Readers may recall a post a year ago about a nonsense paper by Hermann Harde that appeared in Global and Planetary Change. We reported too on the crowd-sourced rebuttal led by Peter Köhler that was published last October. Now comes an editorial by three members of the Editorial Board (Martin Grosjean, Joel Guiot and Zicheng Yu) reporting on what the circumstances were that led to the Harde paper appearing.
The story is (unsurprisingly) one of ‘Pal Review’ (as noticed too by Eli):
Our review revealed the following:
- During the initial manuscript submission, H. Harde suggested five potential reviewers. Most if not all of them are prominent individuals advocating that currently raising CO2 concentrations would be natural and not related to human influence. A careful assessment of their CVs, fields of expertise and publications lists leads to the conclusion that none of the five reviewers proposed by Harde can be considered as an expert or authority in carbon cycle, carbon or climate sensitivity or similar fields of research.
- All five suggested potential reviewers were invited by the Editor to provide formal reviews on the submitted manuscript. Two of them accepted the invitation and suggested ‘major revisions’ and ‘minor revisions’, respectively. Both reviewers asked the author for more clarity and better presentation, style and language; none of them raised any concern about the scientific content of the manuscript. We believe that this may have been because the reviewers lacked the impartiality and scientific expertise to provide an adequate science-based review.
- The referee’s comments were sent back to H. Harde. Revisions were made accordingly, the referees were satisfied with the revisions and the Editor accepted the revised manuscript for publication.
- In common with many other submissions to the journal at the time, none of the other Editors or Editorial Board members of Global and Planetary Change were involved in the peer review process by the Editor handling Harde (2017).
It seems to me that this gaming of the system should be grounds for retraction, or at minimum an editorial note of concern, since the continued availability of the paper leaves the impression that this paper was appropriately peer reviewed and valid (neither of which is true).
The editorial continues with revelation that Harde was invited to submit a reply to the rebuttal, but was trashed in review and rejected:
The journal editor offered Harde the opportunity for a formal Reply to respond to Köhler et al.’s Comment article. However, after external expert reviews, the Reply by Harde to the Comment by Köhler et al. (2018) was rejected because it did not add any significant information to the argument put forward in the original paper. In reviewing the Reply, the reviewers felt that Harde’s argument is “…too simplistic, based on invalid assumptions, ignores a whole body of observational evidence, and cites selectively literature that has long-time been disproved”. The experts confirm the suggestion by Köhler et al. (2018) that “…the paper be withdrawn by the author, editor or publisher due to fundamental errors in the understanding of the carbon cycle.” Most importantly, the expert reviewers clarified that Harde (2017) does not contribute to a seemingly open scientific debate or provides an alternative view. In contrast, it “…contains many mistakes, misconceptions and omissions and ignores a vast body of scholarly literature on the subject”
As a result, authors submitting to GPC will no longer be able to suggest reviewers, and all papers will include the name of the editor that dealt with them.
However, the issue is not really that authors shouldn’t try to be helpful in suggesting reviewers (this can be useful for editors and is widespread among journals), but that editors should be be appropriately skeptical and investigate whether the suggested reviewers are qualified and likely to be impartial. If editors are targeted perhaps precisely because they are in a different field, journals and publishers should make it easy to ask more knowledgeable colleagues for advice.
We have said many times over the years that peer review, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition for a paper to be a positive contribution. Anomalies will get published – and the techniques used by Harde are the usual route. Add in the technique of submitting to journals that aren’t really in the field at all, or, more recently, submitting to predatory journals that perform only perfunctory review (if any).
Indeed, there is another example that just appeared by Rex Fleming in “Environmental Earth Science” which, despite the name is not a climate science journal.
Time for some more crowd-sourcing?
- H. Harde, "Scrutinizing the carbon cycle and CO2 residence time in the atmosphere", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 152, pp. 19-26, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.02.009
- P. Köhler, J. Hauck, C. Völker, D.A. Wolf-Gladrow, M. Butzin, J.B. Halpern, K. Rice, and R.E. Zeebe, "Comment on “ Scrutinizing the carbon cycle and CO 2 residence time in the atmosphere ” by H. Harde", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 164, pp. 67-71, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.09.015
- M. Grosjean, J. Guiot, and Z. Yu, "Commentary", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 164, pp. 65-66, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.12.023
- R.J. Fleming, "An updated review about carbon dioxide and climate change", Environmental Earth Sciences, vol. 77, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12665-018-7438-y