Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Dear Dr. McNutt:
As a somewhat unwilling subscriber to Science, let me start by welcoming you as the latest editor of Science magazine. You’ve stated “Thirty-five years ago, when I was a graduate student and my very first research paper was published in Science, I do not think I could ever have dreamed that one day I would have the honor of becoming Editor-in-Chief of this most distinguished journal.”
And in addition to your most impressive resume, you do get huge props from me for this part of your Wikipedia biography, which I certainly hope is true, viz:
McNutt is a NAUI-certified scuba diver and she trained in underwater demolition and explosives handling with the U.S. Navy UDT and SEAL Team.
Indeed you do have an unparalleled opportunity, which is to turn what has become just another glossy advocacy magazine back into a distinguished scientific journal.
Unfortunately, during the intervening 35 years of your remarkable scientific career since you were a graduate student, a once-stellar magazine has fallen on hard times. Starting with Donald Kennedy, and continuing under Bruce Alberts, it has become a shabby vehicle for strident climate activism … and that experiment has proven once again that Science can’t be both an activist journal and a scientific journal. Science magazine has thrown its considerable (but rapidly decreasing) weight behind a number of causes. And yes, some of those causes are indeed important.
The problem is that you are convinced the causes are hugely important, and you want to convince us of the same. But once you convince people that your causes are more important to you than your science, that’s it for your authority regarding the science. You either get to have activism, or you get scientific authority. You don’t get both. And the past actions of your magazine have clearly demonstrated that these days your activist causes are much more important to you than the science.
The problems have involved two main issues in the field I’m involved in, climate science. The first issue is that despite repeated requests, past Science Magazine editors have flouted your own guidelines for normal scientific transparency. You continue to publish articles about climate science without requiring that the authors archive their data and code as required by your own rules. It appears that the rules about archiving data and code are enforced for the little people like myself, but when the Editors of Science want to promote a point of view, the rules don’t apply … funny how that works.
The second issue is that in climate science, far too often Science magazine editors have substituted pal review for peer review. As a result, people laugh at the bumf that passes for climate science in your pages. They don’t disagree with your articles. They laugh at your articles. I’m told that in some scientific circles, it’s only the glossy unabsorbent nature of the magazine’s paper that keeps the climate science articles from being used, perhaps more appropriately, for hygienic purposes … seriously, you have published some really risible, really shabby, grade-school level studies in climate science. It’s embarrassing.
With a new Editor-In-Chief, I’ve been hoping that might all be in the past. Unfortunately, after taking over at the helm, you’ve chosen to reveal your … umm … well, let me describe it as your newness to the concept of “scientific journal editor” by following in the foolishly activist footsteps of your immediate predecessors. I’d hoped you might be smarter than they were, and indeed you might still show yourself to be. But to jump into the middle of the climate debate and stake out a position for Science magazine? Why? That’s suicide for the magazine. Science magazine should never have an editorial stance on the science it is discussing and overseeing. Leave that to Mother Jones magazine, or to National Geographic, or Popular Science. Your magazine taking a strong activist position on climate science is just evidence that you have abandoned all pretense of being concerned with climate science itself. When the science is strong it doesn’t need defenders … and if the Editor-In-Chief of Science feels it’s necessary to defend some part of science, that simply proves that the “science” involved must be of the weakest.
And regarding you personally taking a position? Well, that’s interesting. The problem is that you are extremely well educated, strong, strikingly good looking, and a wickedly-smart woman by all accounts … and while those are all good things, that’s a scary combination. One downside of that particular melange is that as a result, it’s very possible that people, particularly men, haven’t told you the unvarnished truth in years. So some of what I have to say may be a surprise to you.
Here are your climate claims from your recent Editorial, based presumably on your research into the flexural modes of the earth’s crust:
Researchers have turned to the geologic record to obtain ground truth about patterns of change for use in climate models. Information from prior epochs reveals evidence for conditions on Earth that might be analogs to a future world with more CO2. Projections based on such previous evidence are still uncertain, because there is no perfect analog to current events in previous geologic epochs; however, even the most optimistic predictions are dire. For example, environmental changes brought on by climate changes will be too rapid for many species to adapt to, leading to widespread extinctions. Unfortunately, I view these predicted outcomes as overly optimistic.
Now, the uninitiated might not notice the subtle change of tense there, from the subjunctive to the declarative. But those of us who are used to the pea-and-shell game will have seen that you’ve done something curious. You’ve started by saying that “Projections based on such previous evidence are still uncertain”. That is true, and not only true, it’s a huge understatement.
Here is the current state of climate science, the understanding of past climate changes, and the prediction of future climates.
• Not one climate scientist on either side of the aisle predicted the current ~ 15-year hiatus in warming. This lack of warming was highlighted as early as 2009 in a widely-circulated article called “What Happened to Global Warming? Scientists Say Just Wait a Bit”. In that article, various scientists were quoted as saying the warming would resume in a few years.
Well, we’ve waited a few years, Dr. McNutt. Their predictions, once again, haven’t come true … and despite that, here you are to lecture us. And where did this most seditious article entitled “What Happened To Global Warming” appear?
Why, it appeared in Science magazine … you want to be taken seriously in the field of climate science, yet you don’t mention this lack of recent warming at all?
• Not one climate scientist on either side of the aisle can explain the century or two of cooling leading up to the Little Ice Age in the 1600s. Why did the world slowly get colder back then? Oh, some folks claim it’s the sun, maybe so, maybe not … but really, no one knows.
• Not one climate scientist on either side of the aisle can explain the three centuries of slow general warming that have followed the Little Ice Age. What changed to gradually warm the planet, after it had been cooling for centuries?
• None of these things are explicable as the results of CO2, which supposedly is the secret control knob that regulates the global temperature.
So no one can explain the past climate changes, the CO2 explanation fails miserably at the hindcast, and you tell us that predictions based on the past are “still uncertain”, which is a big understatement and is certainly true.
But despite that uncertainty, despite that lack of knowledge, in the very next sentence you assure us breathlessly that predictions that “ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGES WILL BE TOO RAPID FOR MANY SPECIES TO ADAPT TO, LEADING TO WIDESPREAD EXTINCTIONS” are not alarmist enough for you …
Changes “will be” too rapid? “Will be”? And that’s not alarmist enough for you?
I truly hope you don’t realize what you are saying. I truly hope that you do not understand that that sentence of yours is nothing but strident alarmism that you are presenting under the guise of science.
Because you don’t know what the unknown environmental changes WILL do the species of the planet, that’s incredible hubris. More to the point, you have absolutely no evidence for your claim of “widespread extinctions”. Not one modern species has ever been shown to have gone extinct from climate change. Even Nature magazine has given up on the goofy idea of the “sixth wave of extinctions” that you are trying to sell. There is no evidence for your “extinction by climate change” claim at all.
Let me take a bit of a detour, and discuss the idea of a “natural experiment”. People always say we can’t study climate in a laboratory, and that’s true. We can’t use the lab to see how a big ecosystem full of real-world species might react to changing temperatures, for example. But we have natural experiments. And we’ve just conducted a very interesting experiment. Here’s the record of the experiment.
According to the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature dataset shown above, the global land is two and a half degrees warmer than it was around 1810. Two and a half degrees of warming in two centuries. That’s well beyond what is supposed to be the huge danger change of two degrees of warming … where are the corpses?
You seem to be concerned about the speed of the changes. Two and a half degrees in two centuries is fast, it’s well over half the speed of the changes you are concerned about. As a result, we should have seen at least some evidence for your claim that warming causes extinctions … perhaps you could name the species that have gone extinct from warming during that natural experiment? I ask, because I’ve looked very hard, and I haven’t found even one.
You continue with your litany of unsubstantiated worries:
Even species that might tolerate the new environment could nevertheless decline as the ecosystems on which they depend collapse. The oceans will become more stratified and less productive.
The oceans WILL become more stratified? They WILL become less productive? And you say species “could” decline, but the ecosystem collapse is presented without qualifiers? My dear lady, you just told us that all of these “projections” are very uncertain. Let me suggest that you lose the “will become” and the “will happen”. You don’t know if warmer oceans will be more or less productive, and that kind of puffery just makes people point and laugh. I implore you, stop with the pronouncements from on high. You just got appointed, it’s true, but only to the editorship of Science, not to a more celestial and all-seeing post.
In addition, perhaps you could point to an example of a thermally-caused “ecosystem collapse” from the two and a half degrees C warming of the last two centuries? You know … evidence?
You go on …
If such ecosystem problems come to pass, the changes will affect humans in profound ways. The loss in ocean productivity will be detrimental for the 20% of the population that depends on the seas for nutrition. Crops will fail more regularly, especially on land at lower latitudes where food is in shortest supply.
The first part is good, you preface your statements with “IF the ecosystem problems come to pass”. The rest of it, however, is just more unsupported, uncited, unverified, and untrue fears. You have no evidence that a couple of degrees of warming will make the crops “fail more regularly”. Again, we’ve just run a natural experiment. We’ve just seen what happened when the land temperatures went up two and a half degrees from 1810 to the present. So please tell us, Dr. McNutt …
Where is the evidence of any loss in ocean productivity from that two and a half degrees C of warming? I say that you don’t have even a scrap of evidence that warming per se causes a decline in oceanic productivity. I certainly have never seen any.
Where is the evidence of any tropical crop loss from the last two centuries of warming?
Where is the evidence of any cities submerged by sea level rise?
Where is the evidence of the claimed spread of diseases?
Where are the climate refugees? You are aware, I hope, that the UN Environmental Programme climate specialists, part of the “97% consensus”, confidently predicted 50 million climate refugees by 2010 … perhaps you could point those refugees out for those of us who can’t find them?
Or perhaps you’re not aware of the dozens of such failed predictions by members of the fabled “97% consensus”. There’s no problem if you’re not aware of those unsuccessful “scientific” forecasts, I mean after all you’re a geologist, not a climate scientist … but if you lack that kind of basic knowledge of the climate field, then why are you attempting to lecture us on the subject?
Sadly, it seems that like many other good honest folk, you are simply parroting claims of danger that you have swallowed without ever thinking critically about them. Reconsider the natural experiment. We’ve had two and a half degrees of warming, and from everything I can find, it wasn’t harmful to the planetary denizens. There were no climate refugees. The coral atolls didn’t go underwater, we still have them. According to the IPCC, there’s been no increase in extreme weather events. No cities had to be evacuated because of sea level rise.
Two and a half degrees C, and not only were there no catastrophes from that warming, quite the opposite. Overall, it was beneficial to plants, animals, and humans alike. Expanded growing seasons and milder winters provided larger and more stable crops. Longer ice-free periods on the northern harbors and rivers allowed increased commerce. Milder winters killed fewer people … what’s not to like?
Now, you claim to be a scientist, Dr. McNutt. And I’m happy to be proven wrong when I say that your climate fears are not based in reality. To prove me wrong, you need to provide evidence. Not claims. Not solemn warnings of future disasters unencumbered by any historical parallel. You need to provide evidence.
So if you’d be so kind as to point out the past catastrophes that came from the last two and a half degrees C of rapid warming, your alarmism about the possibility of another two and a half degrees might at least contain a hint of realism, even if it’s only a Hollywood “based on a true story” kind of realism.
If you can’t find any thermal catastrophes from that 2.5 degrees of warming, on the other hand, an honest scientist would change her views accordingly … your call.
Heck, you’re so new to the field that you don’t even have your alarmist talking points straight. Al Gore gives classes in this stuff so his minions will all be singing from the same hymnbook, you might borrow a copy. Because according to the alarmists, the effect of the CO2 warming will be greatest in the extra-tropics and the polar regions. In those areas it’s supposed to affect mostly nighttime temperatures, and particularly in the winter.
So your claim that crops will fail “at lower latitudes where food is in shortest supply” is in direct disagreement with the alarmist predictions of danger at the Poles.
Not only that, but your uncited claim of tropical losses is also in direct disagreement with the historical data, which shows that the tropics has warmed the least of all of the latitudinal zones. The tropical warming since 1900 is lost in the noise, your claim of tropical crop loss is a sad joke. You should at least switch latitudes and join up with your co-religionists and Al Gore’s minions in trying to scare people about a warming Arctic … at least that was happening, although unfortunately for alarmists like yourself, Alaska cooled substantially over the first decade of the 21st century, so now the evidence is mixed.
And in any case, where are my minions? I want the government to use their Solyndra funds to provide me with minions, like the ones Al Gore trains using petrodollars he pocketed from the oil companies for his TV station. How come Al has minions and I don’t? I guess the moral is, first get the oil million$, then you’ll get the minions. I’m obviously a slow learner regarding the first part of that … and how come Al gets the petrobucks and nobody says a word, but skeptics get tarred as being on the oil companies payroll but don’t get a dime? … however, I digress. You go on to say:
This unfavorable environmental state could last for many thousands of years as geologic processes slowly respond to the imbalances created by the release of the fossil carbon reservoir. The time scale for biodiversity to be restored, with all the benefits that it brings, will be even longer.
Tertullian says that the Roman Emperors had a slave whose job was to whisper in the Emperor’s ear “Respice post te! Hominem te memento!” In that respect, Dr. McNutt, let me be the slave who reminds you that you are merely the latest future ex-Editor-In-Chief of Science, a once-great magazine.
And while that post still swings a certain (although sadly diminished) amount of weight, it does not confer upon you ex oficio the ability to see “many thousands of years” into the future. You are attempting to channel Cassandra, and you are failing at it spectacularly. I cannot say this strongly enough. Activism is not your friend. The stronger the Editor-In-Chief of Science is as an activist, the less authority the Editor-In-Chief has as a scientist, and the less authority Science has as a scientific journal. What part of “conflict of interest” do you and Bruce Alberts and Donald Kennedy not understand? You cannot be both the peer-reviewer, the gate-keeper who arbitrates which science is worth publishing, and at the same time be a strong scientific alarmist pushing a particular belief as well.
So please, don’t bother us with any more of your unsupported fears about what a bit of warming might do. You’re actually in good shape yet. Yes, you struck out badly in the first inning, but there’s lots of the game left before you’re an ex-, and that just means don’t repeat your mistakes when you come up to bat again.
What you need to be concerned with is what your magazine does, not what the climate does. Lecturing people when your own house is in such bad order does not make you look wise, it makes you look hypocritical. You need to attend to the very poor quality of the studies you are publishing before you start lecturing people about climate science. How about giving us an editorial about how your predecessors didn’t enforce the “archive your data and code” policy, and whether you plan to continue the now time-honored tradition of ignoring the policy? That’s something you can speak about with authority.
After that, perhaps you might give us an editorial about how you are renouncing the anti-scientific practice of using co-authors to review each others’ work? That would be interesting. Or how about an editorial review of the ethical implications of Peter Gleick’s actions, and what their general acceptance by mainstream climate scientists reveal about the nature and extent of Noble Cause Corruption? That would be more than welcome.
But please … no more schoolmarmish lectures, and no more channeling the Ehrlichs and Holdrens. We’ve had enough failed serial doom-casters to last us for decades. You do not want to add your name to that list of unsuccessful catastrophe-mongers.
I say all of this to you for several reasons. First, I can’t stand to see someone driving the bus off the cliff without warning them. You’re doing both your reputation and that of Science magazine great damage through your alarmism, and in my world I am obliged to say something.
Second, there’s an old adage that says “It is better to light one little cylinder of fossil-fuel-derived wax with a wick in it, than to curse the darkness,” or something like that. I’m not the man to sit idly by when something I care about is imperiled.
Next, I say it because as an amateur scientist, I’m a huge fan of the process we call science, and I hate to see the journals flouting scientific transparency and blatantly shilling for one side or the other in a scientific debate.
And curiously, I say it because I truly wish you well. You do have an amazing opportunity, one I’d love to have. You have the chance to turn Science back into a serious, reputable scientific journal.
Plus scuba divers get my support, and women divers who’ve done underwater explosives training with the SEALS get my unalloyed, albeit somewhat jealous, awe and respect.
The main issue is, I’d like to see Science magazine become what it once was—a science magazine without an axe to grind, and without an agenda other than to be the best scientific journal on the planet.
Because as soon as you start grinding that axe and pursuing that agenda, you’ve become an axe-woman on a mission, not a scientist … and although the world needs good axe-women on missions, and I’m sure you’re a very good one when the situation arises, both Science the journal and science itself suffers when the Editor-In-Chief of Science magazine takes up axe-grinding. It destroys your credibility as a major arbiter of what science should be published.
My very best regards to you, and my best wishes for your tenure as Editor-In-Chief, and for the magazine in your hands,