How IPCC scientists interfere with publication of inconvenient scientific results

By David H. Douglass, Professor of Physics, University of Rochester, New York, and John R. Christy, Distinguished Professor, Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama at Huntsville

  • In this article, reprinted from www.americanthinker.org, two eminent Professors reveal just one of the many seamy stories that emerge from the Climategate emails. A prejudiced journal editor conspires with senior IPCC scientists to delay and discredit a paper by four distinguished scientists demonstrating that a central part of the IPCC’s scientific argument is erroneous.

The Climategate emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England have revealed how the normal conventions of the peer-review process appear to have been compromised by a Team of “global warming” scientists, with the willing cooperation of the editor of the International Journal of Climatology, Glenn McGregor.

The Team spent nearly a year preparing and publishing a paper that attempted to rebut a previously published paper in that journal by Douglass, Christy, Pearson and Singer. Our paper, reviewed and accepted in the traditional manner, had shown that the IPCC models that predicted significant “global warming” in fact largely disagreed with the observational data.

We will let the reader judge whether this team effort, revealed in dozens of emails and taking nearly a year, involves inappropriate behavior including (a) unusual cooperation between authors and editor, (b) misstatement of known facts, (c) character assassination, (d) avoidance of traditional scientific give-and-take, (e) using confidential information, (f) misrepresentation (or misunderstanding) of the scientific question posed by us in our paper, (g) withholding data, and more.

The team is a group of a number of climate scientists who frequently collaborate and publish papers which often supports the hypothesis of human-caused global warming. For present purposes, leading members of the Team include Ben Santer, Phil Jones, Timothy Osborn, and Tom Wigley, with lesser roles for several others.

Introduction

We submitted our paper to the International Journal of Climate on 31 May 2007. The paper was accepted four and a half months later, on 11 October. The page-proofs were accepted on 1 November. The paper was published online on 5 December. However, we had to wait very nearly a year after online publication, until 15 November 2008, for publication of the print version of the paper.

Ben Santer and 17 members of the Team subsequently published a paper intended to refute ours. It was submitted to the International Journal of Climate on 25 March 2008. It was revised on 18 July, accepted two days later, published online on 10 October, and published in print on 15 November, little more than a month after online publication.

This story uses various of the Climategate emails and our own personal knowledge of events and issues. References will be made to items in an appendix that are arranged chronologically. Each of the emails has an index number which comes from a compilation at http://www.eastangliaemails.com/index.php

2. The story

Our record of this story begins when Andrew Revkin, a reporter for the New York Times, sent three Team members an email dated 30 Nov 2007, to which he attached the page-proofs of our paper, which we had not sent to him. His email to the Team is dated just one week before the online publication of our paper. The subject of Revkin’s email,

“Sorry to take your time up, but really do need a scrub of Singer/Christy/etc effort”, implies that there had been prior correspondence between Revkin and the Team.

Carl Mears, a Team member, quickly responded with an email dated 4 December 2007 to fellow Team members Jones, Santer, Thorne, Sherwood, Lanzante, Taylor, Seidel, Free and Wentz Santer replies to all of these:

“I’m forwarding this to you in confidence. We all knew that some journal, somewhere, would eventually publish this stuff. Turns out that it was the International Journal of Climatology.”

Santer knew this because he had reviewed and rejected our paper when it had been previously submitted to another journal. Phil Jones, then director of the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia, and now stood down pending an investigation of the Climategate affair, responded to Santer:

“It sure does! Have read briefly – the surface arguments are wrong. I know editors have difficulty finding reviewers, but letting this one pass is awful – and the International Journal of Climatology was improving.”

This exchange provides the first reference to the International Journal of Climatology.

The next day, 5 December 2007, the day on which our paper appeared on-line, Santer sent a email to Peter Thorne with copies to Carl Mears, Leopold Haimberger, Karl Taylor, Tom Wigley, Phil Jones, Steve Sherwood, John Lanzante, Dian Seidel, Melissa Free, Frank Wentz, and Steve Klein. Santer says:

“Peter, I think you’ve done a nice job in capturing some of my concerns about the Douglass et al. paper… I don’t think it’s a good strategy to submit a response to the Douglass et al. paper to the International Journal of Climatology. As Phil [Jones] pointed out, the Journal has a large backlog, so it might take some time to get a response published. Furthermore, Douglass et al. probably would be given the final word.”

The most critical point throughout these emails is the goal of preventing us from providing what is considered normal in the peer-reviewed literature: an opportunity to respond to their critique, or as they put it, “be given the final word.” One wonders if there is ever a “final word” in science, as the authors here seem to imply.

The next day, 6 December 2007, Melissa Free responded with a cautious note, evidently because she had presented a  paper with Lanzante and Seidel  at the American Meteorological Society’s 18th conference on Climate Variability and Change, acknowledging the existence of the discrepancy between observations and models – the basic conclusion of our paper:

“What about the implications of a real model-observation difference for upper-air trends? Is this really so dire?”

Santer responded on 6 December 2007 with his key reason for attacking our paper:

“What is dire is Douglass et al.’s wilful neglect of any observational datasets that do not support their arguments.”

This “wilful neglect” of “observational datasets” refers to the absence of two balloon datasets RAOBCORE v1.3 and v1.4. We had explained in addendum to our paper that these datasets were faulty.

A further email from Jones, dated 6 Dec 2007, discusses options for beating us into print.  Wigley, a former head of the Climatic Research Unit, enters the story on 10 Dec 2007 to accuse us of “fraud”, adding that under “normal circumstances” this would “cause him [Professor David Douglass] to lose his job”.

We remind the reader that our paper went through traditional, anonymous peer-review with several revisions to satisfy the reviewers and without communicating outside proper channels with the editor and reviewers.

Tim Osborn, a colleague of Jones at the Climatic Research Unit and a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Climate, then inserted himself into the process, declaring a bias on the issue. He said that Professor Douglass’ previous papers “appear to have serious problems”.

Santer responded on 12 December 2007 with gratitude for the “heads-up”, again making the claim that our paper had ignored certain balloon datasets, when in fact our paper had not used these datasets because they were known to be faulty.

The same day, an unsigned report appeared on the Team’s propaganda website, RealClimate.org, attacking us especially about not using the RAOBCORE 1.4 balloon dataset.

This prompted us to submit a one-page Addendum to the International Journal of Climatology on 3 January 2008 to explain two issues: first, the reason for not using RAOBCORE 1.4 and secondly, the experimental design to show why using the full spread of model results to compare with observations (as Santer i. would do) would lead to wrong conclusions about the relationship between trends in the upper air temperature vs. the surface. A copy of the addendum may be found at http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~douglass/.)

Osborn wrote to Santer and Jones on 10 January 2008 to discuss the “downside” of the normal comment-reply process in which we should be given an “opportunity to have a response.”  He explained that he has contacted the editor of the International Journal of Climatology, Glenn McGregor, to “see what he can do”.  According to Osborn, McGregor “promises to do everything he can to achieve a quick turn-around.”  He also wrote:

“… (and please treat this in confidence, which is why I emailed to you and Phil only) that he [McGregor] may be able to hold back the hardcopy (i.e. the print/paper version) appearance of Douglass et al., possibly so that any accepted Santer et al. comment could appear alongside it. He [McGregor] also intends to “correct the scientific record” and to identify “in advance reviewers who are both suitable and available”, perhaps including “someone on the email list you’ve been using”. Given the bias of Osborn and McGregor as expressed in the emails, one could wonder what it means to be a “suitable” reviewer of the Santer paper.

Santer responded with his conditions, highlighting his intent to have the “last word”:

“1. Our paper should be regarded as an independent contribution, not as a comment on Douglass et al. … 2. If the International Journal of Climatology agrees to 1, then Douglass et al. should have the opportunity to respond to our contribution, and we should be given the chance to reply. Any response and reply should be published side-by-side, in the same issue of the Journal. I’d be grateful if you and Phil could provide me with some guidance on 1 and 2, and on whether you think we should submit to the Journal. Feel free to forward my email to Glenn McGregor.”

This Osborn email and the response by Santer essentially lay out the publication strategy apparently agreed to by Santer, Jones, Osborn and editor McGregor. Santer accepts Osborn as a conduit and defines the conditions (having the “last word”). This is exactly what he seeks to deny to us, even though it was we who had published the original paper in this sequence in the Journal, and should, under customary academic procedures, have been entitled to have the last word alongside any rebuttal of our paper that the Journal published.

We were never informed of this process, even though it specifically addressed our paper, nor were we contacted for an explanation on any point raised in these negotiations. Santer’s allegations regarding our paper and his conditions for publication of his response to it were simply accepted by the Journal’s editor. If our results had indeed been so obviously and demonstrably in error, why would anyone have feared a response by us?

The same day, 10 January 2008, Jones told the Team (Wigley, K. Taylor, Lanzante, Mears, Bader, Zwiers, Wentz, Haimberger, Free, MacCracken, Jones, Sherwood, Klein, Solomon, Thorne, Osborn, Schmidt, and Hack) a “secret” he had learned from Osborn: that one of the recipients on the Santer email list was one of the original reviewers of our paper – a reviewer who had not rejected it:

“The problem! The person who said they would leave it to the editor’s discretion is on your email list! I don’t know who it is – Tim does – maybe they have told you? I don’t want to put pressure on Tim. He doesn’t know I’m sending this. It isn’t me by the way – nor Tim! Tim said it was someone who hasn’t contributed to the discussion – which does narrow the possibilities down!”

Does Santer start wondering who the original reviewer is?  Does Osborn reveal this part of McGregor’s secret?

Then, on the matter of paying for expensive color plots, Jones adds, “I’m sure I can lean on Glenn [McGregor] to evidently deal with the costs.” Obviously, no such assistance had been offered to us when we had published our original paper.

The final approval of the strategy (Santer’s conditions) to deny us an opportunity to respond in the normal way is acknowledged by Osborn to Santer and Jones on 11 January 2008. Osborn writes that McGregor, as editor is “prepared to treat it as a new submission rather than a comment on Douglass et al.” and “my [McGregor's] offer of a quick turnaround time etc. still stands.”  Osborn also reminds Santer and Jones of the potential impropriety of this situation:

“… the only thing I didn’t want to make more generally known was the suggestion that print publication of Douglass et al. might be delayed… all other aspects of this discussion are unrestricted.”

Santer now informed the Team that the strategy had been agreed to. We were never notified of these machinations, and it is clear that Santer’s story of the situation was never investigated independently. In this long email, the issue of radiosonde errors is discussed, together with the fact that one dataset, RAOBCORE v1.4, is missing from our paper.

To explain briefly, Sakamoto and Christy (accepted in 2008 and published in 2009) looked closely at the ERA-40 Reanlayses on which RAOBCORE v1.3 and v1.4 were based, and demonstrated that a spurious warming shift occurred in 1991 (a problem with a satellite channel: HIRS 11) which was then assimilated into RAOBCORE, producing spurious positive trends in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.

Sakamoto and Christy had been working on this since 2006 when they had first met, and so were aware of the problems at that time. Later, on 27 May 2008, Sherwood – a member of the Team – comments on this evidence during the deliberations on Santer’s publication, so the Team was aware of the problem too.  Even though McGregor had sent Santer our Addendum explaining the RAOBCORE problems as early as 10 April 2008, their published paper contains the statement:

“Although DCPS07 had access to all three RAOBCORE versions, they presented results from v1.2 only.”

Another interesting comment here is that Santer does “not” want to “show the most recent radiosonde [balloon] results” from the Hadley Center and Sherwood’s IUK. In short, he was withholding data that did not support his view, probably because these two datasets, extended out in time, provide even stronger evidence in favor of our conclusion. The final version of Santer’s paper cuts off these datasets in 1999.

Professor Douglass became concerned that McGregor had not responded after receiving the Addendum sent on 3 January 2008. The Professor wrote on 1 April 2008 to ask about the status of the Addendum.  On 10 April 2008 McGregor responded that he had had “great difficulty locating your Addendum”, and Douglass responded with the International Journal of Climatology’s file number acknowledging receipt of the Addendum on 3 January, and attached the Addendum again.  That very day, McGregor sent the Addendum to Santer to “learn your views.”  Santer was afforded the opportunity to comment on our Addendum, but we never heard about it from McGregor again.

On 24 April 2008 McGregor informed Santer that he had received one set of comments and,  though he “… would normally wait for all comments to come in before providing them to you, I thought in this case I would give you a head start in your preparation of revisions”.

That day, Santer informed the Team of the situation. Ws there ever any possibility that Santer’s paper could have been rejected, given the many favors already extended to this submission? McGregor now knew, because he had the Addendum, what the main point of our response to Santer et al. might be, yet evidently dropped the Addendum from consideration.  At this point, we were unaware of any response by Santer to our Addendum, as we were dealing with the RealClimate.org blog on this matter.

Santer was worried about the lack of “urgency” in receiving the remaining reviews and, on 5 May 2008, complained to McGregor.  He reminded McGregor that Osborn had agreed to the strategy that the “process would be handled as expeditiously as possible”. McGregor replied that he hoped that the further comments would come within “2 weeks”.  The following day, Osborn wrote to McGregor that Santer’s 90-page article was much more than anticipated, implying that Santer was being rather demanding considering how much had been done to aid him.  One wonders why it should take 10 months and 90 pages to show that any paper contained a “serious flaw”, and why Santer et al. needed to be protected from a response by us.

A paper by Thorne now appeared in Nature Geosciences which referenced the as-yet-unpublished paper by Santer et al. (including Thorne). On 26 May 2008, Professor Douglass wrote to Thorne asking for a copy and was told the following day that Thorne could not supply the paper because Santer was the lead author author.

Professor Douglass replied that day, repeating his request for a copy of the paper and reminding Thorne of Nature‘s publication-ethics policy on the availability of data and materials:

“An inherent principle of publication is that others should be able to replicate and build    upon the authors’ published claims. Therefore, a condition of publication in a Nature journal is that authors are required to make materials, data and associated protocols available …”

At the same time Professor Douglass asked Santer for a copy of the paper. Santer responded by saying, “I see no conceivable reason why I should now send you an advance copy of my International Journal of Climatology paper.”  From the emails, we now know that the Santer et al. manucsript had not been accepted at this point, even though it had been cited in a Nature Geosciences article.  What is very curious is that in the email Santer claims Professor Douglass “… did not have the professional courtesy to provide me with any advance information about your 2007 International Journal of Climate paper …”.

In fact, Santer had been a reviewer of this paper when it had been submitted earlier, so he had in possession of the material (only slightly changed) for at least a year. Additionally, Santer received a copy of the page-proofs of our paper about a week before it even appeared online.

In further email exchanges the following day, 28 May 2008, Santer and his co-authors discussed the uncomfortable situation of having a citation in Nature Geosciences and being unable to provide the paper to the public before “a final decision on the paper has been reached”.  Santer stated they should “resubmit our revised manuscript to the Journal as soon as possible”, implying that Professor Douglass’ point about the ethics policies of Nature, which required cited literature to be made available, might put Santer et al. in jeopardy.

On 10 July 2008, Santer wrote to Jones that the two subsequent reviews were in but reviewer 2 was “somewhat crankier”. Santer indicated that McGregor has told him that he will not resend the coming revised manuscript to the “crankier” reviewer. This was another apparent effort by McGregor to accommodate Santer.

Conclusion

On 21 July 2008, Santer heard that his paper had been formally accepted and expressed his sincere gratitude to Osborn for “all your help with the tricky job of brokering the submission of the paper to the International Journal of Climatology”. Osborn responds, “I’m not sure that I did all that much.”

On 10 October 2008, Santer et al’s paper was published on-line.  Thirty-six days later Santer et al. appeared in print immediately following our own paper, even though we had waited more than 11 months for our paper to appear in print.  The strategy of delaying our paper and not allowing us to have a simultaneous response to Santer et al. published had been achieved.

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