Nature – more consensus than credibility

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.

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6 Responses to Nature – more consensus than credibility

  1. Verity Jones says:

    My husband has just pointed out that salt can act as a preservative and prevents rotting. LOL

  2. Scepticism is indeed the life-blood of science. Even if the sceptics are wrong, it makes the scientist(s) defend their position, and that leads to informed debate. It’s a never-ending process. and the direction is forward.

    I have few blog comments (at least I have the last word on many subjects!) but one reader has my email address. He apologised for pointing out an error I’d made in an early post, saying he’d used email for obvious reasons. I thanked him but gently chided him for his “cover up”, and told him I want to be right, and want to be seen to be right, and saw no “loss of face” in someone notifying an error so it could be corrected. No harm in admitting you’re human.

    Good science opens itself to scrutiny. Good science admits error. Good science moves forward and leads to better science. Good science speaks for itself and draws only carefully balanced conclusions. Bad science is the opposite, admits no error, omits or hides inconvenient data, and often makes policy statements. Bad science leads to “Post Normal” science and to confused ignorance, to the detriment of mankind. Good science changes peoples opinions, bad science confirms their prejudices.

    As John Maynard Keynes famously said, having been challenged about changing his opinion on an important topic, “If the facts change, I change my mind, sir. What would you do, sir?”

  3. Paul Matthews says:

    If anyone doubts that Nature Climate (a new spin-off journal – my Uni is wondering whether to fork out the £3500) has been taken over by activists, take a look at their tweets. I had a little ‘spat’ with them last week, after they tweeted an article in the Grauniad-

    NatureClimate ‏ @NatureClimate
    Why you should disregard letter from former NASA employees re: climate change denial @guardian bit.ly/Iqhgsa

    Paul Matthews ‏ @etzpcm
    Who, or what, is @NatureClimate ? Scientists or political activists?

    NatureClimate ‏ @NatureClimate
    @etzpcm NatureClimate is a journal providing a forum for discussion on climate change, we present peer reviewed work to achieve this

    Paul Matthews ‏ @etzpcm
    @NatureClimate What in the letter do you think is ‘denial’?

    NatureClimate ‏ @NatureClimate
    @etzpcm Maybe denial is too strong a word but the letter is asking NASA to stop making comments on climate change research…

    Howard Goodall ‏ @HG54
    @etzpcm I saw no ‘denial’ in the NASA letter, but @NatureClimate recommends an article by a @skepticscience contributor? It’s political.

    NatureClimate ‏ @NatureClimate
    @HG54 @etzpcm not trying to be political, but the letter to NASA was not from climate scientists, who are in the best place to speak

    Paul Matthews ‏ @etzpcm
    Bit of a climb-down from @NatureClimate re their annoying original tweet. They admit ‘denial’ was too strong. But still misquoting letter.

  4. Verity Jones says:

    Good one. I’m not keeping up with developments particularly well these days.

    Anything that points out their inappropriate use of language is a good thing. I’m fed up with being forced to be PC by the very people who are only too happy to accuse skeptics of being deniers.

  5. gallopingcamel says:

    MostlyHarmless,
    “Even if the sceptics are wrong, it makes the scientist(s) defend their position, and that leads to informed debate.”

    The recent flap over Richard Lindzen’s high profile presentation to UK legislators started a debate. It would be wonderful to see this unfold on a broad front but it does not seem very likely as it would be a losing strategy for the Warmists, given that the science is not on their side.

    The only hope for the Warmists is to avoid debating the scientific issues. Al Gore will never face off with Christopher Monckton or anyone else who has a good grasp of hard science. The warmists need to continue with their strategy that insists the “Science is Settled” while declaring that anyone who disagrees is venal, evil or stupid.

    • If your conclusions are already thin, you don’t want anyone, including your own side, poking holes in it. That is the stuff of “consensus”. That is the message of both sets of “climategate” emails. Michael Mann thinks, as he has said in his book, that even “warmist” scientists who found various degrees of fault with his “hockey stick” are “siding with the deniers”. Those scientists, who I respect for their integrity if not their views, have a right to feel affronted. He is exhibiting denial and paranoia, swinging his hockeystick wildly at those who dare to assault the dizzying heights of his “scientific integrity” and arrogance. In the words of Phil Jones, “Why should I give you my data when all you want to do is find something wrong with it?”

      It’s not sceptics who’re deniers, but those with closed minds who refuse debate, except in the company of the like-minded consensus, when it takes the form of reinforcement and not examination.

      I’m a Lindzen fan, as I’m a Monckton fan, but I don’t agree with everything they say. Doing so borders on chauvinism (the true meaning of), remember that Monkton repeats his mantra “Don’t believe anything I say” at every opportunity, and he’s right to do so.

      BTW, don’t believe anything I say – I don’t.

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