The UnAustralian

Thursday, August 28, 2003
When the Peer Review System Goes Wrong

While the peer review is a incredibly valuable tool in science, it can, and has been misused. A recent example of this, is a paper published in Climate Research by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, on the existence and magnitude of the medieval warm period, and little ice age. The paper came to the conclusion that the during the medieval warm period the global temperatures were warmer than the 20th century - a claim which is unusual, as it contradicts most of the scientific literature in the field. But the problem with this paper, wasn't that the conclusion was unusual, but rather that it provided no evidence for the conclusion. Rather it used a highly flawed methodology

Because the journal Climate Research allows researchers to choose who is the editor in charge of the peer review process, notable climate change skeptic Chris de Freitas, was in charge. What happened next was a debacle. The paper was reviewed by anonymous researchers chosen by de Freitas. The editor in charge, Hans von Storch, hit the roof, and wrote an editorial which acknowledged that the paper was highly flawed, and stated that he was going to implement changes which would prevent the publication of such flawed work in the future. When the journal tried to delay the publication of the editorial, while trying to convince von Storch to change his mind, von Storch resigned in protest. Three more Climate Research editors, Clare Goodess, Mitsuru Ando and Shardul Argawala, followed him.

The journal, has written an editorial on the issue, expressing sadness at the events, and particular at the loss of von Storch, who was acknowledged as one of the journals hardest workers. While they don't plan on changing their reviewing practices, they have stated that, the article should have been sent back to authors to be rewritten. Colin de Freitas has been put under observation.

One of the most ironic aspects of this whole sordid little story, is the damage that the global warming skeptics have done to themselves. Climate Research, is one of the more friendly journals towards skeptics, and has appointed a number of them as editors (as the climate sciences have accepted the science of global warming; the numbers of skeptics, and hence their influence, has dropped). Because of the misuse of the review process, de Freitas has harmed the journal. If it is perceived in the scientific community as a journal which publishes low quality work, nobody will send their research to it for publication, and the journal will fade into oblivion - taking with it, a good avenue for climate change skeptics to publish real science.

(Thanks to Dano, for alerting me to this story, and for several valuable links)

| 11:04 PM