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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Editor of Remote Sensing resigns over controversial climate paper; co-author stands by it

with 86 comments

The editor of a journal that published a highly contentious article challenging claims of global warming has stepped down over the paper.

In a remarkable letter to his readership, Wolfgang Wagner, who until today was editor of Remote Sensing, an open-access journal that we’ve written about before, said he felt forced to resign because the review process at his journal — which, by implication, he shepherds — failed the scientific community (link added):

Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science. Their aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims. Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by [Roy] Spencer and [William] Braswell [1] that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.

The paper in question, “On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance,” was published earlier this year. Climate change skeptics responded with glee to the article, which purports to show that more heat is escaping the earth’s atmosphere than many scientists have assumed — and that therefore the planet will warm by less than computer models are predicting.

Here’s an excerpt from an overtly politicized press release issued by the University of Alabama at Huntsville, the authors’ institution, trumpeting the article:

Data from NASA’s Terra satellite shows that when the climate warms, Earth’s atmosphere is apparently more efficient at releasing energy to space than models used to forecast climate change have been programmed to “believe.”

But Wagner in his letter calls the paper

fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal.

Indeed, two bloggers at RealClimate had criticized the study, notes Tim Lambert at the Deltoid blog. Wagner defends — sort of — the peer review process in this case:

If a paper presents interesting scientific arguments, even if controversial, it should be published and responded to in the open literature. This was my initial response after having become aware of this particular case. So why, after a more careful study of the pro and contra arguments, have I changed my initial view? The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature (cf. [7]), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal. This regrettably brought me to the decision to resign as Editor-in-Chief―to make clear that the journal Remote Sensing takes the review process very seriously.

We are not in a position to critique the claims. But we are curious: If Wagner feels he published the article in error, why not simply retract it? Was it really necessary to fall on his sword to make the point that he now feels he made a mistake in publishing the paper? It’s a noble gesture, and not unprecedented for editors of climate journals, but is it best for science?

Spencer, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, had not heard about Wagner’s move when we reached him by phone this morning. His response:

Oh my gosh. That’s amazing!

Spencer said the only communication he’d received from the journal was an email this morning alerting him to an editorial about his article (which he had obviously not read yet). But nothing about the possibility that the paper would be retracted.

I stand 100% behind the science in that paper.  I can’t imagine why the paper would ever be retracted, other than for political reasons.

Update, 1 p.m. Eastern, 9/2/11: Anthony Watts has posted a statement from Spencer.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 9/2/11: Remote Sensing’s editor Wagner tells us the journal is not considering retracting the study.

No, neither the publisher nor I have so far considered this. On the one hand, as I wrote in the editorial, formally everything was correct with the review. On the other hand we believe that it is much better to treat this issue in an open and scientific manner. Therefore the publisher is already working on inviting the science community to respond to this paper.

Hat tip: Amos Zeeberg

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Written by amarcus41

September 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

86 Responses

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  1. Wagner does not say that he was “asked” to resign and that in itself is interesting. To say “mea culpa” in such a public manner is to say that he could not undo his “error”, that the reputation of both himself if not his employers/colleagues would be irredeemably damaged should he stay. But all without a retraction of the article. Hmmm.

    Without a retraction – and justification for such a thing – his resignation signals only that he was or his superiors were unhappy with the positive attention the article brought and the apparent support of a non-politically acceptable position its publication represents. A technically flawed report that got through the review process is cringe-worthy but something we can all relate to without it torpedoing your career – unless it threatens the business of your company or your CEO put his personal reputation (and money) on the line because of it. The threat here is to ego; that is enough to “fall on your sword”.

    If a new editor retracts the article, the question will then be, why didn’t Wagner? If a new editor does not retract it, the question is then why did Wagner resign?

    Someone with a big ego was embarrassed at a cocktail party, someone who had said “Never on my watch!”.

    Doug Proctor

    September 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm

  2. Are you saying this only happens to editors of climate journals?

    Funny also that Wagner felt it necessary to “to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statement” that when Spencer wrote in the abstract “It is concluded that atmospheric feedback diagnosis of the climate system remains an unsolved problem“. Are future public statements nowadays part of the editorial process in peer-reviewed journals?

    omnologos

    September 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  3. Of interest may be that Spencer, in his reaction, challenges the community to produce a refutation of his work. In the Guardian, Leo Hickman points out this will be published next week in Geophysical Research Letters:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/02/journal-editor-resigns-climate-sceptic-paper
    (the link in the article to GRL points to the wrong place, unfortunately)

    Marco

    September 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    • Of interest also the fact that Spencer was left in the dark about the upcoming “rebuttal”, whilst Steig was an anonymous reviewer when his own work was getting grilled by O’Donnell et al.

      Notably, Bart Verhoggen at the blog “Our Changing Climate” said at the time: “in fact, it is completely normal, or expected even, that authors whose paper is being critized are one of the reviewers.“. There’s even a quote in that respect by Louis A. Derry, “a Cornell researcher and the editor of the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems”.

      Climate science seems the repository of all double-standards in peer-reviewed publishing.

      omnologos

      September 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      • This depends on the nature of the work. If a paper is a direct comment, yes, it is normal to have the criticized author review or respond. We don’t know what the paper in GRL really contains, it may well be a more general paper, in which case

        We also do not know if Spencer or Braswell were not invited as reviewers, so it appears you are jumping to conclusions

        Nonetheless, I have some experience in this area myself, both as ‘victim’ of being criticized and not even having seen the paper before, and being the one criticizing, and seeing from the review comments none of those who were criticized were part of the review process. This is not within climate science, so I don’t understand why you are so much insisting to criticize climate science. Is there perhaps something there you do not like?

        Marco

        September 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      • As per our host’s words: “It’s a noble gesture, and not unprecedented for editors of climate journals, but is it best for science?”

        Your interest in climate science is as strong as your disinterest in the peculiarities of climate science, or so it seems.

        omnologos

        September 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      • Omnologos,

        I think he is referring the to Soon and Baliunas kerfulle at Climate Research in 2003/2004.

        Rattus Norvegicus

        September 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      • Rattus – Soon and Baliunas seems to reinforce the idea there’s something special about climate science.

        omnologos

        September 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm

      • Well, I can see there is something special about climate science: papers by Spencer and likeminded are often used as political tools. It is clear that Wagner is disgusted by the way this particular paper was abused for political purposes, including by the first author (Spencer).

        Marco

        September 3, 2011 at 1:05 am

  4. I find it extraordinary that he would resign because of what he has read in “various internet discussion fora”.

    Bishop Hill

    September 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    • I think it would be useful for all commenters here to read the whole article. It is clear that he did not resign because of what he has read in “various internet discussion fora”.

      Marco

      September 2, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      • I think it would be useful if you, Marco, would explain why Wagner did resign.

        omnologos

        September 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      • I would think the editorial makes that clear: he found there were important flaws in the paper, its peer-review (it appears he suggests the reviewers were those chosen by Spencer & Braswell, and not really as objective as requested by the journal), and he found the first author overhyped his own paper. That is, he saw his journal being used for political purposes.

        Marco

        September 3, 2011 at 1:09 am

      • He feels bad he has given support to people who’s politics he disagrees with. It’s not the science or the peer review he said in the note.

        Stan T

        September 3, 2011 at 1:20 am

      • “Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell [1] that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.”

        Seems fairly clear to me.

        Jerome

        September 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm

  5. The reason simply retracting was not useful is the vast publicity the paper received. Publishing was not an error it was a blunder.

    Eli Rabett

    September 2, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    • Eli – your “simply retracting was not useful” makes no sense since the paper has not been retracted.

      omnologos

      September 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    • When you host a soiree at a hotel and someone finds a turd in the punchbowl, you may decide to leave the party but first you remove the turd–it doesn’t matter how many people have drunk from the bowl. Your explanation of why Mr. Wagner didn’t retract the paper doesn’t float.

      Reed Coray

      September 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      • > you may decide to leave the party but first you remove the turdj

        I’m glad I don’t go to the same parties you do.

        I’d remove the entire punchbowl.
        And tell people if they got sick to tell their doctor what they’d accidentally drunk.

        Hank Roberts

        September 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      • Since Hank Roberts’ comment didn’t contain a “reply” function, I’m not sure if my response to his comment will precede or follow Mr. Roberts’ comment.

        In any event, I absolutely agree with Mr. Roberts–empty the entire bowl and let all guests know what they were exposed to. However, my comment wasn’t in the context of the quality of the punch or floating objects therein. If that was my intent, I likely would have substituted “urine” (i.e., the quality of AGW science as practiced by the alarmists) for “punch” and “disinfectant” (i.e., the SB paper) for “turd”. Rather, my comment was in the context of trying to make sense of Eli Rabett’s explanation of why “The reason simply retracting was not useful….” Mr. Rabett’s explanation makes no sense.

        Reed Coray

        September 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm

  6. Marco,

    Yes, folks should read the whole article – and in addition, read the comments below the article on Anthony Watts’ site to get a feel of the extremely low esteem in which climsci pal review is held:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/09/02/breaking-editor-in-chief-of-remote-sensing-resigns-over-spencer-braswell-paper

    Smokey

    September 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    • I am sorry, but reading those comments makes me think I entered an alternative universe. It’s all one big conspiracy!

      In my opinion, “pal” review is often great, as my scientific “pals” are often much more willing to put an effort in to improve my paper.

      In this case, as per Wagner’s editorial, it seems the Spencer & Braswell reviewers were not “pals” of Spencer or Braswell, as they would and should have pointed out that the paper contained serious flaws (amongst others by ignoring prior criticism).

      Marco

      September 3, 2011 at 1:15 am

      • Marco,

        I agree that these particular reviewers were OK, but the climate peer review well has been poisoned: http://tiny.cc/4ahir [See also Montford's The Hockey Stick Illusion]

        As with any blog, comments follow a Bell curve. Some are eminently sensible [like mine☺], some are from outer space, but most are somewhere in the middle. It’s good to get a wide range of views, because then you will get a feel for the very serious problem being discussed.

        If there wasn’t a problem in this case, no one would blog or comment on it. But everyone from both sides is weighing in because there is an elephant in the climate peer review room.

        Smokey

        September 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      • Smokey, the vast majority of comments at Wattsupwiththat are in the “way out there” category. Just like Montford’s book.

        Marco

        September 7, 2011 at 12:50 am

      • Smokey is right, and further, the quality of blogs and blog-like threads (like this one) are also on a curve. Check out the quality of the comments on Spencer’s site; it has more garbage masquerading as “science” than I’ve seen outside of blatant denier sites.

        louploup2

        September 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm

  7. It is QUITE clear he resigned because of his anger at the wide spread exposure a paper in his publication received

    Scott Allan

    September 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm

  8. The author here gets it exactly correct – if this paper was so flawed then why did he not retract it?

    Scott Allan

    September 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

  9. From the resignation letter:

    “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements, e.g., in a press release of The University of Alabama in Huntsville from 27 July 2011 [2], the main author’s personal homepage [3], the story “New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism” published by Forbes [4], and the story “Does NASA data show global warming lost in space?” published by Fox News [5], to name just a few.”

    It’s obviously not “various internet discussion fora” and Spencer is personally responsible for [2] and [3]. Nice try.

    bluegrue

    September 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    • bluegrue – The key word is “also”. And Wagner did state before that “as many climate
      researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet
      discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell [1] that was recently published in Remote Sensing
      is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published
      “. Remarkably he did not mention even a single communication to him or the journal, peer-reviewed or otherwise, just “various internet discussion fora”.

      As for anybody’s non-peer-reviewed exaggeration of the paper’s conclusions after the paper is published, it is impossible to understand why would this be the fault of the editor of Remote Sensing.

      Nice try indeed.

      omnologos

      September 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      • Unlike you, omnologos, I take issue with Bishop Hill’s quote mining. The arguments given in those internet fora _by climate scientists_ and the omissions pointed out there are what has convinced Wagner that the paper should not have been published in its present form. Usually such a paper is simply ignored. Instead we have the author and interested parties hyping and overstating the paper’s conclusions, waving the journals credentials around as a seal of quality and truth.

        Peer review is an imperfect first filter to stop bad work from being published. Wagner had the misfortune to have a bad paper slip through that did not simply sink into obscurity but was actively hyped, damaging the reputation of his journal. So he resigned, in part to draw attention to the post-publication misbehaviour of Spencer and part of the media.

        > As for __SPENCER’S__ non-peer-reviewed exaggeration of the paper’s conclusions
        There, fixed for you.

        bluegrue

        September 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      • bluegrue – “Usually such a paper is simply ignored”. No, usually a bad paper is retracted by the journal.

        And you still haven’t explained why the “hype” would have been the editor’s fault. Yes, an author might go around pumping up his results to the media. Should we have potentially hyping authors sent incommunicado to avoid the problem?

        Could anybody provide a crystal ball to all editors from now on please.

        ps you haven’t even entered the issue of why a “bad paper” that was peer-reviewed would be demonstrated “bad” by non-peer-reviewed comments in discussion forums on the internet. Unless you and Wagner trust blogs more than peer review? Funny that Wagner couldn’t wait for next week’s “rebuttal” peer-reviewed paper, something that would have made a more obvious basis for initiating the process of retracting Spencer’s than a vague reference to “internet discussion fora”.

        pps how many editors of The Lancet have resigned over Wakefield’s hyped-up and later fully-retracted MMR paper of 1998?

        omnologos

        September 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      • Bad papers are not retracted, they just sit there and are ignored. If there was a major blunder (an amusing one had someone at Princeton, grabbing the wrong chemical and making a “new” superconductor) or if there is misconduct (see anywhere else on this blog) they are retracted.

        Eli Rabett

        September 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      • Omnologos, that Horton did not do the ethical thing does not mean Wagner is wrong to do so. The paper on bacteria is really different: it may be wrong, but has not been twisted in the media by the authors.

        Marco

        September 3, 2011 at 1:36 am

  10. Prof Jonathan Jones, writing at my blog:

    “Nobody resigned at Science when they published that utter drivel about bacteria replacing phosphorus with arsenic”

    Bishop Hill

    September 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    • Nobody resigned at Science for Pacala and Socolow’s 2004 “wedges” paper either, even if one of the authors later admitted it was all a political piece (as mentioned in Roger’s The Climate Fix). Here’s the original quote:

      The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it.

      omnologos

      September 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      • Please indicate where Pacala and Socolow’s 2004 paper is wrong. If you cannot, you should be able to see the difference between an apparently flawed paper (Spencer & Braswell) of which the results are overhyped by the first author in an apparent attempt to stop policy actions, and a paper where a challenge from society (“cannot be done”) was used to prepare a paper that shows it *can* be done.

        Marco

        September 3, 2011 at 1:41 am

    • Wait.

      The confirmatory or non experiments are just underway. If it is shown that the result was in error, don’t look for a retraction, look for publication of the new work. The only exception to this would be if research misconduct is shown or it is shown that some procedure was badly done.

      Eli Rabett

      September 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm

  11. It was not retracted because the paper is “technically” correct. He resigned because the paper was not “politically” correct.

    mick

    September 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    • Wagner stated that he had been convinced that the paper was technically a load of codswallop. It’s just that the cards and letters (comments) have just started to come in to the journal

      Eli Rabett

      September 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  12. How many people called Eli Rabett are publishing comments here? The paper was bad but it wasn’t bad, bad papers are not retracted but are retracted, Wagner could not retract it but “knows” it’s bad. Coherent logic, please??

    omnologos

    September 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    • I just read the comments from Eli Rabett, and it seems you are mixing them with other replies. At no time does Eli Rabett claim that this particular paper was not bad, nor that bad papers are always retracted.

      Marco

      September 3, 2011 at 1:28 am

    • Eli is not a people, he is a bunny. Don’t you follow the blogs?

      Eli Rabett

      September 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

  13. The editor’s explanation (that the paper is a wrong science, basically, and that there are papers that refute this wrong science) is BS. This science is not an established science. So, the resignation is OK, but a retraction would be a crime.

    Pyshnov

    September 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

  14. With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements.

    But would he have been bothered if the author was on the so-called “consensus” side? Wagner’s one cited paper is led by Trenberth, after all. A man not noted for his quietness in publicising his findings.

    Of all the excuses given for resigning, this is the weakest. It is effectively an ad hominen because it turns from the scientific merits to the personal merits of the author.

    Mooloo

    September 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm

  15. The political views of the authors and the thematic goal of their study did, of course, alone not disqualify the paper from entering the review process in the journal Remote Sensing.
    [...]
    But it should not be done in isolation by the remote sensing scientists. Interdisciplinary cooperation with modelers is required in order to develop a joint understanding of where and why models deviate from satellite data.

    Observation should only be interpreted through the lens of computer models. Smells like bullshit.

    FergalR

    September 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm

  16. Marco – discussing with you is of little interest. Pacala goes as far as to admit his paper was political, and you try to blame Spencer on politicizing the science of climate. Yeah, right, joke on…

    Let me do a big favor to our host here and say goodbye to your attempts at machine-gunning the discussion.

    omnologos

    September 3, 2011 at 5:50 am

    • Ah, the evasion tactic when asked for evidence.

      I can do that, too, by pointing to Spencer’s own words:
      “I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

      interesting, a scientist who proclaims his job is to be a conservative politician…

      Marco

      September 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      • Marco,

        Where does Dr Spencer proclaim that his job is to be a “conservative politician”? If Spencer used that term, please post it verbatim, because I have never seen it. I haven’t visited this blog before this week, but it’s already clear that there’s a political agenda behind the scenes here.

        I did a search on this site for “Mann”, “Michael Mann”, “MBH98″, etc., with zero results. Nature was forced to issue a Correction to MBH98, which would seem to be major news, because the Correction deconstructed Mann’s famously bogus Hockey Stick that essentially eliminated the MWP and the LIA, and which the IPCC used repeatedly in its early Assessment Reports. As a result of the Correction, the IPCC can no longer use Mann’s original chart [instead, they substitute a much less visually effective, confusing spaghetti chart].

        Admittedly a Correction is not a Retraction, but is there any doubt that if Dr Spencer’s paper had a similar Correction, the news would be posted here with alacrity? [Since this is a new blog to me, correct me if I'm wrong, and you reported the effective debunking of MBH98.]

        The climate peer review system has been FUBAR by the “Team.” They fight tooth and nail to avoid transparency, they ignore the scientific method, they use every unethical trick in the book to control the journals, and as this sorry episode and the Climategate emails show, they regard anyone as a traitor who deviates from their AGW narrative. Where’s the science in that??

        Smokey

        September 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm

        • Welcome to Retraction Watch. Since you’re new here, you may not know that we’ve only been around since August 2010. That’s the main explanation of why we didn’t cover the Mann correction, which ran in 2004:

          http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v430/n6995/full/nature02478.html

          We’ve had more than enough to do just covering retractions as they come up, and have only rarely dipped into history. But we don’t tend to cover corrections, so if the point is that we wouldn’t have covered the Mann correction but would have covered a correction of the Spencer paper for some sort of political reasons, that’s not supportable.

          The only agenda we have at Retraction Watch is transparency, and we don’t think that’s political. For more about why we started the blog, see this post:

          http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/why-write-a-blog-about-retractions/

          ivanoransky

          September 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      • Ivanoransky,

        Thank you for your explanation @September 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm, I appreciate it. I am all for transparency in science, and due to your polite reply I will bookmark your site and check in from time to time. Maybe I was wrong about the political angle too, I’ve been wrong before. That was in 1968, as I recall.☺

        Smokey

        September 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      • Smokey, I quoted Spencer verbatim. And what he says translates as “I am a conservative politician”.

        Marco

        September 7, 2011 at 12:57 am

  17. The authors of global warming theory said that the temperature of the globe had risen by 0.6 degree C in the last 100 years and concluded that this indicates a period of great change. This was clearly unscientific as they should have compared this change with the model of temperature changes over many hundreds of years. Without such comparison, the change of 0.6 degrees over 100 years can well correspond to a period of great stability, not change. This is just one, although undeniable, deviation from scientific method in the main pont of the theory. I could list many more. This is not science. The other side of the story is that we notice that the opinion on the theory is under control of political police. What else do you need?

    Pyshnov

    September 3, 2011 at 10:46 am

  18. While Wagner doesn’t explain in what way the open discussion and his reference refutes the work, or even link to the discussion so we can see for ourselves, insiders recognise it as a description of the RealClimate article by Trenberth and Fasullo (T&F).

    “The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature (cf. [7]), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers.”

    is a description of

    “To help interpret the results, Spencer uses a simple model. But the simple model used by Spencer is too simple. We have already rebutted Lindzen’s work on exactly this point. The clouds respond to ENSO, not the other way round [see ...]”

    This is apparently referring to S&B’s paper where it says:

    “Finally, since much of the temperature variability during 2000–2010 was due to ENSO [9], we conclude that ENSO-related temperature variations are partly radiatively forced. We hypothesize that changes in the coupled ocean-atmosphere circulation during the El Niño and La Niña phases of ENSO cause differing changes in cloud cover, which then modulate the radiative balance of the climate system. [...] What this might (or might not) imply regarding the ultimate causes of the El Niño and La Niña phenomena is not relevant to our central point, though: that the presence of time varying radiative forcing in satellite radiative flux measurements corrupts the diagnosis of radiative feedback.”

    So S&B say ” the El Niño and La Niña phases of ENSO cause differing changes in cloud cover”, T&F rebut this with “The clouds respond to ENSO, not the other way round”, and Wagner effectively complains that S&B hypothesised that ENSO affects clouds without citing or responding to the scientific counter-argument that ENSO affects clouds.

    If you can follow that, you’re doing well.

    The T&F comment was a counter to a completely different paper, and not relevant to S&B. And the issue of ENSO-cloud causality was acknowledged and dealt with anyway. Had Wagner spent half an hour on the phone with Spencer to try to clear this up, he surely would have discovered this.

    So there’s something else going on here. And those with knowledge of the climate debate will recall a previous case (email 1106322460) where a rogue editor started letting through sceptical papers, and climate scientists privately debated whether they could go through official channels to get him “ousted” for being in the greenhouse sceptics camp. Their attitude hasn’t changed any. But we can only speculate.

    Nullius in Verba

    September 4, 2011 at 4:27 am

    • Indeed, much speculation. Too bad Wagner already indicates at length in his resignation letter why he resigned. “I was pressured” is not one of the reasons. Unless you claim Wagner is a liar?

      Marco

      September 4, 2011 at 8:36 am

  19. Despite the noisy fellow in this thread, still not an answer to our host’s questions. One also has to wonder why couldn’t Wagner wait for the GRL “rebuttal” of Spencer and Broswell’s due in two days from now? If only to avoid the embarrassment of having to refer to “internet fora”.

    omnologos

    September 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

  20. Well, this thread is a nice illustration of why Prof Wagner resigned.

    The notion that mainstream climate science (and more specifically the large body of evidence that bears on climate sensitivity) is somehow “wrong”, is unsupported by an evidence base. In the absence of science, the individuals that wish to pursue this notion have learned that one doesn’t actually have to engage in science. Simply find a low ranked journal to accept a bit of stuff of limited scientific value and make a huge amount of fuss about it throught the internet. It doesn’t matter if it goes pear-shaped scientifically-speaking. If there are criticisms about the fact that the paper was published, that allows productive whining about “censorship” and unfair “gatekeeping”. If the papers review process is legitimately questioned then this opens the door for generalized whines about peer-review……and so on. The aim is to promote just the sort of faux-controversy expressed in this thread.

    Prof Wagner has realized he’s been taken for a ride in this process. He presumably undertook his role as an editor honourably. He gave the authors what all editors and paper reviewers give authors – the presumption of good faith. Bad mistake in this case – he was duped. I can understand his resignation quite well. If I were he I’d wash my hands of the whole thing and get on with the rest of my life, having learned a small lesson about the antics of those that consider that the laws of physics might yet bend to the will of political pursuasions (or at least that people can be suckered into believing so).

    chris

    September 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

  21. Smokey has used some odd phrases in posts above re peer review (“…but the climate peer review well has been poisoned”; “…elephant in the climate peer review room..”).

    But we should be a little more relaxed about this. As the very nature of this site (Retraction Watch) shows, seriously flawed papers do get published, sometimes due to “good faith” errors, and sometimes due to “bad faith” cheating. Each of these is not easy catch during peer review which is always undertaken with the assumption of “good faith” by the editors/reviewers on the part of the authors. These papers can be inconvenient to other researchers, but are either found out (by the “good faith” authors themselves or by others in the case of the “bad faith” retractions), or linger unnoticed (presumably).

    There is a newish, and very interesting additional category of “bad faith” articles that find their way (largely) into low impact journals; the present paper seems to be an example. In these cases the authors attempt to publish papers that can be used outside of the normal scientific arena to support non-scientific views. Sometimes the editorial process is complicit in this (we could discuss examples!).

    So we should be aware of this. It is a little problem in the climate field; a very, very small number of “scientists” play this dreary game. We could list them. It’s not really an “elephant in the room” though, and we shouldn’t engage in hand-wringing over it! It doesn’t have much effect on the science itself, ‘though it does waste people’s time. It has an unfortunate impact on the public’s perception of important issues (which is the whole point of the game as this example shows).

    I guess it’s something that editors need to be a little more aware of. Unfortunately Prof Wagner was caught out – his assumption of good faith was abused in this case. A learning experience for him would say, and I think he dealt with this with integrity…

    chris

    September 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm

  22. Funny chris how much of an expert you try to make yourself look in the fields of “bad faith” and “cheating”. Good for you. In the meantime you too, you’ve avoided the host’s questions entirely.

    Could anybody please show how climate science is just like any other science, when the inexplicable keeps happening?

    omnologos

    September 4, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  23. Just to be clear, the challenge to Spencer-bashers here and everywhere is to provide answers to three simple questions posed by ivanoransky:

    1. If Wagner feels he published the article in error, why not simply retract it?

    2. Was it really necessary to fall on his sword to make the point that he now feels he made a mistake in publishing the paper?

    3. It’s a noble gesture, and not unprecedented for editors of climate journals, but is it best for science?

    To those I humbly add:

    4. Can anybody show anything similar in a field other than climate science?

    omnologos

    September 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    • To your question: about two decades before global warming, a story of AIDS research went the same way and is continuing on this path today.

      Pyshnov

      September 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    • 1. Plenty of possibilities. Start with “not many papers are retracted for being wrong”. Not too long ago, a journal was even required to pay the author of a paper when it was retracted:http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/applied-mathematics-letters-posts-apology-for-retracting-intelligent-design-friendly-paper/
      The retraction notice fails to mention the paper WAS fundamentally flawed

      2. Apparently, Wagner indeed felt it necessary. He even makes it clear why: somebody chose to use his journal for politics, and he will have none of that.

      3. The answer may well be “yes” to that question. There’s a good chance Spencer will now be less able to manipulate the publication process by selecting journals with limited to no expertise in climate science, and proposing reviewers who are apparently not able to see the flaws. He can still overhype his results, but there will be a limit to how much he can spin his articles.

      Note that the Climate Research situation was completely different. The group of Editors that resigned did not resign because of the publication of a bad paper, but because the journal owner would not allow the main Editor to become a true Editor-in-Chief, and would not allow an Editorial criticically evaluating what had happened. Not so different from what happened at Medical Hypotheses, where many of the Editorial Board resigned when they were forced to adopt peer review and their Editor-in-Chief was sacked.

      4. I don’t think any other field has seen such apparent manipulation of a young journal. And one field needs to be first.

      Marco

      September 5, 2011 at 1:07 am

    • I’ll take a stab.

      1) Because whether the study is in error isn’t the important issue here.

      2) Yes, the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, and people are getting wrong, dangerous ideas, which this study encourages. We know these views are wrong because many scientists believe they are wrong. We know these views are dangerous because the same scientists believe they are dangerous.

      3) We can’t worry about lofty ideals of scientific integrity when the Earth is in imminent danger.

      4) Larry Summers resigned after merely mentioning some data relating to gender issues (also more important than the lofty ideals of science, which are after all merely another social construct), which also promoted dangerous, wrong ideas.

      I hope this has been educational.

      Dave Price

      September 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      • I quote: “3) We can’t worry about lofty ideals of scientific integrity when the Earth is in imminent danger.”
        This is one of the most deceitful arguments and it is repeated again and again in a number of situations. That needs explanation.
        First, another example of this type of argument. About two years ago, the Head of the Supreme Court of Canada had explained the “need” for a drastic departure from the normal judicial process, the departure leading straight to the trials seen only in the communist/fascist regimes. The departure she said is needed for the trials of “terrorists”. She said: “What do you do with the terrorists?”, and she justified the secret trials, virtually without the right to defense, without even presenting evidence to the accused. She therefore “forgot” that before the conviction, the accused is not a “terrorist”, but an innocent man…
        It’s the same type of argument as in the above quotation. How do you know that “the Earth is in imminent danger” if the papers denying global warming are in compliance with the “scientific integrity” and cannot therefore be dismissed? What right do you have to suggest that these papers are “dangerous”? They are written by scientists and present research contradicting the research of your “many scientists”, but how do you know that they are wrong? Is it possible that the other side is wrong? Are you saying that this is not possible because the Earth is in imminent danger?
        By the way, my old textbooks were saying that in the period when there was the most abundant vegetation on Earth, the CO2 concentration was much higher in the atmosphere then it is now, but no apocalypse. Are the textbooks changed?

        Pyshnov

        September 6, 2011 at 12:43 am

      • Pyshnov, the old canard “CO2 was higher in the past” is really an odd argument coming from someone with a university education. Try to determine the global temperature at that time, as well as the sea levels. Then compare what that will do to the *current* flora and fauna, that has evolved under different conditions. Then try to see what would happen to current human civilization if those changes happen.

        To take an extreme example: try to calculate how many cities would have to be abandoned if sea levels rise with, say, 6 meters. Tell us how that’s no problem at all.

        Marco

        September 6, 2011 at 1:16 am

      • Well Marco, university education requires one to realize that your scenario would take millions of years. Unless, of course, you have a hockey stick device to make it apocalypse.

        Pyshnov

        September 6, 2011 at 11:16 am

      • Pyshnov, you are aware that an interglacial (which is about +6 degrees versus a glacial period) causes about 100 meters sea level rise in about 6-8,000 years?

        With current predictions of CO2 level increases, and even with climate sensitivity at the low end (2/doubling), that 6 meters will be reached within a millenium. And that’s assuming the WAIS and GIS don’t decide to melt even faster than they already do…

        Marco

        September 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

  24. Number 5: can anybody remember any other case when a third-party (Trenberth, in this case) received an apology from the Editor and the publisher?

    The amount of evidence showing climate science is not conducted like any other science, is increasing by the day.

    omnologos

    September 5, 2011 at 5:23 am

  25. I’m not a climate scientist and I won’t pretend to be one. I meet with a large group of people to discuss climate science and we were frankly amazed by this escapade. Why would an editor say a paper is flawed, not retract and then resign. To the public his reasons appear suspicious. Trenberth has come off as childish to us and Wagner is strange to us. If the paper is flawed why can’t we be shown the mistakes? Point them all out. Our group is troubled by this behaviour.

    genealogymaster

    September 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    • See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/07/misdiagnosis-of-surface-temperature-feedback/ to see just some of the identified errors in the paper. Warning: technical.

      Easiest to understand point: complete absence of any statistical analysis. Also easy to understand: methodology very poorly described. More difficult to understand for layman: Spencer claims his analysis shows low climate sensitivity, Trenberth & Fasullo show that it is ENSO in the models that determine whether a model fits better or not (with, funnily enough, a model with high sensitivity giving the best result).

      Marco

      September 6, 2011 at 1:08 am

  26. How do you reconcile this: paper is “fundamentally flawed” and “formally everything was correct with the review”? The editor had to satisfy at least two warring parties, may be three or four.
    Another interesting thing: in passing, he speaks about “a minority view”. They are in minority because the other side has all the money. One change of the government, the money flows the other way and minority becomes majority, in science that is.

    Pyshnov

    September 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    • 8 years of Bush Administration, not a fan of the current majority view, changed exactly nothing about the majority view. In Australia something similar has been observed. It has nothing to do with money, and everything with facts.

      Marco

      September 6, 2011 at 1:09 am

  27. Perhaps it would be better to call the domain “Climate Psychology” as while there are lots of measurements taken, there seems to be little in the way of actual science. Yes the climate psychologists may occasionally borrow some engineering approaches, a tad of applied thermodynamics here, a smidgin of simulation there, but it’s not physics.

    File it near the sections on homeopathy or phrenology.

    dude 503

    September 6, 2011 at 3:27 am

    • Dude 503, I have a very simple question: have you ever read a climate science textbook? Your comment suggests you have not.

      For all others, Raymond T. Pierrehumbert’s “Principles of Planetary Climate” is a bargain: 55 dollars at Amazon for a 680 page book. After reading that, read dude 503’s comment again.

      Marco

      September 6, 2011 at 10:35 am

    • Dude 503, do you also realize that “while there are lots of measurements taken”, no one ever measured the temperature of the globe? It’s all crap, and each global warming paper must start with this: “No one ever measured the temperature of the globe.” The methods section must start with: “We hid the decline, but we won’t say how. We also never showed the graph of the temperature changes during the last 100 years when the globe temperature (never measured by anyone) increased by 0.6 degrees. We refer the interested party to our first and famous consensus report where no such graph was shown either.” The conclusions section must start with: “The Earth is dying, so there is no time or, indeed, any desire to talk about “lofty ideas of scientific integrity” that may or may not show this paper to be a forgery”. The acknowledgement: “The cost of research and our salaries were paid from the carbon tax, so the carbon tax supports global warming, and we support carbon tax.”

      Pyshnov

      September 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

  28. Click ‘Pyshnov’ to assess his POV.

    For the RetractionWatch hosts — please consider adding killfile?
    It can help those willing to focus on the topic.

    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/4107

    Hank Roberts

    September 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

  29. There is interesting blog article on this resignation which tells us that we should know more about the characters involved than about global warming; the first gives more clues. See here:
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100103350/obscure-editor-resigns-from-minor-journal-why-you-should-care/

    Pyshnov

    September 6, 2011 at 9:11 pm

  30. A link to the unscientific blog commentator James Delingpole (the self-proclaimed “interpreter of interpretations”) has just been used to try to ‘bolster’ someone’s opinion ! The real world can obviously be much stranger than fiction at times…

    JMurphy

    September 8, 2011 at 11:45 am

  31. Sure, JMurphy, a sign of the sorry state of climate science is the overwhelming importance of “discussions in internet fora”. Now, where did I read that combination of words first?

    omnologos

    September 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

  32. It’s the global warmists who brought their science outside of the borders of science at a time when nothing was proven. It’s on their side was Al Gore and the governmental dumb—–.
    It was all political and it was scare mongering and it was throwing mud at the opponents, I mean – in a serious way – comparing them to the Holocaust deniers. The last Al Gore move, less than a week ago, was calling them racists. Many people know that these same labels were used against opponents in AIDS research. And this all is just a continuation of the “culture wars” in universities.
    An interesting turn happened in the very beginning of gl. warm. research: they did not explain formally or popularly their basic premises, but jumped at once into the particulars that only a few people, mainly their own people, could understand. They made it into a deep niche at once, and outsiders, scientists, physicists, who of course could understand it, initially had a hard time. Yet, politicians amazingly got it all at once. Did it smell like money? I think it did. Did it smell like control in their hands? Sure, it did.

    Pyshnov

    September 8, 2011 at 9:43 pm

  33. The arguments in my comments here (last – on Sept. 6) were confirmed literally in the letter of resignation of Ivar Giaever, a Nobel Laureate, as a Fellow from the American Physical Society. He wrote on Sept. 13:
    “The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period.”
    The two arguments that I gave.
    See: http://ktwop.wordpress.com/category/scientific-misconduct-2/

    Pyshnov

    September 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    • What is Giaever’s publishing record with regard to Climate Science and why would anyone favour his opinion on Climate Science above someone who actually works and publishes within the field ?
      Would you favour his opinion on cancer above that of a cancer specialist ?
      Or is it all down to his connection with the Heartland Institute that makes you favour him especially ?

      JMurphy

      September 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      • Ivar Giaever’s opinion is about violations of elementary rules of scientific method. I am no climate specialist, and I saw the same, it’s not difficult to notice. Years ago I commented on this fraud in Chronicle of Higher Education, particularly on the question of impossibility of measuring the Earth temperature with the accuracy claimed. The global warmists made their “science” by computer manipulations of the data that only them accept as reality. What helps them is the new strategy popular among the crooks – they never admit any wrongdoing.
        I know nothing about Heartland Institute, and your comment seems to shift the attention to the irrelevant matters. You are trying to prove something by a general argument: who knows more and who do you trust. That has been always irrelevant in science.

        Pyshnov

        September 15, 2011 at 10:03 pm

  34. To anyone who has difficulty understanding how an average temperature can be measured and how small increases in that average can have big consequences – often seemingly a problem for those who think they know more than those who work in a field different from their own – should read further here, here, here and here.

    They should also have a look at the temperature records (here and here), to see how much of a difference there is between hot and cold temperatures – especially looking at the yearly rises and falls, and comparing them to that 0.8K “in about 150 years”.

    JMurphy

    September 19, 2011 at 7:49 am

  35. Second temperature record here.

    JMurphy

    September 19, 2011 at 7:51 am


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