The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Editor Apologizes for Spencer Paper, Resigns

BREAKING

Journal editor says Spencer paper arguing low climate sensitivity should not have passed peer review, resigns.

http://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/3/9/2002/
Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science. 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 [1] that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.
After having become aware of the situation, and studying the various pro and contra arguments, I agree with the critics of the paper. Therefore, I would like to take the responsibility for this editorial decision and, as a result, step down as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing.
With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements, e.g., in a press release of The University of Alabama in Huntsville from 27 July 2011 [2], the main author’s personal homepage [3], the story “New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism” published by Forbes [4], and the story “Does NASA data show global warming lost in space?” published by Fox News [5], to name just a few. Unfortunately, their campaign apparently was very successful as witnessed by the over 56,000 downloads of the full paper within only one month after its publication. But trying to refute all scientific insights into the global warming phenomenon just based on the comparison of one particular observational satellite data set with model predictions is strictly impossible. Aside from ignoring all the other observational data sets (such as the rapidly shrinking sea ice extent and changes in the flora and fauna) and contrasting theoretical studies, such a simple conclusion simply cannot be drawn considering the complexity of the involved models and satellite measurements.
This will presumably dominate the climate blogs for a while. Maybe the mainstream press will find it interesting.

28 comments:

Paul said...

Isn't this the paper Pielke Sr. was commending to John n-g over at Cllimate Abyss? I believe he said something to the effect that this paper was ". . .raising serious questions on the robustness of the global climate models."

Paul Middents

Unknown said...

Per Pielke Sr. over at John n-g's:

Hi John – We can agree to disagree on the interpretation of the Sun et al results. It is, of course, not alone at raising serious questions on the robustness of the global climate models. This includes, as just two examples,(including
Spencer, R.W.; Braswell, W.D. 2011)


and

On Roy Spencer’s paper, I recommend you read it for the science he presents. It is in the peer reviewed literature. If he is wrong, this needs ot be reported. If he is correct, it certainly should not be ignored.

and

I also would not be so quick to dismiss Spencer’s paper. If Andrew Dessler can refute it, that is how science works, but it needs to be shown in the peer reviewed literature.

and, of course, his "biased" review of SB2011 over at his weblog, which is in bold font:

...this new paper by Spencer and Braswell challenges the climate community to explain a more dynamic behaviour of the climate system than concluded in the 2007 IPCC report. Their use of a simplified model is an effective way to discuss and examine this issue.

The next step is for those we disagree with their conclusions to publish in the peer-reviewed literature. I look forward to following this debate. I am pleased there are quality peer reviewed journals that provide venues to present scientifically rigorous studies such as the provided by Spencer and Braswell.


"Scientifically rigorous studies" indeed.

ScruffyDan said...

Shame. Seems like we need more people who are capable of admitting fault not less.

Still nice to see a flawed paper get its comeuppance.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not sure that Wagner didn't overplay his hand. This will inflame belligerent types, and Spencer is predictably showing no reluctance to feed the fire.

Wait for Watts to explode. I expect this will dominate on Morano's too.

muoncounter said...

You have to admire that editor; although had he done his job a bit more thoroughly in the first place, no such 'splaining necessary.

Will those who celebrated this paper as the end of AGW theory eat any similar crow? Et tu, Dr. Curry?

Marco said...

muoncounter, not completely fair. Judith did point out several issues with the paper (although she, of course, also stressed her agreement with one of its main messages, and in a way defending bad peer review anyway).

In the thread at Curry's place, Fred Moolten put up a lengthy comment which was pretty damning.

Chip Knappenberger said...

Michael,

In the actual paper itself, Roy was pretty restrained when it came to arguing that the sensitivity should be lower, describing many caveats that had to be applied to the interpretations of his results. In his dealings with the press, the facts got spun a bit...sort of like your headline.

-Chip

Michael Tobis said...

Chip, for myself I plead innocent. I just reported the facts.

I am not sure what Wagner should have done.

His claim is basically that Spencer must have been aware of criticisms which he did not address. This is pretty darned plausible.

But I don't see why Wagner should resign on that account. The blow-up we are being treated to is probably not helpful and should have been predicted.

Chip Knappenberger said...

Michael,

I agree with you about the resignation. Was there room for improvement in the paper--sure (such is not that unusual). Did Roy spin the results in the press beyond what was in the paper--sure (such is not that unusual). Do some papers take on a life of their own after they are published--sure (such is not that unusual).

But it is pretty unusual(although not unheard of) for the chief editor to resign as a result of the above (heck there'd be a new editor at Science or Nature every month! :^)

I am catching a hint of fishiness...

-Chip

Pangolin said...

Excuse me for asking this but didn't the Spencer-Braswell paper claim only that they couldn't see evidence of radiative forcing with the satellite equipment used?

It is concluded that atmospheric feedback diagnosis of the climate system remains an unsolved problem, due primarily to the inability to distinguish between radiative forcing and radiative feedback in satellite radiative budget observations._Spencer-Braswell

Forgive me if I'm wrong but that appears to be an "I can't see it from my house so it doesn't exist" conclusion. It should be rightfully subject to mountains of "well, you're inside the closet" criticism.

For the denialsphere to jump on this like it was the scientific end-all statement on AGW is idiocy.

Corrections please. I don't get this at all.

Adam said...

This will inflame belligerent types, and Spencer is predictably showing no reluctance to feed the fire.

Wait for Watts to explode. I expect this will dominate on Morano's too.


Jeez, MT, so what?

Surely there is no exposure of denialist failure, no matter how enormous, that would not cause Watts and Morano to explode in faux counter-outrage and yet more denial?

Why should the reality-based world worry about what the loons will say?

ScruffyDan said...

@adam "Why should the reality-based world worry about what the loons will say?"

XKCD has the answer.

Doug said...

I am catching a hint of fishiness...

I wonder what the hypothetical mechanical details are, behind the putative "fishiness?" Presumably there's some thinking behind that speculation, or was that remark an elliptical invitation for suggestions?

In the meantime I guess it'll have to stand on its face value, that of an unsupported, vague aspersion.

Chip Knappenberger said...

Doug,

I think the hint of fishiness wafts from the scenario that I laid out in my previous comment--that is, it seems like a pretty dramatic step for the editor to have taken in response to what transpired.

-Chip

muoncounter said...

Marco,
Look again at the fluff hitting the fan at JC's; in that world, this isn't about scientific competence/credibility, this is about 'politicization of the scientific review process.' Rather than accept that their idol has feet of clay, the 'denizens' are blaming Wagner.

All over a scientist who admits that he considers himself to be a legislator. Is the politicization pot calling out the kettle?

Doug said...

Chip, do you mean to say it stinks that he resigned?

David B. Benson said...

Much ado about...

Doug said...

Still wondering about that fishiness.

Presuming that Wagner does not strike Chip as a cold fish in terms of Wagner's affect, presuming that Chip does not mean that Wagner is of fish-like visual appearance, that leaves stink or suspicion as other Chip's other possible implication.

Assuming that fishiness in its ichthyological sense is not Chip's intent, what is it that hints of stink or suspicious circumstances about Wagner's resignation? Wagner's statement seems pretty clear. Was it made under duress? Was Wagner made to sign something written by others? Did shadowy malefactors intervene in Remote Sensing's governance to demand Wagner's resignation?

I only ask because to leave those ellipses floating as Chip did is to invite all sorts of speculation. There's enough product of the paranoid school of climate science already in circulation; perhaps I've become oversensitive to such phrases as I am catching a hint of fishiness...

Grypo said...

I'm tired but today needs a scorecard. It's pretty stunning news to see an editor resign, just as it was eight years ago. A quick perusal shows this one goes right down party lines. Some more insane than others.

criminogenic said...

I agree with Adam, who cares what Watts, Morano and Judith 'concern' Curry think?

This seems like a storm in a teacup in a teacup, I guess all Climate science is these days anyway, since the 'leader of the free world' has decided to casually say don't worry about it.

It's interesting to see that America loves to say it's President is the leader of the Free world, but when it comes to makng a decision on Climate, nobody is home.

Doug said...

Ah, I think I now know where Chip is getting his fish.

Apparently Dr. Roy Spencer, Ph.D. is concerned about an invisible hand reaching into yet another set of hearts and minds, cruelly twisting thoughts and emotions in order to do its evil work:

"... it appears the IPCC gatekeepers have once again put pressure on a journal for daring to publish anything that might hurt the IPCC's politically immovable position that climate change is almost entirely human-caused. I can see no other explanation for an editor resigning in such a situation."

It's so easy to float balloons of that color, especially when the pilots of these fantasies are never challenged to produce detailed explanations of how the mechanisms of such intervention function.

In this case, for instance, by what means did the IPCC frighten or cow Wolfgang Wagner into not simply resigning in a more perfunctory manner but instead producing a letter simply dripping with all the features we'd expect of a man acting of his own volition? Such verisimilitude is astounding; Wagner's enthusiasm for his role as a threatened person is quite remarkable. Or not.

More, Dr. Wagner could not simply jam this item into Remote Sensing as a rogue actor, hoping none of his colleagues would notice. After all, that would only cause yet another dramatic notice in the next issue, from the left-behinds, explaining that Dr. Wagner had apparently lost his marbles. No, Wagner must have consulted with his colleagues before including this seemingly heartfelt missive in the journal. So according to Dr. Roy Spencer, Ph.D.'s hypothesis, the IPCC has not only effortlessly bent Dr. Wagner to its will but also has terrified the rest of the crew at Remote Sensing into abject, craven silence. So confident is the IPCC of their crushing power over their minions, they worry not for a second that some individual may object. Presumably the very fact we've never heard a credible case of such objections is the very proof we need of how ruthlessly efficient is the IPCC in their manner of terrifying behind-the-scenes communications; absence of evidence is evidence of evidence.

Good to have all of that cleared up. Spencer's hypothesis sounds very likely, much more so than the immediately obvious, explicitly stated facts of the case.

Grypo said...

I put together a couple score cards and interesting quotes from this "debate"

Part 1

Part 2

Grypo said...

Part 3

Ted Kirkpatrick said...

Summarizing the known examples of pal review in climate research:

1. Soon and Baliunas, Climate Research, 2003: Reviews managed by Chris deFreitas, who also shepherded several other "skeptic" articles through during his tenure. Outcome: Resignations of Editor-in-Chief and five other members of editorial board.

2. Said, Wegman, Rigsby, and Sharabati, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, 2007: Review sole-sourced by the journal's Editor in Chief, Stan Azen, a long-term (twenty years?) colleague of Wegman's with no expertise in the area of the article (statistical analysis of social networks). Outcome: Article formally withdrawn after discovery of plagiarism.

3. Dyck, Soon, Baydack, Legates, Baliunas, Ball, and Hancock, Ecological Complexity, 2007: Submitted in 2003 (in essentially similar form) as a reviewed paper, rejected, finally published as a non-peer reviewed "viewpoint" one day after second submission. Outcome: No formal responses but recent discussions have not been kind.

4. Lindzen and Choi, submitted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, unpublished: Originally submitted to JGR but rejected there, resubmitted to PNAS with two, ahem, "sympathetic" reviewers, most notably Will Happer. Outcome: Rejected.

5. Spencer and Braswell, Remote Sensing, 2011: Reviewers recommended by the authors and likely confirmed by the journal's managing editor, a non-scientist. Outcome: Editor-in-chief resigns.

I won't include papers from Energy and Environment because it isn't ISI-indexed and its reviewing quality is ... [consults lawyer] a matter of record.

Oh, and that Said et al. article, the one written by authors who got their social network analysis skills from a short course, whose introductory section on social networks was written by an unacknowledged coauthor and cribbed from prior articles, which was reviewed by a single individual with essentially no knowledge of the relevant material? Its "contribution" was a claim that mainstream climate science had lax peer review because reviewers were too closely bound to the authors.

Can you say "projection", girls and boys? Sure you can!

Ted Kirkpatrick said...

[Michael, this is just a resubmit of a comment that appears to have landed in the spam queue.]

Summarizing the known examples of pal review in climate research:

1. Soon and Baliunas, Climate Research, 2003: Reviews managed by Chris de Freitas, who also shepherded several other "skeptic" articles through during his tenure. Outcome: Resignations of Editor-in-Chief and five other members of editorial board.

2. Said, Wegman, Rigsby, and Sharabati, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, 2007: Review sole-sourced by the journal's Editor in Chief, Stan Azen, a long-term (twenty years?) colleague of Wegman's with no expertise in the area of the article (statistical analysis of social networks). Outcome: Article formally withdrawn after discovery of plagiarism.

3. Dyck, Soon, Baydack, Legates, Baliunas, Ball, and Hancock, Ecological Complexity, 2007: Submitted in 2003 (in essentially similar form) as a reviewed paper, rejected, finally published as a non-peer reviewed "viewpoint" one day after second submission. Outcome: No formal responses but recent discussions have not been kind.

4. Lindzen and Choi, submitted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, unpublished: Originally submitted to JGR but rejected there, resubmitted to PNAS with suggestions for two, ahem, "sympathetic" reviewers, most notably Will Happer. Outcome: Rejected.

5. Spencer and Braswell, Remote Sensing, 2011: Reviewers recommended by the authors and likely confirmed by the journal's managing editor, a non-scientist. Outcome: Editor-in-chief resigns.

I won't include papers from Energy and Environment because it isn't ISI-indexed and its reviewing quality is ... [consults lawyer] a matter of record.

Oh, and that Said et al. article, the one written by authors who got their social network analysis skills from a short course, whose introductory section on social networks was written by an unacknowledged coauthor and cribbed from prior articles, which was reviewed by a single individual with essentially no knowledge of the relevant material? Its "contribution" was a claim that mainstream climate science had lax peer review because reviewers were too closely bound to the authors.

Can you say "projection", girls and boys? Sure you can!

Andrew said...

Over at Curry's Steven Mosher is spinning the Climate Research fiasco as another example of "the team" gaming the system. Unbelievable, even by his standards.

Doug said...

...another example of "the team" gaming the system.

Mosher should be prepared to describe how the gaming works, specifically, in the physical world. "I think the Earth orbits the Sun" is all fine and dandy, but lacking in details. Mosher seems very picky about this sort of thing, ordinarily.

Why no testable hypotheses when it comes to the Paranoid School of Climate Science? Is the PSCS actually magical incantation?

More prosaically, "gaming the system" ends up looking unlikely when we try to fill in the details of how such games might work in the real world.

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