This blog is about the social and political dimensions of the climate wars. As a trained social scientist, that is my main interest and proper subject matter. I have no insight to offer on the quality of the science but I recognize that the science is what really matters.
Unfortunately, the science — truth, facts, evidence, and their interpretation — have been hijacked, at least in the blogosphere and some MSM, by the political battles. This most recent “gate” — O’Donnellgate –– is just another example to go along with the others – blog wars over the science in which innuendo replaces fact, accusation replaces truth.
As Hiram Johnson said in 1918 in response to the Sedition Act — and as we know from recent wars and WikiLeaks — “the first casualty of war is truth”.
Which brings me to the proper subject of my blog and this post.
In On War, Clausewitz, who inspired the title of this post, argues that “war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means.”
Usually, a public policy war would be fought in the political realm, where opposing sides battle it out over conflicting values to determine which were supreme and end up entrenched in policy. This particular policy war involves scientific evidence, the implications of which are inconvenient to certain economic interests. Because science has a degree of legitimate authority over science matters — although not complete authority in policy matters — it could over-ride other concerns, including those of policy players with political or economic interests. To put it plainly, science has a lot of weight with the public. Because of science’s natural authority over matters of science, those other policy players know they can’t just outright ignore science. They wouldn’t win the argument in a direct confrontation. Instead, they must try to attack science’s authority on the issue. The tobacco wars are a prime example of this at work. Environmental policies to protect the public and regulate industries that pollute are other examples.
Lest anyone imagine that I am dreaming this climate war, or imagining that there are forces aligned in an attempt to discredit opponents in political battles, this new post up at Think Progress is clear evidence. The Chamber of Commerce hired a private spy company to investigate the families, spouses and children, of political opponents. They also planned on using fake identities and manufactured articles in the hopes of discrediting them:
Have no doubt that similar ploys have been used in the climate wars.
This current skirmish between Steig and O’Donnell is just more of the same. A war over science that is really politics by other means.
Some deniers claim that they are interested in the truth or in the best science, but I am not convinced. “Sound science” was a meme that the tobacco lobby concocted in order to give their propaganda activities legitimacy among the unknowing public.
Michael Tobis sums it up quite well in his post “One Step Ahead of the Shoeshine”:
“…suppose I am interested in getting the right answer. I am not a top-notch statistician, but I don’t consult one anyway because the statistician will ask me to provide a rigorous prior which in fact I lack. I massage the data more carefully than has been done in the past, using a half dozen methods that occur to me. I also do the same with synthetic data. When I come up with something that appears robust to the sorts of phenomenology I expect across several methods, I choose one of those methods, polish it up, and publish.
Suppose to the contrary I am interested in casting doubt on the previous answer. I massage synthetic data more carefully than has been done in the past, using a half dozen methods that occur to me. I find a dataset that is consistent with observations that yields results very sensitive to observations in the method proposed by the climatologist. I drum up uncertainty and doubt.
In the O’Donnell case, he has succeeded in adding to the arsenal of methods. Steig offers an an interpretation consistent with the totality of evidence AS IF O’DONNELL WERE SERIOUS.This constitutes an excellent test of whether O’Donnell is interested in science or in McIntyrism. The results of this test are unambiguous to say the least.”
Science progresses by finding errors and improving methods and questioning conclusions. It appears to me that the O’Donnell and crew are interested in doing what McI has specialized in — looking for mistakes in order to insinuate something is wrong with science, and with the scientists, not to push the field forward. If anything, they have expressed contempt for it. If they were not so interested, if that wasn’t their goal, they would not allow the kind of smearing and speculation that takes place in their blog commentary, not to mention the tone of their own posts.
As I see it, there are [at least] three main fronts on this particular battle: in the peer reviewed literature (the proper domain of science) in the blogs (a new domain of opinion, ignorant or otherwise) and in the halls of government (the proper domain of politics). The main points of contention in this particular climate skirmish are both scientific and ethical. Besides the issue of appropriateness of methods and what they imply for our understanding of Antarctic climate trends, climate skeptics have raised the issue of ethics and professional standards.
I can’t really address the methodological issues and will leave it to others to analyze them. However, I am as qualified as others to discuss the ethical questions O’Donnell and co-authors — and the denizens of CA and the skeptic blogs — raise.
O’Donnell and others in the skeptic camp question the appropriateness of having Steig act as an anonymous reviewer. They argue that he is in a conflict of interest and should not be able to review their paper. They claim that Steig set O’Donnell up by insisting on a method that he later criticized. They argue that he gave O’Donnell the runaround, demanding countless changes to the manuscript that were more about interference than quality.
Here’s a sample:
It is striking to me how Team members hold everyone else in the world in contempt compared to their own (assumed) brilliance. This attitude makes them unable to appreciate being corrected and makes them oblivious to contradicting themselves.
I am again struck by the inexplicable situation of allowing Steig to be the main reviewer for a critique of his own work. Gatekeeping? Nahhhh….
…the primary anonymity considerations are so that the referees can be frank about shortcomings when rejecting a paper, and so that the author will not feel obliged to reciprocate an acceptance when reviewing future submissions by the referee(s).
The fact that it was Steig who identified himself after acceptance suggests that perhaps pal review is the norm today in climatology.
You guys were lucky for a few reasons:
1) You got to know that Eric he was reviewer A.
2) Eric tried his trick rebuttal, out in the open
Important papers and entire careers have been ruined because people pull these types of tricks behind their adversaries’ backs in the pages of subscription journals.
Reviewing replies to one’s own papers without letting authors know, and setting up authors along argument tracks that would make rebuttals easy – if these tricks are pulled under the cover of anonymity and behind paywalls – the results can be devastating sometimes. Anyone in small fields with celebrity scientists would be familiar of this ‘nest of vipers’ effect.Dave Andrews
How can an author of a paper that is being critiqued be asked to review that critique? He is not going to be impartial in any respect.
Why wasn’t he just asked, after publication, to submit a reply? That’s how ordinary folk would expect the process to progress, surely?
Seems like there is a big pile of ordure at the heart of climate science review.Dominic
I have just skimmed all three of the reviewer a files that you have put up and am astonished at the many ploys used by Steig to delay and it also seems prevent publication of your paper. I have published in both physics and finance journals and have never seen or even heard of such shabby behavior. While his reputation for scientific ability has been knocked, his reputation for integrity is in tatters.
Even Jeff Id gets in on the accusations including speculation that the “team” did the review, not just Eric Steig:
I would like to add that during the review process, we all suspected (basically knew) that it was the RC team reviewing our work. Steig, Mann and probably others. The comments matched RC comments and the tone changes in the individual reviews were strong clues. Ryan kept to his word and I was unaware that Steig had admitted to the situation until today. Dr. Broccoli (the editor) must have been under extreme pressure to fall in line, yet he simply found another reviewer and allowed the paper through.
I’m not sure the reasoning for his original decision to include Steig, but he still made the right call in the end. IMO it was a bold and strong statement that he wouldn’t allow false claims to manipulate the results. Hopefully, it doesn’t adversely affect his own funding or future. He’s shown guts in the face of a bad situation created by those playing politics.
As far as gatekeeping, IMO there was plenty of deep searching for silly reasons to stop the paper. The reviews are proof of that but I’ve seen far more egregious stuff for Steve M’s Santer rebuttal. Way way over the top.
In other words, we didn’t suffer that badly compared to what has been done and is still being done to others not included on the team.
The funny thing is, we had quite a long email discussion about including Steig as a coauthor before work became deeper. We decided it probably wouldn’t work out. [my emphasis]
I do not think Steig was ever attempting to “block” publication of the paper. I also think that when he said that he thought the paper overall contributed to the discussion that he was being honest.
Rather, what I feel he was trying to do is control the message by requesting editorial changes that could be interpreted later in multiple ways. I’m as yet undecided if this was intentional, or if his paper was simply so personally important to him that he could not see what he was doing. He’s human, after all.
The most difficult thing to reconcile in all of this is the difference between Eric Steig in emails (professional, friendly, helpful, and honest) and Eric Steig at RC (snarky, pompous, and condescending). Perhaps he played me for a fool – though I doubt it – but I think the former is closer to Eric Steig’s true persona than the latter.
I’ve read many of his papers, and I’ve found them to be well-written and entirely plausible (though parts of most are above my head). If all you had from Eric Steig were his past papers and his emails between Jeff Id and myself, you would have a very different impression of him than what you have now. Even so, there is only so much of Eric’s public misstatements that I will tolerate before I go off-shift.
However, I think this is best resolved here – in the open – than what I think you are implying. Bad judgment? Sure. Dishonest tactics? You bet. Professional misconduct (where, I am assuming, the implication is that some sort of official action should be taken)? No, I don’t wish that.
What this shows is that most posters at the skeptic blogs have no idea of the way science works or the peer review process works. They have some fantasy of it based on some reading of Feynman quotes or just their own sense of how it should work. because they are ignorant, they feel personal affront and feel empowered to take it to a personal level. As a result, they opine in ignorance and spread all kinds of misinformation about science and scientists.
Here’s some good old conspiracy theory that attempts to discredit the Team:
“The most difficult thing to reconcile in all of this is the difference between Eric Steig in emails (professional, friendly, helpful, and honest) and Eric Steig at RC (snarky, pompous, and condescending).”
My opinion is that RC is the PR firm managed blog that protects the money that flows to the Team in the form of grants, and the source of MSM publicity that does the same. A Team member is subject to the rules of the game on the web site when Team members and the PR managers are watching. Private conversations are subject to different rules, but maybe not so much going forward.
The Team simply cannot afford to have anyone stray from the message. Any admission of error could be the one that pulls down the whole house of cards. I read that over $500K was spent protecting Dr. Mann’s emails at U VA. Why and who would come up with that kind of money? It will only take one person with insider knowledge and maybe a few more emails to seriously damage the credibility and reputations of the whole Team. Likely their professional reputations will never recover.
This is so false as to be laughable. This is reversal — a trick denialists have discovered and have used in other skirmishes. Of course, the reversal makes no real sense and more properly applies to denialists, but logic is not necessarily part of propaganda and misinformation. This is directed towards a public trained to distrust and suspicion by a diet of “Maury Povich” and Rush Limbaugh and Faux News, hence they are primed for scandal and intrigue.
I think that on all points, the skeptics can be shown to be incorrect.
First, it is apparently common for the author of a paper being criticized to be a reviewer, according to at least one journal editor and many other more rational commenters even at CA and places like The Blackboard and Air Vent. While the author is in a conflict of interest, it is manageable and in fact, can be fruitful for the author of the paper being criticized is often an expert and most able to judge the value of the critique. The editor’s responsibility is to ensure that he or she receives other opinions without conflict of interest and weighs them accordingly.
Of course people use this episode as proof that “peer review is broken” and that there exists an effort to keep skeptic papers out of the literature or to give them a hard time. The problem is not that good papers are kept out of the peer reviewed literature — rather than opposite. That is more of a threat as the whole Von Storch resignation episode suggests.
Here’s Louis Derry, editor of the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, in a Dot Earth column:
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of comments here and at ClimateAudit and Realclimate that misunderstand some basics. No shame on misunderstanding, but it’s just not right to make accusations of dishonesty on that basis. Very briefly (to keep this post readable):
1. Editors make final decisions. Reviewers make recommendations only.
2. It is common for a submission that critiques previous work to be sent to the author of the critiqued work for review. 2a. That emphatically does NOT mean the reviewer has veto power. It means that his/her opinion is worth having. Such a choice is usually balanced by reviewers that editors believe are reasonably independent, and the review of the critiqued is weighted accordingly. Suggestions that asking Steig to review O’Donnell was somehow unethical are utterly without support in normal scientific practice. Obviously, Steig did not have veto power over O’Donnell’s paper.
3. The fact that O”Donnell’s paper went through several rounds of review is absolutely unsurprising and unexceptional. Many papers on far less public topics do the same.
4. Some have questioned why Stieig 09 got “more” visibility than O’Donnell 10. The answer is simple. Steig had a “result,” O”Donnell had a technical criticism of methodology. As O’Donnell has repeatedly written he wasn’t trying to address the question of whether Antarctica had warmed, but only argue that Steig’s methodology was wrong. Whether Steig’s result is robust or not, it is often the case that papers with a “result” get more public visibility that technical discussions of statistical significance. If you accept O’Donnell’s work, it still sheds very limited light on the question of whether Antarctica is warming. It really only discusses how well a particular methodology that does try and address that question works.
Finally, Revkin’s point that the Steig vs O’Donnell debate is not unusual in the progress of science and does not have much of anything to say about the majority of the evidence is correct. Disagreement about how to model the flight of a Frisbee correctly doesn’t imply that basic aerodynamics are wrong. Disagreement about how many EOFs [ empirical orthogonal functions] to use to model Antarctic [temperature] changes doesn’t imply that climate physics is wrong.
This is the problem with “citizen science” — with the “extended peer” notion — an unfortunate if understandable ignorance of how science works leading to misunderstanding and false accusation, which is cynically played up by those who ought to know better. This leads to misplaced mistrust that harms climate science in particular, and science in general.
What this suggests to me is that we have a woeful ignorance of science in society, what it is and does and how it works. We’re great at promoting its findings in news and entertainment fora but not for educating the public in how it works.
Besides arguing that Steig should not have reviewed O’Donnell, climate skeptics argue that O’Donnell had every right to violate the peer review system of anonymous reviewers by asking Steig if he is in fact Reviewer A. Further, even though O’Donnell promised to keep this in confidence, they argue that O’Donnell was justified in breaking that promise because Steig was “duplicitous” in his criticism of O10.
I have known that Eric was, indeed, Reviewer A since early December. I knew this because I asked him. When I asked, I promised that I would keep the information in confidence, as I was merely curious if my guess that I had originally posted on tAV had been correct.
Throughout all of the questioning on Climate Audit, tAV, and Andy Revkin’s blog, I kept my mouth shut. When Dr. Thomas Crowley became interested in this, I kept my mouth shut. When Eric asked for a copy of our paper (which, of course, he already had) I kept my mouth shut. I had every intention of keeping my promise . . . and were it not for Eric’s latest post on RC, I would have continued to keep my mouth shut.
However, when someone makes a suggestion during review that we take and then later attempts to use that very same suggestion to disparage our paper, my obligation to keep my mouth shut ends.
In other words, his word is only good so long as Eric plays nicely.
The smearing continues at The Blackboard, comparing Steig to Blogojevich:
Reading Steig’s recent article at RC, the thought that came to mind was “Steig and Blago! Some men have some real testicular fortitude!” It really takes something to try to spin a paper that shows yours up so badly as supporting your results. But.. more later.
If Eric Steig was reviewer A and he wrote that deceptive mealy mouth comment he is truly the Rod Blagojevich of climate science.
There’s more smearing to be had for those with the stomach:
Here’s Jeff Id, who complains that the authors were forced to rewrite the paper:
jeff id (Comment#68298) February 7th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
We all suspected it already because the wording of Reviewer A was very close to some RC comments. Ryan didn’t tell me he had confirmation at any time before this. It actually was a team review IMO with Mannian commentary interspersed throughout. I recall on reading the first reviews that it seemed like several personalities and writing styles. Now that they are posted, people can see for themselves.
We basically had a group of reviewers so hostile that we were forced to not use the originally submitted methods. The whole paper was re-written to avoid certain unfair criticisms.
No doubt in my mind that Reviewer A wouldn’t have let S09 through.
One is forced to wonder why, if the authors had such faith in their methods, that they didn’t stick to their guns and insist on using their “originally submitted methods” — or were they more interested in getting published at any cost? Surely not.
And more from Lucia’s place, that proves once again the paucity of sense in the denialosphere, and why this PNS notion of “extended peer communities” is so bankrupt. It’s mostly fantasy, purient fantasy.
jeff Id (Comment#68326) February 7th, 2011 at 7:01 pm
“Eric said that Review A was entirely his, and, in retrospect, I have no reason to disbelieve him.”
I believe he submitted the review 100%, if Cuccinelli subpoenaed Steig’s emails, I would bet some big cash that there were copy-pastes from Mann. Admittedly it is just a guess though, there was too much Mannian style hostility and phraseology.
Maybe that’s my next blog–phraseology, this climate stuff is too anti-science.
Guesses, bets — that’s all it amounts to in the blog-audit world. Too ignorant to tell the difference between climate “stuff” and their own anti-science.
Here’s John Nielsen-Gammon on anonymity in the peer review process and breach of trust on a thread at Stoat:
Announcing the identity of the anonymous reviewer was wrong in and of itself. The seriousness of the offense deepens to the extent that the author also reveals some of the content of the review. Revealing the identity of the reviewer while simultaneously publishing the complete content of the reviews makes this particular ethical violation as bad as possible. [my emphasis]
O’Donnell and co-authors are new to the whole publishing world in science. McI has whined endlessly about the hard time he has received when trying to get published — as if he should just enter this field and after reading a few papers, expect the publishing world to let him in without the usual — or an understandable extra close — review of his work. McI should know better by now, but even so, he has very little publication experience under his belt.
O’Donnell responds in the petulant post on CA like a child on the playground who discovers he’s not quite up to playing with the big boys yet. When he felt he’d been unfairly criticized he so over-responded that his original blog post had to be snipped and he later offered a public apology. How big of him! He apologized, not for insulting Steig or accusing him of duplicity and betraying a trust to keep Steig’s identity as Reviewer A confidential — but for mistakenly claiming that Steig had received the last revised draft, which he hadn’t.
Not much of an apology…
I am not qualified to judge the quality and relevance of Steig and other reviews, but I read them. What struck me, in my ignorance, is that in both his anonymous reviews and in subsequent blog posts, Steig repeatedly praised O’Donnell. In his reviews, he argued that it would be a significant paper that would be referenced a great deal and provided improved methods. That he critiqued it upon publication does not surprise me — turning a critical eye to each work, even one that is an improvement, should be encouraged and is the whole essence of scientific progress. Nothing is ever finished or perfect and is beyond critique.
This episode is just another example of this effort to prove science wrong by players who claim to care about “science” and who claim to accept the reality of global warming. As Michael Tobis so aptly put it:
This constitutes an excellent test of whether O’Donnell is interested in science or in McIntyrism. The results of this test are unambiguous to say the least.
To say the least.