Politicised science?

There are a number of people who seem to object to one of the reviewers of Lennart Bengtsson’s paper saying

Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.

One of the criticisms seems to be that this politicises science. Well I don’t really understand this objection. All the reviewer is really saying is that the conclusions drawn in the paper are not really indicative of “errors” and “inconsistencies”, and so framing it in this way could lead to it being mis-interpreted. That, by itself, seems fine.

One could argue that the reviewer could have made this point without mentioning “skeptics”. Possibly, but it seems clear that there are people who do, regularly, mis-represent published climate science papers. Being aware of this and trying to make it harder to do this would seem like a reasonable thing to do. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that authors and reviewers should be constantly thinking of this, or that it should become a major consideration; I just see no reason why a reviewer can’t point out that the way something is described in a paper is open to mis-representation.

I also fail to see why what the reviewer said is overtly political. It does seem that some mis-represent science for political means, but quite why trying to make that harder is, itself, political. It’s almost as if people as saying “misrepresenting science is an acceptable political act and therefore overtly trying to prevent this is itself political”. Well, I don’t quite see the logic of that, if that is what people are suggesting. What I do agree with (and maybe this is what some are getting at) is that the political fight should not be allowed to pollute the scientific literature (H/T Victor Venema). This is certainly a valid concern but, again, I still don’t see how what this referee has said is really doing that.

So, I can certainly see that people should be careful about how they respond to the possible mis-representation of their work. It’s also probably unavoidable at some level; so worrying about it too much would be counter-productive. Making it harder – where possible – would, however, seem sensible. I also think that people should bear in mind that this was one paragraph in a reasonably lengthy response by one of two reviewers. In general, I would think that we’d rather reviewers felt free – within reason – to say whatever they think is appropriate. The editor can always choose to ignore it, the authors can always respond to counter it, and – if necessary – there is always the option of getting extra opinions.

At the moment, I’m struggling to see how those who object to what this referee has said are not essentially saying “how dare a referee say something that would make it harder for so-called “skeptics” to mis-represent climate science papers. It’s not fair!”

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70 Responses to Politicised science?

  1. To be honest, I do not think anyone is arguing that “how dare a referee say something that would make it harder for so-called “skeptics” to mis-represent climate science papers. It’s not fair!” That sounds somewhat like a strawman to me.

    At best people would be arguing that trying to do so does not bring much. It would be hard for authors and reviewers to notice possibilities for misquotation. Such as a recent example from WUWT about global water vapour. And if they do not have quotes to mine they make up something out of the blue and claim that CO2 cools and an ice age is nearing. There is no way to stop the flood of nonsense at WUWT.

    The remark in the review mentioned above seems to be no problem to me whatsoever. There are more than enough other arguments to reject the paper and the request for clarification would also be valid without mentioning the climate sceptics because any reader might misunderstand the manuscript.

    I would argue the my strictness (and I guess the one of Tamsin Edwards) is an attempt to keep the politics out of the scientific literature. And it is easier to say and enforce not to do such stuff at all, than to have a vague grey range where somewhere it becomes political. Let at least the mainstream scientists try to behave as if the political fight does not exist and do good science.

    I will soon submit and article that suggests there are problems with homogenization algorithms under certain conditions. I would not like a reviewer to tell me to first solve the problem because only mentioning it before solving would be picked up by the denier blogs. (In this case I could respond, that they will never cite it because they do not like me and could never admit that I am a sceptical guy. 🙂 That would then be an advantage of being a blogger.)

    It is already bad enough that “sceptical” scientists are gaming the review system by submitting or passing bad quality manuscripts to be used as cannon fodder at WUWT and Co. And in that way pollute the scientific literature. (This is hard to avoid as rejecting real sceptical manuscripts with valid critiques would be a real loss. And scientifically the cost is only to have a few more articles to read and to notice afterwards that one has wasted precious life time.)

    Let’s do our best to keep the scientific literature clean.

  2. Victor,

    To be honest, I do not think anyone is arguing that “how dare a referee say something that would make it harder for so-called “skeptics” to mis-represent climate science papers. It’s not fair!” That sounds somewhat like a strawman to me.

    Well, yes, that may be a fair point. It was written with intentional snark. I think there are some who have made very strong statements about what the referee said that make it sound like they object very strongly to what was said, and I fail to understand why they feel so strongly. I’m certainly not referring, here, to those who have just shown some concern about creeping politicisation – that’s certainly a reasonable concern..

    From the rest of your comment, I think we largely agree. I’m certainly not suggesting that this should be something that is commonly considered or becomes some formal part of reviewing. I just have no real problem with a reviewer pointing something like this out. Making sure papers are written as clearly as possible seems reasonable and editors have the right to dismiss anything that they think isn’t relevant or appropriate. At worst, it could just be ignored and, at best, it may help to prevent some – but not all – mis-representations.

  3. I was away this week, but did notice that not reading any “sceptics” blog was very good for your mental sanity this week. Like you, I have no strong feelings about this one sentence. Thus we almost agree.

  4. Maybe I should try that. A week away would certainly do me good.

    TBH, it all just seems to be another round of ClimateballTM. Maybe I should just learn to ignore these as it does get rather tedious and annoying.

  5. Marco says:

    To me it looks like Bengtsson et al triggered the ire of the reviewer by stating that there was some “unexplainable change of mind of the same group of authors”. Not a very scientific statement, especially when you find a reviewer who provides you with several such explanations (and even *I* had a distinct “duh”-feeling with those explanations).

    The correct statement would have been: “We do not have sufficient insight into the matter to explain why there is a difference between the two assessments”, or something like “while there is a clear difference between the two assessments, despite overlap between the author groups, there will likely be a good explanation for this apparent discrepancy”.

  6. Marco,
    Where did Bengtsson say that?

  7. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    -> ” I fail to understand why they feel so strongly”

    From what I’ve seen – basically from reading Stevie Mac’s post – they seem to object strongly to the notion that a reviewer would say that it is an error to point out the discrepancy between the analyses based on observations and models, respectively.

    Now IMO, that objection is based on an obvious misreading of the reviewers comments – due to the tribal orientation (i.e., motivated reasoning) of “skeptics.” But given their interpretation, I can understand the reasons why they feel strongly.

  8. Joshua,
    Well, if that were the case then it would seem easy to solve by simply saying “that isn’t what the reviewer is saying”.

  9. guthrie says:

    Come now, the issue isn’t whether denialists feel strongly about their own misunderstandings of something someone wrote, but rather whether their very existence and practises should be taken into account when weighing up a potential scientific paper in its contributions to human understanding.

  10. John Mashey says:

    If JoNova and friends own the word skeptic as she states absolutely, can we come up with a new word that describes Carl Sagan, Margin Gardner, Steve Schneider and most scientists most of the time?
    At the risk of broken record, Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics.

  11. Tony Duncan says:

    I just tried to leave a comment on the Imperial college page by Simon Buckle from Grantham and was not allowed to comment http://bit.ly/1hVQTH1
    This was my response.

    I would be interested to know what the attacks were which caused Bengtsson to compare his situation to McCarthyism. Among the climate scientists that I have read who have responded in twitter and on blogs, I have seen no attacks on him personally, and pretty much everyone has acknowledged that he is a quite competent scientist with a good history of research. Certainly many have been very unhappy with his decision to join GWPF, but I have not gotten the impression that he has in any way been unfairly treated or misrepresented. Scientists have just as much a right to criticize his decision and to express a view that his doing so legitimizes a group many feel to be at best disingenuous and at worst a front for policies that ignore climate change.

    As I and I am sure many others expected, his joining GWPF was lauded as the beginning of the end of the failed theory of ACC , and his rescinding his association has led to fevered shouts of censorship and tyranny from the media sources that do not believe ACC is a serious issue. Almost all of these assertions about Bengtsson ignore his actual scientific finding and his clarifications of both his views on the science and the state of dialogue in the climate science community.

    I personally believe that his joining GWPF was of no real consequence as long as his science continued to be accurate, but I do not see this affair as highlighting that the pressing problem is with individuals in the climate science community, even if some do deserve criticism for unfair or threatening reactions to Bengtsson, if there were those.

    The problem, to me, is clearly the propaganda in the blogosphere that is willing to distort misrepresent and often lie about almost any issues related to climate change. There are few places I am aware of that attack the current understandings of ACC who are willing to discuss the true areas of uncertainty or the valid, even if remote, possibilities of major errors in the theory.

    While I certainly do see some extremism and twisting of the science by advocates of strong policy toward CO2 emissions reductions, they seem to be a small minority among climate scientists, and pretty much every scientist I have contact with is reasonable about any issues that I bring up with them.
    I am quite willing to criticize someone who let’s their political beliefs override the science, as well as those that seriously attack someone for making a personal political decision, but as yet, I see no one to criticize in this instance. Are their individuals who have attacked Bentsson in ways that were harmful, inappropriate, and or threatening? Your above opinion seems very clear and reasonable. In fact, rather self evident. Is there anyone in the climate science community that disagrees with your basic contentions? Are there any scientists saying that “Yes we SHOULD allow politics to distort the science and we can’t allow climate scientists to associate with organizations with which we do not approve for ideological reasons”. Are there those that might pretend to agree but hypocritically do not act appropriately?

    On the other hand, the Mail, WUWT, National Review and I am sure a host of other anti climate sources are using this as a propaganda incident to fuel hatred of climate scientists and block policy towards CO2 with a completely false representation of what is actually going on.
    Given the full reality, Where should the major efforts be spent regarding how to deal with ethics around climate science?

    Who is it exactly that you feel deserves criticism, and for what specific words or actions?

  12. Yet another faux scandal in an obvious attempt to muddy the waters (#fakecontroversy). Those who complaign about politicized science the most, do their very best to politicize it even further. Truly ironic. Guess I have to agree with Michael Mann on that (although I find ERL less obscure than he seems to think): http://www.huffingtonpost.com

  13. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    –> “Well, if that were the case then it would seem easy to solve by simply saying “that isn’t what the reviewer is saying”.”

    I tried that. Didn’t go over too well. 🙂

    Obviously, “skeptics” don’t accept the “authority” of anyone who disagrees with them to determine what the reviewer is or isn’t saying, and the ones that I exchanged views with rejected my reasoning for why their view was based on a misinterpretation.

    So I don’t think that situation is easily resolved.

    Guthrie –

    –> “Come now, the issue isn’t whether denialists feel strongly about their own misunderstandings of something someone wrote, but rather whether their very existence and practises should be taken into account when weighing up a potential scientific paper in its contributions to human understanding.”

    I don’t see the mutual exclusivity there. I think that they both feel strongly about their own views (that I think are based in a misunderstanding) and feel that this issue is an example of how they are being victimized; i.e., that their views are (invalidly) dismissed by the “climate community.” What else could explain the (IMO, laughably over the top) visions of “McCarthyism, and “Lysenkoism,” and “reign of terror,” etc.?

    A sense of victimization is ubiquitous in the climate wars. I consider identity aggression and identity defensiveness to be the basic underlying mechanism.

  14. jsam says:

    Deniers have succeeded in making the science political. Not acknowledging such may be pure but may not be very pragmatic.

  15. jsam, you may have that impression if you read to many blogs (or maybe if you live in a creationist country), but most of my colleagues have no clue what I am doing with my blog and do not know the likes of WUWT and Co. They just do their work and maybe raise a family as well as possible. Scientists are typically not very attracted to utter nonsense and avoid it.

  16. AnOilMan says:

    It can get pretty tricky to keep things straight even when we do know what we’re doing.

    The root of all evil is miscommunication. If there is a chance (or in this case, likely pseudo-skeptic intent) for miscommunication, it should be avoided. Period.

  17. Tony Duncan says:

    anybody look at Curry’s take? I notice she has to have Joshua bring up Begntsson’s recent statements

  18. Joshua says:

    In all fairness – his more recent comments hit the Internet pretty much the same time as when Judith put up her post. She probably didn’t see them when she was writing it.

  19. Marco says:

    ATTP, it’s in the reviewer comment, and I assume it is a direct quote from the submitted paper.

  20. jsam says:

    Victor – at one level, I am pleased scientists can ignore the noises from the blogosphere. However, when those very noises intrude upon mainstream media and influence policy then, if we want the science to influence our actions, we cannot afford to ignore the noises. That may not mean the actual scientists have to read WUWT (shudder) – but those responsible for thinking about the policy effects may.

    Most scientists I know believe their results will be published in an encouraging, or at least benign, environment. In climate science this has not been true for over a decade. Sadly, that is a reality.

  21. Marco,
    Thanks, found it in the review. I can’t find something comparable in the paper though.

  22. izen says:

    One of the most relishable meta aspects of the whole drama has been the possibility that the reviewer put in that ‘inappropriate’ comment about –
    “Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side. ”

    because they were aware of past history. Of how apparently simple papers about some aspect of the climate contained statements that could be rendered in the press release as ‘errors’ found in all climate models and measurements of sensitivity’. Was it Bob Carter who was an author on a paper that de-trended the recent temperature record and then decalared that 90% of the (remianing) temperature variation in the last century could be ‘explained’ by ENSO. Perhaps the reviewer suspected this could be another ‘trojan’ paper cited by the sceptic media side.

    Perhaps in writing how the simplistic conclusions of the paper could be misconstrued the reviewer had a premonition, or insight into the intention behind the paper.

    In which case how ironic that his comment alluding to this possibility has itself been cherry-picked out to be used in an attack on the peer review process.

    But there is one aspect I find has elicited much less comment than I expected. I do not think I have EVER seen review comments outed before by someone claiming their paper was rejected for bad reasons. It is a convention surprisong well followed that reviews are usually private and anonymous. In breaking that taboo, and in such a petty and self-serving way as became apparent when the full review was released, Bengtsson has surely crossed a line far worse than joining GWPF or calling his collogues McCarthyites.

  23. AOM: “The root of all evil is miscommunication.”

    In case of the climate “debate”, I have the feeling that the root is a determined effort by the climate “sceptics” not to understand what is being communicated.

    jsam, I agree, but would prefer to solve that problem where the misinformation is fabricated and not by changing anything about the way science is produced. These community rules have served science well for many centuries.

    Koutsoyiannis, a hydrologist that is a climate sceptic and wants to be a climate martyr, often submits his manuscripts to Science or Nature and publishes the naturally rejecting reviews on his homepage. I could make a similar list, if I would send my normal papers there.

  24. Victor.

    but would prefer to solve that problem where the misinformation is fabricated and not by changing anything about the way science is produced. These community rules have served science well for many centuries.

    I agree with this completely. However, here’s an interesting conundrum. Imagine a reviewer notices that the way something is presented in a paper could be mis-represented. I would argue that pointing this out would be a reasonable thing for a reviewer to do. Of course, they could do so without mentioning the “sceptic” media, but I see no real reason why doing so would imply that they’ve changed the way science is presented. It’s just a way of qualifying why it is worth avoiding being mis-represented.

    So, as I think I said in the post, I don’t really think that authors and reviewers should be formally putting any effort into worrying about papers being mis-represented. I just don’t see a real issue with a reviewer pointing this out if it was fairly obvious – to them – that it might happen.

    I guess something to consider is that I can probably write things in papers that is understood by all those in the field but might be mis-understood by a non-expert. Of course, I don’t work in a field where a non-expert could then comment on this in the media and mis-represent what the paper is presenting. Of course, one could argue that we should be trying to write papers as carefully and clearly as possible, but maybe those who’s papers are more likely to be mis-represented by others should take a bit more care of this than others.

  25. Maybe you are right. At least this case was completely harmless. Before I switch sides, it would be nice to have a new rule, however, where to draw the line. I do fear the slippery slope. It should never ever happen that good work is harder to publish because of the climate “sceptics”.

  26. Victor,
    I don’t know if I’m right, but your issues with this have certainly given me pause for thought. At a simple level, I’m basically of the view “let the reviewers say whatever they like. Editors can always ignore, ask the authors to respond, or get another opinion”. Of course, if a particularly reviewer regularly says things that an editor chooses to ignore, they may decide to remove them from the reviewing rota.

  27. That only transfers the problem to the editor. What is the rule the editor uses to ignore comments or not ask certain people to review? That science produces knowledge and WUWT and Co only anti-information is due to the community rules of science, the codes of conduct and the institutions of science, which are upheld by people. These scientific rules do not come naturally to man. More natural is the brawling at WUWT and CO., where the loudest people from the biggest coalition wins, irrespective of merit of the argument. The Enlightenment is a young and fragile sapling on a historical scale. We might feel it is normal, because it was in our short life time and our community, but it is not guaranteed to stay with us.

  28. Victor,
    Ahhh, but I’m certainly not proposing that this should become part of the normal reviewing process. I’m just suggesting that if a reviewer were to make such a comment, the editor could choose to ignore it. I guess I’m just suggesting that a formal rule saying “do not mention the impact this paper might have in the sceptic media” is unnecessary. I imagine that in almost all cases it’s not relevant. It just seems unnecessary to worry about it specifically.

  29. Marco says:

    ATTP, where did you find the paper as submitted?

  30. Marco,
    I don’t know if this is “as submitted” but there is a link in this comment.

  31. I do not want to create a new rule for this special case, I would like to enforce the original broad rule: The only thing that counts are the scientific merits of the manuscript, its contribution to our understanding, whether the manuscript is politically inconvenient to some is not relevant. I hope some philosopher formulated this more beautifully. 🙂

    We already had one exception to that rule. It was not possible to publish information on how to create a genocidal virus. That took a long discussion and people could only agree on a one-year moratorium to give the further discussion more time. I guess in this case I have to agree with the exception, even if I dislike it very much, but the researchers in the field have decided to end the moratorium. It has been replaced by new rules for research proposals, I do not know the details, but that does not sound much better.

    The upheaval this one exception created, while it is much clearer that there is a need to protect society, illustrates how important that rule is for the scientific community.

  32. Marco says:

    ATTP, if that is the paper it is at odds with other news that claimed there were 5 authors on the paper (The Times). Also, it appears to me, from what I have read so far, that the paper was rejected this year in March, not last year.

    Even ignoring that, it is of course very much possible and even plausible that the statement was removed before submission to Tellus B or during the review process there. If I saw a statement like that in a paper I would ask the authors to first contact those scientists they claim have inexplicable changes of mind, as they may well have very good explanations. I’d be surprised if others would not make similar comments. In this particular case I think the reviewer may well have been one of those people who supposedly had an inexplicable change of mind, and therefore didn’t even make the suggestion.

  33. Victor,
    Of course I agree with what you’re saying in general. Playing devil’s advocate a little, isn’t what this referee did consistent with the general principle that he was judging this paper on its merits wrt “its contribution to our understanding”?

    It is indeed possible that this isn’t the right paper. I didn’t read the extra info very carefully. This seems, maybe, to be related to some conference, so it is possible that it is the basis for whatever was then submitted to ERL.

  34. Marco,
    The second referee’s report is now available and judging by the equations and figures mentioned, it can’t be the same as the paper I mentioned above. Could be based on the same work, but I don’t think they can be the same paper.

  35. And Then There’s Physics says: “isn’t what this referee did consistent with the general principle that he was judging this paper on its merits wrt “its contribution to our understanding”?”

    Yes, that is what makes this sentence so harmless, you could remove the part about the climate “sceptics” and it would still be valid. That is why I do not worry about this case, but I do worry about the principle.

  36. Victor,
    Yes, then I think we’re probably roughly in agreement. Ideally, reviewers could make this case without having – as you say – to mention “sceptic” media outlets. However, in my view at least, doing so doesn’t suddenly invalidate the comment, or imply anything about the reviewer having some kind of political bias.

  37. Victor,
    I should add that I do also agree with what I think your broad point is – to first order, science should take place without having to consider the possibility that some might choose to mis-represent what is being presented.

  38. Marco says:

    Looks to me like reviewer 2 also complains about the tone of the manuscript and its apparent overinflation of the discrepancies.

  39. Indeed, and also seems to complain about using different time periods which seems similar to, but maybe not quite the same, as what I thought was an issue with the other paper.

  40. Tom Curtis says:


    “I do not want to create a new rule for this special case, I would like to enforce the original broad rule: The only thing that counts are the scientific merits of the manuscript, its contribution to our understanding, whether the manuscript is politically inconvenient to some is not relevant.”

    Only two things should count – the scientific merits of the manuscript, and how clearly those contents are communicated. Poor writing that results in ambiguity about the methods, or conclusions of a paper is also something scientists as authors should strive to avoid, and consequently also something based on which their paper may reasonably be rejected. Where the paper is related to a politically, ethically, or otherwise contentious field among the general public, clarity of communication should extend beyond the immediately intended audience to the potential lay audience that may also read the paper.

    To a limited extent, that clarity to the lay public should extend to more extensive definition of common variables, but not to a dumming down of the paper. However, where claims are made in the conclusion that appear not to be supported in the paper, it is quite appropriate to consider how those claims will be interpreted by a lay audience – even a biased lay audience. If they are likely to be misinterpreted or over interpreted, it is quite appropriate to ask the authors to either support those claims in the paper, or rewrite the conclusion so that the risk of misinterpretation or over interpretation is minimized.

    That appears to be what has happened here. Bengtsson has made claims in the conclusion that are likely to be over interpreted and which, as over interpreted, are not supported. He reviewers indicated that a paper actually addressing the issues raised by the claims as over interpreted would be worthwhile, but that if not addressed the claims should be clarified or the paper not published. That was quite appropriate. Whether the likely over interpretation was by AGW pseudo-skeptics or somebody else was, or should have been, irrelevant. The identification of them as being the likely people to over interpret the claims was of no consequence.

  41. Tom, unfortunately I have no new arguments to offer. Asking for a clearer text in itself is fine as I already wrote above.

    Writing scientific articles that can be read by lay people is nearly impossible. Meteorological papers are already quite readable because relatively long and not too abstract. I think Anders should start as a physicist. There is hardly anything harder to read than 4-page physics articles (letters).

  42. Tom Curtis says:

    Andrew Dessler commented on another thread, but probably intended to comment on this one. He wrote in part:

    “It is sad that, as a frequent peer reviewer myself, I now have to start considering as I write it how my review could be selectively quoted if it were publicly released.”

    I consider it a substantial breach of ethics by Bengtsson that he revealed the contents of the review – and even more so that he quoted selectively when doing so.

    Never-the-less, this is the age of science by press release. While universities continue to issue press releases about scientific papers, and scientists speak to the media about their papers, we must assume the general public are among the readership of those papers (at least sometimes). Consequently scientists do need to write on the assumption that they will be misquoted, and write in a way to make that difficult.

  43. The best protection against being misquoted are those incomprehensible 4-page letters. 🙂

  44. Joshua says:

    Tom –

    Why do you consider that to be a breach of ethics (as opposed to a breach of convention). Why do you consider revealing the contents of a review to be unethical?

  45. Eli Rabett says:

    To answer for Tom, because the letter (these days Email) of invitation to review states that the review will be confidential. In the Bengtsson case ERL asked permission to publish the reviews even tho the reviewers were not identified.

    Dollars to doughnuts, the Brandon Schollenbergers of the world are now trying to hack ERL and the Email of the editors to identify the reviewers.

  46. Joshua says:

    Thanks, Eli –

    So Bengtsson took it upon himself to invalidate (not sure what the right word would be there) the promise made by the journal to the reviewer? Yes, that would be unethical. I wonder if there might not be legal recourse?

    My God, can you imagine all the hand-wringing about “persecution” that would ensue if Bengtsson were to be sued for undermining the journal’s confidentiality agreement? Perhaps the world would run out of electrons from all the “skept-o-sphere” comments about McCarthyism and Lysenkoism. Bengtsson would be cannonized in the church of “skepticism.”

  47. Tom Curtis says:

    Joshua, in addition to Eli’s point, the standard practice in reviews is that the reviewer should also be anonymous. By quoting the review in public, you place the reviewer in the position where they must “out” themselves if they are to defend their review from misrepresentations and selective quotation. Thus quoting of reviews either takes unfair advantage of the reviewers anonymity to prevent them from defending themselves, or forces them to cease being anonymous contrary to the basis of the peer review system.

    As regards the response to Bengtsson’s ethical breach, ERL should not sue; but neither should they accept further papers from Bengtsson, citing his breach of ethics as the basis for doing so.

  48. JasonB says:

    I think I just got a new favourite word for “skeptics” courtesy of “toto” and picked up by “Imback” in the comment thread at Stoat’s:


    According to Google Translate, it’s the Swedish word for “negationist”.

  49. Marco says:

    Tom, something similar happened with Eric Steig, although there John Nielsen-Gammon actually stated that it would be OK to release the reviewer comments, but not to link it to a person (which they then did at CA anyway…). So, the notion that the release of reviewer comments is unethical is not universal.

  50. I guess, technically, a reviewer is meant to write their report in a way that makes them unidentifiable to someone in their own field. Given that, you would imagine that releasing their report to the general public should not really risk their anonymity.

    I will add, though, that Tom’s point about an author publicly criticising what a reviewer has said is questionable, as the reviewer would then be unable to defend themselves without breaking anonymity.

  51. Joshua says:

    A reviewer could potentially defend his/her review anonymously.

    I didn’t realize that journals promise that the review itself will be confidential – so that does seem to me to be a bigger issue – because it would mean that Bengtsson knowingly made it impossible for the journal to maintain it’s obligation to the reviewer. It would mean that one of Bengtsson’s colleagues wrote a review expecting it to remain confidential, and Bengstoon knew that, and publicized it anyway. I’d say that’s a breach of ethics.

    –> “I guess, technically, a reviewer is meant to write their report in a way that makes them unidentifiable to someone in their own field. ”

    Having read quite a number of reviewer comments, I have never gotten that impression. Is it possible that might depend on the field?

  52. Joshua,
    Hmmm, I think I may have just confused reviewing a funding proposal and reviewing a paper. In the former (in my experience at least) you’re asked to write in a way that maintains your anonymity. In the latter, that may well not be a formal requirement. Of course, if you do select to remain anonymous then that would seem an obvious thing to do and if you’re then still anonymous to someone in your field, you’re likely to remain so if it were released to the general public.

    I don think that journals would typically not release the review to anyone but the authors. I’m not sure if the authors are prohibited from releasing it more widely, but it would seem somewhat unprofessional to do so, even if it isn’t prohibited.

  53. Tom Curtis says:

    Joshua, in general the reviewer could defend the review anonymously, but if they are defending against misrepresentation by a single quote taken out of context, then they can neither provide more context nor claim knowledge (rather than mere inference) as to the intended meaning without revealing their privileged access to the review (in the first instance), and that they are the author in the second.

    I do agree that the breach of confidentiality is the more clear cut breach. It is a breach on every occasion where it occurs, whereas a quotation of the review that does not misrepresent it, or cast it in a poor light would arguably not need to be defended, and hence not leverage against the anonymity of the reviewer. Of course, to say that Bengtsson breached ethics on those grounds we would need to know that ERL provides reviewers assurances of confidentiality, and advises authors that they have an obligation to keep the reviews confidential. In the absence of the former, quoting from or paraphrasing the review is only an ethical breach of it either exploits the reviewers desire to remain confidential to avoid rebutal, forces the reviewer to reveal their identity if they wish to rebut it. In the absence of the later, arguably it is ERL who are in breach of their ethical obligations rather than Bengtsson. Of course, you could also argue that the confidentiality of peer review, except for explicitly open review, is sufficiently well known that Bengtsson should have known better.

  54. jsam,
    I saw that. My two immediate thought were – firstly – that the title should have started with the word Biased and – secondly – that anyone who says

    When preparations started on AR5, the world hadn’t warmed for 13 years. That is a bit odd, if you believe the models, but not odd enough to merit a lot of attention.

    By the time the report was finished, however, it hadn’t warmed for 17 years.

    really cannot be regarded – by anyone who wishes to have any credibility – as a climate change expert.

  55. Magma says:

    In that Fox opinion piece Tol states:

    The first rule of climate policy should be: do no harm to economic growth. But the IPCC was asked to focus on the risks of climate change alone, and those who volunteered to be its authors eagerly obliged. There is even a groundbreaking section on emerging risks.

    It’s hard to know how to respond to that first sentence. It seems to put Tol inside a very small box of his own making.

  56. Yes, I noticed that too. Rather a strong assertion, IMO. I was just watching a Bill Moyers interview with David Suzuki, that discusses this issue quite well (I haven’t quite finished, but what I watched seemed relevant).

  57. guthrie says:

    F******** *****!

    [Mod: I can’t figure out how much of this paragraph to let through and how much to delete so I’ve snipped the lot, sorry]

    “Away with alarmism – that has been tried for 25 years, with no discernible impact on emissions. Away with activists posing as scientists. Away with the freshman mistakes. ”

    Hey, all you people who contributed in good faith to the IPCC reports? Richard think’s you are useless, a waste of time, and anyway are politically extreme and should FOAD.
    MAybe there should be a mass facebook unfriending?

  58. guthrie says:

    Has he not seen the studies, admittedly years old, which showed that getting into green energy was a net jobs creator, as opposed to running old coal power stations? Does he really believe that the efforts to change energy sources won’t create any jobs at all? That is the impression one gets.

  59. jsam says:

    Thank goodness Bob Ward catches those freshman mistakes. Phew.

  60. John Mashey says:

    Not having seen this paper, I don’t know, but from study of the papers in Skeptics Prefer Pal Review Over Peer Review: Chris de Freitas, Pat Michaels And Their Pals, 1997-2003, I did see a pattern in some papers that de Freitas edited. Most of a paper would be fairly innocuous, but the introduction or conclusion would make claims that were not really supported by the paper, but were easily quotable, usually to claim extra uncertainty.

    Related, for some backstory see Did Lennart Bengtsson Know GWPF And Heartland Institute?

  61. AnOilMan says:

    Anders… excellent video.

  62. Mark Ryan says:

    Victor said earlier: “The only thing that counts are the scientific merits of the manuscript, its contribution to our understanding, whether the manuscript is politically inconvenient to some is not relevant.” He was expressing one of the values that is, if not unique, then certainly most strongly expressed, in scientific research communities.

    Reading ATTP’s post as well, it is clear that most of the practising scientists who write on this topic tend to take for granted just how little most people understand scientific ethics. I want to suggest that one of the biggest problems here is that so many people persistently conflate political culture and scientific culture. The broad public simply doesn’t get that there is a highly particular way that scientists think about their work and their methods –and most important, that they expect certain conduct of one another, on ethical grounds.

    For example, Judith Curry, and the regulars on her blog, constantly slide between what they see as scientific claims and democratic claims. Hence her recent assertion that scientists being associated with political organisations demonstrates, ipso facto, that their scientific work is compromised. There are two serious problems with this argument:

    1. It ignores that there really is a unique culture of objectivity in scientific research communities. It is ‘normative’ –that is, a goal towards which the community aims, and never completely achieves, but it is frankly one of the reasons scientific practise is the most reliable means our civilisation has of getting to know the world. Scientists are human, and some (and I’m sure everyone agrees with Victor above, a small minority) will actively defend particular political viewpoints. But virtually ALL scientists will actively defend what they see as their professional norms.

    2. Curry implies that criticisms of Bengtsson were made apriori of his scientific work, only because of politics. In her efforts at ‘balance’, she then implies there is something suspect about the scientific work of the climate researchers she names as activists, without assessing their scientific claims. The fact is we know of one example of Bengtsson’s scientific work which was rejected on its merits, but his political association with the GWPF means he puts himself alongside people who accuse his own peers of being part of an alarmist conspiracy. Joining a political organisation does not automatically distort a scientist’s research –but if it appears to do so, then the scientist’s peers are right to criticise. It is not right to impugn the integrity of a scientist’s work simply because they have a political affiliation. But that is not what has happened to Bengtsson; his recent scientific work is clearly flawed.

    The fact is that when Mario Molina –one of the scientists named by Curry- got involved with the Environmental Defense Fund, this did not set him on a path to attacking the integrity of his peers and lending legitimacy to opinions that would tear down decades of painstakingly built knowledge. Climate scientists have no reason to criticise one of their peers who gets involved in a group advocating action to avoid global warming, for the simple reason that such groups are not hostile to climate science.

    But it hasn’t always been so –Green organisations have had a tense relationship with science in the past, and could well do again. On the topic of GMO, I imagine genetics scientists would have a harder time finding environmentalist groups in which they could be comfortable. At the moment, involvement in conservative political groups pretty much requires attacking ones scientific colleagues.

  63. dbostrom says:

    Guthrie: …the studies, admittedly years old, which showed that getting into green energy was a net jobs creator, as opposed to running old coal power stations? Does he really believe that the efforts to change energy sources won’t create any jobs at all?

    If you’re a corporation your perception of money is somewhat like that of an infant’s with regard to hidden objects: if money is not in your hands, it’s vanished.

    What I don’t get is why so many other people who should know better buy into this fallacy.

  64. Eli Rabett says:

    It is interesting that the EGU journals’ open review allows the reviewers picked by the editors to unmask if they wish. Some do, some don’t.

  65. John Mashey says:

    Just as a reminder for folks perhaps unaccustomed to doing peer review:

    a) Being a reviewer is a relatively thankless task, usually anonymous and unpaid.

    b) The reviewers clearly spent some time doing this, did not just brush the paper off, but put effort into making suggestions.

  66. guthrie says:

    What, no greater response to Tol outing himself as a (pre-censored)? That Fox article is fairly clear that he has no time for the scientists or the science and cares only about his small part of the economic world, never mind it’s decreasing relation to the real world.
    I mean, we all could tell to a greater or lesser extent, but now he’s made it clear, in ‘print’, and there will surely be some consequences*. Or are you all too nice?

    * note – these do not include death or violence threats, obviously.

  67. dbostrom says:

    Guthrie, for better or worse all the equations of importance here will be balanced in journals by the relatively glacial publication process, slower even than cricket in coming to any conclusion. No flashing foils or the like.

    Time and again we see the intoxicating effects of a good reputation leading to puerile out-of-scope excursions into swampy territory. There’s been a veritable parade of big egos plunging into the morass of late.

  68. Eli Rabett says:

    Oh go play with the dear boy on retraction watch.

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