Environmental Research Letters has published a statement on the growing Bengtsson Climate McCarthyism scandal, now a front page issue in The Times, claiming their innocence over the accusation that it rejected Bengtsson’s paper because of his connection to climate scepticism. Here’s the part of the reviewers report that is at issue:
Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.
Now that Bengtsson has been put on “double-secret probabtion” in the peer review world, and the ERL peer review has become the center of the maelstrom, of course ERL would issue a statement essentially saying “nothing to see here, move along”.
Here is the statement:
Statement from IOP Publishing on story in The Times
16 May 2014Bristol, UK
Dr. Nicola Gulley, Editorial Director at IOP Publishing, says, “The draft journal paper by Lennart Bengtsson that Environmental Research Letters declined to publish, which was the subject of this morning’s front page story of The Times, contained errors, in our view did not provide a significant advancement in the field, and therefore could not be published in the journal.”
“The decision not to publish had absolutely nothing to do with any ‘activism’ on the part of the reviewers or the journal, as suggested in The Times’ article; the rejection was solely based on the content of the paper not meeting the journal’s high editorial standards, ” she continues.
“The referees selected to review this paper were of the highest calibre and are respected members of the international science community. The comments taken from the referee reports were taken out of context and therefore, in the interests of transparency, we have worked with the reviewers to make the full reports available.”
The full quote actually said “Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.”
“As the referees report state, ‘The overall innovation of the manuscript is very low.’ This means that the study does not meet ERL’s requirement for papers to significantly advance knowledge of the field.”
“Far from denying the validity of Bengtsson’s questions, the referees encouraged the authors to provide more innovative ways of undertaking the research to create a useful advance.”
“As the report reads, ‘A careful, constructive, and comprehensive analysis of what these ranges mean, and how they come to be different, and what underlying problems these comparisons bring would indeed be a valuable contribution to the debate.”
“Far from hounding ‘dissenting’ views from the field, Environmental Research Letters positively encourages genuine scientific innovation that can shed light on complicated climate science.”
“The journal Environmental Research Letters is respected by the scientific community because it plays a valuable role in the advancement of environmental science – for unabashedly not publishing oversimplified claims about environmental science, and encouraging scientific debate.”
“With current debate around the dangers of providing a false sense of ‘balance’ on a topic as societally important as climate change, we’re quite astonished that The Times has taken the decision to put such a non-story on its front page.”
Please find the reviewer report below quoted in The Times, exactly as sent to Lennart Bengttsson.
We are getting permission from the other referees for this paper to make their reports available as soon as possible.
COMMENTS TO THE AUTHOR(S)
The manuscript uses a simple energy budget equation (as employed e.g. by Gregory et al 2004, 2008, Otto et al 2013) to test the consistency between three recent “assessments” of radiative forcing and climate sensitivity (not really equilibrium climate sensitivity in the case of observational studies).
The study finds significant differences between the three assessments and also finds that the independent assessments of forcing and climate sensitivity within AR5 are not consistent if one assumes the simple energy balance model to be a perfect description of reality.
The overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources, most directly in Otto et al.
The finding of differences between the three “assessments” and within the assessments (AR5), when assuming the energy balance model to be right, and compared to the CMIP5 models are reported as apparent inconsistencies.
The paper does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences, it rather puts out a very simplistic negative message giving at least the implicit impression of “errors” being made within and between these assessments, e.g. by emphasising the overlap of authors on two of the three studies.
What a paper with this message should have done instead is recognising and explaining a series of “reasons” and “causes” for the differences.
- The comparison between observation based estimates of ECS and TCR (which would have been far more interesting and less impacted by the large uncertainty about the heat content change relative to the 19th century) and model based estimates is comparing apples and pears, as the models are calculating true global means, whereas the observations have limited coverage. This difference has been emphasised in a recent contribution by Kevin Cowtan, 2013.
– The differences in the forcing estimates used e.g. between Otto et al 2013 and AR5 are not some “unexplainable change of mind of the same group of authors” but are following different tow different logics, and also two different (if only slightly) methods of compiling aggregate uncertainties relative to the reference period, i.e. the Otto et al forcing is deliberately “adjusted” to represent more closely recent observations, whereas AR5 has not put so much weight on these satellite observations, due to still persisting potential problems with this new technology
– The IPCC process itself explains potential inconsistencies under the strict requirement of a simplistic energy balance: The different estimates for temperature, heat uptake, forcing, and ECS and TCR are made within different working groups, at slightly different points in time, and with potentially different emphasis on different data sources. The IPCC estimates of different quantities are not based on single data sources, nor on a fixed set of models, but by construction are expert based assessments based on a multitude of sources. Hence the expectation that all expert estimates are completely consistent within a simple energy balance model is unfunded from the beginning.
– Even more so, as the very application of the Kappa model (the simple energy balance model employed in this work, in Otto et al, and Gregory 2004) comes with a note of caution, as it is well known (and stated in all these studies) to underestimate ECS, compared to a model with more time-scales and potential non-linearities (hence again no wonder that CMIP5 doesn’t fit the same ranges)
Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.
One cannot and should not simply interpret the IPCCs ranges for AR4 or 5 as confidence intervals or pdfs and hence they are not directly comparable to observation based intervals (as e.g. in Otto et al).
In the same way that one cannot expect a nice fit between observational studies and the CMIP5 models.
A careful, constructive, and comprehensive analysis of what these ranges mean, and how they come to be different, and what underlying problems these comparisons bring would indeed be a valuable contribution to the debate.
I have rated the potential impact in the field as high, but I have to emphasise that this would be a strongly negative impact, as it does not clarify anything but puts up the (false) claim of some big inconsistency, where no consistency was to be expected in the first place.
And I can’t see an honest attempt of constructive explanation in the manuscript.
Thus I would strongly advise rejecting the manuscript in its current form.
Bishop Hill notes this about the reports:
Regarding the scientific issues, the journal says it is trying to get permission to publish the referees’ reports and indeed the first of these appears at the bottom of the statement. As far as we can ascertain from this, Bengtsson’s paper focused on similar ground to the Lewis/Crok GWPF report, namely the stark difference between GCM estimates of climate sensitivity and those derived from the observational record and energy budgets. The referee quoted seems to object to this approach because of claimed inadequacies in the nergy budget approach. He says in essence that you wouldn’t expect consistency because the energy budget approach is flawed.
People closer to the climate sensitivity debate need to look at the full review, but noted something rather interesting among the list of objections to energy budget models. This is the paragraph that caught my attention:
Even more so, as the very application of the Kappa model (the simple energy balance model employed in this work, in Otto et al, and Gregory 2004) comes with a note of caution, as it is well known (and stated in all these studies) to underestimate ECS, compared to a model with more time-scales and potential non-linearities (hence again no wonder that CMIP5 doesn’t fit the same ranges).
It seems to me that Climate Science is reaching a tipping point. After Climategate, we were told that all of those nasty emails were taken out of context, and that “real climate scientists” don’t really act like that, and it is shameful for climate skeptics to label these instances as indicative of systemic problems that are endemic to climate science and the peer review process.
And now, here we are, right back where we started at Climategate.