The mystery of missing elements in Lewandowsky’s blog bluffery

Stephan Lewandowsky, whose field of expertise is supposedly “cognitive psychology”, has a magnificent obsession with denigrating any and all who do not swallow wholesale the tenets and dogma of the so-called “consensus” on global warming, aka climate change. His main claim to fame is a “peer-reviewed paper” that became the source of much amusement in the blogosphere – including this quiet little corner – last September.

Lewandowsky’s primary self-promotion bullhorn is a blog that is pompously called “Shaping Tomorrow’s World” (STW) under the illustrious auspices of (inter alia) the University of Western Australia (UWA), Lewandowsky’s now-former “academic” home.

Included in a flurry of posts (which he began on Sept. 3) leading up to the “reveal” of a link to his actual (but at that point still not published) paper, was the mind-boggling claim from Lewandowsky that he was owed an apology by (amongst others) Steve McIntyre, because McIntyre (and others) had failed to find a 2010 E-mail invitation from Lewandowsky – that had made absolutely no mention of “Lewandowsky”, and in fact had been sent by his “assistant”, a Charles Hanich. Talk about chutzpah riddled with self-serving “revisionism”!

The amusement Lewandowsky’s shoddy so-called 2010 “survey” (which became the centrepiece of his 2012 “paper”) provided to those of us in the skeptic blogosphere sent the poor man (and his side-kicks and acolytes) spinning downwards into a rapid whirl of “recursive fury“.

All of the above is by way of background to a curiosity I noticed in a recent post by Steve McIntyre, in which he provides indisputable evidence of Lewandowsky’s “backdating” of a post (which, coincidentally – or not – happened to be Lew’s link “reveal” post I noted above). Shub Niggurath provides a very helpful summary for those who would like the short version of McIntyre’s admirable dissection.

In his post, McIntyre also highlights the UWA’s (IMHO) considerably less than credible responses to FOI requests pertaining thereto, perhaps to “sustain” Lew’s narrative. For example, as McIntyre had noted:

On May 9, [2012 Australian Climate Madness‘ Simon] Turnill asked again for “a printout of the web server log or blog database” “or other evidence that shows the ACTUAL time at which the publish button was clicked on each of the posts previously requested”.

UWA were less than responsive. And in reply to a subsequent E-mail from Turnill, on May 22, UWA went from bad to worse:

As requested, please see below for the screengrabs of our author administration system (which in WordPress is called the “dashboard”). For your reference, The Shaping Tomorrow’s World system is a custom designed, hand coded system; it’s not a pre-existing system like WordPress. The system doesn’t automatically generate publish timestamps, the author has to manually enter the publish date and time. [emphasis added -hro]

Turnill clarified his request:

You state: “the author has to manually enter the publish date and time”. Does this mean that the author can put any date and time on a post, irrespective of when the post actually went live on the server? This does not answer the question. The information I am seeking is the precise time the posts went live on the site. There will be a server log which shows the time at which the individual files were uploaded to the http server, and were therefore available to view on the site. That is the information which I require.

And in a tone that is somewhat reminiscent of activist-scientist Joelle Gergis‘ dismissive holier than thou attitude, UWA further claimed:

The Shaping Tomorrow’s World website is hosted by ilisys.com.au in a shared-host environment. Following your latest email, enquiries were conducted with the Ilisys’s Technical Support department and they confirmed that the database server does not log individual entries. There is no further information available apart from what has already been provided to you.

When I took a closer look at UWA’s “screengrab“** of this “custom designed, hand coded” system which “requires” the user to manually enter a date and time of publication (according to UWA), the first thing that jumped out at me is that poor Lew (and other eminences at STW) have been saddled with a very primitive “author administration system”. If that’s all there is, so to speak, at the very least the “view” in the screen-capture would cause one to wonder how a user of this “custom designed hand coded” system might determine which “Category” a post should be “Filed under …” as Lew obviously did for his link reveal post:

How did he choose this "Category", eh?!

How did he choose this “Category”, eh?!

** There were five “screengrabs” included, each one showing a “Blog Date” in the following format:

Do all STW bloggers come equipped with down-to-the-second watches?!

Do all STW bloggers come equipped with down-to-the-second watches?!

If this is the “manual” publish date/time “entry” point, for STW bloggers – as UWA appears to contend – all I can say is that one could drive a virtual truckload of potential user errors through it!

So here’s the thing, folks …

All blogs use some kind of “Content Management System” (CMS) which have been around for several years. The major purpose of a CMS is to make it easy for those who do not “speak” html to pretty up their words of wisdom without having to worry about coding, stylesheets and consistency – at least of appearance. Notwithstanding its name, CMS does not address actual content per se. Although, considering the extent to which the much vaunted “peer review” process has obviously failed Lewandowsky (not to mention much that passes for “climate science” these days), there may well be a vast market for such a product! But I digress …

Given the overloaded kitchen-sink of iconic aids for an apparently mouse-dependent blogger, such as Lewandowsky, I cannot imagine that a user would be required to “manually enter” the date and time of publishing a post – unless s/he wanted to change it!

I certainly have the ability to do this via WordPress – as can be seen in this screen-capture I took yesterday of a post I had made last September (which just happens to have been “inspired” by the evidence of Lewandowsky’s 2010 – and 2012 – antics which pass for “scholarship” on his planet – under the guidance and/or oversight, one presumes, of “Professor Robyn Owens, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)” to whom, as McIntyre noted, Lewandowsky had sent an all-redacted E-mail)

And I can do this whether or not I’m using the “kitchen sink” of visual aids (which, as a keyboarder, most of the time, I don’t). Just like WordPress, whatever “custom designed hand coded” system STW might be using, it depends (as do many) on use of “PHP” – a “scripting” language that magically transforms the blogger’s content into a pretty webpage.

I have yet to see any CMS product using PHP for which the underlying database does not include a sequentially and automatically assigned post number (as is evident in the URL of my screen-capture) that stays with the post from inception throughout its entire virtual life (even after deletion!)

It is certainly used on STW as can be seen whenever a reader follows the link to an author from anywhere on the STW blog, e.g. http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/bio.php?u=22 – or even to a Category (http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/category.php?c=39)

Knowing this, I suppose it’s possible that such a unique identifier for each post is not found in the database table containing STW URLs and “date/timestamps”. But it strikes me as being highly unlikely! So my guess would be that if one requested an extract of the all the columns in the server log for each of the posts in question – or perhaps a less “simplified” view of these posts generated by their primitive “custom designed hand coded” system – one would surely find evidence of each post’s “history” – with accompanying server-generated “action” descriptions and date/timestamps.

The other interesting thing is UWA’s mention of “ilisys” as their host of choice. This host offers a whole array of features.

Setting aside the question of why UWA might have chosen not to take advantage of the package(s) and features available to them, it might be an interesting exercise for one of the Australians in our midst to accept ilisys’ offer of a “free trial”; just to see what the similarities and differences might be between those available to various levels of STW users and anyone else who might choose ilisys as a “host” for their blog(s) – especially the “kitchen sink”, server logs, and backups – “custom designed hand coded” or otherwise;-)

4 thoughts on “The mystery of missing elements in Lewandowsky’s blog bluffery

  1. Nicely done, Hilary.

    I’ve picked apart the STW html source trying to get some grasp on the “custom designed, hand coded system”. Though there appear to be a few elements of hand coding, the blog editing module is off-the-shelf open source used by many blogs, including WordPress. Example here. IFAIK, there is no option that allows the date and time to be excluded from the CMS. Of course, it can be deleted or edited post-hoc.

    And, the similarities between STW and Skeptical Science html source are remarkable.

    UWA FOI Co-ordinator Vittoria Wilkin would have had to confer with someone who is familiar with the “custom designed, hand coded system”. Since the STW blog doesn’t reside on a uwa.edu server, their internal IT people would be of little or no assistance.

    Who would that person be? I think the designer is John Cook. Did he assist Lewandowsky in how to use post dating techniques? And was he contacted for assistance in fulfilling Simon Turnhill’s FOI request?

    This is all speculation, of course.

    Hilary: Thanks, Duke. I think I’ve now (finally!) fixed your link, above.

  2. ahem, cough, cough… ;-)

    —————————–
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Announcing-shapingtomorrowsworld-org.html

    “his new website http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org is dedicated to discussion of those challenges and potential solutions based on scientific evidence and scholarly analysis.

    The site was conceived by a team of academics at the University of Western Australia, and it was designed and implemented by Wendy and John Cook of http://www.skepticalscience.com.

    Seed funding for the platform was provided by the University of Western Australia, although it is now maintained entirely on a volunteer basis.”

    —————-

    we know who some of those volunteers were, (all SkS moderators, inc John Cook)

    at one point if you registered with either SkS or STW, you were automatically registerd with the other

    • Heh. Seed funding. Looks like the Cook Design Team essentially ported over the SKS format that was already in existence. Wonder if the grant details ( amount, disbursements, etc.) are FOIable.

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