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Peer-Review Thuggery



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Penn State’s Michael Mann seriously evades Climategate’s core issues in his self-defense in Friday’s Washington Post. He speaks about “decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world” that has been published in the scientific literature. He neglects a decade of effort by him and his colleagues to keep any but the most dire view of global warming out of that literature. The hacked (or leaked) e-mails describe several attempts to influence the peer-review process that could only have had exceedingly detrimental effects on the published diversity of the scientific literature.

Mann and Tom Wigley, of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, were particularly incensed about two papers published in the journal Climate Research.

 

One was by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, from Harvard-Smithsonian. Published in 2003, it argued that a meta-analysis of a large number of “paleoclimate” indicators would not allow one to conclude that last half of the 20th century was the warmest such period of the millennium. This, of course, was counter to Mann’s contention that climate history is like a “hockey stick,” with a 900-year-long steady but slight decline in global temperature (the handle), followed by a recent upswing (the blade).

 

I wrote the second paper, which argued that human emissions of greenhouse gases were warming the atmosphere, but that the rate of warming was sufficiently low as to required a revised (lower) forecast of 21st-century warming. The data I used were from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (now being questioned) — where Climategate was probably initiated by the researchers’ abject refusal to provide any scientist not of their liking with their original data and the transformations of it.

 

Normally, one would simply write a comment or send a new paper to the journal. Instead, Mann told a fellow researcher that they “should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.” Half of the journal’s editorial board resigned in the fallout from the articles’ controversy, and Climate Research has never been the same.

 

In fact, Mann wrote to Wigley on Nov. 20, 2005 that they clearly thought they should have oversight over whatever both Climate Research and Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) published: “It’s one thing to lose Climate Research. We can’t afford to lose GRL.”

 

Talk about chutzpah! In other e-mails, they suspected that one of the editors, James Saiers, was a — God forbid this in science — skeptic, and that if he were found to be one, that “we [Wigley and Mann] could go through officia . . . channels to get him ousted.” Later, Mann wrote that “the GRL leak may have been plugged up now w/ new editorial leadership there.”

 

Then there was various and sundry crabbing about the atmospheric science journals from the Royal Meteorological Society because they instituted new requirements for authors to provide their data and programming language. Phil Jones, the head of the CRU (who has temporarily stepped down until the local whitewash is completed next year), said, as a result of these policies, “I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.”

 

Speaking of which, Penn State and East Anglia have initiated “investigations” into Mann’s and Jones’s activities. Will Penn State request all of Mann’s e-mails from University of Virginia, where he was for the most of Climategate? Will the school comply? Will East Anglia clean out its massively politicized house?

 

Don’t hold your breath. Penn State gets over $750 million in federal-taxpayer dollars, and Jones alone received $22 million since the turn of the century. Because universities charge 50 to 125 percent “overhead” on research dollars, climate change is supporting a lot of humanities departments around the world.

 

So, the tragedy of Climategate is that we simply don’t know how many papers were rejected or simply not submitted because skeptics found it very difficult to publish in this climate. Does anyone seriously think Penn State and East Anglia are going to starve their English departments because of the activities of a few climate scientists?

 

Curiously, none of this — the attempts to rig the peer-reviewed literature, or the massive amounts of money that likely to influence any university investigations — were discussed in Mann’s Washington Post apologia.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know.


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