RealClimate logo


Filed under: — eric @ 9 February 2011

or…Some thoughts on Personal Responsibility and the Peer Review Process

Eric Steig

Ryan O’Donnell made a series of serious of allegations against me at ClimateAudit, in the context of our friendly dispute about whether his new paper in the Journal of Climate supports or ‘refutes’ my own results, published in Nature.

To his credit, Ryan has offered to retract these allegations, now that he is a little better acquainted with the facts. However, it is still important, I think, to set the record straight from my point of view. There were such a great number of claims about my “dishonesty,” “duplicity” and [implied] stupidity, all of which are untrue, that it really isn’t worth trying to respond in any detail. Just responding to the main two ought to suffice to make the point.

“Eric recommends that we replace our TTLS results with the ridge regression ones (which required a major rewrite of both the paper and the SI) and then agrees with us that the iRidge results are likely to be better . . . and promptly attempts to turn his own recommendation against us.”

“[in his RealClimate post]…he tries to … misrepresent the Mann article to support his claim [about the iridge routine] when he already knew otherwise. How do I know he knew otherwise? Because I told him so in the review response.”

While it is quite possible that O’Donnell believes both of these claims, they are both false, as it is rather easy to demonstrate.

First, I never suggested to the authors that they use ‘iridge’. This was an innovation of O’Donnell and his co-authors, and I merely stated that it ‘seems’ reasonable. As O’Donnell’s co-authors are fond of pointing out, I am not a statistician, and I did not try to argue with them on this point. I did, however, note that previously published work had shown this method to be problematic:

“The use of the ‘iridge’ procedure makes sense to me, and I suspect it really does give the best results. But O’Donnell et al. do not address the issue with this procedure raised by Mann et al., 2008, which Steig et al. cite as being the reason for using ttls in the regem algorithm. The reason given in Mann et al., is not computational efficiency — as O’Donnell et al state — but rather a bias that results when extrapolating (‘reconstruction’) rather than infilling is done.

Second, I was the reviewer of the first three drafts of O’Donnell et al submission. However, I did not the review draft four, which was the published one. , and which is markedly different from draft 3 [note correction: it has been pointed out that it’s not really very different; in other words, my criticisms of draft 3 were ignored]. Nor was I ever shown their response to my comments on draft 3, so I did not in fact ‘already know’ what O’Donnell claims I did. It appears that the editor was swayed by the arguments that I was not a helpful reviewer. In other words, even if one believes that I was “bullying” them into showing particular results, they still had the last word (as any author should).

The fact of the matter is that my reviews of O’Donnell’s paper were on balance quite positive. I wrote in the confidential comments to the editor in my very first review that

I emphasize that I think that a fundamentally reworked version of this manuscript could potentially provide a useful scientific contribution, and many of the points made do indeed have scientific merit. Indeed, the authors have done a very thorough analysis, and are to be congratulated on this.

In my second review, I wrote that “O’Donnell et al. have substantially improved their manuscript … and clarified a series of items that led to some confusion on my part.”

With respect to O’Donnell’s lengthy discussion of the technical aspects of the difference between our papers, I’m not complaining. It is possible to have a disagreement — or even to be wrong — about the technical aspects of a paper without being ‘duplicitous’. The dependence of any analysis on the technical aspects of the methodology are completely legitimate subjects of discussion, and it is important to be clear about what does and what does not depend on those choices. People who want to see what the data are saying about the real world will focus on the similarities, people who are focussed on proving people wrong will focus on the differences. This is how O’Donnell and I can (legitimately) disagree about what their results mean.

The reality is that editors, not reviewers, make decisions about what is acceptable and what is not. Any comments I made as a reviewer of O’Donnell et al.’s work would have been weighed against what other reviewers said (and obviously were, since the main criticism I had of the paper was not ever addressed), not to mention the responses of the authors themselves. And the decision about what content eventually winds up published is still ultimately up to the authors. If the authors feel that they are being bullied into presenting their results in a particular way (as is the allegation here), then they have the choice to withdraw the paper and submit it elsewhere, or complain to the editor. But once they have signed off on the paper, it is their paper, and blaming someone else — reviewer or editor — for its content is simply passing the buck.

It’s perhaps also worth pointing out that the *main* criticism I had of O’Donnell’s paper was never addressed. If you’re interested in this detail, it has to do with the choice of the parameter ‘k_gnd’, which I wrote about in my last post. In my very first review, I pointed out that as shown in their Table S3, using k_gnd = 7,

“results in estimates of the missing data in West Antarctica stations that is further from climatology (which would result, for example, from an artificial negative trend) than using lower values of k_gnd.”

Mysteriously, this table is now absent in the final paper (which I was not given a chance to review).

Some months ago, O’Donnell cordially (though quite inappropriately) asked me if I was one of the reviewers, and also promised not to reveal it publicly if I didn’t want him to. I told him I was, but that I would prefer this not be public since the ‘opportunity for abuse’ was simply too great. Talk about prescience!

Many of my colleagues have warned me many times not to trust the good intentions of O’Donnell, Condon, and McIntyre. I have ignored them, evidently to my peril. But you know what has given me the most pause? The fact that a number of my colleagues and many otherwise intelligent-seeming people still seem to treat these guys as legitimate, honest commenters, whose words have equal weight with, say, those of Susan Solomon or J. Michael Wallace, or, for that matter, Gavin Schmidt or Mike Mann or myself. As a reporter wrote to me today “it’s simply impossible for a lay observer to make a judgement on his/her own.” Really?!

Perhaps there is a silver lining here. Perhaps the utter silliness of the shrill accusations that O’Donnell made against me — based on a version of the facts, in his head, that are demonstrably and unequivocally false, coupled with the fact that he then retracted them (or at least has promised to do so), will help more people see what the steadily growing list of other scientists who’ve been accused by McIntyre and his associates of plagiarism, dishonesty, data manipulation, fraud, deceit, and duplicity have been telling me for years: these people are willing to say anything, regardless of the cost to others’ reputations and to the progress of legitimate science, to advance their paranoid worldview.

I’ve even got a name for the clarity this affair would seem to offer: O’Donnellgate.

Sadly, attacking climate scientists by mis-quoting and mis-representing private correspondences or confidential materials appears now to be the primary modus operandi of climate change deniers. To those that still don’t get this — and who continue to believe that these people can be trusted to present their scientific results honestly, and who continue to speculate that their may be truth in the allegations made over the years against Mike Mann, Ben Santer, Phil Jones, Stephen Schneider, Andrew Weaver, Kevin Trenberth, Keith Briffa, Gavin Schmidt, Darrell Kaufmann, and many many others, just because they ‘read it on a blog somewhere’ — I’d be happy to share with you some of the more, err, ‘colorful’, emails I’ve gotten from O’Donnell and his coauthors.

If you still don’t get it, then I have a suggestion for a classic short story you should read. It’s called, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson.

126 Responses to “O’Donnellgate”

  1. 1
    Bryson Brown says:

    It is puzzling to hear people declare that they can’t tell the difference between one side and the other. The level of abuse,ignoratio, wild accusations and general nonsense on the climate-change denial side startles me still– and I’ve been following the creationist/ ID movement for years.

    I tell students to follow the argument just a few steps along– look at a claim from one side, look for responses to that claim on the other side, and so on. One side always gives up the argument first, stops responding to the evidence and arguments and begins to deny plain facts (‘there are no intermediate fossils’), repeat points already answered, and (finally) accuse their opponents of conspiracy, dishonesty and outright evil (of course without any documentation or evidence at all (think social networks…)).

  2. 2
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    In the world of politics, apparently deliberate personal insults casually interjected into policy debates are the norm. I used to think it was childish, but I now believe it is a deliberate strategy. It often has the effect of unsettling the object of the insult, and this colours their judgment in the debate. Not only that, it sways weak-minded listeners against them. Sadly, too many people applaud the bully.

  3. 3
    joe says:

    Verry interesting…Thanks for setting the record straight Eric. (BTW, small typo in first line: “…a serious of allegations…”)

  4. 4
    MapleLeaf says:

    Shouldn’t the quoted text read as follows (see square brackets for suggested changes)?

    “will help more people see what the steadily growing list of other scientists who’ve been [falsely] accused by McIntyre”


    “to speculate that their may be truth in the [false] allegations made over the years against Mike Mann…”

    Wish we could see those emails sent to Eric from the CA gang….

    What a mess….if this had played out in Canada, Eric would have grounds to sue for libel.

    [Response: As I may well do. I’m a Canuck, it turns out.–eric]

  5. 5
    Eli Rabett says:

    One of the advantages of being a Rabett.

  6. 6
    Deep Climate says:

    This incident makes it clear, once again, just who is trying to get the science right and who is trying to score points to support a preconceived agenda.

  7. 7
    sambo says:

    On the whole, I think Eric has acted quite well considering the accusations that were flying around. While from an ouside view I have the impression it is more of a missunderstanding by both sides, I can certainly see why he is frustrated.

    I do have one point that I would like to raise, although I don’t know the whole story (personal emails …etc). I don’t mean it to be accusatory in any way so please don’t read anything into what I suggest.

    This all started with the article here describing their paper, where a minor technical disagreement and (IMHO) a misunderstanding of what Eric had written and meant. This could largely have been avoided if O’Donnell et al had been contacted about this article and been given a chance to reply with a post of their own or within said article. Their grievances would have been dealt with privately before anything was published and it wouldn’t have gotten out of hand.

    Let me try to rephrase this. If this was a paper published by someone else (Susan Solomon for example) and you had serious misgivings about it, would you invite her to reply to these objections? I think this is the lens that O’Donnell et al view this through and why they feel they are being treated so differently (and why they are quick with insults and accusations).

    As I said this is not an accussation, I just wanted to stimulate some discussion.

    [Response: I think if I had problems with a paper of Susan’s, I’d write a serious of blog posts criticizing her integrity. That seems to work pretty well. Do you think I’ve learned nothing from O’Donnell? …
    … yes I am kidding.–eric]

  8. 8
    Deep Climate says:

    Were there reviews of version 4?

    The reason I’m asking is that these do not appear to be in the archive along with all the other reviews that O’Donnell has placed on

    Surely he is not allowed to post all that material anyway?

    [Response: I don’t know. If there weren’t then I’m stunned.–eric]

  9. 9
    Rob Zuber says:

    For decades, creationists have been misquoting scientists in their dishonest effort to fight evolution. I think it would be useful for climate scientists to review that record. The National Center for Science Education is a great resource for learning about how to fight back.

  10. 10
    dhogaza says:

    The National Center for Science Education is a great resource for learning about how to fight back.

    Maybe they need to think about expanding their mission to include climate science …

  11. 11
    Ged says:

    As a published scientist in another field, I am discouraged by what I see here.

    Why is there being given any attention to personal attacks? This should be ignored as irrelevant! The only thing that should be talked about here is the actual science.

    O’Donnall gave a scientific rebuttle to your previous post in his, which has not been addressed here, and which -should be- above all the primary focus of any forward discourse.

    For, you see, science is based only on data and evidence, not personal reputations. The data will stand for itself, and any who attack you personally will have their own words heaped on their heads if you simply ignore it and deal only with the scientific matters at hand. The science is the only proof you need!

    And yet, I see no science here. Their most serious allegations are those showing the Steig et al (09) model’s algorithm/methods to be seriously flawed in its infilling response to data changes in the stations used. A very serious matter indeed for all reconstruction and modeling.

    We scientists should be swayed only by data and results, and I would like to see the truth of the matter, scientifically, illuminated by yourself so we can produce the most accurate representation of what is occurring on our planet. The personal allegations against yourself, which as a reader on this from the start I believe have been overly hyped and given too much importance by both sides, will burn themselves out before actual information. Otherwise, this will devolve into high school “He said she saids”. You must rise above it, and set an example in so doing so.

    In the end, all choices are yours, if you heed or care about my words or not. I, and other people and scientists interested in the actual information and data, long greatly for a scientific, not personal, rebuttle by yourself to O’Donnall’s points.

    [Response: I don’t disagree. I wrote a scientific commentary already, in which I pointed out some problems with their arguments, and also acknowledged that they had some good scientific points. This is the way it ought to work, and indeed many people wrote in to thank me for the substance and style. Unfortunately, O’Donnell’s reponse was to call me ‘duplicitous’. I could have ignored it, but since many people — who ought to know better — were not ignoring it, but seemed to be believing it, I felt the need to correct the misconceptions. Get it? –eric]

  12. 12
    jon says:

    you said:
    “I’d be happy to share with you some of the more, err, ‘colorful’, emails I’ve gotten from O’Donnell and his coauthors.”
    go on then. tell.

    [Response: Actually, I meant *privately* with people I reason to trust will not to make them public.–eric]

  13. 13
    Andy S says:

    It appears that O’Donnell had an incomplete and noisy dataset, filtered out what he assumed to be noise, made some interpolations to fill in the gaps, found that the result agreed with his working hypothesis (neglecting to test it against the null, that Steig is honest), then went to press without even bothering to get it peer-reviewed by McIntyre. Confirmation bias duly revealed to all. Pot, meet kettle.

  14. 14
    sharper00 says:

    “As a reporter wrote to me today “it’s simply impossible for a lay observer to make a judgement on his/her own.” Really?!”

    I think this is a different issue to the point raised in the previous sentence i.e.

    “The fact that a number of my colleagues and many otherwise intelligent-seeming people still seem to treat these guys as legitimate, honest commenters, whose words have equal weight with, say…”

    Firstly I think you’d likely find it hard to step outside your own knowledge of this issue and have a clear view of it from the outside. I’m a lot more interested in science than the average person and spend a lot more time looking at the specifics on a few topics including climate science. Even then I’m completely lacking when it comes to forming a rational judgement on this topic for the following reasons:

    -I don’t have the statistical knowledge to say what’s a good approach from a bad one. I don’t know the minutia of how the data is being combined, what problems are being overcome or anything about the problem domain (the Antarctic). As a completely made up analogy, imagine two physicists arguing over whether a proton accelerator or a neutron accelerator is the best way to locate a higgs boson. You’d have all sorts of questions like “What are you guys trying to do? Why is it a difficult problem? Why can’t you just do both? What’s a higgs boson and why are you looking for it?”. You might also wonder why the rhetoric was getting hotter and hotter despite the fact they both agree finding a higgs boson is a good idea and that an accelerator of some sort is the best way to go looking for it.

    -I don’t have the knowledge of peer review practises to say whether the author of a paper being critiqued being an anonymous reviewer is inappropriate or not. It doesn’t sound bad to me if managed correctly but I’m always careful not to project my own values into domains I’m not familiar with. If someone is saying it is inappropriate then I have no idea if they’re right or not.

    -The various drafts of the paper, the comments and the online critiques all represent a large body of work to digest. Evaluating “he said/she said” is never easy and building timelines from that kind of material to evaluate it is extremely difficult.

    -I don’t have access to all the information needed. If someone says Eric Steig was “Reviewer A” and this was revealed in confidence privately I have no way to evaluate that.

    So in short this whole thing is very complex and confusing even to people whose bread and butter is the complex and confusing.

    I’m not prepared to make snap judgements on the matter or reflexively form an opinion based on an opinion of the participants. One reason is you only have to look at the wasteland of the blogosphere to see how useless people trading their prejudices without any knowledge of the topic is.

    Another reason goes back to your other point – treating a non-equivalent group as if they were equivalent. It’s my opinion that different people play the game of shaping public opinion (and possibly of enriching themselves) in different ways.

    You have purely partisan operatives who are quite comfortable being so and mainly deal with others about as partisan as they are. You have the good orators who are effectively the snake oil salesmen of their day and manage to convince the easily convinced with soothing words and rousing rhetoric. You have the more professional and financed people who run think tanks and work the business/lobbyist circuit. There are others of course such as those who’ll happily deal in any crackpot theory.

    Outside of these you also have those who trade on a small amount of credibility but manage to do it very well. They have some vestige of a contribution, possibly well in the past but nevertheless it’s still there and they’ve been careful not to tarnish it in a way that’s obvious to the casual observer.

    The casual observer is the key and that’s my second reason for not forming opinions reflexively. If the casual observer has the impression that someone has credibility and they also observe that someone’s criticisms being dismissed apparently without merit then it starts to fit quite neatly into a narrative that’s being sold concerning corruption and collusion.

    Of course some people should know better but then public image management is a refined art at this point and we’re all well aware of the way people can use the internet to say things without saying them – they simply create an environment which lets their commenters say them. They might “Tut tut” the most egregious postings and unless you’re familiar with the overall pattern it makes them appear even more of a class act.

    This ended up awfully long and I’m not sure if I should even submit it as a comment but I think the short answer is this: Climate scientists are being attacked on multiple fronts using multiple weapons. The reaction to some of those attacks runs the risk of making other attacks even more effective so the only solution is a response which defends against as many attacks as possible: That means a response which is open, transparent and deals with the facts. Nothing to do with the personalities, nothing (much) to do with the policies and nothing much to do the wider climate debate or its participants.

    The great strength of science is in the facts and the data. Disputes like this allow the facts and data to be ignored in place of rhetoric and recrimination.

  15. 15
    MapleLeaf says:


    I agree, at least in principle. You seem to be ignoring the vitriol and rhetoric from O’Donnell et al.? How come you do not mention that, how come that gets a free pass? Eric has spoken to the science here and when he reviewed the paper. And actually, it appears that it is O’Donnell et al. who have failed to address some of the science issues as pointed out to them by at least one of the reviewers.


    I think someone ought to contact J. Climate– I do not think that O’Donnell et al. are permitted to post the reviews. That to my knowledge, that has not been done before at J. Climate and may be actionable. At the very least the journal should be aware that O’Donnell et al. have been posting (confidential?) reviews in public forums and we do not know whether or not they have been reproduced in full or whether or not they have been tampered with. O’Donnell et al. seem to be trying to subvert the peer-review process at J. Climate. There may also be copyright issues involved with their actions…

    I suspect by posting those reviews, they will likely not be permitted to publish in J. Climate again, or perhaps even any AMS journal. In his zeal, and with the help of Condon and McIntyre, O’Donnell has seriously tarnished his reputation. They have also once again demonstrated their contempt and ignorance of the scientific process.

    As someone at RC pointed out, peer-review is not meant to be a cheerleading exercise, it is meant to be tough and humbling and rigorous– do these guys expect exams to be easy, or not to have to even write them? If McIntyre et al. are not mature and professional enough to deal with criticism (often tough criticism), and being wrong from time-to-time, then they should stay out of science.

    All this fuss, and at the end of the day their paper was published, and was even complemented by Eric and others. There is one thing worse than a sore loser, and that is a sore winner.

    And of course none of this changes the fact that western Antarctica is warming…..

  16. 16
    Didactylos says:

    I think the word to describe O’Donnell is “plausible”. When I looked at what he had written, I had that sinking feeling that you get when you realise something can’t be trivially dismissed, and that it will need careful sifting to find out whether it is true, and if not, how the deception was achieved.

    I imagine this is why many people are saying the things they are, and finding it hard to make judgements.

  17. 17
    MarkB says:

    sharper00 (#14) writes:

    “-I don’t have the knowledge of peer review practises to say whether the author of a paper being critiqued being an anonymous reviewer is inappropriate or not. It doesn’t sound bad to me if managed correctly but I’m always careful not to project my own values into domains I’m not familiar with. If someone is saying it is inappropriate then I have no idea if they’re right or not.”

    According to contrarian types, it’s inappropriate to include them and inappropriate to exclude them, depending on who’s being included/excluded.

    While I believe there are arguments for and against it, it’s inappropriate to be implying some sort of personal journal editor bias with their choice or policy on the matter, although this seems to be standard practice among certain crowds.

    As to sharper00’s generaly conclusion, I tend to agree. I hope the emails directed towards Eric don’t get revealed. I understand it’s a fine line. Attacks like these need to be addressed forcefully. But there’s that saying about wrestling a pig – you both get dirty and the pig likes it. I think a lot of them are just daring scientists to take it to that level.

  18. 18
    PDA says:

    Sharper, if it hasn’t been suggested to you before, I hope you get a blog one day. Your stuff is good, but I’m getting tired of following you around hither and yon to find it. ;-)

  19. 19
    Deep Climate says:


    I think Ryan O may have some valid points buried in all that invective. And he has a right to respond to a blog post with his own.

    But his false accusations and contemptuous tone are simply unacceptable.


    So if there were reviews and O’Donnell didn’t post them, he was probably aware that you were no longer a reviewer at that point. Normally, then, you wouldn’t have access to the final draft nor the replies to round 3 reviews. How could he miss that?

  20. 20
    Tom Curtis says:

    sharper00, perhaps I can help. You can tell the quality of a person’s intellectual life by the company they keep. That the folks over at climate audit have no criticism for, and are prepared to share platforms with conspiracy theorists like Lord Monckton means you should check twice before believing them when they say, “The sky is blue.”

  21. 21
    Ron Broberg says:

    What has been lost is the concept of an “honest disagreement.”

  22. 22
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Dr. Steig. I believe the best answer to the dispute is to re-do the earlier paper (Steig et al.) using O’Donnell et al.’s improved methods, such as they are, and make no further comment. ‘When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.’ There is little profit for you in denying silly accusations of this or that. Let your work stand for itself. These attacks on you are not credible, as evidenced by their almost immediate retraction. The fact that they were made in the first place says nothing whatsoever about you.

  23. 23
    dhogaza says:

    These attacks on you are not credible, as evidenced by their almost immediate retraction.

    Where’s the retraction? Thus far all we’ve seen is some editing of RyanO’s post at CA by McI, not because they were wrong, but because they “violated blog policy”. That’s not a retraction of the accusations by RyanO, it’s more akin to TV stations bleeping out “the seven words you can’t say on television” due to policy.

    If there’s a *real* retraction … how about a link?

  24. 24
    Sou says:

    For Ged, who says he publishes in another field. You may be new to climate science. There is more at stake in this situation than the personal reputation of either the climate scientist or the statistician (I presume O’Donnell is a statistician?). The allegations made on various denier blogs have already made their way into the semi-mainstream press (a blog on the Telegraph written by the man who says he doesn’t understand scientific papers but ‘interprets the interpreters’). So the issue needed to be brought to a stop as quickly as possible because of the general impact on public opinion of climate science and therefore the urgency with which CO2 emissions must be addressed.

    Prof Steig is to be congratulated for maintaining his decorum throughout while clarifying the issues and putting a stop to the madness (hopefully).

  25. 25
    Steve Bloom says:

    ‘”it’s simply impossible for a lay observer to make a judgement on his/her own.”‘


    Whether it was him or someone else, I’ve become convinced of late that a major problem with many long-time science reporters is that they formed a mental picture of the state of the science some years back and don’t want to put the work into modifying it. As a consequence, they go to a lot of trouble to shoehorn new results into their old paradigm, or failing that just throw up their hands and fall back on “tell both sides” stenography.

    This is of course not too different from the well-known “going emeritus” syndrome (tm Stoat) that some senior scientists fall into, but the reporter-victims on the one hand tend to be a fair amount younger and unfortunately lack the option of just shutting up and letting someone without the blinders do the work.

    Returning to Revkin, on his blog a couple of years ago I asked him why he continued to resort to the oft-refuted John Christy for “the other side” of climate science stories, and he replied that it would be legitmate to do so for as long as Christy continued to be published and otherwise continued to be treated as a respectable scientist by colleagues. This is of course a completely indefensible approach, but it does make writing the articles a lot easier.

    Possibly such reporters also resist changing paradigms due to a “fair world” POV or some such. That’s probably also true for Revkin. His stated view that nothing too terrible can happen as a consequence of climate change for another generation or so was a lot more reasonable based on the state of the science ~10 years ago, but times have changed. He hasn’t, and shows no sign of doing so.

    (I should note for the record that there are plenty of science reporters who don’t have this problem.)

    Speaking of new paradigms, it’s interesting to contrast the fact that a number of papers released in the last year or so point to a strong possibility that the ice sheets are more or less teetering on a precipice, noting in particular Hansen and Sato (2011), with the near-complete lack of media coverage.

  26. 26
    Tom Wiita says:

    Dear Eric,

    In your post, you state “First, I never suggested to the authors that they use ‘iridge’.”

    Ryan quotes from one of your reviews of the article as follows:

    My recommendation is that the editor insist that results showing the ‘mostly [sic] likely’ West Antarctic trends be shown in place of Figure 3. [the ‘most likely’ results were the ridge regression results] While the written text does acknowledge that the rate of warming in West Antarctica is probably greater than shown, it is the figures that provide the main visual ‘take home message’ that most readers will come away with. I am not suggesting here that kgnd = 5 will necessarily provide the best estimate, as I had thought was implied in the earlier version of the text. Perhaps, as the authors suggest, kgnd should not be used at all, but the results from the ‘iridge’ infilling should be used instead. . . . I recognize that these results are relatively new – since they evidently result from suggestions made in my previous review [uh, no, not really, bud . . . we’d done those months previously . . . but thanks for the vanity check] – but this is not a compelling reason to leave this ‘future work’.
    (emphasis and bracketed comments added by me[me here is Ryan])

    Could you just clarify for all of us on this thread? Did you recommend to the editor that the editor “insist” on the use of the ridge results?

    Tom Wiita

    [Response: I imagine that Eric is tired of saying the same thing to everyone, so I’ll step in. O’Donnell et al did the calculations with ridge regression before that review was done. They are in agreement that the ridge regression results are ‘most likely’ for these results. Eric stated that the ‘most likely’ results should be highlighted – a point I think that should be widely understood as correct. But, nonetheless, no method is perfect, and poor results relating to ridge regression had been reported in the literature already. Thus asking the authors to justify what ‘seemed’ better with an actual analysis that refutes the earlier critique of the method is still a valid point – which is basically what was asked for in the subsequent reviews (and commented on in an earlier post here). If O’Donnell et al did not think this method was any good, they would not have highlighted it in subsequent versions (reviews can’t actually make the authors do anything). But presumably they do not think the method was perfect either, so thinking that because the reviewer wanted the ‘most likely’ case to be highlighted meant that this method was then impervious to criticism is very strange. – gavin]

  27. 27
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    ClimateAudit might be from an entirely different planet.

    No mention of an apology or that the paper was flawed in any way.

    Just crowing about how stupid RealClimate is.

    What a weird world.

  28. 28

    Paging “BPW”…BPW, presumably you’re now directing your probing, deeply intellectually honest questions toward O’Donnell over at CA, yes? The behavior Eric Steig describes is deeply troubling, don’t you agree, and O’Donnell needs to answer or we’re going to have to assume the worst.

    Please report back and let us know what you found out.

  29. 29
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    dhogaza #23 Well you have me there. Retraction was too strong a word for McI’s editing. The point stands though: stay away from the tar baby.

  30. 30
    jeff id says:


    Classy to an extreme.

    [Response: Thanks, I will take that as a compliment. And I got class I ain’t even used yet.

    Damn! I always wanted to say that (look it up — Louis Jordan, 1955 or so).–eric]

  31. 31
    dhogaza says:

    The point stands though: stay away from the tar baby.

    Oh, I didn’t read the thread, I just read elsewhere that they’d changed the title (and the URL), and popped in to verify that on the front page.

    Then got the hell out of there before I got cooties :)

  32. 32
    John McManus says:

    I have read stuff by McIntyre and Jeff Id ( and know now to avoid those particular pleasures), but who is O’Donnell?

  33. 33
    Hank Roberts says:

    For John McManus: see the first sentence at the top of the page, that’s explained there.

  34. 34
    captdallas2 says:

    Sorry, but if Eric had simply acknowledged he was making the review comments on a paper critical of his, none of this would have happened.

    [Response: And if the U.S. had admitted it had a flawed middle east policy, 911 wouldn’t have happened?–GW Bush.]

  35. 35
    Pinko Punko says:

    Authors always play the game that they are convinced they know who the reviewers are, but O’Donnell has taken his assumptions and extrapolated them into fantasy. This is just sad.

    On the point of posting reviews, I think if it is not journal policy, it can be a teaching moment. EMBO Journal posts review process files for their papers and you are able to see reviews, authors’ responses, and editors’ letters to authors. It is extremely valuable to understanding what the peer review process really is like.

    CAPTCHA Civil


  36. 36
    TonyG says:

    Can we please go back to science? I am extremely interested in reading here a statistics, not psychology, -based response by Eric to Ryan O’Donnell’s latest post on CA which discusses in suggestive graphics the way Eric’s reconstruction responds to changes in the Peninsula… Please provide your technical rebuttal of O’Donnell’s criticism; that’s the only way this matter should be argued.

    [Response: One of the things that those plots show is that there is still warming in West Antarctica even if the trends on the Peninsula were zero. So one of O’Donnell’s main claims is shown by O’Donnell to be wrong. Of course, it is certainly true that the Peninsula warming — to the extent it is correlated with the West Antarctic warming — has an influence, as indeed it should. The stronger effect of our having using just 3 PCs is that Peninsula cooling is damped, which is the opposite effect. Of course, some of both happens, but in all the tests I’ve done, the latter is a large effect.–eric]

  37. 37
    Eli Rabett says:

    Lucia deserves a slap on the nose too. Of course she is digging in.

  38. 38
    Pinko Punko says:


    Sorry, but if Eric had simply acknowledged he was making the review comments on a paper critical of his, none of this would have happened.

    If the editor and Eric did not view it as a conflict, there may be no better person to review the paper, which was published, in an extensively revised and improved form. The editor has the prerogative to take into account that Eric is very close to the work and also has a range of opinions. Eric was one of x reviewers, and not the ultimate decider on the paper. The fact that O’Donnell asked Eric if he reviewed the paper and Eric felt comfortable enough to reveal this (against his better judgement, but likely attempting to build a bridge for the betterment of the science) indicates to me that the review process was not the clusterf*** some are claiming.

    [Response: The idea that someone familiar with the work in question should be one of the reviewers is not new. Indeed, our good friend Steve McIntyre has said that a review process that doesn’t include such a reviewer is flawed. Here he is at his finest, complaining that
    “CC made a fundamental breach of its reviewer agreement with me by failing to send the revision to me before accepting it.
    . Hmm, I wonder if he complained to Journal of Climate that they didn’t send the final version of his paper to me?–eric]

  39. 39
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Steve Bloom #25 the Hansen & Sato paper is still in draft form so far as I am aware. The proper time to consider reporting of it will be after it’s published. Or has it been published and I missed it?

  40. 40
    Geoff Sherrington says:

    Where is the response to the Science?

    There is a very simple summary with pictures at

    Dr Steig, is this summary correct or incorrect in its main points at least?

    [Response: Sorry, it was hard to find the scientific criticism amidst all the ad hominem. If suggested to O’Donnell he delete the entire post and start over, sticking to the science but he declined. But in any case all these criticisms are already in the paper, some are right, some are wrong. A response will be forthcoming in the peer reviewed literature. So you can stop asking this question. You’ll get an answer in due course. –eric]

  41. 41
    MrPete says:

    Two references that may be helpful for informing this discussion:
    1) Here are the
    guidelines for authors, editors and reviewers. (I cannot find anywhere that review confidentiality is even mentioned; thus any discussion in terms of journal policy seems off base.)

    b) Here is a comparison (created by Acrobat Pro) of revs 3 and 4 of the paper. The reader can determine for themselves the extent of revisions made. (CAUTION: the compare tool marked absolutely everything, including text changes invisible to the human eye. I recommend relying on this mostly as a pointer to the changes.)

  42. 42
    captdallas2 says:

    Re 37 and Eric,

    I totally agree that Eric should have been allowed to review a critic of his paper and make comments. Maintain anonymity by one intimately knowledgeable of the paper would be close to impossible. So why bother, when it can lead to a gross misunderstanding?

    [Response: Certainly a good question. I probably won’t bother next time. Actually, I’ll refuse to review anything by these jokers very fine fellows in the future.–eric]

  43. 43
    MapleLeaf says:

    MrPete @41 is correct. Unlike the AGU, the AMS does not appear to have a formal policy. With that said, this has just come to light:

    “From: John Nielsen-Gammon
    Subject: reviews and reviewers
    Date: December 8, 2010 10:59:20 AM CST
    To: Jeff Id, Steve McIntyre

    Jeff & Steve (with copies to AMS publications leadership) –

    What I told you about making reviews publicly available is correct. There’s no AMS policy against, nor any formal objection to, an author making the contents of anonymous reviews and responses public. If a reviewer provides his or her name, or if there is other information that makes it possible to discern the identity of the reviewer, such information should be redacted unless the reviewer grants permission.

    In the context of this, I would think that publishing an anonymous review and speculating as to the identity of the reviewer would be unethical. The author, if making the review public, has a duty to preserve the anonymity of the reviewer.” [H/T to Eli Rabett]

    O’Donnell et al. have now failed to comply with the duty highlighted in bolded text and ignored Nielsen-Gammon’s sage advice. And look at the date, December 8, 2010…..

    More can be found here.

    The unprofessional behaviour of McIntyre, Condon and O’Donnell really does beggar belief.

    Eric, I know you are rightly peeved, but you referring to them as ‘jokers’ (while mostly true) is really not helpful. As difficult as it, is I urge you to tone down the rhetoric– they will try and use what you say against you and climate scientists.

    [Response: Yes, of course you are right. Perhaps I was moved by the fact that O’Donnell not only ignored Nielsen-Gammon’s advice, he also broke a promise to me. I guess when he said he would respect my wishes in this matter he was only ‘joking’.–eric]

  44. 44
    Davos says:

    E.S. says,

    “…But in any case all these criticisms are already in the paper, some are right, some are wrong. A response will be forthcoming in the peer reviewed literature. So you can stop asking this question. You’ll get an answer in due coure.–eric]”

    I’m wondering how is it that some authors can ‘guarantee’ that new works will automatically achieve publication within peer-reviewed literature, and others can never be so bold, or have to fight so hard for their words to achieve that result..? It doesn’t seem to me that all manuscripts and authors approach the peer-review process on equal neutral ground.

    ;) I wonder if this future editor will also find it important that O’Donnell be a reviewer of this forthcoming response.

    [Response: Of course O’Donnell should be a reviewer of any direct response we make. For one thing, they would normally be given a forum to respond, and in fact would probably get the last word. At any rate, give me one person who feels that they have any ‘guarantee’ of publication, and who has not been really peeved at reviewers on more than one occasion, and I’ll give you a person that has not submitted very many papers.–eric]

  45. 45
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    #42 re Prof. Steig’s response. Damn straight. Let them find someone who’s willing to touch them after this. Or, to put it another way, why have a dog and bark yourself? “The Byrd offset numbers, please…”

  46. 46
    James says:

    Yeah I didnt think that you would publish my comments. So much for allowing all sides to voice their opinion. Who are the real deniers?

    [Response: This isn’t about ‘sides’. You are welcome to try again, perhaps more politely?]

  47. 47
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Does the GRACE satellite data shed any light on the question of which areas are warming faster?

    I would guess that more warming corresponds directly to more mass loss as measured by GRACE. Has the GRACE team provided enough resolution in the data analysis to shed any light here?

    Not that we really need any more data to decide that the right thing to do is to decarbonize our energy economy ASAP . . . We are well into “no-brainer” territory on that decision.

    [Response: GRACE is a) too short in length to help and b) as you know GRACE is measuring altitude. Temperature has no influence on this other than indirectly through the fact that warmer temperatures generally will be going along with more snowfall, and hence elevation gain. Except that the elevation *loss* is due to ice flow, which speeds up (over long timescales anyway) in response to elevation gain. In short, this the relationships among these variables is really complicated.

    Hey, thanks for moving this back to a scientific discussion! –eric]

  48. 48
    BPW says:

    Walter Pierce @28,

    Funny enough Walter, I have a life outside the blog world. And your less than veiled snark is not unnoticed. I have my thoughts, and I have no doubt you will find them riveting. But I also have a family and other responsibilities, so forgive me if I don’t jump at your request that I probe with my “deeply intellectual questions” until tomorrow.

    FWIW, having read Eric’s response, I think he has a valid argument that he was misrepresented. And as I said initially, I was just asking questions which he has answered. Not that he was obligated to do so. I still have questions, on both sides, and will ask when I get an opportunity. Until then, your opinions will go into my “borehole” file where they belong.

    If you care to explain to me why you think you stand on higher moral or intellectual ground than I do, please feel free to share. Or continue with your condescending attitude. I am good with it either way though I suspect you will choose plan B.

    [Response: FWIW, O’Donnell thinks I have a ‘valid argument’ too. –eric]

  49. 49
    dhogaza says:


    Two references that may be helpful for informing this discussion:

    1) Here are the
    guidelines for authors, editors and reviewers. (I cannot find anywhere that review confidentiality is even mentioned; thus any discussion in terms of journal policy seems off base.)

    it’s kinda assumed when you’re working in a professional environment, that you understand the proper rules of etiquette and ethics.

    One of the “benefits” of all this crap that’s flowing forth from the likes of MrPete, McI, RyanO, and Mosher is that future generations of scientists, journal editors, etc etc will probably be operating under 30-page NDAs, acceptance contracts, and all the like, destroying much of the atmosphere of collegiality under which science has traditionally operated.

    All to make sure that people like MrPete can’t attempt to claim the moral high ground by pointing out that unprofessional behavior isn’t prevented by existing contracts.

    [Response: l.o.l.!]

  50. 50
    dhogaza says:

    And, MrPete, have you an McI published your bristlecone pine coring data yet that disproves all of climate science?