Monday, November 23, 2009

A Climategate Email

One document from the pro-AGW (anthropogenic global warming) University of East Anglia CRU (pictured) caught my notice. It purports to be an email about a published article expressing a non-AGW point of view.* It is said to be part of a "long series" of messages in which AGW proponents discuss how to prevent such views from being published.

Here is the message:

“This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”. Obviously, they found a solution to that–take over a journal! So what do we do about this? I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”“It results from this journal having a number of editors. The responsible one for this is a well-known skeptic in NZ. He has let a few papers through by Michaels and Gray in the past. I’ve had words with Hans von Storch about this, but got nowhere. Another thing to discuss in Nice !”

Note first the comment about "not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'." As any academic with unorthodox views can tell you, it can be very difficult getting those views published. A few years ago I wrote (with then grad student Todd Huges) an article on gun control that takes a strongly pro-gun stance. It is now reprinted in a couple of widely-used textbooks. At the time it was written, though, I did not bother to send it to (for lack of a better word) mainstream journals like Ethics, where my friend Hugh LaFollette published a strongly pro-gun article at about the same time. Ethics is a fine journal, but I was too familiar with the views of its editorial board, as well as the boards of most front-line journals, to want to waste my valuable time waiting to be rejected by them. Instead, I sent it to a journal that, I believe, was founded by Nicholas Rescher with the purpose of allowing non-leftists a place where their views would not be forbidden. It was published there and I later served on their editorial board. I believe that it provides a forum for genuinely diverse views: left, right, center, and off the map. This is not the case with most philosophy journals that deal with policy matters.

I am sure that the situation in the philosophy-and-contemporary-issues field prevails in the world of climate change studies -- and that it is much worse over there. Climatologists, unlike philosophers, have real world power, so with them a lot is at stake.

Evidently, to judge by what the author of this email says, there was one editor (of several) at this journal who had started to let articles with forbidden views through. This is what these guys are referring to as their opponents "taking over a journal"! Clearly, these are people who are very used to having things their own way, and think it is their right never to have to face competent defenses of contrary ideas.

Note also the method by which the writer plans to combat the forbidden view. Is he going to analyze the methodology of the article, or present data that support a contrary case? Of course not. The plan is to organize a boycott of the journal, in which people refuse to submit work to it or even to cite articles in the journal (regardless, apparently, of the scientific value of the individual article).

If these messages are indeed genuine, what we have here is a stunning breach of professional ethics. If there is a single principle that is fundamental to the scientific community, it is that scientific ideas are to combated by scientific means only, and never by strategically inflicting any costs on a scientist other than those of being proved wrong.

... After writing the above, I found this interview with a climatologist regarding the CRU emails. It confirms some of what I wrote and adds a lot of details. Hat-tip to Watts Up With That blog.

* It was allegedly written by Michael E. Mann, who at the time was apparently teaching at the University of Virginia. Here is a handy compendium of issues raised by these documents, with links to the actual texts.


Matt Olver said...

Boy, is this fun to watch unfold. It's too bad this isn't bigger news in the US. It's nice when us IT savvy folks can put our skills to good use.

Lester Hunt said...

I've noticed this hasn't gotten much play in the so-called mainstream media. Gosh, I wonder why?