishop Hill in Climate: Sceptics, FOI, Science Media Centre

As many readers are aware, our old friend Stephan Lewandowsky has recently published a paper in Nature that sets out his views on the circumstances in which scientists should release their data to others - the thrust of the piece being that he thinks that a favourable answer need only be given to his mates.

I had rather rolled my eyes at this and wondered if I actually wanted to give him the attention that a rebuttal might bring, so I had resolved to ignore it. However, a post by Professor James Coyne, a psychologist who works in Groningen in the Netherlands, suggests that Lewandowsky's article is just part of a wider trend in academia.

Coyne is interested in the scientific controversy over chronic fatigue syndrome, and in particular the so-called PACE trial, a controversial UK-funded research project that assessed different treatments for the condition. The results were published in PLoS One, which demands that data should be made available on request, but unfortunately, when Coyne asked to see the numbers, the authors, led by Professor Peter White of Queen Mary University of London, decided that they were not going to comply. According to an earlier Coyne post, in order to reinforce their point White et al then set their lawyers on the journal:

PLOS One is squaring off with its lawyers against the PACE investigators and their lawyers who are resisting given me the data promised by the PACE investigators having published in PLOS One.

This is where it gets interesting, because familiar names start appearing at quite a pace:

It’s also no secret that Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet has put pressure on the PLOS management to quiet me down at both at their blog site and in social media. Yup, Horton demanded that PLOS clamp down not only what I upload to their blog, but what I say on Twitter and Facebook.

Horton, you will no doubt recall, was on Muir Russell's (alleged) inquiry into Climategate. [Update: Horton wrote the report on peer review for Russell but was not strictly a panel member]

Next up it's Lewandowsky. We learn that:

Peter White [...] enlisted Stephan Lewandowsky to disseminate a misrepresentation of the PACE investigators’ commitment to transparency

...the misrepresentation being, apparently, that Lewandowsky claimed that some of the PACE data had been released. I think it's fair to say that misrepresentation by Lewandowsky is not exactly a surprise. 

And then the Science Media Centre gets involved. Lewandowsky's co-author on the Nature article was Professor Dorothy Bishop, who we noted at BH towers some weeks back as a new advisory board member at the SMC. Now according to Coyne, the SMC has been quietly lobbying to get FOI laws amended:

The SMC is coordinating a letter writing campaign to Parliament instigated by Peter White attempting to get an exclusion from the Freedom of Information Act for request for data.

Just as you think Coyne is going to come out on the side of the angels, however, he says something that shows that his position on data transparency is almost identical to Lewandowsky's:

Lewandowsky’s claim was made in reaction to the two of them being criticized for lumping those who seek the PACE data, like me, with science deniers who must be resisted...

You would have thought that a full professor would have worked out that for FOI to have general support, it must be blind to the identity of the requester. Either we are equal under FOI law or we are not. If all you have to do to resist a data request is to shout "denier" or "vexatious" then not a single datum will ever see the light of day. From White's perspective, Coyne is a "denier":

[In another blog post I will] discuss the origins of the smearing of critics of the PACE trial as science deniers. I’ll explain why we are being lumped with animal rights activists and climate change deniers, but not opponents of fracking.

Grief, some people lack self-awareness, don't they?

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