Lindzen-Choi ‘Special Treatment’: Is Peer Review Biased Against Nonalarmist Climate Science?

Source:  Master Resource
[Editor’s note: The following material was supplied to us by Dr. Richard Lindzen as an example of how research that counters climate-change alarm receives special treatment in the scientific publication process as compared with results that reinforce the consensus view. In this case, Lindzen's submission to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was subjected to unusual procedures and eventually rejected (in a rare move), only to be accepted for publication in the Asian Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences.
I, too, have firsthand knowledge about receiving special treatment. Ross McKitrick has documented similar experiences, as have John Christy and David Douglass and Roy Spencer, and I am sure others. The unfortunate side-effect of this differential treatment is that a self-generating consensus slows the forward progress of scientific knowledge—a situation well-described by Thomas Kuhn is his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. –Chip Knappenberger]
“If one reads [our new] paper, one sees that it is hardly likely to represent the last word on the matter. One is working with data that is far from what one might wish for. Moreover, the complexity of the situation tends to defeat simple analyses. Nonetheless, certain things are clear: models are at great variance with observations, the simple regressions between outgoing radiation and surface temperature will severely misrepresent climate sensitivity, and the observations suggest negative rather than positive feedbacks.”

- Richard S. Lindzen

From Dr. Lindzen…

The following is the reproduction of the email exchanges involved in the contribution of our paper (Lindzen and Choi, “On the observational determination of climate sensitivity and its implications”) to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The editor of the PNAS follows the procedure of having his assistant, May Piotrowski, communicate his letters as pdf attachments.

These attachments are part of the present package. Attachment1.pdf is simply a statement of PNAS procedure. Note that members of the NAS are permitted to communicate up to 4 papers per year. The members are responsible for obtaining two reviews of their own papers and to report the reviews and their responses to the reviews. Note, as well, that rejection of such contributions by the Board of PNAS is a rare event, involving approximately 2% of all contributions.

The rejection of the present paper required some extraordinary violations of accepted practice. We feel that making such procedures public will help clarify the peculiar road blocks that have been created in order to prevent adequate discussion of fundamental issues. It is hoped, moreover, that the material presented here can offer the interested public some insight into what is involved in the somewhat mysterious though widely (if inappropriately) respected process of peer review.

This situation is compounded, in the present example, by the absurdly lax standards applied to papers supportive of climate alarm. In the present example, there existed an earlier paper (Lindzen and Choi, 2009) [we covered that paper here -CK], that had been subjected to extensive criticism. The fact that no opportunity was provided to us to respond to such criticism was, itself, unusual and disturbing. The paper we had submitted to the PNAS was essentially our response which included the use of additional data and the improvement and correction of our methodology.

Several weeks after we submitted our contribution (included as PNASsubmission.pdf) we received the following email.

To: rlindzen@mit.edu
Subject: PNAS: 2010-15738 (On the observational determination of cl…)
Cc: ekavanagh@nas.edu
From: mpiotrowski@nas.edu
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Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2011 13:05:24 -0500
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TO: rlindzen@mit.edu
CC: ekavanagh@nas.edu

Dear Dr. Lindzen,

I am contacting you regarding your contributed paper. Attached is a letter from Randy Schekman.

Sincerely,
May Piotrowski
Editorial Manager
PNAS

Attach1.pdf
Attach2.pdf

Attachment1.pdf is, as already noted, simply a statement of the policy of PNAS. The actual letter concerning our submission is Attachment2.pdf. This attachment begins with what we regard as a libelous description of our choice of reviewers. Will Happer, though a physicist, was in charge of research at DOE including pioneering climate research. Moreover, he has, in fact, published professionally on atmospheric turbulence. He is also a member of the NAS. M.-D. Chou and I have not collaborated in over 5 years, and Chou had absolutely nothing to do with the present manuscript. There then followed a list of other reviewers that we felt were all inappropriate.

Our response was the following. Attached was a letter to Schekman.

Dear Ms. Piotrowski,

I would like to contact Dr. Scheckman directly. His characterization of Drs. Happer and Chou is hardly accurate. My last collaboration with Dr. Chou was over 7 years ago, and he has had no connection with the present research. Dr. Happer, although not a climate scientist (as, for example, is also the case with Anderson), is deeply involved in general spectroscopic issues. Four of the suggested reviewers are well known proponents of global warming alarm, and I don’t think it likely that they would provide a fair assessment. An alternative reviewer with a long and neutral record in this field is Albert Arking (of Johns Hopkins) who would be far more suitable. Of those mentioned by Scheckman, Ramanathan is the most likely to be fair.

Best wishes,

Dick Lindzen

The actual letter, Lindzen-Schekman.pdf, is attached.

The following was the response.

From: “Piotrowski, May B.”
To: “‘Richard S. Lindzen’”
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2010 10:11:24 -0500
Subject: RE: PNAS: 2010-15738 (On the observational determination of cl…)

Dear Dr. Lindzen,

Thank you for your email, which has been forwarded to Randy Schekman.

Best,
May Piotrowski

There then followed another email from May.

From: “Piotrowski, May B.”
To: “‘Richard S. Lindzen’”
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 2010 16:07:57 -0500
Subject: RE: PNAS: 2010-15738 (On the observational determination of cl…)

Dear Dr. Lindzen,

Randy has read your letter. We will seek the advice of one of the experts you approved.

Best,
May

I then received the following somewhat cryptic response from May.

From: “Piotrowski, May B.”
To: “‘Richard S. Lindzen’”
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2010 09:24:22 -0500
Subject: RE: PNAS: 2010-15738 (On the observational determination of cl…)

Dear Dr. Lindzen,

We secured the services of one of the experts you approved, but that person suggested we also consult Drs. Bruce Wielicki or Dennis Hartmann to help evaluate the radiation budget data upon which he relies. Please let us know if you have specific concerns with us consulting either of these two experts.

Thanks very much for your time.

Best,
May

As best as I could determine, none of my suggested reviewers would have made such a recommendation. I can only speculate that Schekman considered Ramanathan as one of my suggested reviewers; I have not checked with Ramanathan. In any event, my response was the following.

Actually, yes. Both are outspoken public advocates of alarm, and Wielicki has gone so far as to retract results once they were shown to contradict alarm.

Dick

I followed this with the following recommendation.

Dear May,

Dr. Patrick Minnis, one of Wielicki’s collaborators at Langley, is agnostic on the issue, and would be a much better choice.

Best,

Dick

Apparently, Minnis was indeed asked to review the manuscript. We finally received a decision letter from Schekman (attached to the following email). There were 4 reviews. One was from Minnis. Another may have been by Ramanathan. The other two were from those recommended by the board.

To: rlindzen@mit.edu
Subject: PNAS: 2010-15738 (On the observational determination of cl…)
Cc: ekavanagh@nas.edu
From: mpiotrowski@nas.edu
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2011 13:05:24 -0500
Message-Id: <44129546032491@ejpweb15>

Dear Dr. Lindzen,

I am contacting you regarding your contributed paper. Attached is a letter from Randy Schekman.

Sincerely,
May Piotrowski
Editorial Manager
PNAS

Attach3.pdf

The attachment was a polite rejection of our paper. Included were the complete reviews. Although some of the points in the reviews were, in fact, addressed in our paper, we thought it advisable to respond to the reviews in detail, and to revise our paper in order to clarify matters. It was, however, clear, that the revised paper would no longer satisfy the space constraints of PNAS – especially since the reviewers made clear that important material should not be relegated to ‘supplementary material’.

Although Schekman’s rejection could be interpreted as mildly encouraging, our experience has been that any attempt to resubmit a revised paper simply leads to further delay culminating in re-rejection. Our final letter to Schekman (Letter_to_Schekman.pdf) is attached. As already noted, we chose to respond in detail to each review, and these responses are attached (Response.pdf). The revised paper (as well as the original version submitted to the PNAS: Lindzen-Choi-PNASSubmission.pdf) is also attached (Lindzen-Choi-APJAS.pdf). The final version is accepted (following review) by the Asian Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences.

If one reads the paper, one sees that it is hardly likely to represent the last word on the matter. One is working with data that is far from what one might wish for. Moreover, the complexity of the situation tends to defeat simple analyses. Nonetheless, certain things are clear: models are at great variance with observations, the simple regressions between outgoing radiation and surface temperature will severely misrepresent climate sensitivity, and the observations suggest negative rather than positive feedbacks.

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