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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, 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 — 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. 151
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Rod B #135:

    you say albedo has a one-fourth power law effect on climate. I don’t understand this.

    There is more in that category. Perhaps someone not recognizing Stefan-Boltzmann when it bites him in the butt, should not pontificate on the correctness of century-old physics?

  2. 152
    Glenn Tamblyn says:

    This is of topic so perhaps it needs to be moved somewhere else…

    I would like to raise two points/questions. These might be suitable topics for another thread


    Having read in recent years ( in New Scientist etc)
    A. About speculations that El Nino events could become more frequent as AGW progresses, withe the ENSO process acting as a sort of pump, moving energy around the earths climate systems
    B. That extreme El Nino events may have a carry over effect on the worlds climate for several years (not necesarily a warming effect)

    I have an informed laymans speculation. Could the ‘cooling since 1998’ that the Denialosphere is all a lather about actually be an indication of how AGW might proceed. Stepwise changes caused by a major El Nino every decade or so, followed by a relative plateau in between. Is there currently any work on ENSO effects that might indicate this possibility?


    What modelling has currently been done on the impact of large (1-2GTn per year) sustained Methane emissions on AGW forecasts? What triggers this question is events across the Arctic. Not Sea Ice retreat or Glaciers. Permafrost melt and Methane emissions from both defrosted organic matter and release from Methane Clathrates/Hydrates on the sea floor. Images of flames leaping out from frozen lakes in winter as methane ignites, early reports of methane discharge from the sea floor around Svarlbad and the Siberian coast, recent reports of assessments of the total carbon locked away up there at 2-3 times total levels currently in the atmosphere, and methane volumes in the worlds clatrates of 3-4 TeraTonnes are not comfortable night time reading.

    Obviously the state of our knowledge on the likely future rates of release of Methane is very sketchy, but I was wondering what sort of what-if modelling has been done into the consequences if such emissions started to occur? More broadly, a really useful addition to your sight might be a discussion area on the various ‘tipping points’ the world is hearing about. Obviously more speculative, but really scary if they happen.

    From my informed laymans perspective, the two threats that seem most likely to tip the threat from AGW from ‘Houston, we have a problem’ to ‘OH MY GOD. WERE F***ED’ would be that Climate Sensitivity is significantly higher than previously thought, and that Methane Release is the first Tipping Point, its already tipped and it could escalate fast. Nightmare stuff. I hope someone can demonstrate I am wrong.

  3. 153
    Garry S-J says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield (141) – “It ‘feels’ to a lay person like there is too much hidden at RC, an unwillingness to engage.

    It sure doesn’t feel that way to this lay person.

  4. 154
    Hugh Laue says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield (141) –
    You appear to be under the illusion that the real science is happening on the blogs – the denialist blogs.
    If you are a scientist (with some peer reviewed publications in credible journals) you should be in a position to research the extensive climate science literature for yourself (as pointed out by Benson (145).
    My guess is that you are one of the scientifcally illiterate (unable to discriminate between good and bad science)that has become caught up in the web of dishonest pseudo-science spin that flatters the gullible into feeling that they are part of some grand scheme exposing a massive hoax.
    My own experience with one particular denialist is that it is not malice that is driving her denial but a refusal to accept that she is scientifically illiterate and she really thinks the denialist blogs from which she gets her info is where the real science is happening. It’s a psychological problem – once you invest your ego in such a position it’s like getting caught up in a cult – difficult to escape from. It’s a really sad waste of energy.
    Secular animist (128) – Yes. I like your wise posts.

  5. 155
    Mark says:

    “As to things being “hidden” I have no idea what you are talking about. There is a wealth of information readily available here if you care to look at it.”

    Well *obviously* there’s stuff you can see, but there’s stuff you *can’t* see and that’s hidden.

    The fact that Esmie can’t see it is proof that it’s hidden.


    And if you can point stuff out, well, obviously, that *isn’t* hidden, so that’s not the hidden stuff.

    Now, does anyone have a grounding strap for my tinfoil…

  6. 156
    Mark says:

    “Malice involves what lawyers call mens rea (criminal intent).”

    Or they just don’t care.

    It’s as simple as someone barging out in front of traffic when driving: there’s a risk of killing people or at least crashing in, but at that moment, they consider their needs far more important than the risk. Especially if it’s a risk to others.

  7. 157
    Curious says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield #141,

    RC is just the best site to LEARN something about climate science. I feel absolutely reflected in SecularAnimist’s comment #143. I have learnt things here I had always thought you would need to be a real scientist to know. I’ve been fond of other technical areas and I have never found such a rich information source as I find in RC. Saying that your professor is hidding somenthing… that you don’t even know what might be, appart from being paranoid, just shows how much imagination conspiracy theorists like you are willing to waste.

  8. 158

    Esmaralda Dangerfield writes:

    Your science is not about counting marbles; it is an art form, rife with potential for honest error. But if you insist upon hiding your thinking, assumptions, data, etc. it is quite reasonable to assume someone is “cooking” the globe, starting with an objective and backing the data and the math into the intended result.

    No one is hiding anything. All the data and methods are widely available. If you want some essays on the subject which explicitly list the time series data and explain the statistical methods involved, try here:

    The implication of fraud is not welcome.

  9. 159
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield: Greetings from Earth!

    I can only assume that since you don’t know that the raw data and most of the analyses are all publicly available that you are either new to our planet or you haven’t looked very hard.

    Is it seriously your contention that the globe is not warming? Do you really think CO2 is not a greenhouse gas? Or do you think that it somehow magically stops being a greenhouse gas above pre-industrial levels?

    Please, educate yourself. Go the the “Start Here” tab and start there.

  10. 160
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Malice vs. stupidity. Note that there’s is plenty of evidence of disinformation and even deliberate disinformation. That is not proof of malice. We have to realize that most people do not think scientifically: They do not gather and look at the evidence in aggregate and draw conclusions based on that. If they did, Vegas wouldn’t exist! People have an amazing ability to tell themselves comforting lies:

    1)If i just pull the handle one more time, I’ll win my money back.
    2)God wouldn’t let me really lose my house, would he?
    3)How can a gas I can’t even see change the whole world?

    Still others reason based on their perceptions of necessity:

    1)There’s no way I can pay off this debt unless I hit the jackpot…
    2)Surely GM will come back. I’d better buy more shares while they’re cheap.
    3)Even if climate change is real, we’ll come up with a solution…

    This is precisely why scientific thinking is so important. It provides us with an alternative to lying to ourselves. However, as such, it is foreigh to most peoples’ ways of thinking–and indeed generates no small amount of hostility. So when the few who are truly malicious provide lies masquerading as science, many people will seize on it. Even smart people can be really stupid when they don’t understand the real science.

  11. 161
    Walter Manny says:

    Kevin (127), thanks for those two cents.

    As more of a curiosity than anything else, who might you characterize as being members of:

    “Those who are skeptical–no quotes needed–but do engage meaningfully and constructively on the evidence are a distinct (but very small) group.)”


  12. 162
    Rod B says:

    Martin Vermeer (151), I’ve seen the relation between Temperature and Forcing shown as 1/4 power, 1/3 power, and linear. The latter is the most prevalent in papers, with alpha as the coefficient (and about 30 yrs old, not 100+) which has some numerical variance. Some of these relationships are derived from physics, some from observations, even some from personal knowledgeable speculation, so far as I can discern. I was just asking. Sorry I offended you.

  13. 163
    ffrancis says:

    It may be worth keeping in mind that malice and stupidity are not mutually exclusive.

  14. 164
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Was Esmeralda Dangerfield a drive-by? I’m waiting to hear some evidence of scientific misconduct but so far nothing.

    For that matter, why is it that specimens such as Esmeralda are repeatedly allowed to postulate here about researchers’ corruption without ever offering any supporting data? What do such comments offer in the way of enlightenment or better understanding? This scenario happens over and over again; Esmeralda’s post was artfully written but as usual was 100% redundant in both its lack of veracity and utter vacuity. Is it unreasonable censorship to avoid having a discussion thread degraded by empty posts such as Esmeralda’s?

  15. 165
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Lindzen, as quoted by Dr. Curry, nailed this.
    A scientist must avoid the “industry stooges … “

  16. 166
  17. 167
  18. 168
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Hank, it’s always so disheartening when I occasionally visit CA. Dunning-Kruger is not only in the house but has built additions and installed hardwood floors.

  19. 169
    Hank Roberts says:

    Currently at ScienceBlogs:

    The Conversation
    “How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 1 2 3 Easy Steps”
    Dynamics of Cats
    August 17, 2009

    There are 123 steps. But be sure to read the Addendum. After all, I wouldn’t want to discourage you from submitting a Comment.

    The saga of the journal comment.
    Adventures in Ethics and Science
    August 18, 2009

    this chronology of exasperation raises some questions about just what interests journal editors are actually working towards, and about how as a result journals may be failing to play the role that the scientific community has expected them to play.

    Not-so-self-correcting science: the hard way, the easy way, and the easiest way
    A Blog Around the Clock
    August 19, 2009

    Two recent events put in stark relief the differences between the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. What am I talking about? The changing world of science publishing, of course.

    and there’s more ….

  20. 170
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., OK, if we change the radiation energy density, we change the temperature according to the Stefan-Boltzmann Law.

  21. 171
    Jim Bouldin says:

    This will be an astute grasp of the obvious to some, but I think it’s an important one that deserves repeating. Hope I’m not repeating someone.

    Eric et al. have shown that the change in the effective number of degrees of freedom (i.e. sample size) due to temporal autocorrelation of residuals does not alter the statistical significance of the observed trend, and therefore the overall conclusions of the study. RIGHT! (and all caps because that’s the bottom line in any study–is the result robust to these kind of things). However, there’s more that can be said on the issue. Suppose that dropping n from 600 to 345 DID change the significance to some p > .05? What then? Aside from certain individuals going ballistic in the library, what would a lack of statistical significance have meant?

    Starting with the most basic first, it most definitely would NOT have meant that there was no trend in temperature over the 50 years, only that the probability of a non-zero trend was somewhat less than the traditionally–and arbitrarily–defined benchmark of 95%, corresponding to somewhat less than a 19:1 (real trend:spurious trend) odds ratio. What if p was = 0.10. That still represents a 9:1 odds ratio in favor of a non-zero trend. How about p = 0.25? Still gives a 3:1 odds ratio. p = 0.5? Still have even odds that the trend is non-zero. Elementary, but worth remembering.

    But there’s more to it. The p value gives the probability of an observed result arising due entirely to sampling variation (“chance”; very poorly named as sampling “error”) alone, if some null hypothesis–some actual state–is in fact the reality of things. The null hypothesis is a benchmark, and in most cases, that benchmark is “no trend” or “no difference”. There’s a whole suite of issues associated with this philosophy, which have been fairly beaten to death, not the least of which is: “on what basis is ‘no trend’ or ‘no difference’ an appropriate null reference point”. Evaluating the probability of an observed result against a particular null hypothesis is only the test of one hypothesis, one which may not even be the most helpful to address. In fact, it likely is not in many cases.

    In any complex system (I believe climate science qualifies), what is typically MUCH more important, is getting an error-bounded estimate of a parameter, not an evaluation of how likely that parameter is to be equal to zero (or any other particular value). Of course the two concepts are related, because for a given sample size, a parameter estimated to be far from zero is much less likely to actually be zero, than one that is estimated as close to zero. Which leads directly to the very intuitive principle that the estimated value of a parameter is in fact the most likely value in the real world, given the constraints of the data available at the moment. And it is this “most likely value” that is the much more important piece of information.

    So what if the West Antarctic temperature trend’s p value had risen to p = 0.3 from p $lt; .01 because the sample size was greatly lowered by extremely high autocorrelation
    of regression residuals. Denialosphere goes into a feeding frenzy right? Right. No evidence of a trend right? Wrong. There would still be a linear regression slope equivalent to 0.18 deg/decade. Leaving aside the issues of fitting some other type of (non-linear) model to reduce the autocorrelation, the maximum likelihood estimate of a linear trend is just that, 0.18 deg/decade, a probability which will necessarily be higher–and in this case much higher–than the probability that the slope is zero (no trend).

    But they’re still going apeshit anyway I’m guessing.

    Carry on.

  22. 172
    Esmeralda Dangerfield says:

    Gentlepersons….. I am *very* sorry! I did not mean to imply that warming was not – or was – happening. I am new to this, but have spent many hours in the past week or so, tumbling through the rabbit hole of various web sites.

    I *was* referring to the need for doing good, quality science, with openness. Where, oh where, did I write something about “scientific misconduct,” “fraud,” “corruption,” something of which so many would take offense? A lack of openness was the worst of my recent observations. Has anyone read this thread?

    [edit of cut-and-paste contrarian talking points]

    [Response: On the off-chance that you are indeed new to this – you need to know that your sources are not telling you the truth. You quote people like John Theon as if they knew what they were talking about. How do you know that? Where did you come across his name in this context? Who told you he was a valid authority? He isn’t, and he wasn’t. Instead he is a retired administrator (since at least the mid-1990s) who has no publication history or expertise on the matter. As for Joanne Simpson, her comments – pushed around the denialosphere by people like you innocently or not – are taken out of context and a complete distortion of her opinions on the subject.

    As for the harassment of researchers by ‘people only seeking the truth’, the evidence is all around that this is a political tactic rather than it being due to any desire to use the information to further science. What did they do with the GISTEMP data, programs and instructions that was put on line after a similarly generated outcry? Nothing. Why don’t they demand the same transparency from the producers of the satellite temperature data? Obvious – they see no political point in doing so, yet the scientific point is just as valid. These people see very clearly that since short of continuously web-streaming the work of each individual scientist, there will always be more that can be asked for regardless of what is currently available. Thus it is like a perpetual outrage-generating machine that just keeps on chugging along, like the Moloch, never satisfied with what it has. Meanwhile, what matters is forgotten (or was never acknowledged in the first place). Which is of course the point.

    The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of scientists are extremely flattered to have people genuinely interested in their research and are more than willing to go out of there way to help people further the science. However, they generally don’t take kindly to be accused of misconduct and then being asked by the same people to take time out of their day to help them understand something. Respect needs to go both ways – scientists will have respect and time for people wanting to know more or check things independently when the same people doesn’t automatically assume that any decision made in the analysis or mistake in a description is proof of some nefarious agenda. – gavin]

    There have been nothing but dismissive taunts directed at me in response to my posting, many asking if I “believe” in global warming, and, well, I’m taken aback. I would not have thought that would be a question asked by a scientist — ever. I thought science was “just the facts,” the results….but…?

    My post was an attempt to “cool” the tempers of recent. I made no charges, only an observation of dismissive discourteous secretiveness, in only a short time — and which Dr. Theon writes about, I might add, again. I might be new to this, but I’m not uneducated or stupid or undiscerning.

    I am easy to get rid of. …smile. I didn’t realize “you” had decided: we know there’s warming; it’s getting worse and worse… Given how bad “you” know it is, what’s the point to further study?

    As a taxpayer, it would be much cheaper to stop the research now, issue all of “you” baseball bats and let you break the knees of anyone who doesn’t say the right thing.

    I am chagrined, embarrassed, and will, most certainly — having been properly chastised — disappear. Consider me a “fly-by.” But, I will certainly talk about this experience with you, believe me!

    I still believe you would have a lot to gain by working with, not against, these very smart, talented, experience, energetic and caring rag-tags.

  23. 173
    Hugh Clid says:

    Jim: “Dunning-Kruger is not only in the house but has built additions and installed hardwood floors.

    That’s right. They’re there to support the wall-to-wall mirror therapy you need here. GTF.

  24. 174
    Brian says:

    The discussion of malicious vs. stupid reminds me of
    I’m not sure why

  25. 175
    Paul Klemencic says:

    Since this post was set up to discuss how to critique a scientific paper, I wonder whether an example from a paper currently in publication might be interesting. The paper accepted by Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society is “Impacts of Land Use Land Cover Change on Climate and Future Research Priorities” by Rezaul Mahmood, Roger Pielke Sr., et. al. A copy of the paper is here:

    One of the key findings seems to summarized in this passage:

    “The stable nocturnal boundary layer does not measure the heat content in a large part of the atmosphere where the greenhouse signal should be the largest (Lin et al. 2007; Pielke et al. 2007a). Because of nonlinearities in some parameters of the stable boundary layer (McNider et al. 1995), minimum temperature is highly sensitive to slight changes in cloud cover, greenhouse gases, and other radiative forcings. However, this sensitivity is reflective of a change in the turbulent state of the atmosphere and a redistribution of heat not a change in the heat content of the atmosphere (Walters et al. 2007). Using the Lin et al. (2007) observational results, a conservative estimate of the warm bias resulting from measuring the temperature from a single level near the ground is around 0.21°C per decade (with the nighttime minimum temperature contributing a large part of this bias). Since land covers about 29% of the Earth’s surface, extrapolating this warm bias could explain about 30% of the IPCC estimate of global warming. In other words, consideration of the bias in temperature could reduce the IPCC trend to about 0.14°C per decade; still a warming, but not as large as indicated by the IPCC. ”

    A couple of quick questions on this result:

    1. Is it fair to conclude that every one of the very large number of temperature measurements made on the land would be impacted by a surface boundary layer? Can a direct linear extrapolation be used to estimate the warming bias, as was done in this paper?

    [Response: As is being discussed in a number of places, there is a strong possibility of misunderstanding these statements. Changes in the BL structure for whatever reason do not cause the surface temperature trend to be wrong in any respect. If however you wanted to calculate the total heat content trend of the atmosphere (something which has not heretofore been a big requirement), then you would want to take the vertical profile changes into account (and not just in the boundary layer). If however, you are trying to compare observed surface trends to a model then you’d not have to make any corrections since a perfect model would have exactly this same behaviour. – gavin]

    2. It appears that correcting the land reading by the large warm bias in this report would wipe out almost all of the land warming trend. If so, is a stable or cooling land surface trend consistent with satellite measurements over the continents showing warming of the lower and mid-level troposphere?

    [Response: This is not evidence that the land surface trend needs to be adjusted if you are comparing like with like. There is plenty of reasons to expect the land surface trend to be faster than the ocean trends – just as is observed. – gavin]

    3. The paper seems to conclude that much of the warming bias is due to heat generated from man’s activities other than the GHG forcing. Is the heat released from mankind’s activities enough to explain the warming bias of 0.21 K per decade?

    [Response: Really? First off, this isn’t evidence that there is a bias in the surface temperature trends. Secondly, I don’t think this is related to the direct output of waste heat into the atmosphere. This might be locally important in some regions, but as a global effect (or even just a land effect) it is a couple of orders magnitude smaller than the impact of increased CO2 on the forcing. – gavin]

    If you would prefer to defer addressing this issue and answering these questions at this time, I will understand.

  26. 176
    chris says:

    Re #169

    Hank, those links are funny and maddening, and my blood pressure rose as I read them. However in my opinion one needs to be careful with stuff like this.

    ….we all have experiences of this sort (perhaps not so bad as Trebino’s!)….you can succumb to screaming indignation for a little while but at some point you have to knuckle down and just deal with it. Do the unreasonable experiments demanded by the reviewers, make the silly amendments they specify…or argue against these, hoping that the editor is a reasonable and scientifically literate individual…or send the paper elsewhere (never a good option in my opinion since you just start the process over again with a different set of unreasonable editors/reviewers).

    However “funny”, these stories do glorify unhelpful feelings of righteous indignation (I certainly felt increasingly like punching someone as I read Trebino’s pdf!), and pander to conspiracy theory. One or two of the “science” blogs have righteous indignation and conspiracy theory as their underlying theme (witness the totally dreary and non-constructive anti-Steig stuff that’s the original subject of this thread).

    I think that the scientific publishing process is a pretty good “best of a bad set of alternatives” process. Despite the personal angst that often accompanies submission of papers and the review/journal response, the process works, if messily, just like most good/acceptable things in life. It’s obvious that scientific fields move forwards productively. If scientific publishing is changing, we have to be careful not to throw out the “good” in pursuit of the idealistic “perfect”.

    What I consider real problems:

    1. the continuing expansion of journals. There are simply too many journals. They have to be filled with “stuff” and so quite a lot of dismal and unnecesary stuff is published (taking up editoral and reviewers time of course). This practice is promoted by the increasing “metrification” of scientific esteem (impact factors, UK-style research assessment exercises that “grade” scientists and their institutions by – amongst other things – numbers of papers and their journal impact factors), and also by the fact that major publishers now “bundle” journal titles into packages for institutional subscription – we end up being forced to “buy” subscriptions to journals that we don’t want, giving the appearance that these journals are useful, when a realistic assessment might be that they should be allowed to “die”.

    The consequences – an increasing amount of bad science is published. Charlatans can get nonsense published in virtually unheard of minor journals and an “alternative” field created in the blogosphere with an apparent “science” base of peer-reviewed papers. Good journals have difficulty in keeping pace with the amount of stuff that is thrown at them so that occasionally an obviously poor paper gets through. Of course these don’t matter in terms of the progression of scientific knowledge, since the scientific process weeds out rubbish – however mischief-makers and misrepresenters can build edifices of deceit based on a selective citing of the smattering of dodgy papers.

    2. The transition to open access and fully web-based publishing. These are not so much problems as a problematic opportunities! I don’t want to write an essay so I won’t continue…however these are interesing discussion points IMO..

  27. 177
    CM says:

    Esmeralda, You say you made no charges, only observations. No you didn’t. You made insinuations without any specific observations whatsoever. You say many people here have asked if you “believe” in global warming. No they haven’t. So much for making observations.

  28. 178
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Gavin said:
    The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of scientists are extremely flattered to have people genuinely interested in their research and are more than willing to go out of there way to help people further the science. However, they generally don’t take kindly to be accused of misconduct and then being asked by the same people to take time out of their day to help them understand something.

    Absolutely dead on. You got genuine questions, you’ll get genuine answers.

  29. 179
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Esmeralda, you claim that “…you would have a lot to gain by working with, not against, these very smart, talented, experience, energetic and caring rag-tags.”

    Great, we’d love to work WITH them. So why don’t they publish anything. That’s how science gets done–not by publishing blog posts to be read by ignorant food tubes with ideological blinders. Here’s an exercise for you Esme. Go to this site:

    These are the authors whose work is most cited in climate related publications–a very reliable measure of the value of the work in understanding the climate. Now look for your favorite denialist scientist. Here’s a hint: look way, way, way down the list.

    OK, now go here:

    Note that it simply isn’t possible to explain recent warming without the anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution. Now try to wrap your brain around what this means.

  30. 180
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Hank (169): Thank you!

    From Trebino’s list of 123 steps to getting a Comment published:

    59. Also, replace extravagant words containing wastefully wide
    letters, such as “m” and “w”, with efficient, space-saving words
    containing efficient, lean letters, like “i”, “j”, “t”, and “l”. So
    what if “global warming” has become “global tilting.”

    Laughing while I’m crying.

  31. 181

    Rod B:

    > Sorry I offended you.

    I wasn’t offended, just sadly amused. If you really want to change the direction of your learning curve, you should be able to find textbook knowledge for yourself. So, the 1/4 is from Stefan-Bolzmann and is exact for a black (or grey) body, linear is the approximation for small variations, and 1/3 is… nonsense. A mistake, probably.

  32. 182
    Eli Rabett says:

    Essie is trying to shift the subject. One thing you learn about scientists, is they they read what is written and test it.

  33. 183

    > But, I will certainly talk about this experience with you, believe me!

  34. 184
    Mark says:

    Chris 176: “Do the unreasonable experiments demanded by the reviewers, make the silly amendments they specify…or argue against these,”


    That is a REAL Sisyphean task.

    You’ll do the work say what they say and they’ll be replaced with someone else who says THE EXACT SAME THING. And/or they’ll disappear or ignore your work then, when they figure people won’t be able to find the original response, ask it AGAIN.

    See, for example, “Volcanoes do more than humans in CO2”.

  35. 185
    Jim Bouldin says:

    81. Have numerous telephone conversations with the senior editor,
    in which you overwhelm him with the numerous other issues
    you have had to deal with during the Comment evaluation
    process until he forgets about your Comment’s tone. Indeed,
    compared to your verbal tone during these telephone calls, the
    paper’s tone seems downright friendly.

    82. Celebrate this minor victory by deciding not to include in the
    final draft of the Comment’s Acknowledgments section a
    description of certain individuals you’ve encountered during this
    process—a description that would have involved such colorful
    terms as “bonehead” and “cheese-weenie.”


  36. 186
    spilgard says:

    Re #172: these very smart, talented, experience, energetic and caring rag-tags

    And therein lies the appeal of the denialosphere to the lay person. RC is the gang of snooty rich kids from the camp on the other side of the lake, and CA is the loveable bunch of spunky misfits, led by Bill Murray, who will metaphorically triumph in the upcoming canoe race.

  37. 187
    Hank Roberts says:

    Google, remember? Essie’s visiting from CA and reporting back there. Eschew.

  38. 188
    Rod B says:

    Ray, thanks. I’m having trouble with the math (I got 2 watts/m2 results in +77 degrees) but that’s probably my erring, but it does seem logical. I’m also having trouble with the linear relationship (deltaT = aF). Has this been shown to be close enough at the values being looked at?

  39. 189
    SecularAnimist says:

    Esmeralda Dangerfield, your comments posted here are transparently, blatantly and very clumsily dishonest. I have no doubt that you will indeed go forth and lie about your “experience” here, since your second comment already contains blatant lies about the responses you received to your first comment on this thread, and indeed about the content of your own first comment. You exemplify the tawdry and tiresome phoniness of the fake “skeptics”. You can no doubt find audiences of Ditto-Heads who will applaud your whining about the meanies at RealClimate. I can’t speak for other readers here, but I find your comments not so much offensive as boring. What you are doing is an old shtick that we’ve all seen many times before.

  40. 190
    chris says:

    re #184

    Mark, you might have misunderstood my post! I was speaking personally about my experience of publishing. It’s rare upon submitting a paper that this is accepted as is. In general reviewers/referees ask for changes. Sometimes they consider further experiments/analyses should be done. Occasionally the reviewers requests seem dumb.

    In general you can (i) argue against these and hope that the editor considers your position acceptable (this often works in my experience since IMHO we tend to submit decent quality work!)…(ii) get over your annoyance, relax a bit and knuckle down and do some of what the reviewers request, or at least an appropriate series of analyses/experiments that you consider useful, or (iii) send the paper elsewhere.

    My point is that one shouldn’t get too caught up in the emotions of righteous indignation (‘though Ray’s Trebino example was hilarious). Things do need to move forward, and one want’s to get one’s paper published and get on with the next thing.

    What happens, sadly, on a few dubious websites is that the whole thing is about righteous indignation. At the end of the day, however (getting back to the specific point of this thread), a paper was submitted and published and a correction made…a tiny subsection of the blogosphere is seething with indignation about all sorts of possibly real, but otherwise mysterious and imagined slights. But that’s life…things can be messy and if one was to intrude into every specific scientist-editor-reviewer-(other scientist) fracas, one could easily spend one’s entire life consumed by the apparent injustices of the scientific process at the coalface…particularly if one was inclined constantly to take sides.

    …but one might wake up one day and discover one has wasted a huge amount of time and emotional energy. Why not just let the scientific process look after things? If one isn’t directly involved in the specific process, why not relax and let the participants sort it out…

  41. 191
    cce says:

    This is off topic, but I am trying to find a complete list of authors for the SAR WGI Chapter 8. Anyone?

  42. 192
    Joe Hunkins says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: I think what is needed is another model for writing about science–something where they don’t just sell controversy, but rather emphasize the process of discovery

    This is an excellent insight and blog enthusiasts should be thinking of ways to make it happen.

    Of course one *advantage* of all the contentiousness is that it can act as a motivator to work harder to identify problems and refine our understanding of the complex natural world. But the anger also prevents more face to face discussions and point by point online discussions that would be much more interesting to readers than bouncing back and forth between blogs covering the same item in different ways, trying to understand what the fuss is about.

  43. 193
    chris says:

    re #190

    whoops…I meant Hank’s Trebino example.

  44. 194
    CM says:

    cce (#191), sure. You’ll find the SAR WG1 ch8 authors listed on p. 58 of the synthesis/summary report, available here at the IPCC site (thanks to Wikipedia for the link).

  45. 195
    Jeffrey Davis says:


    Thanks for the link to tamino’s post and thanks to tamino for a great explication of what the terms mean and what their significance is. Many of the conclusions have been expressed herer (like the fact that without GHGs there’s no way to explain the observed warming), but tamino’s post is a great explanation and demonstration of why they’re true.

  46. 196
    Mac Crawford says:

    I am a fairly long-term reader of RC and appreciate the dedication of Gavin, and the other scientists and posters, to this work. It has to be incredibly time-intensive to “weed the garden.” I have to say my suspicion is that Esmeralda Dangerfield is just trying to find ammunition to use in the denialosphere. Reading her is a little like watching a very bad sit-com or drama – sort of the Larry David approach to a discussion of science…cringe-inducing.

  47. 197
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Joe Hunkins says “Of course one *advantage* of all the contentiousness is that it can act as a motivator to work harder to identify problems and refine our understanding of the complex natural world.”

    Actually, for curiosity driven research, additional motivation is not needed. I’ve been known to go without sleep or food for up to 3 days when I get hooked on a problem. Now granted, that was in my long gone youth, but even in my dotage, I still often find myself working past midnight to solve a problem–and I get up at 4:30!

  48. 198
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    I think a new milestone has been reached, Hudson bay canada is now ice free, and the NW and NE passage are almost open..again! By what I can see there seems to be greater ice loss this arctic summer than last year. Us in SE Queensland Australia have had an extremely mild winter and are expecting a new temp record set this mon of 33C in Brisbane and an exceptially hot week to come. Spring is still another week away and it’s jumped straight into summer.
    To see how australia’s mean temp has increased over the last 100 years go to
    I would imagine a similar trend is reflected where ever realclimate contributers live as well.

  49. 199
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Whether the sceptics and denyalist ostriches out there like it or not we are now living with anthropogenic climate change.

  50. 200
    Mark says:

    “Mark, you might have misunderstood my post! I was speaking personally about my experience of publishing.”

    I think you’re misreading mine, chris.

    Debunking the denialists grunted out “theories” is an endless task. Debunking them (as can be seen from Burgy’s “friend” who still seems unable to think in ways that do not mimic Watts’ “thought” processes) will not cause them to change.

    Debunking them is required not for elucidation so much as countering the Great Lie.

    If “Volcanoes produce more in one day than the entire human CO2 output over their entire history” isn’t debunked, after a while waverers will start to believe it because they never hear why it’s wrong. Then those who thought maybe there was something to AGW will see more people thinking the Big Lie is true and conform or at least not counter it because they no longer hear why it’s wrong.

    But the debunking is an endless task.

    And therefore saying “you must, however, work to answer them” is a complete waste of time.

    So there *is no must* to the debunking.

    Just “should”. And then only when time allows and you don’t have anything better to do than to ensure the Big Lie doesn’t gain ground.