Tuesday 22 December 2009

Editorial shenanigans

Recall the scraps between Liebowitz and Levitt over Liebowitz's comment on the Oberholzer-Gee piece in the JPE?

The release of the climate emails from Hadley have allowed climate scientists Douglass and Christy to figure out just why their paper on divergences between climate model predictions and tropospheric observations took so long to come out and why it was followed immediately by an extensive rebuttal by some of the prominent pro-warming folks.

Not pretty. It looks like the editors gave the page proofs to the other side, before publication, then held up publication of the original 'till the rebuttal was ready, rushing the rebuttal through the process without notifying the authors of the original piece. When the rebuttal folks cited their rebuttal (forthcoming) in another piece in Nature Geosciences, they then refused to give a copy of it to the authors of the original article on request despite a requirement in Nature that sources be available.

HT: Motl.


  1. So David H. Douglass is a member of the Heartland institute, who received over $500k of funding from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2005. Well before this paper was even conceived, he'd said that the computer models were seriously flawed, and produced papers on Heartland's website to that effect:


    Christy is also a member of Heartland, and is a member of the CEI, who also receive funding from ExxonMobil ($2m+ in the past decade), but also Dow Chemical, the American Petroleum Institute and GM, amongst others.

    I start to wonder who has the right to talk about conspiracy, or if claiming that the other guys are trying to hold untenable positions is in itself part of them trying to hold up their position - which, like the CRU scientists' work, has remained pretty much unflinching in its attitude to the settled nature of the science. The opposition of Douglass and Christy to the idea of man-made global warming, or in Christy's case, the impact of global warming or the political solutions goes way way back - as far back as Phil Jones' involvement.

    It's supposed to be open, but in reality how much of a look-in would a paper get if, on submission to the Lancet Oncology, it claimed that the data and models that linked sun exposure to skin cancer were flawed? Of course, even if they decide to publish, it's going to generate opposition from others in the field and it's going to take a while to get through the peer review process. It's an extreme example, but it's indicative of the risky nature of approaching a journal where the mass of data they've collated is contrary to the conclusions of your own paper.

  2. If we're going to dismiss research findings on the basis of researchers perhaps being dependent on particular funders, how much of the IPCC gets thrown out too? Or does government money somehow come with no strings?

  3. No, not at all. In fact, that's part of the problem. On either side "settled" science has been politicised and popularised to the extent that we believe the science to be settled, depending on which side you're on, and the waters are now too muddied for a layman to even tell. So we conveniently ignore the parts that don't fit...

    But unless you really believe that world governments are trying to create a new world order and global governance - and Chris Dillow makes a good case for why governments accept anarchy at the supra-national level here - then you have to ask why on Earth would government be funding anything that's clearly a conspiracy, clearly designed to force them into highly unpopular moves, higher taxation, infrastructure changes, or designed to at least make them pay lip-service to the idea of AGW. I'm not sure who's trying to control who, or who's supposed to be in charge. International socialism? How many people believe that 9/11 was caused by the CIA in smoky rooms deciding what'll happen, and how many people believe that global warming is a massive conspiracy? How much sense does a massive conspiracy actually make, when you get down to it? How many people are involved? Do we have to dig deep into reasons, like people dig into 9/11, to prove it? Do we have to make inferences that this is a conspiracy because one set of scientists disagree with another?

    The idea is supposed to be "follow the money", but given that American and European oil companies together made more money in 2008 than New Zealand's entire GDP, where's the money in saying that AGW is a conspiracy? Where's the money in saying global warming exists? Who benefits? Venture capitalists? Revenues from mineral extraction outstrip any government spending on green technology. Doesn't matter which side you fall on, or what you believe might be happening - who benefits on each side?

  4. The whole area remains a right mess. I'd still favour putting in place a low carbon tax, mostly to get the administrative apparatus in place so the tax could be increased more quickly should some future less politicized assessment of the science suggest it necessary.

    On the "who benefits", stop thinking of the state as a unitary actor and think more of ministries competing for resources. Here's a potted history:
    - Some scientists find warming happening
    - MoE from various countries give them more money to investigate further
    - Scientists find more alarming results, put out some press releases
    - Public's ears perk up, feeds into pre-existing biases (millenialism, anti-growth)
    - Environment ministries see as way of getting more resources compared to other parts of government, start chomping at it, backed up by scientists who want more grants
    - More stories fuels more public demand for more stories (availability cascade); the "consensus" stops non-consensus articles from being published.
    Whole thing then feeds on itself. Far more plausible than any big global conspiracy; I don't believe in big global conspiracies. But I do think that some bad things can be Nash equilibria.

  5. Oh, hell yeah. I'll go with the mess theory before anything. I especially appreciate the idea of interdepartmental competition, having worked in central government and knowing that their recruitment processes are geared toward finding people who can argue their department's primacy above all others. Cooperative spirit government is not - but that would be at the policy proposition level, not the decision making. Government does have a controlling mind, or a set of them.

    Environmentalists are generally agreed that the last thing they need in Europe is more nuclear power stations. But that hasn't stopped the UK saying that they're going to build ten more. That's not the kind of carbon reduction plan that lobbyists want or expect. The majority of the money appears to be going to existing business to implement carbon reduction programmes, not to research, but to support your average business in meeting their own responsibilities. It would be fascinating to be at Ernst & Young right now, because they're doing the majority of the numbers work on this, but the government money going to regular business well outstrips any money going directly into renewable production, or indeed to the CRU and the like.

    There is one issue though - the consensus hasn't stopped non-consensus articles from being published. There's been a steady drip of non-consensus papers published by think-tanks and in the same journals that Douglass and Christy complained they didn't get a look-in. But they appear in the journals regardless, albeit in the minority.

    Oh, something interesting - the CRU's spreadsheet on their external funding (Excel file).