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Climate Journal Publishes Referees' Report In Response To "Witch-Hunt" Claims 330

Posted by timothy
from the see-here-are-the-reasons dept.
Sockatume (732728) writes "The resignation of Prof. Lennart Bengtsson from an anti-global-warming think tank has triggered widespread outrage in the British tabloids, with the University of Bristol Professor blaming his departure on a 'witch-hunt' environment amongst climate scientists and the rejection of one of his papers. The UK's Times quotes a passage from the reviewer comments in support of this, in which it is claimed that the paper was rejected for being 'unhelpful to their cause.' In response, that journal's publisher has taken the rare step of publishing the referees' report in full. The report describes Bengtsson's paper as a 'simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al [data sets], combined with the statement they they are inconsistent,' 'where no consistency was to be expected in the first place' and therefore is not publishable research. The referee adds a number of possible areas of discussion which would allow Bengtsson to make the same data into a publishable paper, but warns that publishing it in its current state 'opens the door for oversimplified claims of errors and worse from the climate sceptics media.'"
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Climate Journal Publishes Referees' Report In Response To "Witch-Hunt" Claims

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  • Witch-Hunt. Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PvtVoid (1252388) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:02AM (#47017741)
    And the National Review is calling it McCarthyism [nationalreview.com].

    Sorry, but refusing to provide a public forum for crackpots is not a witch-hunt, or McCarthyism. It's science. The journal didn't publish the paper because the referee said it was an unsalvageable piece of crap, which is precisely how peer review is supposed to work.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:14AM (#47017833)

    The journal didn't publish the paper because the referee said it was an unsalvageable piece of crap, which is precisely how peer review is supposed to work.

    Obviously the referee is a part of the AGM movement and was doing his part to make sure the truth isn't published /sarcasm*

    * Sadly I expect this to be used as a genuine counter argument.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:21AM (#47017893) Journal

    Nobody said the science is settled. But when the overwhelming majority of experts in any field are leaning in one direction, to claim that there isn't something to what they're saying, or worse, claiming that that large majority is an argument against what they're saying is anti-intellectual.

    In other words. Grow the fuck up. The universe doesn't owe your ideology any favors.

  • Re:Tabloids? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:26AM (#47017925) Journal

    I'd call it a very biased paper that allows its editorial department masquerade as its reporting department. Witness the incredible number of anti-NHS stories that were one-sided, biased, and clearly intended to underwrite a series of columns by various right wing regulars demanding the NHS be demolished, privatized or something between the two.

    And yes, the Guardian does the same thing. British newspapers are, by and large, utter crap.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:29AM (#47017957)
    This reporting seems to be spreading the idea that getting a paper rejected is abnormal. For most of us, it's entirely normal. Normal, decent computer science conferences/journals (the ones you never even hear about unless you're in the field) have a rejection rate of 2/3 to 3/4. In other words, MOST papers are criticized heavily in review, and rejected. In some fields (like philosophy) it's more like 90-95% rejection rate.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Taylor123456789 (1354177) <jheard&msn,com> on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:29AM (#47017961)

    I read an interview of him, and the rejection of the paper was a small part of his complaints. He is basically saying that anyone who questions anthropogenic global warming dogma is ostracized. This is the basis of McCarthyism and witch hunts. It also questions the foundation of the global warming "consensus" so often cited. The fact is that questioning orthodoxy is part of the scientific process. Ironically then, those who attempt to ostracize global warming skeptics for being "anti-science" are the ones themselves being anti-science.

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Layzej (1976930) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:48AM (#47018089)
    He joined the "Global Warming Policy Foundation" - and anti climate policy advocacy group known to spread falsehoods about the science in order to further their political objectives. He quit one week later when colleagues started distancing themselves from him. Well - what did he expect?
  • Re:So? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:49AM (#47018107)
    He has a point. Within the citing for rejection is the statement;...... " and worse from the climate sceptics media side. "

    It indicates a possible bias, and media reaction should never be a criteria for determining what has scientific merit.

    Its also interesting that they guy has a reasonably 'reputable' career history, and also is quite up-front about his views. Yet this one instance is enough for many folks here to trash him, call him a crackpot and other names.

    Maybe his paper is total crap. I guess he's got enough attention to get it circulated by other means if he wants.

    Are submissions that support the generally accepted views on GWT given the same level of scrutiny? They could do some good to show similar rejections of those papers.
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:52AM (#47018127)

    "If the press sees this crappy paper they will use it to perpetuate misconceptions" is a valid thing to point out when rejecting dodgy work. I dare say you would've found something similar in response to the papers that eventually wind up in the Journal of Cosmology.

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:56AM (#47018145)

    You have to ask yourself, if so many of your qualified peers think you're crazy for taking a given perspective, and your new paper on the subject is rejected for being crappy: have they all lost their minds, or have you?

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday May 16, 2014 @10:59AM (#47018173)

    Your example of the problems of climate science is climate scientists correcting Al Gore? Isn't that exactly what you want climate scientists to do in a healthy environment where the science decides the issues?

  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:01AM (#47018185)

    Step 1: Systematically ostracize, shun, bully, and threaten people who disagree with you.

    I don't know if you've ever participated in a scientific debate with scientists but this happens regardless of what is being discussed. Some of the nastiest fights I've seen are between scientists about the most trivial of questions.

    Step 2: Make sure contrary views are never published.

    Correlation != causation. Getting a paper published in a prestigious journal isn't easy in the first place. From what I've seen most contrary views like AGW and creation science are not published because they are contrary. They are not published for a variety of reasons including errors, lack of innovation, lack of basic science, etc. For example if you wanted to publish a paper about T-Rex being a carnivore it would probably be rejected because that is rather old news. Now if you found evidence that T-Rex may have had dangerous pathogens in the saliva (like the Komodo dragon) which made it a more dangerous predator, that would be something worthy of publishing.

    In this case, the referees noted the deficiencies and suggested corrections to make the paper more publishable. That does not sound like they were opposed to contrary views at all. But being contrary or not, the referees still have to enforce standards of science.

    Step 3: When people decide to be quiet instead of getting bullied, claim consensus.

    First when have the AGW and creationists every been quiet? Second, being louder does not help your cause when it comes to science. Having evidence helps your cause. Here is the one thing people don't understand about scientific consensus: Getting a vast majority of scientists to agree on anything is a big deal. It means scientists fighting from opposing sides have settled on the matter.

    For example, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was high theoretical when it first came out and hard to test even though it solved certain problems like the precession of Mercury. It required using a solar eclipse before some scientists began to think that it might be not just theoretical. Over the decades different experiments have verified that Einstein was right. No one doubts the validity of it today.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:02AM (#47018193)

    NPR apparently cared at the time, along with just about every other traditional media outlet. And the people who saw his movie. And the people who invited him to speak to congress. He was the #1 spokesman for global warming just a few years ago. Did you forget?

  • I think this is a bit oversimplified... I'd like to expand it to reflect what the referee stated....

    When the overwhelming majority of experts in any field are leaning in one direction, to claim that they're incorrect without rigorous application of the scientific method but instead just making vague claims of overlap and inconsistency regarding the models you don't support and stating that the results don't line up with your preferred model, is not legitimate science. Legitimate politics, yes.

    Science works by taking the accepted model and proving where it fails by quantitative and qualitative analysis. The method he was using in his paper is closer to using the Bible to prove that the world is flat when the prevailing theory is that it is a somewhat squished and misshapen globe.

    Mind you, the world MAY be flat, but to prove that, you'd have to show where the prevailing models fall down, and show how your own model stands up where those others fail. Qualitative AND quantitative, people. He seemed to be flip-flopping between the two from the report.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:18AM (#47018355)

    Frankly, I don't know enough about the science to evaluate the content of this guy's paper. What I do know are facts which leave me unable to fairly judge this case: (1) The reviewer, ostensibly, is qualified to review the paper's content and finds it unpublishable. Therefore, it is good that it isn't published. (2) The reviewer taints the decision with a foolish political footnote, inviting - if not forcing - the very kind of denial that he ostensibly was trying to avoid.

    If the paper was bad enough to be rejected on its own (lack of) merit, then what in God's name did this guy hope to achieve by bringing it up in the first place? If I were in the AGW crowd, I'd be investigating the reviewer to see whether he's a Big Oil plant. Negligent buffoonery.

  • by Prune (557140) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:19AM (#47018359)
    While Bengtsson is wrong on this, he's no crackpot. This paper was rejected, but most of his previous ones were published and he is (was?) a respected scientist in the field. His problem seems to be that he has allowed himself to mix his politics with the science. That's wrong, but so is your ad hominem; calling him a crackpot cheapens the word, and your argument.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:25AM (#47018441) Journal

    The science on the Standard Model isn't settled, but that hardly means the Standard Model is wrong or falsified. It means it is incomplete. Not having an absolutely perfect theory (if such a thing is even achievable) does not mean the theory you have lacks all utility. There is a great deal of evidence for AGW. Is it complete, is it settled? No, but then again, neither is any scientific theory. Why does anthropogenic climate change receive this kind of special treatment.

    Oh that's right, because someone stands to lose money, and, heaven forbid, people might have to change their behaviors.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:32AM (#47018515) Journal

    Particularly when the motive of the news item is to attack a scientific theory you don't like.

  • Step 1: Systematically conduct flawed studies, search for like-minded or easily convinced people to side with you,, and threaten people who disagree with you.
    Step 2: Attempt to get your flawed and subjective contrary views published as scientifically sound.
    Step 3: When people decide to reject your articles based on flawed methods, claim conspiracy.

    Sadly, both the parent's 3-step plan and this one are used constantly... mostly in politics, but increasingly in "scientific" communities.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Friday May 16, 2014 @11:48AM (#47018683)

    It is not that science is rejecting scepticism. Heck, scepticism is fundamental to science. The issue that legitimate climate sceptics face is that they are trying to disprove a large body of evidence that is both diverse and mature. If sceptics want to prove their point, they have to collective evidence that is also diverse and mature. That is no simple feat.

    That is also making a huge assumption: that the climate sceptics are legitimate. I'm sure that some sceptics are, particularly when it comes to critiquing particular pieces of evidence. On the other hand, they seem to be a tiny minority. Most of the debate that I see comes from people who have little understanding of science, nevermind climate science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2014 @12:19PM (#47018975)

    But when the overwhelming majority of experts in any field are leaning in one direction, to claim that there isn't something to what they're saying, or worse, claiming that that large majority is an argument against what they're saying is anti-intellectual.

    This is a dangerous position to take. 60 years ago the overwhelming majority of geologists considered the idea of plate tectonics to be nonsense. Within the span of 20 years (probably less), the entire scientific community shifted from one side of the argument to the other.

    Science, by its very nature, is wrong most of the time. That's why we keep doing it. Disagreeing with the overwhelming majority of experts in a field is not anti-intellectual, it's how you make progress.

  • by meglon (1001833) on Friday May 16, 2014 @12:43PM (#47019193)
    Still being stupid as fuck i see.

    This dipshit wasn't bullied or threatened or anything else. His worthless piece of shit article he wrote was denied publication because it was a worthless piece of shit article. Science journals try not to print worthless piece of shit articles..... even though i understand that's the only kind you seem to prefer; that says a lot more about your useless fucking worldview of wanting to be a fucking stupid idiot than it does about a science journal upholding high standards. As for a consensus... there is one, whether your butthurt that 97% or so of these very highly educated people think your a fucking idiot or not. If you don't know the science, your opinion means nothing, regardless of how big an egotistical little twat you are.

    You want to be useful to the discussion? Quit being a twat.
  • This is useless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WayGoneDoug (1199867) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:00PM (#47019403) Homepage
    There is no reasoned debate in the forums of /. anymore (it was rather sparse to start with). Everyone is either a climate Nazi or fucking stupid, depending on which side you are on. I give up on humanity, or at least the nerd subbranch represented here.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @01:06PM (#47019453) Journal

    This is an absurd exaggeration that relies on a very dubious definition of the word "wrong". Is Newtonian Mechanics wrong? Strictly speaking, I suppose so, as it does not adequately explain the full range of observations, and in some cases does indeed get the answers wrong. But if you look at Newtonian mechanics as simply a simplified extrapolation of General Relativity that applies to non-relativistic equations, it still works very well; well enough to launch probes to Mars or the outer reaches of the solar system, and useful enough for many ordinary physics problems.

    Yes, certain theories, like the steady state theory of the universe, have been falsified, but they certainly weren't falsified by crap papers. But, by and large, not many scientific theories are out and out falsified, so your use of the word "wrong" is simply hyperbolic.

    No one says consensus means the end of research in a field, and no one says that consensus cannot be wrong. Indeed, consensus is often a target for scientists, which is why, for instance, even though the Standard Model has been a highly successful theory, particle physicists are desperate to peer beyond it to find new physics. And when that happens, the Standard Model still won't be "wrong", it will simply be subsumed into some larger theory.

    All the evidence we have points to CO2 emissions over the last three centuries leading to climate change that cannot be explained by non-anthropogenic processes. We have theories to explain it, that no one believes are complete or the final word, but there is a sufficiently high degree of agreement between models and via different lines of evidence that it is not unreasonable to say with a high degree of certainty that there are man-made factors contributing to current observations, and then continued CO2 emissions will accelerate this process. The exact degree degree to which emissions can be attributed is a matter of debate, but very few climatologists argue with the core claims of AGW. Even worse for the skeptics is that every time they claim to find the smoking gun, it turns out to be their own camp playing rhetorical tricks, outright lying, or in this particular case, trying to publish a crappy paper.

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:15PM (#47020115)

    Tell us, what other scientific discipline has ever been "settled"? Look here [ucr.edu] for over a century of experiments on relativity. Are scientists who TO THIS FUCKING DAY try to falisfy relativity labelled "deniers"?

    Other scientists in the field who hold contrary positions are not generally labeled deniers. People in the field like Lindzen, Spencer, Curry will not tell you that CO2 will have no effect, just that there are other factors that override it. They have enough knowledge to at least debate intelligently with others in the field. The real climate science deniers are those without much scientific training who think their worldview trumps science when it comes to climate change. It's a waste of time to try and debate them.

    Science is never absolutely settled but that doesn't mean we should treat it as if what we know about is is useless. Holding out hope for some revolutionary overturning of science you don't like, especially with no evidence that anything like that is forthcoming, is wishful thinking.

  • by radtea (464814) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:35PM (#47020331)

    In the same way that one cannot expect a nice fit between observational studies and the CMIP5 models.

    This is a point that is radically misunderstood by almost all sides of the political debate around anthropogenic climate change. Think about what it implies: climate models do not predict observational reality. That, and only that, is why one cannot and should not expect a nice fit between the model and the reality.

    This is OK, mind: non-predictive modelling is extremely useful, and there is very little doubt that human activity is adding about 1.6 W/m**2 to the Earth's heat budget (somewhat less than 0.5% of the total, equivalent to an orbital perturbation of about half the distance to the Moon). But climate models do not tell us in any meaningful or useful sense how the ocean/atmosphere system will respond to that additional heating.

    There will be a response, but estimating its type, distribution and magnitude well enough to be considered predictive is well beyond current model capabilities. I haven't looked at AR4 or 5 code, but AR2 had approximations that made me cringe, up to and including fixing up energy conservation at the end of each time-step by adjusting cell temperatures.

    Climate skeptics--the sane ones at least--are aware of this and take the strong claims of predictive power in the models with a large grain of salt. They also tend to assume that "you can't prove there will be a disaster" means "there won't be a disaster", which is utterly unwarranted.

    Climate believers also ignore the poor predictivity of the models, which is unfortunate, because the logical response to that poor predictivity is to invest in robustness and flexibility rather than specific solutions, because we don't know what the specific future conditions will be.

    Climate believers also undermine their case by an excessive focus on "abstinence only" policies, and are for some reason unwilling to contemplate any response to climate change that involves things like nuclear power and geo-engineering research. It's almost as if they think the climate-driven destruction of civilization is such a huge issue that we must be willing to do anything to stop it... except change anyone's mind on the relative value of nuclear energy.

  • As I always suspected, AGW is a cause, not a hypothesis, let alone an actual scientific theory.

    False. AGW began as a hypothesis, became a generally accepted scientific theory, and is now a cause — as a result of becoming accepted theory with global ramifications.

    Nice try^Wtroll, though.

  • by radarskiy (2874255) on Friday May 16, 2014 @02:59PM (#47020611)

    "The journal didn't publish the paper because the referee said it was an unsalvageable piece of crap"

    It worse than that: the referee suggested that it might be salvageable, but Bengtsson couldn't be bothered.

  • by thoromyr (673646) on Friday May 16, 2014 @03:15PM (#47020769)

    It isn't even that they need extraordinary evidence. Ordinary evidence would do just fine. But creating strawmen to demolish is not a rebuttal of actual science and that is the issue here. What is really sad is the part where the "bias" shows and is trotted out by deniers is true. He would've been remiss to omit it because it is a negative. All the referee did was acknowledge the political reality of the entire point behind the paper.

    Its like being accused of bias when rejecting a paper that uses phrenology as proof that that whites are smarter than blacks due to greater cranial capacity because you point out that, in addition to being flawed and incorrect, it will just be used to support a racist agenda.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday May 16, 2014 @03:38PM (#47021023) Homepage Journal

    Actually, climate change skeptics publish in mainstream journals all the time. There's always loose threads you can pull at.

    For example RW Spencer [drroyspencer.com] is an evangelical Christian who believes that climate change would contradict God's will [cornwallalliance.org]. Yet he still gets published [google.com] in mainstream journals.

    This demonstrates the extreme open-mindedness of science, when compared to virtually any other field of human endeavor. Yes, the process is slanted in favor of the prevailing wisdom, but people who disagree with the majority opinion aren't ostracized or prevented from publishing, no matter *why* they believe what they do. Scientists believe things for all kinds of un-scientific reasons: aesthetics, hunches, even personal dislike for other scientists. Religion isn't any less scientific than any of that stuff, but you leave that stuff in the locker room when you're on the playing field, so to speak.

    Naturally people whose papers get rejected by reviewers think the referees were unfair. But it's not like *other* skeptics can't get their papers published; they just have to play by science's rules.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday May 16, 2014 @04:00PM (#47021231) Homepage Journal

    "Consensus" simply identifies where the burden of proof lay. It is not a barrier to new ideas.

    Examples:

    (1) The geosyncline theory was replaced by plate tectonics.
    (2) We used to think passing a black hole event horizon was a one way trip for matter/energy; now we think black holes evaporate.
    (3) We used to think DNA to RNA information transcription was one way; then we discovered retroviruses.

    The idea that "consensus" is just scientific priggery is ridiculous. Scientists *want* consensus to be overturned. New ideas are what make science interesting, but a new consensus only meaningful if the standards of disproof for the old consensus are high. Otherwise a change on scientific consensus wouldn't be *progress*, it would be *fashion*.

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:15PM (#47021867)

    And yet both of those papers did get referenced in the IPCC report. That cuts into the argument that contrarian papers can't get published, doesn't it?

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 16, 2014 @05:27PM (#47021951) Journal

    But there appears to be no firm line in the sand here. Those ideologically opposed to AGW frequently try to use what at least sound like scientific arguments to attack the theory. The sad fact is that in many cases they're using similar attacks that have been used by Creationists in the past to attack biology, genetics, geology, cosmology and any other theory that challenged their ideologically-driven beliefs.

    Beyond that, to be skeptical of any theory, you have to understand the theory, and the data that purports to support the theory. When you get a dozens of posters making claims like "it hasn't warmed in 17 years", you're simply not dealing with people who have the faintest idea what they're talking about. That's not even dealing with the people who go on about the "church of AGW" and "AGW is going to be demolished any day now" (these are literally picked right out of the Creationist arsenal).

    And then when you get the few people who do have the expertise to critique AGW, you end up with guys like Spencer, who don't actually even try to publish papers critiquing AGW, but basically are paid shills for the Heartland Institute. Bengtsson is in the real minority, in that he actually tried to publish a paper, albeit a very poor paper, so I guess you have to give him points for that. But, considering he is a publishing researcher, I think you have to start wondering if he did this intentionally so that denialist newspapers like the Telegraph could claim "You see, the AGW crowd stifles dissent!" Again, this similar trick has been used a very few times by Creationists/IDers (the Sternberg-Myer affair [wikipedia.org], where a pseudo-scientific Intelligent Design paper did get published in an obscure journal). It gets a great deal of press, of course, and now Bengtsson's crap paper will be brought up by every pseudo-skeptic for years to come, because the one thing that is universally true of all pseudo-skeptics, whatever scientific field they're attacking, is that no attack is so bad or so debunked that it can't be dusted off and shoved and used again.

    The sad fact is that it does mask the actual debates among climatologists, which are far more interesting and far more pertinent.

If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. -- Albert Einstein

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