In March 2013 Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology in which they argued that people who reject climate science are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Their conclusion was based on analysis of the denialist blogosphere’s response to their own previous study which found conspiracist ideation to be linked to rejection of climate science as well as the relationships between lung cancer and smoking and between HIV and AIDS. (These authors have another paper in press titled “NASA faked the moon landing, therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science”.)
Threats of litigation started arriving soon after the article was published. In response, the journal launched a scientific, ethical and legal investigation that concluded the article was sound. Nonetheless, on the 21st of March 2014, Frontiers in Psychology retracted it as a direct result of the threats. Although the article can still be viewed on the University of Western Australia’s website, this episode shows how the threat of legal action can drastically curtail academic freedom.
*This is an edited version of an article by Elaine McKewon (Research Associate, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney) published in The Conversation on the 2nd of April 2014.