I was over at Judy Curry’s place, reading her update to the Mail on Sunday story, and noticed she referenced URLs to the updated FAQs at the BEST website. I followed and was totally shocked to read this FAQ: (bold mine)
Why didn’t Berkeley Earth wait for peer review?
Some people think that peer review consists of submitting a paper to a journal and waiting for the anonymous comments of referees. Traditional peer review is much broader than that and much more open. In science, when you have a new result, your first step is to present it to your colleagues by giving presentations, talks at local and international conferences, colloquia, and by sending out “preprints.” In fact, every academic department in the sciences had a preprint library where people would read up on the latest results. If they found something to disagree with, they would talk to or write the authors. Preprint libraries were so popular that, if you found someone was not in the office or lab, the first place you would search would be in the preprint library. Recently these rooms have disappeared, their place taken over by the internet. The biggest preprint library in the world now is a website, arXiv.org.
Such traditional and open peer review has many advantages. It usually results in better papers in the archival journals, because the papers are widely examined prior to publication. It does have a disadvantage, however, that journalists can also pick up preprints and report on them before the traditional peer-review process is finished.
Perhaps because of the media picking up on talks and preprints, a few journals made a new rule: they will not publish anything that is distributed as a preprint or that is discussed openly in a meeting or colloquium. This policy has resulted in more attention to several journals, but the restrictive approach had a detrimental effect on the traditional peer review system. Some fields of science, for example String Theory, objected so strongly that they refuse to publish in these journals, and they put all their papers online immediately.
The best alternative would be to have the media hold back and not report preprint material. Unfortunately they refuse to do that. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that many of the media misreport the content of the preprints. For that reason Berkeley Earth has tried to answer the questions given to us by the media, in hopes that our work will be more accurately reported. The two page summary of findings is also meant to help ensure that the media reports accurately reflect the content of our papers.
I call absolute total BS on that. Why?
Because BEST contacted media in advance of the release of their papers and provided preprints. The October 20th release by BEST was planned and coordinated with media, such as the Economist, Guardian, NYT, New Scientist, and Nature, all of which contacted me before the release on October 20th. This FAQ on peer review was added sometime after that date, I don’t know when, but the FAQ headline obviously refers to past tense.
Remember the ethical quandary I wrote about on October 15th? I wrote then:
Imagine, if you will, that you are given a complete draft copy of a new paper that has just been submitted to a journal, and that paper cites your work, and it was provided as a professional courtesy before it has been peer-reviewed and accepted.
There’s a caveat attached to the email with the paper which says:
“Please keep it confidential until we post it ourselves.”
OK, fine and dandy, no problem there. Happy to oblige. I sent along a couple of small corrections and thanked the author.
Imagine my surprise when I get this email Friday from a reporter at a major global media outlet. I’ve redacted the names.
Dear Mr Watts
I’m the [media name redacted] new environment editor. I’m planning to write a pretty big piece next week on the [paper preprint name redacted], and wondered whether you might be able to give me your view of it. I think you’ve been sent the [paper preprint name redacted] paper… If you did happen to be able and interested, I’d be enormously grateful for a word about this on Monday. Might that be possible?
I objected to being put in an untenable position with confidentiality on the paper. I was asked for my confidentiality about one of the papers, but then they gave the paper to media, and the media came calling me asking me to comment on it. I had no warning they would do so.
The Economist was first and that’s the email from reporter James Astill above, and I had to ask permission from Dr. Richard Muller before I spoke with Astill, as I mentioned in my report on October 20th.
Elizabeth Muller told me herself that “this is coordinated for October 20th”. Dr. Richard Muller says he sent it to one outlet, but I got requests from other media outlets before October 20th release. How did that happen?
From: Richard A Muller
Date: Friday, October 14, 2011 3:35 PM
To: Anthony Watts- ItWorks
Subject: Re: Our paper is attached
We sent a copy to only one media person, from The Economist, whom we trust to keep it confidential. I sent a copy to you because I knew you would also keep it confidential.
I apologize for not having gotten back to you about your comments. I particularly like your suggestion about the title; that is an improvement.
I have all my notes and emails from these exchange with BEST and media outlets who made request, so this isn’t a matter of recollection.
For example this from the WUWT contact form:
[Watts Up With That?] Contact
Subject interview query from Nature magazine
2011-10-18 @ 12:05:13 PM
Hello Mr. Watts, I’m preparing a story about the formal release of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature analysis on Thursday, and I was hoping to get your thoughts. Their embargoed release says they specifically looked at the temperature stations you flagged as suspect (as well as the urban heat island effect), and they say the trends hold true. Of course they already reported much of this unofficially back in May, but there you go. Would you have a moment to chat? My number is 212-451-xxxx. If I don’t hear back, I’ll see if I can’t track down your address through other means. Best, Jeff Tollefson US Correspondent Nature magazine
Readers may recall this post last week where I complained about being put in a uncomfortable quandary by an author of a new paper. Despite that, I chose to honor the confidentiality request of the author Dr. Richard Muller, even though I knew that behind the scenes, they were planning a media blitz to MSM outlets. In the past few days I have been contacted by James Astill of the Economist, Ian Sample of the Guardian, and Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times. They have all contacted me regarding the release of papers from BEST today.
Now BEST is telling us it is the media who refuses to hold back on reporting preprints? Give me a freaking break.
Either the Muller team is grossly incompetent at public relations, or they are playing a unbelievably stupid game of CYA after the fact due to the negative reactions they are getting to the “press before peer review” fiasco they brought on themselves.
Either way, it’s gobsmackingly unscrupulous of them to now blame the media.