Science journal editor resigns over 'problematic' climate paper

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2 September 2011 Last updated at 14:20 ET

Journal editor resigns over 'problematic' climate paper

Richard Black By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News

The editor of a science journal has resigned after admitting that a recent paper casting doubt on man-made climate change should not have been published.

The paper, by US scientists Roy Spencer and William Braswell, claimed that computer models of climate inflated projections of temperature increase.

It was seized on by "sceptic" bloggers, but attacked by mainstream scientists.

Wolfgang Wagner, editor of Remote Sensing journal, says he agrees with their criticisms and is stepping down.

"Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science," he writes in a resignation note published in Remote Sensing.

"Their aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims.

"Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell... is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published."

The paper became a cause celebre in "sceptical" circles through its claim that mainstream climate models inflated temperature projections through misunderstanding the role of clouds in the climate system and the rate at which the Earth radiated heat into space.

This meant, it said, that projections of temperature rise made in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports were too high.
Roy Spencer Dr Spencer is a committed Christian as well as a professional scientist

The paper, published in July, was swiftly attacked by scientists in the mainstream of climate research.

They also commented on the fact that the paper was not published in a journal that routinely deals with climate change. Remote Sensing's core topic is methods for monitoring aspects of the Earth from space.

Publishing in "off-topic" journals is generally frowned on in scientific circles, partly because editors may lack the specialist knowledge and contacts needed to run a thorough peer review process.

In essence, Dr Wagner, a professor of remote sensing at Vienna University of Technology, is blaming himself for this failing.

But he also blames the researchers themselves for not referencing all the relevant research in their manuscript.

"The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted..., a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers.

"In other words, the problem I see with the paper... is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents.

"This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal."
'Honourable course'

Scientific papers that turn out to be flawed or fraudulent are usually retracted by the journals that publish them, with editorial resignations a rarity.

But Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said Dr Wagner had done the decent thing.
Coverage of Aqua monitoring Nasa's Aqua satellite provides data on clouds, rain, ice and other earth parameters

"It was a mistake, he's owned up to it and taken an honourable course, and I think he's to be commended for it," he told BBC News.

"I think it remains to be seen whether the authors follow a similar course."

Mr Ward described the tactic of publishing in off-topic journals as a "classic tactic" of scientists dismissive of man-made climate change.

"Those who recognise that their ideas are weak but seek to get them into the literature by finding weaknesses in the peer review system are taking a thoroughly disreputable approach," he said.

Roy Spencer, however, told BBC News: "I stand behind the science contained in the paper itself, as well as my comments published on my blog at drroyspencer.com.

"Our university press release necessarily put our scientific results in lay language, and what we believe they mean in the larger context of global warming research. This is commonly done in press statements made by the IPCC and its scientists, too, when reporting on research which advocates the view that climate change is almost entirely caused by humans.

"The very fact that the public has the perception that climate change is man-made, when in fact there is as yet no way to know with any level of scientific certainty how much is man-made versus natural, is evidence of that."

Dr Spencer is one of the team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville that keeps a record of the Earth's temperature as determined from satellite readings.

He is also on the board of directors of the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing thinktank critical of mainstream climate science, and an advisor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical Christian organisation that claims policies to curb climate change "would destroy jobs and impose trillions of dollars in costs" and "could be implemented only by enormous and dangerous expansion of government control over private life".
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14768574
 

Neon

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Interesting that they neither point out what about the paper was wrong, or how exactly it was refuted.

Roy Spencer Dr Spencer is a committed Christian as well as a professional scientist
He is also on the board of directors of the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing thinktank critical of mainstream climate science, and an advisor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical Christian organisation
Yup. Not an attack peace at all.
 

CousinDave

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there is more science in midichlorians than there is in "global warming" and "green jobs"
 
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Are you referring to the fact that the climate industry will always find in favor of the climate industry?
No, he's referring to the fact the Cousin Dave goes out of his way to say the dumbest things possible. I'm starting to think it's a bit. At least for his sake.
 

Neon

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No, he's referring to the fact the Cousin Dave goes out of his way to say the dumbest things possible. I'm starting to think it's a bit. At least for his sake.
If I were to show you a tobacco industry study showing that cigarettes do not cause cancer, you'd fucking laugh in my face. Yet here come the people who make billions of Dollars and gain enormous amounts of power because of so-called manmade Global Warming, and tell you that Global Warming is manmade, and yet you don't laugh in their faces (not you specifically, but society as a whole). That is simply beyond me.
 

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Are you referring to the fact that the climate industry will always find in favor of the climate industry?
No, I'm referring to the fact that the guy that resigned admitted it was flawed based on scientific principles yet we're not even discussing the science of it. And don't think for a minute this Dr. Roy Spencer isn't making his living pushing his agenda out to whoever will buy his books or listen to him speak just like you think every single climatologist is.
 

Neon

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No, I'm referring to the fact that the guy that resigned admitted it was flawed based on scientific principles yet we're not even discussing the science of it.
Gee... I wonder why? Oh, yeah.

Interesting that they neither point out what about the paper was wrong, or how exactly it was refuted.
 

Party Rooster

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Gee... I wonder why? Oh, yeah.
But he also blames the researchers themselves for not referencing all the relevant research in their manuscript.
Apparently not referencing relevant research is a big no-no in the scientific community.

Also, the three people the two scientists had that did "preliminary" peer review were known GW skeptics. The proper way is to divide it up amongst skeptics and proponents and compare criticisms. Not even saying they may not even be right on some of their findings, but the way they published it should make you ask questions, no? You wouldn't if it was the other way around?
 

Neon

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Apparently not referencing relevant research is a big no-no in the scientific community.

Also, the three people the two scientists had that did "preliminary" peer review were known GW skeptics. The proper way is to divide it up amongst skeptics and proponents and compare criticisms. Not even saying they may not even be right on some of their findings, but the way they published it should make you ask questions, no? You wouldn't if it was the other way around?
I don't know enough about the actual FACTS. You are quoting from the same article that mentioned this guy was a Christian and right-wing. They devote half the article to discuss the "common tactic" of publishing in a magazine that doesn't routinely deal with climate change, yet only half a sentence to the actual problems in the study. That just strikes me as suspicious.
 

mascan42

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I don't know enough about the actual FACTS. You are quoting from the same article that mentioned this guy was a Christian and right-wing. They devote half the article to discuss the "common tactic" of publishing in a magazine that doesn't routinely deal with climate change, yet only half a sentence to the actual problems in the study. That just strikes me as suspicious.
But the fact that he couldn't get a publication that knows something about the topic to publish his paper doesn't strike you as suspicious?
 

Party Rooster

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I don't know enough about the actual FACTS. You are quoting from the same article that mentioned this guy was a Christian and right-wing. They devote half the article to discuss the "common tactic" of publishing in a magazine that doesn't routinely deal with climate change, yet only half a sentence to the actual problems in the study. That just strikes me as suspicious.
Too bad you didn't reserve a bit of that suspicion for the rest of the article. :icon_cool
 

Neon

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But the fact that he couldn't get a publication that knows something about the topic to publish his paper doesn't strike you as suspicious?
Not particularly because a) We don't actually know that he tried and was turned down and b) because publications routinely dealing with climate change are very "party line" because the only people who read them are green freaks, which could have influenced his decision to go to an "off-topic" publication in the first place. Besides, they call it off-topic, but this is a study that deals with clouds, published in a magazine about scientific observations made from space. I fail to see how those two are not related, since he undoubtedly gathered some of his data from satellite photos or sensors.
 

Party Rooster

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But the fact that he couldn't get a publication that knows something about the topic to publish his paper doesn't strike you as suspicious?
I actually tried, but the Googles are just flooded with the this whole resignation bullshit and not the actual science. And every link I post I'm sure can be matched with someone who can make the same points for the other side. Was going to post this, but it's a bit technical (and yes, biased):
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/07/misdiagnosis-of-surface-temperature-feedback/
 

Neon

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I actually tried, but the Googles are just flooded with the this whole resignation bullshit and not the actual science. And every link I post I'm sure can be matched with someone who can make the same points for the other side. Was going to post this, but it's a bit technical (and yes, biased):
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/07/misdiagnosis-of-surface-temperature-feedback/
I REALLY tried to understand that, but failed miserably. The science is just too esoteric, and he makes a few statements that I don't know if are widely accepted or not, or even proven.

EDIT: Just one more point - I think my ire at this whole global warming stuff is that even if humans are causing global warming, it is mostly Chinese and Indian humans who are doing it, yet it is routinely used to, once again, bash America. We need to tighten our carbon belts so China and India can pump all the coal smoke they want into the atmosphere. Once social justice and shit like that invade the science, it makes me suspicious of the entire thing.
 

mills

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I was curious so I looked for some of the "comparable papers that have been refuted" and why they were refuted. Found this-

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/01/lindzen-and-choi-unraveled/

It makes a lot of points but the most interesting sounding part of the point they lead off with was "They didn’t provide an objective criterion for selecting these endpoints and in some instances (see their Fig. 1), the selection of these intervals actually appears to be quite odd. ... So with this method the perceived feedback can be whatever one wishes it to be, and the result obtained by LC09 is actually very unlikely. This is not then really indicative of a robust cloud feedback."

OK, sounds pretty bad. But is that what happened with the new paper, the one that caused the resignation? Sounds like a stretch to say that just because the conclusion was similar to that of a different paper that cherry-picked data, it must be wrong.

Edit: took me a while and it looks like partycock did something similar.
Edit 2: or not ... anyway...
 

Neon

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Just for the record, one of the guys who wrote the refutation article partycock posted was an employee of the IPCC. If that doesn't strike you as odd, I have a Phillip-Morris oncologist to recommend to you. Just browsing that site casually, I can tell that it isn't a site devoted to science. It is a site devoted to affirming manmade Global Warming. That doesn't mean they lie to achieve it, but I can find zero articles on there supporting the opposing opinion, and I highly doubt that every single study disputing manmade global warming is false, and every single study affirming it is true.
 

Don the Radio Guy

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Anthropomorphic global warming has nothing to do with science and everything to do with restricting liberties. Once you understand that basic truth, none of this stuff is surprising.
 

mills

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Anthropomorphic global warming has nothing to do with science and everything to do with restricting liberties. Once you understand that basic truth, none of this stuff is surprising.
My take on it is that it's a certain type of person's ultimate Bond-villain wet dream.

"See? We always told you that the capitalists were evil and would destroy the earth for profit. Now do you finally believe us? Now can we finally get the pat on the back we've been craving?"

Big surprise that the environmental scientists - many of which I'm sure are good scientists but a disproportionate amount had to declare a major at ONE point or another, and what kind of person do you think they were before they did so - happen to side with the conclusion that paints capitalists as evil.

(you did say anthropomorphic sarcastically ... right)
 

Don the Radio Guy

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Let's not forget that the more people these "scientists" can scare, the more funding they get. Don't rule out plain old greed.
 

Party Rooster

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Anthropomorphic global warming has nothing to do with science and everything to do with restricting liberties. Once you understand that basic truth, none of this stuff is surprising.
What liberties? I liked the argument better when it was about green companies politicizing the debate to make money.