Friday, September 2, 2011

More "climate science" controversy

Draft version date 09/10/2011 revA

1.0 Spencer and Braswell paper published in journal Remote Sensing. 
Here's a link to a pdf of the paper by Spencer and Braswell as accepted for publication by the peer reviewed journal Remote Sensing.

1.1 Journal Editor Prof. Wolfgang Wagner resigns over peer reviewed publication.

1.2 Blog posts by Roy Spencer, Ph.D. and AGW skeptic
Blog posts by Roy Spenser, Ph.D. AGW skeptic responds to Dessler, Science Magazine (2010.)

2.0 Editor-in-chief resigns in protest over publication of paper --in his own journal?
News story out of reports that Prof. Wolfgang Wagner of Vienna University of Technology (a minor league school) the editor-in-chief of the academic journal Remote Sensing is resigning in protest over publication of a paper in his own journal.  How did this paper get published? Turns out, just like every other paper. After passing through peer review ( panel of three referees) at Remote Sensing (ed. Wagner) the paper by Spenser and Braswell was approved for publication, and was duly   published in July 2011.  Standard procedure for academic publications. We note that scientific journals levy "page charges" to support themselves. Page charges often run into hundreds of dollars per page and are usually paid by the author, or the author's institution. Scientific journals are not charities. Presumably Remote Sensing accepted the cash.

Usually scientific controversies like this are kind of  boring, but this one is astonishing.  Personally, as an author of more than one hundred scientific publications in peer reviewed journals, the story, as reported, seems to me to be incredible. Prof. Wagner's reported behavior and statements seem strange. 

What is going on? we may ask. Was Prof. Wagner being pressured? What could explain his behavior? First, some background on academic journal publications in the scientific world.

To review the process....The paper in question was published by Remote Sensing (which I consider a minor academic journal.) Publication date July 2011 (see link at top of page.) It was published only after successfully passing through the peer review process imposed by the editor of Remote Sensing. The editor and editorial staff undoubtedly realized the paper would be controversial because the author's conclusions run counter to the beliefs of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGWA) supporters. The editors of Remote Sensing approved Spenser and Braswell for publication with their eyes open.

2.1 Responsibilities of a Journal Editor and the Peer Review Process
More background on peer review and editorial responsibilities and style. What are the duties of the editor-in-chief of an academic journal?

The editor-in-chief (editor) has the duty to assign each paper to qualified reviewers. Further, the editor has considerable power to hold-up, question, or even reject papers himself. If a paper has major scientific or scholarly flaws, the editor has the responsibility to reject the paper... not allow it to be published in his journal.

Often an editor will give a paper's authors opportunity to respond to criticism or even permit flaws to be corrected by the authors. At every step in the process the editor takes responsibility for the quality of the papers ultimately published in his journal.

Academic journals often deal with submissions of controversial papers. Many editors actually err on the side of allowing controversial views to be heard.
Essentially, the editor can reject or approve papers as he sees fit.

Why did Spencer and Braswell choose to submit their paper to Remote Sensing? Academic journals abound. The author's choice of journal is kind of a trade off of options and benefits. Authors want their paper to get the right audience for their stuff, they also may want to publish in prestigious journals that are highly selective and have large audiences.  Importantly, authors want their paper to be reviewed in a fair and impartial manner.  In an ideal world the editorial process of scientific journals would be impartial, objective, thorough, unbiased, and brisk.  Journals develop a reputation in the community, some are known to be biased, some are known to be objective.

It seems likely that Dr. Spenser's chose to submit his paper to the journal Remote Sensing because he believed he would get a fair and unbiased peer review there.      

2.2 It seems the editor of the journal Remote Sensing is somehow protesting his own decision to publish.
Flash forward two months to September 2, 2011, we have the highly publicized resignation by Dr. Wolfgang Wagner from his position as editor-in-chief of Remote Sensing. His resignation was reported to be a protest of the publication of the paper by Spenser et al.  

Prof. Wagner claims to have belatedly recognized flaws in the paper that were missed by Remote Sensing's earlier peer review process. In effect, the editor of Remote Sensing is resigning in protest of his own decision as editor-in-chief to publish a paper that had passed his own peer review system. 

This story is astonishing. Does Prof. Wagner really believe his own peer review system approves publication of bad papers? How many other bad papers has Remote Sensing published? He doesn't say.  

Of course, the Guardian may have to story wrong, may have misquoted Dr. Wagner, or may be biased itself.  We will have to wait and see. The Guardian news story has some serious fallout for the Journal Remote Sensing and for anyone who published there. 

2.3 Fallout: Is Remote Sensing Radioactive?
Prof. Wagner asserts that the peer review process at Remote Sensing is so deeply flawed as to allow bad science to be published. If this is so, then it seems we must conclude that All papers published in Remote Sensing during the tenure of Prof. Wagner may have been poorly reviewed and possibly erroneous.

Inescapably,  Prof. Wagner's actions and accusations raise questions about the scholarly and scientific quality of the journal Remote Sensing and of all papers published therein.

Is there more to this story?  As it stands, it is difficult to believe Prof. Wagner's statements. We can also ask, how do the many authors of publications in Remote Sensing respond to charges that the peer review process at RS is flawed, sloppy, and passed bad papers for publication?  I doubt those authors would concur with Prof. Wagner. Or are we to believe Remote Sensing's peer review system was flawed and incompetent when it accepted the Spenser paper, and was great for all other papers? Unlikely.

Questions abound. Comments welcome.

3.0 BTW here is what Dr. Spenser says about AGW and observed climate variations:

"So what do we deny, if anything? Well, what *I* deny is that we can say with any level of certainty how much of our recent warmth is due to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions versus natural climate variability."   

This quote from Dr. Spenser's blog post at

BBC posts it's own version of the Guardian story:

4.0 Is "Climate Science" good science?

BBC refers to "mainstream climate scientists" in the above linked article.  This BBC article appears to be an example of flawed journalism. The author uses a sneaky rhetorical construction that implicitly forwards the conclusion. That is, Scientist A is good because he's "mainstream" and Scientist B is bad because he's not.  Hardly journalistic impartiality. More like a kid glove hatchet job.

We can ask, what are the credentials of "climate scientists," and the field of "Climate Science" itself? What have they really accomplished scientifically?

As an experimental science, there have been substantial accomplishments. Improved measurement technologies,  substantial accumulation of new data, and application of sophisticated measurement technology to measure ancient climatic conditions.  Fair enough, good stuff. 

What about theory and modeling? The theoretical tools used in climate science were actually developed in other fields, mainly in physics and its branches including geophysics, physics of fluids, statistical and thermal physics, and many others. The numerical methods for modeling, data base and data display, likewise were developed by other disciplines. 

Upon superficial examination, nothing appears particularly novel about the tools and methods used in climate science. Nothing wrong with that, but the work is derivative not original, just applications of pre-existing science and methods to climates. No doubt champions of the field of climate science can point to many important innovations in the theory of climates. Perhaps someone might list a few of climate science's most important theoretical innovations in the comments bar.

We observe that "Climate Science" is itself a minor scientific discipline known mainly for its extravagant claims,  lack of transparency,  astonishing results, immunity to criticism, cover-ups, vitriolic attacks against critics, press releases, and political agendas.  Mainstream science views this pattern of behavior with concern. 

Telling perhaps is a Google search for the term "climate science controversy." That search yielded 3,230,000 entries earlier today. That's alot of controversy.

We further observe that the field of climate science displays many of the warning signs of Bad Science. We will discuss this more fully, but for now we can ask the question: Is "Climate Science" good science?  The answer is not a priori obvious.

5.0 Editor of Nature approves the paper Kirkby et al. for publication.
The highly prestigious British scientific journal Nature stands firm as an editorial defender of open scientific inquiry. August 2011: Nature published another paper that is generating hysteria among "mainstream climate scientists."  It turns out there are major "uncertainties in climate modeling."  Who knew? Important physical processes governing the climate are not understood by climate scientists. Really?  Does that mean that mainstream climate models are imperfect, and may generate erroneous predictions? 

 It seems the prestigious editors of Nature are saying that climate models contain major uncertainties in physics and their predictions are uncertain. 

What the editor of Nature is saying is....

Climate science does not have a quantitative physics-based theory of cloud formation. What? It seems that Climate Science can't explain why clouds form.  The editor further observes that this shortcoming of theory is a significant problem for climate models.

Below is the editor's summary (our italics) of the paper Kirkby et al., Nature 476, 429-433 25 August 2011.   

Cloud cover at CERN

A substantial source of cloud condensation nuclei in the atmospheric boundary layer is thought to originate from the nucleation of trace sulphuric acid vapour. 

Despite extensive research, we still lack a quantitative understanding of the nucleation mechanism and the possible role of cosmic rays, creating one of the largest uncertainties in atmospheric models and climate predictions.

Jasper Kirkby and colleagues present the first results from the CLOUD experiment at CERN, which studies nucleation and other ion-aerosol cloud interactions under precisely controlled conditions. They find that atmospherically relevant ammonia mixing ratios of 100 parts per trillion by volume increase the nucleation rate of sulphuric acid particles by more than a factor of 100 to 1,000. They also find that ion-induced binary nucleation of H2SO4–H2O can occur in the mid-troposphere, but is negligible in the boundary layer and so additional species are necessary. Even with the large enhancements in rate caused by ammonia and ions, they conclude that atmospheric concentrations of ammonia and sulphuric acid are insufficient to account for observed boundary layer nucleation.

Below is a link to listing of the CLOUD paper by Kirkby et al.

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