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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Mann’

Gaming the Peer Review System, Part III: A Hostile Takeover

Mon ,26/03/2012

A group of Skeptics once managed to take over an editorship at a peer-reviewed journal  and publish articles hostile to mainstream climate science. With the help of politicians and large funding sources, the hostilities have continued to this day.

Skeptics: Science values its skeptics as they make science strong and they sometimes make valuable contributions by opening new fields for investigation. True skeptics follow the methodologies and the ethics of science, which requires they subject their work to review by their peers and divulge conflicts of interest. There are some skeptics, particularly in the areas of climate science, who violate the ethical principles of science for money and power. To separate those from true skeptics, they will be designated here as “Skeptics”. They are usually just ignored by scientists, but there are problems when a Skeptic becomes a journal editor. 

Journal editors are almost completely responsible for seeing that articles are properly reviewed and scientifically sound before they are published. Some journals, such as  Energy and Environment, cater to Skeptics such as Sallie Baliunas, Patrick Michaels, Ross McKitrick, Stephen McIntyre, Roger Pielke Jr., Willie Soon, and Steve McIntyre; who publish articles there that would not be accepted by legitimate journals. The editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, once said “the journal I edit has tried to keep this debate [climate scepticism] alive”.  Articles published in Energy and Environment are not taken seriously, but Skeptics hostile to climate science once managed a takeover of a reputable journal. An analysis by John Mashey showed the Skeptics managed to publish fourteen articles in Climate Research before they were caught gaming the peer review system.

Takeover: The takeover began in 1997, when Chris de Freitas became an editor at the reputable journal, Climate Research. There were 10 editors for the Journal and each worked independently, so it was possible for one editor to shepherd papers through the peer review process and see that they were published. The first paper  from a Skeptic, edited by de Freitas was by Patrick Michaels. The paper seemed to agree with the scientific findings of the IPCC reports, but it cast doubt at the end by concluding “this finding, instead adds further support to the emerging hypothesis that the Earth’s climate is not necessarily changing in a deleterious fashion”. Over the next six years, Chris de Freitas edited and published a series of fourteen papers by Skeptics who were interested in developing Dr. Michael’s “emerging hypothesis”. The articles caused so many complaints from scientists that some of the other editors questioned Dr. de Freitas about the quality of the papers he edited. He replied that they were on a “witch hunt”.

Restoring Order: The hostile takeover was uncovered after the fallout over a paper written by Sally Baliunas and Willie Soon. The paper reviewed the literature on the climate science of the last 1000 years, and concluded that the global warming in the 20th century was not unusual and that natural forces, rather than man’s activities were the cause. An important piece of their evidence was the Medieval Warm Period, which they claimed was warmer worldwide than the latter 20th century. But there was obviously something wrong with the paper. There were no accurate temperature records in Medieval Times, the Americas had not yet been discovered, and much of the Southern hemisphere was unknown. Proxy records from multiple sources show that the Medieval Warm Period amounted to only a small hump in the Earth’s temperature record. Shortly after its publication, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release from thirteen of the scientists whose work was used in Baliunas and Soon’s paper, saying Soon and Baliunas seriously misinterpreted their research. The thirteen scientists then coauthored a paper explaining exactly why the Baliunas and Soon paper was in error.

 All this caused quite a furor at Climate Research. Five members the editorial board eventually resigned in protest and the newly hired chief editor, Hans von Storch stated the paper had serious errors and should never have been published. Tom Wigley, who often reviewed papers for Climate Research, wrote, “I have had papers that I refereed (and soundly rejected), under De Freitas’s editorship, appear later in the journal—without me seeing any response from the authors.” All this was followed by an unusual public statement from the publisher, acknowledging flaws in the journal’s editorial process. Under pressure, Chris de Freitas resigned shortly thereafter, and papers from the Skeptics stopped appearing in Climate Research.

Extended Hostilities: That should have ended the matter, except that some politicians found the conclusions of Baliunas and Soon’s paper to be advantageous to the fossil fuel industry to whom they owed allegiance. Political pressure was put on regulatory agencies to accept the results of the paper, in spite of its obvious flaws and distortions. The EPA was unwilling to include the paper in its assessment of climate science, so Sen. James Inhofe (R – OK) scheduled a meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee to examine the paper.

At the EPW hearing, Michael Mann represented the scientific viewpoint, presenting evidence from multiple sources showing that the Medieval Warm period was not uniformly worldwide and resulted only in a small hump in the Earth’s temperature record. Dr. Soon stood behind his work and, in response to a direct question about his funding sources, testified that he had not received any funds that might have biased his objectivity. However, the paper lists the American Petroleum Institute as a major source of funding. Documents received later from the Smithsonian Institution in response to FOIA requests, revealed that since 2001  Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in funding from oil and coal interests.

Sen. Inhofe was upset by the turn of events and tried to get him fired – Michael Mann that is. At Sen. Inhofe’s insistence, the University of Pennsylvania, a Quaker University, conducted two investigations into Dr. Mann’s research and found no misconduct. A 2010 Science article reviewed the investigations, declaring “Michael Mann is cleared, again. “ Dissatisfied with the ruling, Sen. Inhofe has tried to get the attorney general to charge Michael Mann with fraud. It doesn’t get much more hostile than that. Sadly, for the first time in history, scientists are collecting a legal defense fund to defend scientists against political attacks. And even worse, the scientific opinion of the senior member of our Environmental and Public Works Committee is based on a paper that would not have passed freshman English.

 (c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Climate Skeptic Refutes Self, Confirms Antarctica Warming

Tue ,08/02/2011

If the ice on Antarctica melts, the oceans will rise several meters, inundating low islands and coastal regions.  There is a controversy about the rate at which Antarctica is warming.

The headline read “O’Donnell et al 2010 Refutes Steig et al 2009”. Wow! Steig’s work had been featured on the cover of Nature (1) when he found that over the last fifty years, the Antarctic had been getting warmer by 0.1 C per decade. I wanted to see how it was possible that Steig was wrong, but O’Donnell’s paper was nowhere to be found. My search led me to the Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit website. Yes, McIntyre claimed, a peer reviewed paper in J. Climate had refuted O’Donnell.  After wading through some verbiage about the failure of the scientific peer review process and the evils of “Climategate”, the truth emerged. McIntyre was one of the coauthors of the paper and had access to it, though it had not yet been published.

It is considered bad form among scientist to claim that your paper refutes another scientist’s. That is best left for other scientists to decide. It is even worse to do so before your paper is published. There is a prohibition in scientific ethics about making premature and exaggerated claims to the public. Apparently, McIntyre missed that, as he did the same thing in “Climategate” . He claimed the climate scientists were guilty of hiding data, not sharing their raw data, of colluding to keep skeptics from publishing, and of using the peer review process to keep skeptics from publishing. This is, for lack of a better name, the ” Twisted Science Theory”. Five investigations into “Climategate”  found no scientific misconduct. Apparently, McIntyre believes in getting his version of the facts “out there” before the truth can be discovered.

The Feud: But, did O’Donnell’s paper prove the Antarctic was not warming? No, not at all. The refutation claim is part of a running feud McIntyre has with Michael Mann, a coauthor of Steig’s paper. The dispute started much earlier when, after repeated complaints of scientific secrecy, Mann had released the raw data from one of his papers to Steve McIntyre. McIntyre recalculated the results and claimed to have refuted Mann’s work. McIntyre had a bit of trouble getting his work published in a peer-reviewed journal, but after much complaining, the Geophysical Research Letters finally published it. Shortly after its publication, Peter Huybers found McIntyre’s paper to have errors that, when corrected, led to results similar to Mann’s. That should have ended it, but the dispute became a political football when Congress intervened. Congress rejected the National Academy of Science’s offer to investigate the matter and instead chose Edward Wegman, a statistician from George Mason University. Wegman relied heavily on McIntyre’s work and opinions, he refused to answer scientists’ questions about his methods, and he produced a flawed report. Wegman is now himself under investigation by George Mason University for alleged plagiarism and improper research methods.

The Refutation: McIntyre should certainly get some credit for proving Sir Walter Scott’s “Tangled Web Theory”. However, by being a coauthor of a paper in a respected, peer reviewed journal, McIntyre has clearly refuted his own “Twisted Science Theory”. McIntyre’s involvement in O’Donnell’s work and his premature claims of “refutation” made me wonder if McIntyre might have introduced bias into O’Donnell’s methods. I contacted O’Donnell and asked about his funding, McIntyre’s role, and whether he considered his paper a refutation of Steig’s work.

The Scientific Controversy: O’Donnell was very honest and professional in answering my questions. He explained that the idea for the paper arose from a series of posts on McIntyre’s blog and the replies on RealClimate. He explained: “The paper would not likely have happened had I not been presented a challenge by both Dr. Steig and Dr. Gavin Schmidt at the RealClimate blog.” “None of the four of us have advanced degrees and none of our degrees are in the geosciences “. “Steve McIntyre’s function with respect to the paper was to ensure that, to the best of our ability, we made the best possible use of the available data”. The work did not have external funding and the authors contributed the work, the expenses, and even the page charges from their own pockets.

O’Donnell’s Reply was very diplomatic. Whether his paper could be considered a refutation or not, he said, depended on what you considered important about Steig’s work. The essence of his reply was:

” 1. If you consider the focus in Steig et al.’s abstract ‘Here we show that significant warming extends well beyond the Peninsula to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported’ – with the conclusion that the warming in West Antarctica cannot be solely explained by an increase in the circumpolar westerlies, then I feel that characterizations of either ‘refutation’ or ‘rebuttal’ are appropriate.

2.  If you consider the overall picture of Antarctica presented by Steig et al. to be the most important – e.g., overall positive trends, though not significant for East Antarctica or the continent, more warming in the Western half than the Eastern – then ‘improvement’ is appropriate.  One must exclude the seasonal analysis, however, as the seasonal differences between our paper and Steig et al. are both significant and physically important in terms of the dynamics driving Antarctic climate.

3.  If you consider the mathematical method used by Steig et al. to be the most important, then either ‘improvement’ or ‘rebuttal’ would be appropriate, though I would lean toward ‘improvement’.  There are two definite mathematical errors in the Steig analysis.  One of the errors has a negligible impact on the results; the impact of the other is significant.  However, the largest differences between the Steig et al. result and ours arise due to using objective criteria for parameter choices rather than heuristics.”

He continued,

“I always viewed the challenge as a friendly one (as, I believe, did Dr. Steig).  Dr. Steig was quite helpful in my email communication with him when we were attempting to exactly replicate his method.  Regardless of the language used by anyone, our paper is only important if it enhances the understanding of what has happened with Antarctic climate and prevents similar mathematical mistakes from being propagated.  In terms of the larger picture, the characterization of ‘refutation’ or ‘improvement’ is less important than the question of whether our paper has made a contribution.”

Steig’s Reply: Now that O’Donnell’s paper has been published (2), Eric Steig has posted an analysis of O’Donnell’s paper on RealClimate (3). He explained the differences in the two paper’s methods, gave credit where he thought O’Donnell had improved on his work, and explained where he thought O’Donnell was in error. His evaluation of the work was summed up in his statement:

” As one would expect of a peer-reviewed paper, those obviously unsupportable claims found in the original blog posts are absent, and in my view O’Donnell et al. is a perfectly acceptable addition to the literature. O’Donnell et al. suggest several improvements to the methodology we used, most of which I agree with in principle. “

Antarctica Is Warming: This reasoned debate stands in sharp contrast to McIntyre’s assertions. The exchange between O’Donnell and Steig is an excellent example of the kind of open academic debate that underlies every significant research conclusion in science. I would not consider O’Donnell’s paper a refutation, but an addition to our understanding. The significant point to me, and they both seem to agree, is that Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, is warming.

(1) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v457/n7228/full/nature07669.html

(2) http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2010JCLI3656.1

(3) http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/west-antarctica-still-warming-2/

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