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To Peer or not to Peer

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Nov 27, 2018 at 6:09 AM
Climate Change

The consensed climate science community places great importance on the process of peer review and professes great confidence in its capability to validate its research methods and results and to enhance acceptance of those research methods and results. However, the willingness of some journals to allow authors to select the peers to review their research has caused some to refer to the process as “pal review”, suggesting that the process does not always involve serious, critical review of research methods and results.

A recent research report published in the journal Nature regarding the magnitude of ocean heat uptake suffered from a lack of serious, critical peer review. Shortly after publication, a major mathematical error was discovered which caused the calculated magnitude of the ocean heat uptake reported to be greater than it should have been; and, caused the uncertainty of the reported results to be understated.

The mathematical errors were first identified by British mathematician Nicholas Lewis, a catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) skeptic. Lewis contacted the authors and made them aware of the error, which they acknowledged and have since corrected. However, while the original publication of the study results received significant media coverage because of the apparent significance of its results, the corrections have received far less media attention.

Dr. Tim Ball, also a CAGW skeptic, has suggested that this might not have been a completely innocent mistake. Ball suggests that this study might have been rushed to publication so that it was available prior to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties 24 (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland in December 2018 because of its potential to influence the conclusions of the Conference. Similar suggestions were made regarding Karl et al 2015 “pause-buster” study of sea surface temperatures (ERSST.v4). This study, while not acknowledged as faulty and corrected, has been updated by NCEI (ERSST.v5).

Perhaps the most notorious of the peer reviewed studies which have been discovered to be in error, but not corrected, is the Mann “hockey stick”. The inappropriate use of tree ring analysis and the use of inappropriate statistical analysis techniques in development of the hockey stick were first identified by Dr. Steve McIntyre. Mann was completely unwilling to cooperate with McIntyre’s efforts; and, he continues to avoid providing access to the details of his research.

It appears obvious that the inclusion of skeptical scientists, statisticians and mathematicians in the peer review process would be a major step in the direction of accuracy and reproducibility in climate change research. A recent article suggests that the results of half of peer reviewed climate science studies cannot be reproduced, in some cases even by the original researchers.

The current state of peer review is totally unacceptable. In the case of climate science, not only can’t the research results be reproduced, but the conditions under which the project was conducted cannot be replicated.

It is inconceivable that major public policy decisions affecting millions of people and the expenditure of trillions of dollars should be made based on largely irreproducible research results.