RealClimategate hits the final nail in the coffin of ‘peer review’ | James Delingpole

Cartoon by Josh

Cartoon by Josh

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep

them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

Phil Jones to Michael Mann, Climategate emails, July 8th 2004.

If you can’t spot what’s wrong with this email, don’t worry you’re in great company. Among the numerous luminaries who can’t are environmental activist and filmmaker Rupert Murray, celebrity mathematician Simon Singh, celebrity Nobel Prizewinner Sir Paul Nurse and celebrity Guardian doctor Ben Goldacre to name but four. To each one of them I have tried on occasion to explain why the corruption of “peer-review” is the issue that matters above all else in the Climategate emails. But none of them, sadly, was bright enough to get it.

Sigh.

Let me have one more stab. Here’s how I explain “Peer review” in my forthcoming book Watermelons:

Peer review is the benchmark by which most new scientific research tends to be judged. If that research is to be taken seriously by the scientific community then it must be accepted for publication by one of a fairly small number of academic or quasi-academic journals, such as Nature, Science and Scientific American.

Peer review is not a perfect system. In the golden era of  Twentieth century science it wasn’t even thought necessary: neither Watson & Crick nor Einstein were peer reviewed. But in today’s abstruse, fragmented world where the various branches of science have grown increasingly recondite and specialised, peer-review has become widely accepted as the least worst method by which quality science can be sifted from junk science.

And nowhere more so than within the climate science community. In the run-up to Climategate, one of the main weapons used by those within “the consensus” against dissenting scientists was that their various papers picking holes in AGW theory had not been “peer-reviewed” and were therefore invalid. As Phil Jones himself puts it in one of his emails:

“The peer review system is the safeguard science has adopted to stop bad science being published.”

I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you? Now let us revisit that Jones/Mann exchange in the light of this knowledge.  What we see happening is the deterioration of “peer review” into something more akin to “pal review.” The “peer review” process – at least in the debased field of “climate science” – has been corrupted. No longer can it be relied on as a guide to what is true or untrue, correct or incorrect, plausible or implausible. That’s because the scientists who control the “peer review” process – as revealed by the Climategate emails – are a self-serving claque, with rather less concern for the pursuit of objective truth than for their own vested interests.

With me so far? Good. Now we can move on to an incredibly complicated story which is causing much excitement at Watts Up With That?, Climate Audit and Bishop Hill at the moment. Some are saying its as damning of the “Consensus” as Climategate. It involves two people you’ve probably never heard of – Eric Steig and Ryan O’Donnell.

Eric Steig is a member of Michael Mann’s “Hockey Team” – the group of Warmist scientists who established a website called Real Climate, initially to rebut claims by McIntyre and McKitrick that Mann’s Hockey Stick wasn’t quite up to scratch, later to stick up for the Warmist cause generally.

In 2009 Steig et al published a paper considered so important that it made the cover of Nature. (H/T Barry Woods). The paper purported to counter one of the main arguments used by sceptics to dispute “global warming”, viz “if global warming really is as catastrophic and universal as some claim, then how come Antarctica remains as stubbornly cold as it was 30 years ago?” Steig’s paper showed that contrary to earlier claims, Antarctica was in fact warming too.

Or was it? Among the sceptics who suspected the reliability of Steig’s paper were Jeff Id (of the late-lamented Air Vent site) and Ryan O’Donnell. They pointed out that the statistical methods used to show this alleged warming were based on highly dubious extrapolations of data taken from small number of stations on the Arctic peninsula and coastline. (Something similar happened recently, you’ll remember, with NASA’s dramatic “warming” that took place in the Arctic – all of it, funnily enough, in places where there were no thermometers to check the reliability of NASA’s claims).

Steig suggested that rather than argue it out on the blogs O’Donnell, Id at el should publish a paper under peer review. So that’s what they tried. And guess which person it was who was selected to review O’Donnell et al’s paper. And guess which person it was – under the pseudonym Reviewer A – who tried to thwart the paper’s progression to publication with 88 pages of comments and obfuscation ten times longer than the original paper.

Yep. You got it. The mystery peer reviewer was none other than Eric Steig. Even in the monstrously corrupt world of “climate science” this was clearly a breach of protocol. Certainly, in no other scientific discipline would a reviewer with such a clear conflict of interest be invited to review a paper whose main purpose was to criticise one he’d written himself.

Now let us allow Iapogus (the commenter at Bishop Hill from whom I filched this summary: I’m an interpreter of interpretations, me) to continue the story:

Ryan guessed that Reviewer A was Stieg early on, but still remained patient and good natured. At one point in the review process, Steig suggested that Ryan and Jeff should use an alternative statistical technique, which they then did. But then later, Steig then criticised the paper, citing the example of the same statistical technique as an issue (the one he had suggested). So Steig has laid himself open to charges of unprofessional conduct, duplicity. And that was when Ryan decided to bring all this out in the open. Meanwhile Gavin and the other members of the Team at the Real Climate (RC) blog have gone into overdrive in moderating any commenter who ask any reasonable questions about all of this. Basically this was the evidence that peer review at least in climate science is broken.

Now you could argue that I shouldn’t be reporting on stories like this. It’s one of those “How many polar bears can dance on the head of the pin?” discussions of nuances of meaning which may be of tremendous interest to the “climate science” community – both sceptics and warmists alike – but which has little traction in the outside world.

Up to a point, I’d agree with this. The AGW debate – as I repeatedly argue in this blog – is essentially a political one not a scientific one.

Unfortunately, there are still lots of people out there – the Simon Singhs, the Sir Paul Nurses, the Ben Goldacres, the Robin Inces, and their Guardianista Twitter Posses, for example – who think otherwise.

And it’s important that these people are made to realise that not only are there no sensible political or economic arguments to support their cause, but passing few scientific ones either. If the science supporting AGW theory is really as rock solid as Warmists claim, why on earth would they need to resort to the kind of corruption and dirty tricks we first saw in Climategate and are now witnessing again in RealClimategate?

Give up, guys. The game’s over.

PS One more thing. Undoubtedly one of the best things ever to happen to the (somewhat dubious and generally second-rater-friendly) field of Climate Science has been the Watts Up With That? website. Not least among its achievements is to show the way forward after the death of “peer review”. The future is “peer to peer” review, at which WUWT excels. It has become a forum for experts from all scientific disciplines to assess various aspects of climate science rigorously and without the grotesque bias we’ve unfortunately seen so often among the “consensus” scientists at the IPCC. And now WUWT has rightly been put up for the Best Science Blog in the 2011 Bloggies Awards. It deserves your support. Vote early, vote often!

Let me have… (to read more, click here)

Related posts:

  1. Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?
  2. Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn’t know?
  3. Climategate: what Gore’s useful idiot Ed Begley Jr doesn’t get about the ‘peer review’ process
  4. The curious double standards of Simon Singh

8 thoughts on “RealClimategate hits the final nail in the coffin of ‘peer review’”

  1. Nige Cook says:11th February 2011 at 8:18 amFearless Frank, the details make it look even worse! James isn’t covering up. You’re pulling the quotation out of context, then condemning the fact you take it out of context. The correct context James use it in was as evidence for what it states: the power politics and bigotry behind peer-review, which is as much the basis of science as cheese is chalk.The quotation of the email was not concerned with the future ultimate fate of one paper, whether published or not. It was showing censorship efforts (albeit increasingly failed) by the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia.Increased cloud cover due to the buoyancy of warm humid air caused by evaporation cancels out temperature effects from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Miskolczi’s “anti-greenhouse” effect (homeostasis mechanism), its solid evidence, and peer-review censorship of facts by a conspiracy of funded climate research scientists who risk losing everything if they admit the facts.“Plausible patterns for temperature and precipitation changes accompanying a general global warming, such as might occur due to a large increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, are presented. The patterns are determined by comparing the five warmest years in the period 1925−74 with the five coldest in this period. Temperature increases are indicated for most regions, with maximum warming over northern Asia. A few isolated regions show cooling. Precipitation changes are fairly evenly distributed between increases and decreases; the most important features being an increase over India, and decreases in central and south-central USA and over much of Europe and Russia. The latter decreases, should they occur, could have considerable agricultural impact.”

    – T. M. L. Wigley, Phil Jones, and P. M. Kelly, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, “Scenario for a warm, high-CO2 world”, Nature, vol. 283 (1980), pp. 17-21.

    This is the abstract of the first scientific paper I read on global warming as a teenager in the 80s, co-authored by good old Dr Phil Jones. It’s a very nice paper, with great statistics and world-map illustrations of the effects of CO2 on the global climate.

    Unfortunately, it’s not what I call science. It doesn’t focus on the mechanism for CO2 effects on temperature. It takes that for granted. After that, all is downhill. Papers started appearing using tree ring growth rates as a proxy for global temperatures. Er, what about the effects of changes in the average amount of cloud cover on tree ring growth rates? The science is thus more and more perverted until there is none left, and you end up with the perverted curves being spliced together to give curves that are politically correct.

    You can see where it’s going, can’t you? NASA gets a billion dollars a year for climate research and has already censored Miskolczi for threatening that income by trying to publish the facts. Now, Al Gore’s film propaganda lies have converted a majority of the “intellectually elite” politicians and public into fellow travellers of the “greenhouse effect” myth (shutting your eyes to 70% ocean cover and clouds that don’t form as a self-regulation mechanism in a greenhouse!). If James tells the facts, he gets increasing hostility merely for contradicting a “settled consensus”. Science ends once a hardened orthodoxy is in place. It already is.

  2. Martin says:11th February 2011 at 10:21 pmNige Cooke, you should be ashamed of yourself!You are clearly old enough to know better. Pull your head ou of the sand before it is too late. The supposed “conspiracy of funded climate research scientists ” at UAE were exonerated… I suppose you would also claim that Julian Simons was correct to claim that humanity now has the “ingenuity to feed an unlimited population for the next 7 billion years”.If so, you have failed to grasp a few basic concepts: (i) The Second Law of Thermodynamics;
    The concept of Entropy; (ii) The finititude of the Earth’s resources; and (iii) Exponential growth (clue: even 1% annual growth results in 2 x population in 70 years).For god’s sake, wake up and smell the coffee!
  3. Martin Lack says:12th February 2011 at 11:52 amWhy has my previous unoffensive reply not appeared? Was it because I included the link to my website (i.e. blog)?… C’mon James, you at least believe in “free speech”, don’t you? Surely, I don’t have to tell you that censorship is a sign of insecurity and/or paranoia?
  4. James Delingpole says:12th February 2011 at 12:08 pm@Martinlack. Ignorant jerks like yourself are generally welcome on this site, Martin. Welcome because of the informed responses they tend to generate from better-educated, more intelligent contributors like Nige Cooke. The reason your first comment wasn’t posted as quickly as you wanted was simply because I get lots of emails a day and don’t always have time to go through them all pressing the Approve Comment button.
    But I do have a policy of deleting abusive emails sent anonymously because I believe this is an act of cowardice. If you wish to have your fatuous, rude comments included again please give us a forwarding address/website where we may contact you.
    Thanks.
  5. Nige Cook says:12th February 2011 at 10:04 pm“Scientists have every right to complain if they are not allowed to comment on a paper. That paper was flawed and the editor of Climate Research refuse to allow peers to comment on the flaws. hence the complaint. Taking that email of out context means you and Delingpole seem to be promoting censorship within science.” – Fearless FrankThey’re not scientists. They’re doing the censorship of science. They censor all the facts out using peer-review as petty power politics. They allow no criticism of pseudo-science. What peer-review means is a conspiracy of “might is right” pseudoscience, which has been disproved time and time again. Eugenics is a good example which shouldn’t have been backed by “scientists” like Nobel Laureate Alexis Carrel who wrote a best-seller on the benefits of Nazis “science” in 1935: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man,_The_UnknownCarrel didn’t know about evolution requiring diversity. Natural climate change deniers like yourself have no idea that we’re still coming out of an ice age. Just like the Carrel, you have no idea about evolution replacing creationism. You think humans are unnatural, when in fact humans are just as much a product of evolution as plants or insects. What humans do is a part of nature. In any case, CO2 drives only cloud cover, not temperature because H2O that is evaporated rises to form clouds: injecting more CO2 has a negative feedback from H2O cloud cover that cancels out the infrared absorption by CO2.But it’s a waste of time repeating the facts because you’re unwilling to be reasonable and listen. You demand you’re right unless I publish in your “peer”-reviewed journal when you’re not a “peer” but a biased quack. What you have to remember, though, is that the more crackpot Al Gore’s followers like yourself become, the more obvious it becomes to the wider public that science is being perverted for political ends, such as Nobel Prizes. I’m 100% certain that medical Nobel Laureate Alexis Carrel would have received the “Nobel Peace Prize” like Al Gore if the Nazis had won WWII and doctored the Nobel Committee. It’s a shame it’s already been self-doctored in peacetime! However, “angel” Nobel was a warmonger who supplied explosives to BOTH sides in the Crimean War bloodbath…

    Al Gore thinks he will be dead before “AGW” is dead, but he might be wrong, and you too.

    “If so, you have failed to grasp a few basic concepts: (i) The Second Law of Thermodynamics; The concept of Entropy; (ii) The finititude of the Earth’s resources; and (iii) Exponential growth (clue: even 1% annual growth results in 2 x population in 70 years).” – Martin

    Martin, you don’t appreciate that the H2O in the earth’s atmosphere (where clouds form, unlike a greenhouse) cancels out the greenhouse effect from CO2.

    First, consider the basis for the anti-greenhouse effect of evaporated water due to an initial temperature rise from CO2. On average, today:

    3% of incoming radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases excluding water vapor,
    15% is absorbed by water vapor,
    5% is absorbed by clouds and
    47% is absorbed by the earth’s surface;

    while:

    21% of incoming radiation is reflected back by clouds,
    6% is reflected back by the air, and
    3% is reflected back by the earth’s surface.

    Water in the atmosphere thus absorbs a total of 20% of incoming solar radiation, and reflects back a total of 21%. So the amount of reflection by cloud cover exceeds the amount of absorption due to water vapor absorbing infra-red solar radiation. Overall, 70% of incoming solar radiation is currently absorbed, and 30% is reflected back into space.

    Now calculate what happens to these numbers when a temperature rise due to CO2 increases occurs. You find that doubling today’s water content in the atmosphere – assuming that the vapor mass to cloud droplet mass ratio is a constant – reduces the total absorption from 70% to 64% of incoming radiation, while it increases reflection from 30% to 36% reflection. Hence, evaporated water has an anti-greenhouse effect: a “negative feedback”.

    However, the situation is even worse than this for the IPCC fraudsters, since the atmospheric greenhouse water vapor (humidity) has allegedly not even been rising in step with the total evaporated water:

    “During the 61-year period [since 1948] … the global average absolute humidity diminished about 1 per cent.” – Dr. M. Zagoni.

    “You must here distinguish – especially in teaching – the science from the forms or procedures that are sometimes used in developing science. … great religions are dissipated by following form without remembering the direct content of the teaching of the great leaders. In the same way, it is possible to follow form and call it science, but that is pseudo-science. In this way, we all suffer from the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisers. … We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on … They are merely an imitative form of science … The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. …. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

    – Richard P. Feynman, “What is Science?”, presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, published in The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6, 1968, pp. 313-320.

  6. Nige Cook says:13th February 2011 at 11:30 amFearless Frank, the “denialists” are those like Al Gore who deny we’re coming out of an ice age and deny that CO2 injections are cancelled out by increased cloud cover once the oceans warm.Soon and Baliunas are actually in the Al Gore camp. They have no idea how the sun works, they simply have no mechanism for solar output to vary randomly. The sun is an extremely stable nuclear fusion reactor producing energy in the core at 15 million Kelvin. The idea that magnetic effects like sunspots and solar storms at the surface (where the temperature is only around 6000 K) varying the gross energy output is total nonsense: energy is flowing out from the stable nuclear processes in the core has to be emitted from the surface. If you have sunspots, that just means that the rest of the surface is that bit hotter and emits the energy instead. Solar storms have no significant effect. Charged and massive radiation from the sun is mostly trapped in the Van Allen belts in space far above the atmosphere.Trying to correlate solar activity to global warming like Soon and Baliunas is the perfect example of pseudoscience. There is no mechanism, but they don’t care. It’s just like professor Ernest Sternglass in 1969 publishing “The Death of All Children”, correlating the flattening of the rate of fall of infant mortality rate after 1950 to an effect of radiation from nuclear tests, when in fact fall in infant mortality was simply due to antibiotics, and once antibiotics were introduced the fall rate naturally stabilized.Why discuss Soon and Baliunas when they don’t have a mechanism? You’re not discussing real science, just conjecture. I don’t see how Soon and Baliunas were behaving like scientists, they were behaving like politicians. If they want to emphasise scientific credentials, it must be for scientific work. Otherwise, it’s like Nurse or Carrel using their Nobel prize in science as an “authority” credential when promoting pseudoscience.

    It is not possible for the sun’s output to vary significantly because the random flaring and sunspot processes we can see on the surface of the sun from magnetic field energy due to convection of charged particles, has no effect on the rate of fusion that is producing the energy in the centre of the sun at a temperature 2,500 times higher than the surface. The sun must radiate the energy it generates in a very precise, very stable equilibrium, or it would be unstable, the temperature would spiral out of control. If “cool” sunspots form, the energy normally radiated from those areas must be radiated from other areas instead.

    The bottom line is that politically inspired lying “controversy” must be censored out of scientific journals, which must be kept to facts supported by mechanisms. Statistical correlations unsupported by mechanisms are pseudoscience, and the current technique towards publishing and discussing them or criticising them, just prolongs the focus of attention on pseudoscience. This is why “peer”-review is such a tragedy. Journals must in future have separate sections, one for “technician science” (incremental “stamp collecting” advances within a given mainstream theory or paradigm) and a separate section for “alternative theories” (giving space to minority ideas, but not permitting any political groupthink to allow just one “controversial” alternative theory to dominate).

    People like Nurse are essentially good technician scientists (despite the Nobel prize), working in a paradigm that was founded long ago and using techniques largely invented by others. They may invent new tools and methods within the paradigm, but they are not the revolutionary founding fathers like Newton or Darwin. They’re defensive about the paradigm or theory they build upon, seeing revolutionaries are ignorant before they read their work, and relying on “peer”-reviewers to censor out critics of the foundations of their subject. This is exactly how Copernicus and Galileo were censored out. It’s obvious that many of the facts in a groupthink science will survive a future scientific revolution (unless all the data is being fiddled, which seems the case when using tree growth as a proxy for temperature alone!), so it’s mainly the interpretation of the facts that changes.

    Soon and Baliunas did not confront the key scientific fact, the fact that the feedback of H2O on rising CO2 cancels out temperature changes due to the cloud cover mechanism, instead of accelerating temperature rises as the fatally flawed IPCC models claim. So there is no reason to discuss Soon and Baliunas since it is pseudoscience.

    If journals start discussing pseudoscience, it will detract from the hard mechanistic science. This is precisely why Bohr and Heisenberg’s anti-relativistic 1st quantization dogma of 1927 ended physical advances in quantum mechanics, whose physical interpretation remains obscure for political not scientific reasons (1st quantization was disproved in 1929 by Dirac who introduced the simple mechanism for indeterminancy, namely physically real quantum fields creation and annihilation operators, i.e. 2nd quantization which is completely incompatible with 1st quantization despite the efforts of textbook authors to obfuscate this).

  7. Nige Cook says:14th February 2011 at 9:42 am“The point is, the paper is flawed, and any peer review on that paper was censored.”Papers on “superstring theory” are also flawed (there is an “anthropic landscape” of 10^500 different theories, each relating to a different metastable vacuum state stabilized compactification of the assumed extra 6/7 spatial dimensions of uncheckable Planck size).Peer-review on “superstring theory” is causing a crisis in particle physics, by focussing attention on imaginary solutions, not hard real world data explanation. The best way to deal with pseudoscience is to ignore it, not enter into a lengthy “controversy” that gets no where.You can’t scientifically “disprove” something that doesn’t exist, because the proponents will always say that it is “hidden in the background noise”. You can’t “disprove” UFOs, ghosts, little green men, 6/7 dimensional superstring, supersymmetric particles with masses too high to ever detect in the world’s biggest particle accelerators, or many other speculations.

    Therefore, trying to discredit pseudoscience by arguing with proponents of uncheckable guesswork is going to sink genuine science into an unending controversy which can never, even in principle, be resolved one way or another by any conceivable scientific experiment. You have to ignore uncheckable speculations unless or until someone can cme up with some kind of checkable evidence that permits scientific experiments or observations to determine whether the speculation agrees with nature, or not.

  8. Jack Cowper says:18th February 2011 at 12:46 pmGreat article James.Roy Spencer had simular trouble with his paper – “On the diagnosis in the presence of unknown radiative forcing”. A direct quote here:http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/08/our-jgr-paper-on-feedbacks-is-published/‘After years of re-submissions and re-writes — always to accommodate a single hostile reviewer — our latest paper on feedbacks has finally been published by Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR).’

    So who was the hostile reviewer in this case? Maybe it was someone else in the team!

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