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Resolving technical issues in science

One of the strengths of science is its capacity to resolve controversies by generally accepted procedures and standards. Many scientific questions (especially more technical ones) are not matters of opinion but have a correct answer.

Scientists document their procedures and findings in the peer-reviewed literature in such a way that they can be double-checked and challenged by others. The proper way to challenge results is, of course, also through the peer-reviewed literature, so that the challenge follows the same standards of documentation as did the original finding.

Such a challenge can either be in form of a new, independent paper, or in the form of a comment to a published paper. The latter is the appropriate avenue if the challenge is not based on new data (and is thus a piece of research in its own right), but is a criticism of the methods used in a paper.

Such technical comments are routinely published in journals, and RealClimate authors have of course also been involved in writing or receiving such comments. One prominent example was a comment in Science showing that a challenge by Von Storch et al. (2004) to the “hockey stick” climate reconstruction of Mann et al. (1998) “was based on incorrect implementation of the reconstruction procedure”. We discussed the implications on Realclimate after the comment appeared. Another recent example was a comment by Schmith et al. on a Science paper on sea level rise by Stefan, noting that he failed to account for the effect of smoothing on the autocorrelation in the data he used. In his response, Stefan acknowledged this mistake but showed that it does not affect his main conclusions.

That the original authors are allowed to respond to a comment in the same journal issue, and the comment’s authors get to consider this response before deciding to go ahead with their comment, are key hallmarks of a fair procedure, in addition to a neutral journal editor and independent reviewers overseeing the process. Even if the authors of comment and reply continue to disagree to some extent, this comment process in most cases resolves the issue to the satisfaction of the scientific community. It lays out the facts in a fair and transparent way and gives outsiders a good basis for judging whom is right. In this way it advances science.

There is however a different way of criticizing scientific papers that is prevalent in blogs like ClimateAudit. This involves challenging, ‘by all means necessary’, any paper whose conclusions are not liked. This can be based on simple typos, basic misunderstandings of the issues and ‘guilt by association’ though there is sometimes the occasional interesting point. Since these claims are rarely assessed to see if there is any actual impact on the main result, the outcome is a series of misleading critiques, regardless of whether any of these criticisms are in fact even valid or salient, that give the impression that every one of these papers is worthless and that all their authors incompetent at best and dishonest at worst. It is the equivalent of claiming to have found spelling errors in a newspaper article. Fun for a while, but basically irrelevant for understanding any issue or judging the worth of the journalist.

While commentary — even quite negative commentary — of papers on blogs is entirely reasonable (after all, we do it here occasionally), claims that a particular paper has been ‘discredited’ or ‘falsified’ that have not withstood (at minimum) the process of peer-review should be viewed with extreme skepticism. So should accusations of dishonesty or misconduct that have not already been conclusively and unequivocally substantiated.

This brings us to the recent claim by Hu McCulloch that a post on ClimateAudit.org, detailing an error in Steig et al’s paper in Nature on Antarctic temperature change, was not given due credit by Steig et al. when they published a Corrigendum earlier this month. In this case, McCulloch’s comment on the paper were perfectly valid, but he chose to avoid the context of normal scientific exchange — instead posting his comments on ClimateAudit.org — and then playing a game of ‘gotcha’ by claiming plagiarism when he wasn’t cited.

McCulloch accuses Steig et al. of appropriating his ‘finding’ that Steig et al. did not account for autocorrelation when calculating the significance of trends. While the published version of the paper didn’t include such a correction, it is obvious that the authors were aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper it is stated that this correction was made. The corrected calculations were done using well-known methods, the details of which are available in myriad statistics textbooks and journal articles. There can therefore be no claim on Dr. McCulloch’s part of any originality either for the idea of making such a correction, nor for the methods for doing so, all of which were discussed in the original paper. Had Dr. McCulloch been the first person to make Steig et al. aware of the error in the paper, or had he written directly to Nature at any time prior to the submission of the Corrigendum, it would have been appropriate to acknowledge him and the authors would have been happy to do so. Lest there be any confusion about this, we note that, as discussed in the Corrigendum, the error has no impact on the main conclusions in the paper.

There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, and pointing out errors — even fairly minor ones — is important and useful. The difference, though, between people who want to find out something about the real world and people who just want to score political points, is what is made of those errors. That is the test of constructive scientific dialog. Specious accusations of fraud, plagiarism and the like don’t pass such a test; instead they simply poison the atmosphere to everyone’s loss.


217 Responses to “Resolving technical issues in science”

  1. 1
    Steve says:

    While scientists strive to be neutral, complete neutrality is probably impossible, especially for issue that have deep implications for society. I suspect even the best scientists occasionally succumb to cultural cognition: filtering the evidence to fit a pre-existing worldview (see: http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/?p=730). I find the concept of cultural cognition very useful to get inside the heads of the denialists (especially because for those of use with strong scientific training, it’s hard to understand why they behave like they do).

    To me, the interesting question is how much can scientific training really overcome cognitive biases, and what do we do about cases where it fails? It helps if we readily admit our biases, but puts us at a disadvantage in discourses where others are unwilling to do the same.

  2. 2
    Richard Steckis says:

    You say:

    “McCulloch’s comment on the paper were perfectly valid, but he chose to avoid the context of normal scientific exchange — instead posting his comments on ClimateAudit.org — and then playing a game of ‘gotcha’ by claiming plagiarism when he wasn’t cited.”

    Is is not the case that McCulloch emailed Steig and his co-authors making them aware of the error?

    [Response: McCulloch's email, which provided no details but pointed me to his post, was sent while I was in the field in Antarctica, and would have received notification that I was in gone, and not receiving email for the next month. McCulloch states very clearly in his letter that he didn't think his work was important enough to warrant a letter to Nature, and he would have been well aware that I don't read ClimateAudit. In any case, I had already recognized the error in our paper before I heard anything about McCulloch. --eric]

  3. 3
    Richard Steckis says:

    Eric Steig says:

    “In any case, I had already recognized the error in our paper. –eric”

    Thanks for your prompt response. I guess that the fact you recognised the error at the same time or earlier is all McCulloch had to be told.

  4. 4
    John Atkeison says:

    Thanks for laying this out so clearly.

  5. 5
    BlogReader says:

    , the outcome is a series of misleading critiques, regardless of whether any of these criticisms are in fact even valid or salient, that give the impression that every one of these papers is worthless and that all their authors incompetent at best and dishonest at worst.

    An example of an article like this at ClimateAudit.org would be helpful in making your point.

  6. 6
    Hank Roberts says:

    I recall McCulloch saying — in the CA thread later on — both that he knew Eric had left for that Antarctic trip (Eric’s departure was explicit in the original thread at RC). I also recall McCulloch acknowledging that he later — when he looked back in his email, found that he had indeed received an automated reply, saying mail wouldn’t be read due to extended absence and should be sent again after some date.

    Moral — read automated email replies promptly when you get them.

  7. 7

    Clearly, blogging, has taken informal scientific discussion to another level, whether it be at RealClimate, ClimateAudit, or anywhere else that the science is discussed. Which blog you frequent is sort of akin to choosing who you are going to have a beer with after a day at a conference. And sometimes, ideas introduced over a beer eventually work their way into a scientific paper, but most of the time, while they may have been interesting and insightful, don’t lead to anything further.

    Certainly, over the course of scientific events, there have been many ideas and results that have made a significant contribution to our knowledgebase that have not been formally laid-out in peer-reviewed publications. But, preferably, they would be—at the very least, scientific publications serve as storehouse of concepts and findings and a historical guide to the evolution of our knowledge.

    To me, blogs can provide better access and centralized discussions on topics that previously were held by only a disjoined few. Sadly, their utility is greatly diminished by the far too many comments that are not aimed at furthering the discussion, but I suppose that is a different issue.

    In my opinion, if the concept being addressed at a blog is thought significant enough to change the scientific knowledge base on a particular topic, it should be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Otherwise, it is just conversation—interesting and insightful perhaps—but still just conversation. If you want “credit” for a particular finding, write it up and publish it. Lacking that, if someone else writes it up and publishes it, you are at the mercy of whether they cared to include (or acknowledge) you on the effort. And there are many factors that go into that choice—scientific scruples is not the only one.

    -Chip

  8. 8
    G. Karst says:

    Most scientists will agree that the present peer review system is not working very well. However, I hear very little discussion on how it may be improved or reformed. Such a discussion would be much more useful. Science/research funding is another dysfunction, which needs addressing.

    [Response: I'm not at all sure that most scientists would agree with that statement. To paraphrase Churchill, the current system may be the worst possible system, except for all the others ... --eric]

  9. 9
    jrhs says:

    The difference, though, between people who want to find out something about the real world and people who just want to score political points, is what is made of those errors. That is the test of constructive scientific dialog.

    INDEED! Unfortunately, negativity sells, and ignorant people love it.

    I think detection of error is part of the referee’s job. A knowledgeable and willing referee is not easy to come by.

    [Response: I disagree. Most reviewers do thorough and constructive work, most of the time. Things slip through. That's why there is a process for correcting errors.--eric]

  10. 10
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Blogreader #5: only one example?

    Hank #6: the automated response came from Mike’s computer and looks authentic. My guess is that Eric became aware of having received this letter much later, perhaps as late as when the brouhaha broke at CA and he was tipped off — if his email handling is as well organized as mine :-(

  11. 11
    G. Karst says:

    Eric:

    Your (Churchill) response may be exactly correct. It reflects a certain reality. I do not agree that this possibility should exclude discussion. All protocol should be periodically examined to ensure it meets modern/current realities. The last thing anyone wants is an “improved” system that is worse or completely non functioning. We need to know what “all the others” is.

  12. 12
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Discouraging:

    Arctic warming already triggering methane release

    The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the
    release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.

    Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Birmingham, Royal Holloway London and IFM-Geomar in Germany have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres. …

  13. 13
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE the response in #2:

    McCulloch’s email, which provided no details but pointed me to his post, was sent while I was in the field in Antarctica, and would have received notification that I was in gone, and not receiving email for the next month. McCulloch states very clearly in his letter that he didn’t think his work was important enough to warrant a letter to Nature, and he would have been well aware that I don’t read ClimateAudit. In any case, I had already recognized the error in our paper before I heard anything about McCulloch. –eric

    See, this is the difference between real scientists and rabble-rousing scientists — the real ones are busy doing science.

    I don’t even go to ClimateAudit. I went there once and saw how fraudulent & politicized they were. I trust RealClimate.

    The last sentence of the post is poignant – “Specious accusations of fraud, plagiarism and the like don’t pass such a test; instead they simply poison the atmosphere to everyone’s loss.”

    And Chris Mooney perhaps should have titled his book, ANTI-SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: How Anti-Science Thinking Threatens Life on Planet Earth.

    Before AGW became a big scientific and public issue, people tended to criticize science for its false-positive avoiding reticence, not to mention the many fraudulent studies by industry scientists to disprove harms. And it’s sad now that the science has been in since 1995 at .05 significance (95% confidence) re AGW, and the public is trailing far behind the scientists on this issue.

  14. 14
    Sean says:

    The difficulty here is that real change in domestic policies can only be accomplished by non-experts: elected officials. With this in mind, scientists must always do a little “selling” on issues that have so much impact on our collective future. While it’s correct to say that science by itself should always be conducted in a responsible professional manner (the Scientific Method), I believe that the communication of findings should always tell a compelling (and truthful) story. In the same way, rebutting findings that seem erroneous should be done in an equally compelling manner, because the world is watching.

  15. 15
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Lynn,

    your 95% is way too pessimistic. It is just our confidence that we can actually see today what we have known is there since, well, around 1859.

    All climate science has done since on this matter is just, painfully slowly, putting better numbers on this old knowledge.

  16. 16
    mpaul says:

    The latest findings from the cognitive science world show that humans are incapable of taking actions that involve risk without first processing those actions through the emotional center of the brain. Publishing a paper in a journal involves risk. Scientists are more likely to ‘feel’ (yes I meant ‘feel’) safer publishing less controversial finding rather than more controversial findings. This is the reason that complete scientific neutrality is impossible. To suggest otherwise would require one to ignore all scientific evidence.

    Both the pro- and con- side of this argument are displaying emotional behavior patterns. I think that trying to place a hermetic seal around the peer review process does not always result in the best outcomes. “Squabbles” are part of being human and are good for science.

  17. 17
    MarkB says:

    In other words, a blog like ClimateAudit could occasionally be useful but it’s drowned out by all the childish behavior, accusations, and politics.

    On a different note, I think a blog entry on the recent Mann et al. study on hurricane frequency would be useful.

    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090812/full/news.2009.821.html

    The political crowd is already spinning it to say “see – debunked hockey stick Mann finally admits the MWP was warmer than today!” (wrong on so many levels). Inane denier noise aside, I think a discussion on some of the details and contentions would be useful. I see some arguments from Landsea and a very recent response from the authors to various criticisms.

    http://blogs.chron.com/sciguy/archives/2009/08/a_hockey_stick_for_hurricane_activity.html

    http://holocene.meteo.psu.edu/~mann/Nature09/responses.htm

    How robust do you think the recent Landsea study is regarding undercount bias?

  18. 18
    Jacob Mack says:

    Thank you Eric,as I was waiting for commentary on this paper; it is good to see you bring clarification and that, in fact, the trend and main points of the paper remain intact; hopefully now there will be less spin put on this paper, both at ClimateAudit and Watts’ site.

  19. 19
    Bob Clipperton says:

    Re: alternative peer-review process,

    Some time ago I read criticisms of the current peer review process which frankly left me so speechless I didn’t even fire off a letter to the Telegraph. Just re-found it if you want a laugh.:-
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3326091/Peer-review-the-myth-of-the-noble-scientist.html

    Of course, the writer Terence Kealey was promoting his own book !!!!

  20. 20
    dhogaza says:

    hopefully now there will be less spin put on this paper, both at ClimateAudit and Watts’ site.

    McIntyre’s already launched a personal attack against Eric at ClimateAudit, intermingled with a rehash of an earlier personal attack on Gavin.

    So, I think you’re right, less spin on the paper, more direct personal attacks against scientists.

  21. 21
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sigh. McI, not McC, is the one who started the really caustic topic
    that’s exciting the usual angry crowd. I’m sure he is tsk appalled to see how he’s riled people up over a known miscommunication. Not.

    Down in that thread, McC writes “I never resent my message, so I guess Mann is technically off the hook”
    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=6712#comment-351904l

    Does McC also somewhere acknowlede that his email couldn’t possibly have reached Eric Steig either? He must have known that —
    Steig’s last post came just before flying off to meet an icebreaker, for transportation to a remote site.

    Remember, kids, email is not close to 100% reliable.

    If you want to make sure you have reached the party with whom you believe you are communicating, pick up the telephone and dial.

  22. 22
    Terry says:

    Good on you for finding the bad math shortly after publication and for getting the corrigendum in Nature barely half a year later. You may want to revisit the Harry splicing as opposed to the “mislabeling” statement (not that it affects the conclusion), but I’m sure that has been in the works and you knew that the corrigendum needed a corrigendum weeks ago.

    [Response: Huh? The "harry splicing" issue was totally, completely, and utterly irrelevant, as any fool could have figured out, and as we pointed out immediately when it was highlighted at ClimateAudit. This is a perfect example of what we're talking about when we say that what is typical of such sites is "a series of misleading critiques, regardless of whether any of these criticisms are in fact even valid or salient". --eric]

  23. 23
    Terry says:

    Dr. Steig:

    I read this from the corrigendum:

    We also note that there is a typographical error in Supplementary Table 1: the correct location of Automatic Weather Station ‘Harry’ is 83.0° S, 238.6° E. The position of this station on the maps in the paper is correct.

    Isn’t the topic about the relative weight we should place on blog postings vs. published letters and papers?

  24. 24
    The Lorax says:

    I’m pleased that we are finally getting to hear Eric’s side of the story. However, could someone please explain the following statement in the paper. ” While the published version of the paper didn’t include such a correction, it is obvious that the authors were aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper it is stated that this correction was made”

    This sentence seems to contain contradicting statements regarding the”correction” . Did you mean to say that “..it is stated that this correction needed to be made in the future”?

    [Response: The point is that the idea that one needs to account for autocorrelation is well known; we neglected to do so, but there was nothing original in telling us we needed to do so (nor how to do it).--eric]

    Eric also stated that ” In any case, I had already recognized the error in our paper before I heard anything about McCulloch.” It would be really nice if Eric could quantify this statement.

    The guys at Climate Audit are clearly on a witch hunt. They tear apart and nit pick any paper which does not support their agenda. Often times the errors in data and or methodology do not change the outcome, but they then use those errors to discredit the authors and try and refute the science behind AGW. A clever, but transparent strategy to anyone in the know. I wonder if they do the same with papers that support their ideology? I do agree that skeptics have a valid point with regards to homogenization issues in the CRU and other SAT records. It would be nice if RealClimate would speak to the homogenization issues surrounding the instrumented SAT record to clarify things for us mortals. Thanks.

  25. 25
    Jason says:

    I think that, absent any surrounding context, when a scientist insists that they have done something independently, they should be believed.

    Sending Professor McCulloch a note saying: “Thank you for pointing this out. Serveral others have observed the same, and we intend to publish a Corrigendum in Nature to remedy this”, would clearly have been a good idea, especially in hindsight.

    The error in Steig is sufficiently obvious (having been observed in several other papers over a relatively short preceding period) that it requires no leap of the imagination to believe that numerous individuals noticed its presence in an article that received so much attention.

    [Edit. ]

    I also don’t think it is unreasonable to ask the following: Are there any other corrigenda to Steig et al (concerning other issues that have been noticed including the curious autocorrelation calculation in the corrigenda itself) in the pipeline?

    [Response: No, there are not. I stand by the results as they are. And I would have thanked McCulloch had I read his email.--eric]

  26. 26
    Jeff Id says:

    Dr. Steig,

    This is the email I received as an automated response Feb 6 which seems to indicate email access. Was there some other reason Dr. McCulloch’s email didn’t get received?

    Hello,

    I am in Antarctica until the middle of March. I will have email access via satellite, but text only is permitted, and 30 kB maximum file size. Please do not write except for essential matters. The email address is posted on my website at the University of Washington.

    Best wishes,

    Eric Steig

    [Response: Exactly. That's the autoreply McCulloch would have received.--eric]

  27. 27
    Joe Hunkins says:

    it is obvious that the authors were aware of the need to do so, since in the text of the paper it is stated that this correction was made

    More on this point would clear up the confusion. If this is “obvious” then surely McCulloch, Pielke, and others would not be so boldly claiming plagiarism.

    [Response: Unless they had another agenda of course. For his part, McCulloch has acted very professionally and, in response to my letter to him explaining the actual sequence of events, has withdrawn his accusation.--eric]

  28. 28
    Jeff Id says:

    [Response: Unless they had another agenda of course. For his part, McCulloch has acted very professionally and, in response to my letter to him explaining the actual sequence of events, has withdrawn his accusation.--eric]

    Hu is a good guy all the time. You’ll note tAV did not claim plagiarism.

  29. 29
    Aaron Lewis says:

    re 21
    NO! If you want to know that you have reached someone, buy them a beer. If you get out the bar without a fight – then you have “reached” them.

  30. 30
    Deep Climate says:

    I’ve posted my take on this latest controversy here (also incorporating Eric’s comments up to #27):

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/08/14/dropping-the-p-bomb/

    In my view, the accusation of plagiarism was clearly a crock, and the only possible issue was one of acknowledgment.

    I also compare the treatment of this case with its rush to judgment on flimsy evidence, at best, and the Alan Carlin case. Not one of the contrarians who “dropped the P-Bomb” on various climate scientists, has forthrightly acknowledged the Carlin report (or should that be Michaels, Carlin et al?) for what it really is: a plagiarized pastiche of contrarian talking points. Yet the evidence in the Carlin case is incontrovertible. “Another agenda”, indeed.

    Eric, I think you’ve been more than gracious in dealing with the issue. I have to say, though, I find McCulloch’s withdrawal of the accusation half-hearted (as discussed at my post).

  31. 31
    Jacob Mack says:

    OT, but if possible, I would like to see some discussion from Mann, on his latest research regarding hurricanes; there have been some accusations made by others that the second paper relies upon the first and that the sediment method used now contradicts a smoothing out of the Medieval Warming period findings previously. Undertsand, I am certainly not making any accusations, but I would like to see more explanation/data from Professor Mann, himself, if possible; thanks.

    .

    [Response: Thanks for your interest in the paper. As this is off topic, I'll allow one comment on this (yours), but otherwise don't want to see the thread hijacked by coverage of this topic. At some point in the near future, we'll probably have an article at RC reviewing the various recent developments in our understanding of the linkages between climate and Atlantic tropical cyclone behavior. The criticisms you cite are at best willfully naive. I'm not sure which 'second' or 'first' paper you're referring to, but our recent Nature article on past Atlantic tropical cyclone (TC)/hurricane activity certainly doesn't rely on any other past paper under discussion in this thread. It uses two different methods, one of which uses regional climate reconstructions, another which uses so-called 'overwash deposit' sediment records (these are by the way not records I've used in any other study. they aren't proxies per se of climate, but rather of past hurricane behavior). As for the putative inconsistency with other work, that's a bit of a silly claim since this is the first paper to reconstruct basin-wind tropical cyclone activity (so frankly, there is nothing for it to be either consistent or inconsistent with at the present time). We can see from one of the two approaches used in the study (the statistical modeling approach driven with climate reconstructions) that the peak in activity 1000 years ago arises from a combination of factors. Those factors are La Nina like conditions that appear to have prevailed at the time, and relatively warm tropical Atlantic SSTs. The tropical Atlantic SST pattern closely follows the pattern seen in previously published Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions, with the Medieval peak of roughly similar prominence to that described in previous work. The tropical Atlantic SSTs are not as warm as today. It is only the combination of relatively warm tropical Atlantic SSTs and La Nina-like conditions in the tropical Pacific that work together to give a medieval peak in Atlantic hurricane activity that rivals that of today. So any 'inconsistencies' claimed by detractors are either imagined, or manufactured in an intentional effort to deceive readers about what the study actually shows and claims. I would encourage any readers to get their information from the paper (and supplementary information), the various press releases, interviews (including ones I did for NPR and PRI), and a video conference I did for NSF. That can all be found here. In addition, corrections of specific misconceptions about the study (such as some of those described above) are available here. -mike]

  32. 32
    Jacob Mack says:

    I am tired, so, I do not think I even said that quite right, but you get the idea.

  33. 33

    [Response: Unless they had another agenda of course. For his part, McCulloch has acted very professionally and, in response to my letter to him explaining the actual sequence of events, has withdrawn his accusation.--eric]

    Their agenda is spelled out by Naomi Oerske here.

    They are trying “to make the lack of scientific certainty central to the debate.”

    Cheers, Alastair.

  34. 34
    dhogaza says:

    I have to say, though, I find McCulloch’s withdrawal of the accusation half-hearted (as discussed at my post).

    He’s guest-posted at Climate Audit. I think it’s fair to call his withdrawal “quarter-hearted” at this pointed.

  35. 35
    Jacob Mack says:

    Alastair,
    thank you for posting that link.

  36. 36

    I wonder, does Climate Audit have a similarly robust debate going on about the McLean, de Freitas and Carter paper with its manifestly flawed analysis (delete any linear trend by analysing the first derivative of the data, then say, hey, no trend)?

    How about this as an idea? Set up a wiki along with a published paper. The original text stays unchanged as a record of publication, but corrections etc. can be applied to a copy, along with a comment forum. This will work best with papers that aren’t paywalled. Any substantial changes should result in either a separate correction comment that itself is subject to wiki editing, or a totally new article.

    Now I think about it further, something more like a wiki as a way of moving from pre-published to published would be an interesting model. The sort of gratuitously egregious error in the McLean et al. paper can slip through if a select group of referees all happen to have a bad day (or the editor was unlucky enough to choose a group who’d all dozed off in the first week of Calculus 101) when they read the paper but exposure to the wider world would reduce the chances of that happening. 2 obstacles to this idea:
    1. the tradition of publishing in peer-reviewed journals is very strong and would be hard to change
    2. many researchers do not want their work exposed until it’s had reasonably robust independent review

    On the other hand there are some advantages:
    1. you can get your ideas out fast to avoid being scooped
    2. you can get robust feedback without having to wait weeks or months for the editor to collate reviews

    If anyone would like to develop this idea further, feel free to email me at philip.machanick A-no-spam-T gmail.com

  37. 37
    Deep Climate says:

    #33 dhogaza
    Actually, I wrote “decidedly half-hearted” in my actual post (which does quote from McCulloch’s CA post). But I take your point: In this case, the estimates of “heartedness” should reflect the trend of past accusations of plagiarism.

  38. 38
    kmye says:

    Dr. Steig said (#2): In any case, I had already recognized the error in our paper before I heard anything about McCulloch. –eric]

    With all respect, despite my belief Dr. Steig’s statement above is completely true, I wonder if it still would not proper to at least note, if not credit, the first person to make something public as Mr. McCullough did, especially when they did make an attempt to contact.

    Otherwise, it’s just hard for me to understand how “I thought of it first” couldn’t be used by others as an excuse for a large percentage of the real plagiarism that happens.

    [Response: I was unaware of McCullough's post until after he wrote to Nature and put up accusations of plagiarism all over the blogosphere. Writing in a fringe web site (and yes, it is a fringe web site) -- and, what's more, one that I have publicly stated I will not read (something which McCullough cannot possibly have been unaware of, unless he is willing to concede that even he doesn't read ClimateAudit) -- and then expecting to get 'noticed' is the height of self-aggrandizing arrogance. Grow up.--eric]

  39. 39
    Thomas says:

    (16) Yes, the imperfections in our thinking processes are important, and should be an area of required study. If I had my way, their study would be a requirement of citizenship at least as far as it is associated with the ability to affect the policymaking process. Scientists at least strive to get above their imperfections, although I think formal training is usually lacking.

    But, once we get into the wider public arena attention to good epistemology is drowned out by those who consider their agendas more important than improving the process of searching for truth. That is where the problem comes in. A lot of resources have been commited by various think tanks, and media groups whose conservative agendas are considered by themselves to be of overwhelming importance. Pushing the discussion into the emotional part of the brain seems to be a first resort with these people. Not only are they providing a lot of noise and disinformation, but they are eroding the ability of a large part of the public to think clearly about even unrelated issues.

  40. 40
    Ike Solem says:

    Essentially, the PR technique that climateaudit uses is to question the statistics while ignoring the dynamics, i.e. the specific causality.

    This can be most easily shown using the tobacco example. The statistical relationships between smoking and cancer/heart disease were open to the same kind of detailed nitpicking over obscure statistical methods – and this was done only to inject doubt into the discussion, because everyone knows that statistics can be manipulated – “How to lie with statistics” is a book that most have at least heard of.

    However, a dynamic explanation is something different, because the audience can follow along. In the case of tobacco, when you inhale cigarette smoke, you also inhale active carcinogenic compounds like benzo(a)pyrene. This compound, via enzymatic action, is converted to a powerful DNA-binding adduct, leading to gene disruption and cancer. Once it is spelled out like that, it is hard to nitpick – other than to note that someone who smokes one cigarette a month is probably better off than the pack-a-day smoker.

    Likewise, a mechanistic explanation of global warming (backed up by data, etc.) is a far more powerful argument than any statistical correlation between increasing fossil fuel consumption and deforestation, atmospheric CO2 levels, and surface temperatures.

  41. 41

    http://DeepClimate.org/ does not work correctly on my computer. I see dark text on a black page. I can read the text by selecting everything. Nothing else there works for my Mac OS9.1, ie5.1.

    I just started reading “Unscientific America, how scientific illiteracy threatens our future” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. Does it ever! Since I am only on page 19, I don’t know their solution to the problem yet, if any. What was clear before I saw this book is that most people think scientific debate is just another political debate. Of course it is not. Science actually works, which is why we are able to have this conversation with computers over the internet. All of the prior methods of deciding have the defect of failing to work. Science is the only way to get to computers and the rest of 21st Century civilization. Let’s stick with the one that works. We are diverted from climate science to explaining science to the world. Let’s hope that this diversion can be accomplished soon enough to save the world. As usual, RealClimate has made a great contribution to explaining science, if only the world would read it and learn it rather than fight it. In science, there are indeed right answers and wrong answers. Only Nature decides, not people. Scientists are the people who figure out Nature.

    AGW denial is “just” a symptom of a much larger disease, a disease that can kill everybody by causing nothing to be done about the climate. What that disease is exactly, is hard to say. It might take centuries or millennia to cure, and that would be rapid for social evolution. But that would be much too slow to save us from a climate catastrophe.

    How can we get the voice of RealClimate amplified another million times?

  42. 42
    Eric Steig says:

    Folks: Having been appraised of the facts of the matter, McCulloch has withdrawn his claim, which was very professional of him. I’m off on vacation, but will leave comments open for those who want to discuss general issues. Since the specific question of unsubstantiated accusations of plagiarism has been resolved, further comments insinuating of the he said/she said variety will be deleted. –eric]

  43. 43
    dhogaza says:

    OK, rather than engage in “he said/she said” I’ll just quote McCulloch’s post at CA.

    If you want to delete my quote of his word, fine.

    But at least leave the reference to CA so people can read it there, themselves.

    Here it is:

    However, while ignorance may be an iron-clad defense against plagiarism, it is a rather dicey position academically speaking. Surely Steig and co-authors would at least read the vigorous and serious discussion of their paper on Climate Audit, the Air Vent, and other blogs, even if they do not deign to participate.

    Compare this to your statement:

    Writing in a fringe web site (and yes, it [Climate Audit] is a fringe web site) — and, what’s more, one that I have publicly stated I will not read (something which McCullough cannot possibly have been unaware of, unless he is willing to concede that even he doesn’t read ClimateAudit)

    Apparently he concedes … or something. He insists you read CA.

    If Steig doesn’t follow CA, he must be the only person in all of climate science.

    Raising the bar …

    Steig maintains that he did not receive my Feb. 28 e-mail to him, as he was in Antarctica, and that I should have received an automatic reply to that effect. While it is possible I did receive such an automatic reply from him, I can’t find it in my in box, spam box, or even trash box.

    Eric, you’re being had. His conciliatory withdrawal of his claim to “Nature” is professional cover, leaving him free to continue making accusations against you in politically-oriented fora like CA. The quotes above are from his post, today, at CA.

    Go ahead and delete this post, but please keep in mind you’re being played a bit for the … well not “fool” exactly, but they’re relying on your professionalism and sense of fair play, and using it as a weapon against you.

  44. 44

    Re #41 Great news :-)

    Re #40 I have not read “Unscientific America” but it seems that the same question is answered by Naomi Oreskes’s talk “The American Denial of Global Warming” which can be seen here. The talk is rather long at almost one hour, but it is well worth watching to the end, because it is only in the second half where she deals with matters with which most here will be unfamiliar and gets around to explaining just how America became unscientific.

    Dr Naomi Oreskes wrote an essay on science and society Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change in the journal Science in December 2004, which first brought her to notice in the climate change debate. In the essay she reports on an analysis of “928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 and published in the ISI database with the keywords ‘global climate change’”.[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Oreskes ]

    In her 2007 talk she goes deeper into the causes of the debate. “Polls show that between one-third and one-half of Americans still believe that there is “no solid” evidence of global warming, or that if warming is happening it can be attributed to natural variability. Others believe that scientists are still debating the point. Join scientist and renowned historian Naomi Oreskes as she describes her investigation into the reasons for such widespread mistrust and misunderstanding of scientific consensus and probes the history of organized campaigns designed to create public doubt and confusion about science.”

    And let me acknowledge that the reason I am posting this link again is because of the encouragement I received from Jacob Mack who said in #34:

    Alastair,
    thank you for posting that link.

    Enjoy, Alastair.

  45. 45
    Richard says:

    Re #41 – re your last comments Eric – well done! While this issue is resolved, lets keep the comments flowing in regards to the general issue. But re #35 – touche! Why didn’t CA have a post on the Carter et al paper that Real Climate dissected well and truly as a shonk?

  46. 46
    Jeff Id says:

    I would like to add that it was clearly reasonable for Dr. McCulloch to believe some of his 6 emails were received in a timely manner. He has accepted as I have explanations for why this was not the case.

    Since Dr. McCulloch was apparently fast and professional in retracting his letter to the editor, perhaps the authors should consider a mention of his contribution after the fact at Nature.

  47. 47
    dhogaza says:

    And, Jeff Id, while being polite here, as usual accuses Eric et al of lying over at his blog.

  48. 48
    Ike Solem says:

    I wonder how the planners and attendees of the American Petroleum Institute’s “town hall meetings” will manage their technical scientific discussions:

    Oil lobby to fund campaign against Obama’s climate change strategy, Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

    Email from American Petroleum Institute outlines plan to create appearance of public opposition to Obama’s climate and energy reform.

    “The US oil and gas lobby are planning to stage public events to give the appearance of a groundswell of public opinion against legislation that is key to Barack Obama’s climate change strategy, according to campaigners.”

    The American Petroleum Institute has in the past delivered huge PR contracts to the Edelman PR firm, well known for their extensive work with the tobacco lobby:

    According to a marketing executive, an Edelman executive providing media training to his firm said: “Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is ok.”

    That’s the American Petroleum Institute for you – just like the Americans for Clean Coal Electricity, who hired a lobbying firm to forge letters from charities and civil rights groups claiming they opposed the climate bill.

    They’re probably not very interested in rational scientific discussion, or in anything other than getting their dishonest message out to as many people as possible.

    You can seem them in action at the API golf tournament this weekend, if you happen to be in North Dakota.

  49. 49
    Ryan O says:

    Re: #45

    Perhaps you should scroll down to the bottom of your link before passing judgment.

  50. 50
    Jeff Id says:

    Dhog,

    You are right that I said that. The code was not released. However, yesterday Dr. Steig has explained his reasons for not releasing the code as well and I’ve accepted that too.

    [edit]


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