Christopher Booker in the Telegraph yesterday points out how the authority of Nature is used and abused in the climate debate:
Whenever some landmark event in the story is approaching [...] Nature can be relied on to come up with a new paper purporting to refute one of the more embarrassing objections to the orthodox theory. However thoroughly such a paper is then dismantled by expert critics, it will remain established as a pillar of the orthodoxy.
He reels off the events and the ‘authority’ papers:
- 1996 and the lead up to Kyoto – Ben Santer’s Nature paper about the tropospheric AGW fingerprint and his subsequent last-minute modification of the IPCC AR2. Publication of rebuttals was slow; the paper continued to be cited.
- 1998 – Mann’s hockey sticks – iconic images debunked after the 2001 IPCC AR3 by McIntyre and McKittrick, but again refuse to die.
- 2009 the lead up to Copenhagen COP15 – Steig’s Antarctic warming paper, which was readily and rapidly shown to be flawed – and a rebuttal subsequently published (remember that the lack of warming in Antarctica was problematic to AGW).
- 2012 – ahead of the IPCC’s AR5 – Shakun et al which again has been shown to ‘hide the decline’.
Quoting Judith Curry’s conclusion on another paper in the same issue as Shakun et al “Nature seems to be looking for headlines rather than promoting good science” he says:
It could serve as an epitaph for the way that journal has been promoting this cause for 20 years.
Indeed. Climate science isn’t the science that I know, which is supposed to progress through corrections, improvements and exposure of flaws. Yes, bad papers do get published in all fields at some time, but they get buried, ignored, forgotten. Subsequent citings in the original sense are ill-advised and usually corrected in review.
I’m reminded of Phil Jones email:
“Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it. “
Peer review is supposed to be rigorous, especially so for a journal like Nature. The whole point of a review is to ask awkward questions such as ‘Why did you use data for only that period?’ or ‘Does X dataset also show the same result?’. Pal review is doing the scientific credibility of the field no favours.
Climate science without skepticism is like food without salt – adding it might be seen as unhealthy by some, but it does help to bring out the true character of the dish.