The Denialosphere1 is all atwitter (when isn’t it?). Roy Spencer has had two papers rejected by Geophysical Research Letters. Marohasy has the basic non-story with a sensationalistic title “How To Censor a Climate Sceptic” and no mention of censorship in the actual post. No such problem in the rest of the Denialosphere.
The course is clear! Spencer must put the full paper, as submitted, and with the reviewers and editors comments on-line to reveal the gross perfidity and vile machinations of the GLR. There can be no other way but to reveal the rot of this pestilent conspiracy to the light of day! Expose the jackbooted thugs of the scientific kleptocracy to public opprobrium. Seriously, but more below.
A few points I’d like to discuss with reference to this:
- What are the facts
- It’s not censorship
- The realities of publishing research papers
- Spencer must vindicate himself (or try)
What are the facts?
They seem pretty straightforward actually. According to Spencer himself two papers were submitted to ‘Geophysical Research Letters’ and both were rejected with “instructions to not resubmit either one.” (more on resubmission below).
With respect to this Spencer is saying “I have now experienced scientific censorship“, implyng that the rejection was on the grounds of politics and suppression of climate skepticism rather than on the merits of the paper. This is not an unusual private allegation made by rejected authors, but it is quite a serious public accusation to make against an academic journal.
It’s not censorship
Let’s just get this one out of the way first. It is not censorship when someone simply declines to publish your work. Censorship is when there is some sort of organized effort, usually official, to suppress a particular type of work or information. No one, anywhere, is under any obligation to publish anything Roy Spencer submits, ever.
If the rejection of Spencer’s papers by GRL is part of a broad, organized effort to suppress his work then it would be censorship. Out of est 6,400 scientific journals these papers have been rejected by … one. If that is an example of what Spencer considers a statistically significant sample size then it is small wonder his work was rejected.
Nonetheless, the accusation of censorship is a serious one and has gotten some traction, at least in the Denialosphere (eg Dr. Roy Spencer: Two of his papers submitted to Geophysical Research Letters were both rejected due to “scientific censorship”), so let’s look at it in more depth.
The realities of publishing research papers
Reading some of the histrionics in the Denialiophere I get the impression that their idea of the workings of science goes something like this: You are a scientist. You do science.You write it up and send it to a journal. They publish it. If they reject it then something is very obviously seriously wrong with them.
Ummm, no. Not how it works. Let’s pick it up at “…to a journal.”
The editor of the journal will give the paper a once over to see if it is worth pursuing at all or if it is an example of crackpottery, eg perpetual motion machines, no evidence of literacy, obvious glaring errors, etc. It may well go straight back to the author at this point.
The referees are fellow scientists who as part of their craft voluntarily review papers. This is something most scientists do for one or more journals. The ideal referee is someone who is a proven authority in the field in question, but not too close to the author’s work.
The referees independently review the paper with a checklist that might look something like this:
- Was the subject worth investigating at all? e.g. “Flight velocity of the European Swallow (Hirundo rustica) laden with fruit of The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) Arecaceae” may not be considered a valid topic for scientific enquiry (although the the flight kinematics of the unladen swallow is another matter).
- Were the assumptions made (if any) reasonable/defensible?
- Was the design of the experiment/study appropriate to answer the question(s) asked?
- Was the methodology (equipment, sample sizes, interview questions, etc) appropriate to the design?
- Are the results presented and analysed fully, appropriately, accurately?
- Does the interpretation of the results follow logically from them?
- Is the work something that this journal should publish?
Depending on the journal and the scope/nature of the work there may be more that is appropriate, but this covers the basics. Further. the reviewer is required to show how it is that the work “fails” one of the tests. It is not enough to simply scribble in a margin “design sucked – reject.”
Nowhere does anyone ask “do you like the results” or “do the results agree with what is generally accepted as true” or some such. These do not matter, ever.
Not that there aren’t some biases in the system. For example a work that purports to overturn the dominant wisdom is absolutely going to scruitinized more closely. But done properly the review process is meant to weed out bad science based on design, methodology and interpretation – NOT conclusions, ever.
Even if it is good science a journal may still reject a paper. Not surprisingly everyone would like to publish in one of the more prestigious journals like Science or Nature. Journals such as these have the enviable luxury of being able to pick and choose from very many submissions.
This necessarily means “rejecting” many papers that are perfectly acceptable science, but are simply not creme de la creme. In fact no journal accepts every paper it receives, and such premier journals will have rejection rates of 90-95%.
A submission may garner any of the following responses:
- Acceptance with minor revisions
- Rejection, suggestion of alternate publications
- Rejection, invitation to resubmit with revisions
- Rejection, call for major revisions (with or without alternate suggestion or invitation for resubmission)
- Rejection, request to not resubmit
Generally the last suggests a work so deeply flawed in conception, design and/or methodology that no amount of reworking can turn it into acceptable science.
If that is the case then there is nothing to be done. But if as Spencer alleges his work is solid science why not merely submit to a different journal? With 6400 science journals in the world it should be possible to get the work published fairly soon.
So is it possible that Spencer’s work was rejected purely on merit? It would not be without precedent (and here and here). Spencer acknowledges that he has gotten repeatedly rejected by the prestige journals, although again he alleges political motivation. A “simplified version” of one of the papers is online but even the informal discussion is not kind.
Spencer must vindicate himself (or try)
The only way for Spencer to vindicate himself is to post the full paper, as submitted and with the complete reviewers and editors comments on-line.
Let the whole world see that what he submitted was robust, solid science and that the reasons for rejection were facile and disingenuous. This is the only way to vindicate himself and show to the world that he is in fact the victim of politically motivated censorship. Further, it will expose the conspiracy to suppress skeptical science.
Because at this point the most parsimonious, heuristic explanation is that Spencer’s work was in fact deeply flawed and was quite correctly rejected based on it’s own lack of merit. Further, that Spencer himself is self-deluded and using the laughable global conspiracy meme to explain his own failings.
In fact to date the only evidence of censorship of climate science is to suppress it, not the skeptics.
So there’s the challenge. Substantiate the accusations of censorship by putting up the work as submitted along with the full commentary received from Geophysical Research Letters. Nothing else will suffice.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 38 … still no evidence.
1As I discuss here I do not use the term “Denier” to refer to all climate change doubters. Those who thoughtfully and intelligently address the facts I call ’skeptics’.
Those who irrationally deny the existence of the science and instead propagate the lies and distortions such as those discussed above and linked to the right under “Debunking Denier Nonsense” are “Deniers”.
The choice of the correct term is based on their actions, not their conclusions.