In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors.
Stephan Lewandowskay: In Whose Hands the Future? from Peter Sinclair on Vimeo.
Update: Frontiers of Psychology have hit back at criticism with a new statement on why they withdrew the paper. However, far from clearing things up this has made them more murky. The new statement reads, "Frontiers did not “cave in to threats”; in fact, Frontiers received no threats." Instead they say "As a result of its investigation, which was carried out in respect of academic, ethical and legal factors, Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behavior of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics."
This suggests that Frontiers' problem with the article was ethical rather than legal. But this directly contradicts the original statement they issued which read, "This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear," as well as statements of Frontiers' lawyer.
The authors of the statements are not identified in the paper itself, and in most cases even following the references only reveals pseudonyms. The paper does not attempt to diagnose the authors of the statements, only analyzing their words for conspiracy ideation. Papers in other scientific journals have examined public statements of far more easily identifiable individuals in similar ways.
It would be expected that if the publisher had concerns about the ethics of discussing public statements in this way they would have raised them with the authors. Lewandowsky says they did not.On his blog Lewandowsky says, "Throughout the entire period, from March 2013 until February 2014, the only concern voiced by Frontiers related to the presumed defamation risk under English libel laws."
The publishers have not made a statement on whether they did in fact raise these issues with the authors, but Lewandowsky has been supported by Ugo Bardi, the editor of the edition, who has resigned from his position with Frontiers of Psychology over the issue.