Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Ethical collapse at the University of Western Australia

They will do anything to prop up their Warmist psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky and his very odd research methods

The Lewandowsky, Gignac, and Oberauer paper in PLOS ONE has been substantially corrected. I had alerted the journal last fall that there were serious errors in the paper, including the presence of a 32,757-year-old in the data, along with a 5-year-old and six other minors. The paleoparticipant in particular had knocked out the true correlation between age and the conspiracy belief items (the authors had reported there was no correlation between age and anything else.)

Deeply troubling issues remain. The authors have been inexplicably unwilling to remove the minors from their data, and have in fact retained two 14-year-olds, two 15-year-olds, a 16-year-old, and a 17-year-old. This is strange given that the sample started with 1,001 participants. It is also wildly unethical.

To provide some context, let me lay out the timeline:

October 4, 2013: Lewandowsky was alerted on his own website that there was a 32,757-year-old and a 5-year-old in his data.

There was no correction. Recall that he had reported analyses of the age variable in the paper, and that these analyses were erroneous because of the 32,757-year-old.

August 18, 2014: On the PLOS ONE page for the paper, I alerted the authors to the 32,757-year-old, the 5-year-old, and the six other minors in their data (along with several other problems with the study.)

There was no correction.

September 22, 2014: I contacted PLOS ONE directly and reported the issue. I had waited over a month for the authors to correct their paper after the notification on August 18, but they had mysteriously done nothing, so it was time to contact the journal.

August 13, 2015: Finally, a correction was published. It is comprehensive, as there were many errors in their analyses beyond the age variable.

I'd like to pause here to say that PLOS ONE is beautiful and ethically distinctive. They insisted that the authors publish a proper correction, and that it thoroughly address the issues and errors in the original. They also placed a link to the correction on top of the original paper. The authors did not want to issue a proper correction. Rather, Lewandowsky preferred to simply post a comment on the PLOS ONE page for the paper and call it a corrigendum. This would not have been salient to people reading the paper on the PLOS ONE page, as it requires that one click on the Comments link and go into the threads. Notably, Lewandowsky's "corrigendum" was erroneous and required a corrigendum of its own... It was also remarkably vague and uninformative.

A serious ethical issue remains – they kept the minors in their data (except the 5-year-old.) They had no prior IRB approval to use minors, nor did they have prior IRB approval to waive parental consent. In fact, the "ethics" office at the University of Western Australia appears to be trying to retroactively approve the use of minors as well as ignoring the issue of parental consent. This is ethically impossible, and wildly out of step with human research ethics worldwide. It also cleanly contradicts the provisions of the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct of Human Research (PDF). In particular, it contradicts paragraphs 4.2.7 through 4.2.10, and 4.2.12. The conduct of the UWA ethics office is consistent with all their prior efforts to cover up Lewandowsky's misconduct, particularly with respect to Lewandowsky's Psych Science paper, which should be treated as a fraud case. UWA has refused everyone's data requests for that paper, and has refused to investigate. Corruption is serious problem with human institutions, one that I increasingly think deserves a social science Manhattan Project to better understand and ameliorate. UWA is a classic case of corruption, one that mirrors those reported by Martin.

Here is the critical paragraph regarding minors in the PLOS ONE correction:

"Several minors (age 14–17) were included in the data set for this study because this population contributes to public opinions on politics and scientific issues (e.g. in the classroom). This project was conducted under the guidelines of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC). According to NH&MRC there is no explicit minimum age at which people can give informed consent (as per​2-general-requirements-consent). What is required instead is to ascertain the young person’s competence to give informed consent. In our study, competence to give consent is evident from the fact that for a young person to be included in our study, they had to be a vetted member of a nationally representative survey panel run by (partner of, who collected the data). According to information received from the panel provider, they are legally empowered to empanel people as young as 13. However, young people under 15 are recruited to the panel with parental involvement. Parental consent was otherwise not required. Moreover, for survey respondents to have been included in the primary data set, they were required to answer an attention filter question correctly, further attesting to their competence to give informed consent. The UWA Human Rights Ethics Committee reviewed this issue and affirmed that “The project was undertaken in a manner that is consistent with the Australian National Statement of Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007).”

The above may be difficult for people to parse and unpack. Here are the essentials we can extract from it:

1. There was no prior IRB approval for the use of minors. (UWA's review was retroactive, amazingly.)

2. Parental consent was not obtained for minors who were at least 15 years of age.

3. Obtaining parental consent for 13 and 14-year-olds was delegated to a market research company. However, the term "consent" is not used in this case. Rather, the authors claim that the market research company recruited these kids with "parental involvement". It's not clear what this term means.

4. The UWA "ethics" committee is attempting to grant retroactive approval for the use of minors and the lack of parental consent, as well as the delegation of consent obtainment to a market research company. They cite the National Statement of (sic) Ethical Conduct in Human Research, even though it contains no provision for retroactive approvals or cover-ups. In fact, the Statement does not contemplate such absurdities at all.

Every one of the above four points is revolutionary. This is an ethical collapse. Researchers worldwide would be stunned to hear of this. No IRB approval for the use of minors? No parental consent? A new age threshold of 15 for parental consent, and 13 for participation? Delegating parental consent to a market research company? An IRB acting as a retroactive instrument? An IRB covering up the unapproved use of minors? I'm not sure we've ever encountered any one of these things. Having all of these happen at the same time is a singularity, an ethical event horizon that dims the sun.

Notably, their citation of the NH&MRC page is a sham. The page makes no mention of age or minimum ages. It ultimately defers to Chapter 4.2, which takes for granted that there is IRB approval to use minors, as well as parental consent. (See the Respect and Standing Parental Consent sections.) It does not contemplate a universe where IRB approval is not obtained. It's extremely disturbing that staff at UWA would try to deceive the scientific community with a sham citation.

I contacted UWA about these issues some months ago. As far as I can tell, they refuse to investigate. It's as though their ethics office is specifically designed to not investigate complaints if they think they can escape scrutiny and legal consequences. Mark Dixon of the UWA anti-ethics office said the following in an e-mail:

"However, this project was designed for a general demographic. Surveys targeted to a general population do not prohibit the collection of data from minors should they happen to respond to the survey."

"You are probably aware that the survey written up in the article was an online survey, where consent is indicated by the act of taking the survey."

"Inclusion or omission of outliers, such as the '5 year old' and the '32,000 year old', are reasonable scholarship when accompanied by explanatory notes. However, it would be unusual to actually delete data points from a data-set, so I don't understand your concern about the remaining presence of such data-points in the data-set."

"You expressed concern that the survey “… did not even ask participants for their ages until the end of the study, after participation and any "consent" had been secured". Demographic information is routinely collected at the end of a survey. This is not an unusual practice."

To say that these statements are alarming is an understatement. He thinks research ethics doesn't apply to online studies. He thinks we don't need to obtain consent for online studies, that simply participating is consent. He thinks 5-year-olds and 32,757-year-olds are "outliers" and that it is reasonable to retain them (is he aware that the age variable was analyzed?) He thinks researchers can ask someone's age at the end of a study. This person retains the title "Associate Director (Research Integrity)", yet he appears to know nothing of research or research integrity. The best explanations here are that he has no training in human research ethics and/or he's corrupt. This is such an extraordinary case.

For lay readers, let me note the following:

1. An online study is a study like any other study. The same research ethics apply. There's nothing special about an online study. Whether someone is sitting in front of a computer in a campus lab, or in their bedroom, the same ethical provisions apply.

2. We always require people to be at least 18 years of age, unless we are specifically studyinging minors (which would require explicit IRB approval).

3. We always include a consent form or information sheet at the start of an online study. This form explains the nature of the study, what participants can expect, how long it should take, what risks participation may pose to the participant, any compensation they will receive, and so forth. Notably, the form will explicitly note that one must be at least 18 to participate.

4. We always ask age up front, typically the first page after a person chooses to participate (after having read the consent or information sheet.)

5. We always validate the age field, such that the entered age must be at least 18 (and typically we'll cap the acceptable age at 99 or so to prevent fake ages like 533 or 32,757.) All modern survey platforms offer this validation feature. A person cannot say that they are 5 years old, or 15 years old, and proceed to participate in an IRB-approved psychology study. We can't do anything about people who lie about their ages – either in an online study or an in-person study on campus – but if they submit a minor age, it's a full stop. Because of this, there should never be minors or immortals in our data.

At this point, I think PLOS ONE should retract the paper. We can't have unapproved – or retroactively approved – minors in data. UWA is clearly engaged in a cover-up, and their guidance should not inform PLOS ONE's, or any journal's, decisions. This exposes the structural ethical vulnerability we have in science – we rely on institutions with profound conflicts of interest to investigate themselves, to investigate their own researchers. We have broad evidence that they often attempt to cover up malpractice, though the percentages are unclear. Journals need to fashion their own processes, and rely much less on university "finders of fact". We should also think about provisioning independent investigators. In any case, UWA's conduct deserves to be be escalated and widely exposed, and it will be. This is far from over – we can't just sit passively given the severity of the ethical breaches here, and we won't.

Substantive note: The correction does not address one of the substantive errors in the original. Gender is the largest predictor of GMO attitudes. They never reported this, but rather implied that gender did no work. A lot of times boring variables like age and gender explain a lot of variance, and in this case gender explained more than any other. (Women trusted GMOs less, using Lewandowsky's primitive linear correlations on the scale index. It's unclear whether women actually distrusted GMOs – i.e. where the women clustered on the items. A correlation doesn't tell you this. A bad researcher would say "women distrusted GMOs" given a negative correlation coefficient, without specifying descriptives or their actual, substantive placement on the scale, which could in fact be pro-GMO, just less pro than men.)


Charter schools would boost grades in Australia: new report

This article from the "Age" was taken down yesterday but is now back up.  Amusing.  Maybe too many people noticed the deletion

US-style privately-owned public schools should be rolled out in Australia to boost academic standards, a new report by libertarian think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies argues.

Privately-run public schools, or charter schools as they are known in the US, are funded by the government and run by private entities, which have full autonomy over the schools' finances, staffing and curriculum.

The schools, which do not charge fees, could boost innovation in the sector by giving schools more freedom, and givingdisadvantaged students more choice, writes the report's lead author,  Trisha Ja.

"Disadvantaged families are not currently catered for, either because their choice of public school is restricted by zoning, or because they cannot afford school fees, or they do not want a religious education for their children," the report said.

The think tank is also controversially lobbying all state and territory governments to consider allowing for-profit private companies to run the charter schools.

A for-profit school would attract more capital than non-profits, and would run more efficiently, the authors said.

"There is no objective reason not to allow for-profit companies to operate non-government schools ... especially if they have a proven track record of successful school provision and a stable company structure," the authors said.

"Almost all other forms of education provision have a for-profit sector – early childhood education, after-school tutoring services, disability support services, technical education and training, and universities … the exception is actual management of schools."

Privately-owned public schools are becoming increasingly prevalent in the US, while similar models have been rolled out in the UK, Chile, Sweden and New Zealand.

Studies show the average impact of charter schools range from "null to small positive effects", the report finds.

But some schools have boosted results for disadvantaged students, with successful schools adopting a "no excuses" approach, with a focus on traditional maths, reading instruction and strict discipline.

Critics argue charter schools do not achieve better results than public schools, and claim increasing competition in the sector leads to greater inequality. They also warn against for-profit charter schools, pointing to evidence overseas of financial mismanagement and fraud in the sector.

Under former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, Victorian public schools were given more autonomy over budget and staffing, making Victoria one of the most autonomous education systems in the country.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said autonomy was leading to "some great local innovation" in schools, but policies under the previous Napthine government's "autonomy agenda" – which included plans to set up "federated" school councils and give parents a greater say in the running of schools – resulted in "cuts and abandonment".

Australian Education Union Victorian president Meredith Peace said the government should be focusing on supporting under-resourced schools rather than boosting competition in the system.

"In Victoria in recent years, schools have become increasingly isolated and are forced to compete more and more with each other with limited funding. This is producing a wider equity gap and a wider gap for our kids, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds."

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the federal government is on track to increase autonomy in Australian schools, and has allocated $70 million to make public schools more independent.


Soldiers of The Empire of Offence laying free speech to waste

As of this week, Coles supermarkets across Australia will no longer sell Zoo Weekly, the silly, saucy mag for teenage lads. This decision follows months of campaigning by anti-porn outfit Collective Shout, which says Zoo Weekly is “highly offensive”.

Also this week, loudmouth Labor leader turned loopy columnist Mark Latham quit his writing gig at The Australian Financial Review over what some describe as his “deeply offensive” views on “feminism and other social issues”.

This follows weeks of heated debate over American rapper Tyler the Creator. He cancelled his Aussie tour following a campaign to keep him out of the country on the basis that his lyrics are “offensive to women”.

Campaigners have been badgering the Immigration Minister to revoke the visa of this “incontrovertibly offensive American”, as The Sydney Morning Herald called him.

It’s official: being offensive is now a risky business in Oz.

Whether you’re a jokey mag for awkward 15-year-olds, a former politician angry about new social movements, or a rapper who loves winding people up, you’re no longer allowed to give offence. Do so, and you could find yourself ejected from polite society, maybe even kept out of the country, as if you were diseased.

To get to Oz, I had to assure your authorities I was free of communicable diseases; perhaps future visa forms will demand to know if I am “incontrovertibly offensive”. “Sorry, mate, you can’t come in: offensive people not allowed.”

Zoo Weekly, Mark Latham and Tyler the Creator share something important in common. None of them committed criminal acts. None incited violence. They merely expressed views that rattled people’s sensibilities. And for that they’ve been harshly rapped on the knuckles.

Australia, it pains me to say, has been recolonised. Not by the Brits but by the Empire of Offence.

Already well-established in Eur­ope, where you can be arrested and even jailed for saying outre things, and spreading like a bossy blob across American campuses, the Empire of Offence is now consuming Oz, too. And for those of us who have always looked lovingly at Australia as a free-speakin’ nation, where everyone has a fair go and the C-word can be a term of endearment, this is really sad. If even Australia can fall to the culture of “You Can’t Say That!”, nowhere is safe.

Across the West, taking offence is all the rage.

Where earlier generations might have said, “I disagree with you, so let’s have it out,” today people are more likely to say: “I am offended by you, so I want you out of my newsagents, off Twitter and as far away from me as it’s possible for you to be put.”

On campuses in Britain and the US, students are setting up “safe spaces” in which offensive words and ideas may not be expressed.

In the US, some of these censorious cocoons, designed to protect students from ever hearing a cross word or strange idea, come complete with colouring books and soothing music — I’m not making this up — to induce a childlike feeling of supreme safety. Safety not from physical assault, but from ideas.

Many students now demand trigger warnings on books that might upset them.

Students at Columbia University in New York want even Ovid’s Metamorphoses to come with a warning because that great poem mentions rape, which some might find offensive.

The kind of warning that was once only issued for television shows with gratuitous violence — “some viewers may find this show upsetting” — is now being stuck on classic works of literature.

In Europe, meanwhile, there are actual laws against offending or insulting certain groups.

In Sweden, a pastor was given a one-month suspended prison sentence for saying, in his own church, that homosexuality is a “tumour” — which is, of course, offensive to gays.

In France, actress turned animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot has been fined €30,000 ($46,800) for badmouthing the Islamic ritual slaughter of animals, which she considers barbaric.

And we wonder why we’re seeing the rise of nut jobs such as those gunmen who massacred the staff of the offensive magazine Charlie Hebdo. These guys were brought up on a continent where we’re constantly told that feeling offended is the worst thing ever, and we have the right to sue or silence or harass the person or thing that offends us.

The Charlie Hebdo killers are best seen as the armed wing of the Empire of Offence, the horrific logical conclusion to the institution of a new era of speech-punishing inoffensiveness.

And now the Empire of Offence has come to Oz. Sometimes it is enforced formally by laws, such as section 18C, which forbids “offending” groups of people.

And sometimes it’s enforced informally, by Twittermobs or campaign groups keen to shush or even send packing anyone they consider “incontrovertibly offensive”.

But either way, the end result is the same: eccentric individuals are silenced, which is always a bad thing, and the rest of society is infantilised, through being told that some ideas are just too dodgy, weird or outrageous for us to hear, and thus we must have our eyes and ears covered by Those Who Know Better. By the footsoldiers of the Empire of Offence.

Criminalising offensiveness is a really bad idea. Sure, the victims right now may be only people whom many of us agree are annoying. But we must remember that giving offence is often the engine of human progress.

From Copernicus’s then-contrarian insistence that the sun was at the centre of our solar system to suffragettes usurping of the “natural order” with their demand for the right to vote, many of today’s established good ideas started life as outrages against decency or normalcy.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”

If we quash offensiveness, and force field our societies against dangerous thinking, then we will create a sad, suffocating, risk-averse intellectual climate in which no great truths or breakthroughs are ever likely to be made.


Corruption at the Fair Work Commission

In the Fair Work Commission’s Melbourne headquarters on a warm November day in 2008, Mich­ael Lawler’s role supervising industrial relations for the health industry was dealt a fatal blow.

It was there that a high-level delegation including a senior Victorian health bureaucrat met then Fair Work president Geoffrey ­Giudice to register a devastating complaint: that his vice-president Lawler was shockingly conflicted because he had begun a relationship with Health Services Union secretary Kathy Jackson earlier that year.

Further, and of great concern, Lawler had not declared his involvem­ent with Jackson when he presided over two private concil­iation conferences on Aug­ust 5 and August 19 of that year, which included key represent­atives from the Victorian government, hospita­l employers and Jackson herself, following a bitter health industry strike.

The delegation to Giudice on November 20, 2008, at the commission’s Exhibition Street offices comprised Barbara Thompson, the director of industrial relations for the Victorian Human Services Department; Alec Djoneff, the chief executive of the Victorian Hospitals Industrial Association; and Val Gostencnik, then a partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, who advised the Victorian government and hospitals in the dispute. Gostencnik is now a Fair Work Commission deputy president.

The three believed Lawler should be stripped of his respons­ibility for the health system. They argued to Giudice that there was a fundamental conflict of interest that made it unsustainable for Lawler to retain his involvement in the sector.

They outlined information that had become an open secret in indus­trial relations circles regarding Lawler and Jackson starting a romantic relationship by early 2008.

And yet the employers and the government had been unaware of this relationship at the time of the conciliation conferences involving Lawler in August 2008.

According to other people the group later confided in, Giudice was said to be shocked and deeply concerned about the potential impact­ on the authority and standing of the commission.

Within months, the health ­sector had been quietly removed from the panel of industries overseen by Lawler.

Lawler, who recently returned to work at Fair Work after nine months’ paid leave over the past year, did not respond to questions from The Australian, sent through the commission last week, regarding the 2008 conferences.

Giudice has previously indi­c­at­ed that he was unable to answer any questions about Lawler’s role at Fair Work. Jackson, the fallen whistleblower who was this month found guilty of stealing more than $1 million from the HSU, has identified March 2008 as the date of the break-up of her marriage to fellow HSU official Jeff Jackson, with a new relationship starting later that same month.

The revelation about the timing of her relationship with Lawler — made in a witness statement to the trade union royal commission last year — formed part of her explan­ation that she could not have given her former husband $50,000 as a gift because they had already split up.

Rather, she said, she had legit­imately given the money for union faction fighting purposes.

She said that her relationship with Jeff Jackson had been over for a year at the time the payment was made in 2009.

In her statement dated August 14 last year, Jackson said: “I separ­ated permanently from Jeff Jackson on the Grand Prix weekend in March 2008. Later in March 2008, I established a new relationship and by March 2009, my relationship with Jeff Jackson was ­acrimonious.”

After the November 2008 meeting, Giudice transferred respon­sibility for the health industry to vice-president Graeme Watson.

Lawler had originally been assigned­ health and welfare as one of the industries in his panel two years after he was appointed to the commission in 2002 by then workplace minister Tony Abbott.

Under the Fair Work panel system, the president of the commission allocates panel heads — always the most senior members — and also the industries they supervise.

Lawler has been closely ­involved with Jackson’s war against her former union in recent years, taking nine months of fully paid sick leave on $435,000 a year in the past 12 months while supporting her. He tried to move her main asset, their home, into his name but was blocked at the 11th hour by the Federal Court in June.

During the 2007-08 health indus­try dispute, the HSU and employers entered a series of nego­tiations before the union sought arbitration. Several earlier conferences, presided over by other commission members, had failed before the two “last-ditch” conferences were unexpectedly initiated by the commission in August­, with Lawler presiding.

During those two conferences, Jackson, the state government, the hospitals association and a range of advisers and lawyers (although­ not Gostencnik) were all in the room.

Sources claim the second conference ended with angry words after Lawler repeatedly pressed the employers and the government to carefully consider the “risk” they took in proceeding to compulsory arbitration rather than settling matters before him in conciliation.

“He put a lot more pressure on the employers’ side than the union side,” said one attendee.

According to several people who were either in the room or who were advised about these matters afterwards, Lawler heatedly told the Victorian government representative, Thompson, that if she couldn’t make a decis­ion then he would talk to someone who could.

Lawler subsequently placed a call to the office of then state health minister Daniel Andrews, who is now the Victorian Premier. Lawler asked to speak to the minister. Andrews refused to speak to Lawler, declining to take the call.

Lawler did not respond to questions last week regarding the phone call to Andrews’s office.

The health industry pay dispute had disrupted hospitals across the state on Christmas Eve 2007, with Jackson warning the government that any non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses would go untreated in the run-up to Christmas.

Both Andrews and then premier John Brumby locked horns with Jackson as they urged striking workers to return to work.

Thompson, now an executive at Jetstar, and Djoneff at the VHIA, did not respond to questions regarding their attendance at the conferences in August 2008 and their approach to Giudice on November 20 that year to raise concerns about Lawler.

Gostencnik also declined to comment. He was appointed a deputy president of Fair Work in March 2013 after many years as a labour lawyer, where he acted at different times for many key ­figures in the drawn-out HSU saga.

A spokeswoman for Fair Work confirmed that Gostencnik had acted for the Victorian government and the VHIA during the 2007-08 health industry dispute while he was a partner at Corrs.

The Fair Work spokeswoman declined to make any comment on Gostencnik’s role in the November 2008 delegation to Giudice.

Lawler’s actions in 2008 raise fresh questions about his judgment, and his role as a senior figure­ at the independent umpire, given that such an obvious conflict of interest in presiding over the conferences was not disclosed.

Lawler has already provoked concern over his judgment, given his attempt to intervene on Jackson’s behalf in Federal Court proceedings in June last year while he was on sick leave, and his regular appearances in the court with Jackson while on sick leave, together­ with their joint efforts to shift her property beyond the grasp of the union.


No comments: