Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Climate science: Sceptical about bias

Of all the accusals made by the blatant community of clime sceptics, surely the most detrimental is that scientific discipline itself is biased against them.

That was a position I set forward nearly a twelvemonth ago now in another article for the BBC News website, and nil have changed my head since.

The twelvemonth looks to have got brought no decline of the accusals flying around the blogosphere.

"The research itself is biased," as one recent blog entry set it.

It's a spot of gentlemen's club

Jesse James Annan

"Scientists are speedy to happen what they're looking for when it intends getting more than back up out of the government."

That peculiar posting gave no grounds to support its claim of bias. I have got seen none that did; which made me inquire whether there was any evidence.

Drought or deluge?

In that earlier article, I invited skeptics to set their card game on the table, and direct me certification or other house grounds of bias.

For my part, I agreed to look into any concrete claims.

Given the rage evidenced by sceptical commentators, I was expecting a deluge.

I anticipated drowning in a downpour of accusals of research grants turned down, rank of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) denied, scientific document refused by journals, occupation applications refused, and invitations to talk at conferences drying up.

I anticipated having to pass days, weeks, calendar months even, sifting the corn from the chaff, going backwards and forwards between diary editors, heads of department, conference organisers, support organic structures and the original plaintiffs.

I envisaged major headaches materialising as I tried to screen out the iron of events, attempting to decipher whether claims had any validity, or were just portion of the normal unsmooth and tumble of a scientist's life - especially in the linguistic context of scientific publishing, where the top diaries only print about 10% of the document submitted to them.

The world was rather different.

Paper trail

I received electronic mails from well over 100 people; some had read my original article, others had seen the thought passed around in blogs and newsgroups.

Four people said they had had jobs getting research published, and three sent me the document in question.

The other said he did not desire to let on inside information as he was preparing his paper for entry to another journal.

Of the three document I did receive, one was far from complete, and another was a reappraisal article from an writer who endorsed the IPCC place and said the prejudice was against men of science "supporting man-made climate change".

Some projected writer Michael James Crichton as the authorization on bias

The 3rd was from Thomas Reid Bryson, a United States meteorologist and climatologist whose squad at the University of Wisconsin River have developed its ain method of looking at historical clime change.

He said he had had jobs getting research published on the extent to which he believes volcanoes thrust clime change. But he had not kept his rejection letters, so it was impossible to look into specifically.

A 5th letter writer said mags had turned down letters for publication; but letters are not research, and mags are not journals, which execute a critical function in the formal procedures of science.

In footing of first-hand claims of bias, that was it.

At 2nd hand

Other letter writers referred to two well-known cases involving the top-line diaries Science and Nature.

Nature's refusal to print a re-analysis by Sir Leslie Stephen McIntyre and John Ross McKitrick of the celebrated (or infamous, depending on your point of view) "hockey stick" graphical record have been so well documented elsewhere, not least in hearings instigated by United States congressmen, that there is really nil new to say.

The Science issue involved its determination not to print a response by United Kingdom academic Sesame Peiser to a paper by Leland Stanford University's Noemi Oreskes, in which she had claimed to happen more than or less consentaneous support for man-made climate alteration among published scientific papers.

This saga have also been so well documented, not least on Dr Peiser's website, that again there is small new to say; except that Dr Peiser now states he is glad Science decided not to print his research because "my review of Oreskes' flawed survey was later establish to be partially flawed itself".

Another letter writer raised an apparently similar issue, where Japan-based researcher Jesse James Annan had repeatedly been rejected in his command to print a remark article on "climate sensitivity", a term widely used to intend the temperature rise seen in response to a doubling of atmospherical C dioxide.

It is a cardinal figure, because it basically states you how fast the World warms as CO2 degrees rise.

Last twelvemonth the diary Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) published a paper from Dr Annan's grouping using historical information to bespeak a value probably between about 2C and 4C.

If this is correct, it governs out both the less estimations of about 1C favoured by some clime sceptics, and the higher values of about 6C which some men of science believe could swiftly convey ruinous impacts.

Later, the research workers wrote a remark piece emphasising that values above 4.5C were very unlikely. GRL and one other diary have got collectively turned it down a sum of five times.

"I believe it makes count as prejudice to some extent," Dr Annan told me.

"But it's not really a 'sceptical' or 'alarmist' bias; it's more a political thing to make with not wanting to pique the incorrect people. It's a spot of gentlemen's club."

As editor, I can't have got a place on publication any scientific paper other than that it should be peer-reviewed

Professor Sir Michael Berry

He also pointed out that piece the accent of his remark piece was on opinion out high "catastrophist" scenarios, the information itself was the same as in his earlier paper, which had been published in a esteemed journal.

The remainder of the electronic mails contained a mixture of positive and negative remarks on the worth of this exercise, golf course to newspaper articles and blog entries that typically contained accusals of prejudice but no evidence, golf course to scientific document which the authors said challenged anthropogenic warming, philippics against the media, and respective suggestions that for an important expounding of prejudice in clime scientific discipline I should read Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear.

Known and boring

Several people who wrote to me argued that my original definition of prejudice was insufficiently subtle.

"Scientific prejudice happens the same manner that any prejudice is created, when people state 'I have got already figured this out, so I make not necessitate to revisit it'," said Forrest Baker.

Others said that with millions of dollars spent each twelvemonth on clime research, no-one would put on the line "rocking the boat" by performing, or publishing, work that could rebut humankind's C emanations as the cause.

Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who is something of an anti-hero to sceptics' groupings as he believes IPCC projections of sea-level rise are far too conservative, had heard this statement before, and he wrote in telling me it was far from convincing.

"How likely is it that my support would endure if I establish a good option account for the ascertained planetary warming, or that I would have got problem publication it (assuming it would be methodologically sound, of course)?" he asked.

"Quite the contrary, I would see it as a way to certain fame! Scientists always endeavor to happen something radically new and different - just reconfirming what is already quite well-known is boring, and certainly will not acquire you the Alfred Nobel Prize.

"In many countries, including my own, scientific support is a batch less competitory than in the United States - I'm a professor for life, my institute have a solid alkali support for doing its research, and basically Iodine can make what I desire without hazard that this is taken away from me. I don't necessitate to acquire new grants all the time."

And some research groupings are investigating thoughts which could dispute anthropogenic warming. For example, respective squads have got published work within the last three old age on the Sun's possible function as a driver of modern-day warming.

One is Henrik Svensmark's grouping from the Danish National Space Center (DNSC), which published consequences of research lab work in the diary Proceeding Type A of the Royal Society last twelvemonth - work which they claimed showed the Sun, rather than nursery gases, as the head actor.

"As editor, I can't have got a place on publication any scientific paper other than that it should be peer-reviewed," commented the journal's editor-in-chief Professor Sir Michael Berry when I asked him whether there was a clime prejudice in scientific publishing.

"I wouldn't pay any attending at all to whether it's 'sceptical' or not."

Proof negative?

The sum of money sum of grounds obtained through this unfastened invitation, then, is one first-hand claim of prejudice in scientific journals, not backed up by docudrama evidence; and three second-hand claims, two well-known and one that the man of science in inquiry makes not see grounds of anti-sceptic feeling.

No-one said they had been refused a topographic point on the IPCC, the cardinal planetary organic structure in clime change, or denied a occupation or turned down for publicity or sacked or refused entree to a conference platform, or indeed anything else.

If there is an anti-sceptic prejudice running through the establishments of science, it is evidently keeping itself well hidden.

Whether this exercising have conclusively disproved a prejudice is not for me to state - I am certain others will happen plentifulness to say, doubtless in the courteous and gracious linguistic communication that epitomizes clime discourse nowadays.

But I will state this; if person persistently claims to be a great football game player, and yet neglects to happen the nett when you set him in presence of an unfastened goal, you cannot make other than uncertainty his claim.

Andres Millan, who wrote to me on the topic from Mexico, offered another account for why scientific journals, research grants, conference dockets and the IPCC itself are dominated by research that dorsums or presumes the world of modern-day greenhouse warming.

"Most planetary heating skeptics have got no productive alternatives; they state it is a hoax, or that it will do terrible societal problems, or that we should apportion resources elsewhere," he wrote.

"Scientifically, they have got not set forward a compelling, rich, and variegated theory.

"And until that happens, to anticipate the government, or any beginning of scientific funding, to give as much money, attention, or room within academic diaries to the alternatives, looks completely misguided."

This week, ahead of the launch of the IPCC's synthesis study for 2007, the BBC News website is looking at assorted facets of "climate scepticism" and "catastrophism". If you have got something novel to state on clime change, delight allow us cognize - we will be publication a choice of your remarks on Friday.

Send us your remarks using the word form below:


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