Thursday, March 11, 2010

So much for Nature

Nature is, along with Science, probably the most prestigious scientific journal. I guess we can now change the tense from Present to Past: "was". After the incredible revelations of the last 100 days, showing how a group of scientists criminally conspired to subvert climate science, they have finally deigned to issue their opinion in an editorial. They doubled down, supporting the "scientists" who hid their work, and blasting those who challenged them.

I'm flabbergasted. I guess that's that for them; like Scientific American and The Lancet, you can no longer trust that what they publish isn't politics in scientific garb. Sic transit Gloria Mundi.

Willis Eschenbach sums the situation up in a comment that I'll reproduce here in full:

I see that Nature Magazine has signed on to “the problem is not the science, it’s the public relations” mantra (emphasis mine) …

Nature 464, 141 (11 March 2010)

Climate of fear

… Researchers should not despair. For all the public’s confusion about climate science, polls consistently show that people trust scientists more than almost anybody else to give honest advice. Yes, scientists’ reputations have taken a hit thanks to headlines about the leaked climate e-mails at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, and an acknowledged mistake about the retreat of Himalayan glaciers in a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But these wounds are not necessarily fatal.

To make sure they are not, scientists must acknowledge that they are in a street fight, and that their relationship with the media really matters. Anything strategic that can be done on that front would be useful, be it media training for scientists or building links with credible public-relations firms. In this light, there are lessons to be learned from the current spate of controversies. For example, the IPCC error was originally caught by scientists, not sceptics. Had it been promptly corrected and openly explained to the media, in full context with the underlying science, the story would have lasted days, not weeks. The IPCC must establish a formal process for rapidly investigating and, when necessary, correcting such errors.

I love the part about the “acknowledged mistake”. Pachauri was told about it a couple months before it became public. Despite that, he called it “voodoo science” and continued to claim that everything was perfectly fine … and Nature thinks that better PR will fix that kind of action?

The story lasted weeks because Pachauri denied it. For Nature not to even mention that is shameful. Nor did they mention that this was not a scientific “mistake”, it was a claim from a WWF propaganda piece. Nor did they mention the other non-peer reviewed wild claims on the Amazon and on the coral reefs and on Canadian forest fires. These included citations to a magazine and a student’s dissertation and three freakin’ newspaper articles, for goodness sake. No less than eight Greenpeace reports and sixteen WWF reports were cited … and meanwhile Pachauri the honest says that the IPCC reports are based on 100% peer reviewed science, and dismissed the true Himalayan information because it was not “peer reviewed” and had few ” scientific citations”. From Reuters:

Pachauri said a laborious selection process, using only articles approved by other scientists, called peer review, and then subsequently approving these by committee had prevented distortion.

Nor did Nature mention that one of the expert reviewers asked for a citation for the Himalayas claim:

I am not sure that this is true for the very large Karakoram glaciers in the western Himalaya. Hewitt (2005) suggests from measurements that these are expanding – and this would certainly be explained by climatic change in precipitation and temperature trends seen in the Karakoram region (Fowler and Archer, J Climate in press; Archer and Fowler, 2004) You need to quote Barnett et al.’s 2005 Nature paper here – this seems very similar to what they said. (Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University)

The IPCC response was:

Was unable to get hold of the suggested references will consider in the final version

They can’t get hold of Journal of Climate and Nature magazine references? This is claimed to be a premier organization?

Nor is this the only example. In Chapter 3, WGI we find (emphasis mine):

Tropical glacier changes are synchronous with higherlatitude ones and all have shown declines in recent decades; local temperature records all show a slight warming, but not of the magnitude required to explain the rapid reduction in mass of such glaciers (e.g., on Kilimanjaro).

But John Christy, an expert reviewer, said about Kilimanjaro:

It is daytime temperatures that must rise to melt glaciers if the glaciers are melting due to thermal changes. However, the daytime temperatures [at Kilimanjaro] have actually declined (-0.08 K/decade, see figure of intercalibrated temperatures of the two sites), thus precluding that “global” or regional warming is causing the loss of ice mass.

And as for Nature’s claim that the error was discovered by scientists? Well, yeah … the guy who put the claim into the IPCC report just admitted he knew it was a lie all along, so I guess that counts as discovering it …

It is this structural failure to present a balanced picture that is the real issue here. Reviewers comments are ignored, some 40% of the cited references are not peer reviewed, Pachauri covers up and abuses people, the scientist admits the lie about the glaciers was put into the report purely for political reasons … and Nature thinks the solution is better PR?

Riiiiight …

Trust. Ur doin it rong.


scotaku said...


Keep nailing these up on the door. It's not so much that those on the inside need to see, but rather that we on the outside do. Your pieces on the whole AGW mess are excellent, and I thank you for your diligence.

E tenebris lux.

Borepatch said...

Scotaku, thanks. That meant a lot.

kx59 said...

2nd on the excellent work kudos. Very well reasoned and researched. I've lost track of how I found my way here, maybe via the daily bayonet. Love the site, check it every day now.

Atom Smasher said...

I dropped my interest (and subscriptions) in Discover, Nature, and Science mags a few years ago when it was clear they were just shilling.