UPDATE: The error has now been completely eliminated from the article. Details below.
Guest post by James Padgett
As many readers are aware, the culture surrounding the climate change topic area of Wikipedia has been a microcosm of climate science for nearly a full decade.
This is not a compliment.
When you read the Climategate emails and see discussions of finding people to investigate and discredit your ideological opponents – that is Wikipedia. When you read about the IPCC’s usage of the WWF and students in composing their Climate Bible (KJV) – that is Wikipedia. When you read about “climate scientists” conspiring to get other scientists fired for challenging the orthodoxy – that is Wikipedia.
In short, Wikipedia does not care about truth, and certainly not doubts, it cares about message.
And that’s what this article is about, how the truth, when made plainly clear, is suppressed in favor of misinformation that is on message.
Early last month I was browsing the Wikipedia article on the Soon-Baliunas controversy. The “mainstream” view on the topic is that the paper was so horrible that several editors resigned from Climate Research in protest. Those following the Climategate emails know that there was a strong and shady behind-the-scenes effort to both discredit the paper and show journals what happens to their reputations and hairlines when you dare to publish research contradictory to the “settled science.”
Part of this public relations process, of which Wikipedia is an integral component, involves rewriting facts, refocusing views and never ever giving in to rationality or reality.
How was this done in the Soon-Baliunas article? I don’t have the time or inclination to point out all the bias and opinion-herding in the article, but I’ll show you the sentence that initially caught my eye back in early December:
“The Soon and Baliunas paper had been sent to four reviewers during publication, all of whom recommended rejecting it.” (1)
Now isn’t that interesting? Why would they publish the paper if all of the reviewers recommended rejecting it? It certainly would be quite the scandal if that villainous Chris de Freitas pushed to publish it under such conditions.
A little digging shows that Wikipedia used to have the correct sentence – that none of the reviewers recommended rejecting it. In fact, an anonymous user tried to revert the article back to this correct version. The response was typical – change it back and then have one of the administrator gatekeepers, “MastCell,” protect the article from anonymous users. After all, the only people who could ever be correct are the Champions of the Earth.
But that wasn’t the end of it. That wouldn’t be a good demonstration of the obstinacy of the keeper of climate truth.
The few non-anonymous users who cared about the article being accurate pointed this out. Pages and pages of argument resulted, with the typical gatekeepers like Dave Souza and Stephan Schulz relying on a single source to make their claim, while ignoring numerous other sources, not to mention common sense, which contradicted their assertion regarding the reviewers.
What was their source?
What sources contradicted this?
Of course, de Freitas would be biased….
But Clare Goodess, of the ever-reputable University of East Anglia, an editor who resigned over the incident, ambiguously intoned in a manner subject to much interpretation:
“The publisher eventually asked to see the documentation associated with the review of the paper – which had apparently gone to four reviewers none of whom had recommended rejection. Otto Kinne concluded that the review process had been properly conducted.” (2)
So instead of relying on common sense, original documents, and the statement, at the time, of an involved scientist certainly not supportive of the Soon-Baliunas paper, weight was given to Fred Pearce’s article which was written seven years after the fact.
Naturally, I was curious as to where Mr. Pearce received his information. He was friendly and helpful, despite his busy schedule with the holidays and Durban, and attempted to find the original source for the claim in his article. Unfortunately, he could not find the original source in his records. He does agree that the statement was, in his words, “almost certainly wrong” and theorizes that he may have misread Clare Goodess’ statement on the matter.
So that should settle it right? This article itself could be a “reliable source” to remove the error from Wikipedia. After all, Real Climate is quoted extensively throughout the climate change articles. Perhaps, but not when you have obsessive-compulsive activists who care more about their cause than their integrity.
However, this incident does bring some other questions to mind.
Andrew Montford, author of the Hockey Stick Illusion, was inquiring with Pearce about his source as well and was curious if Michael Mann had been the one to mislead Pearce. This is an interesting theory, and I had been wondering if this was the case myself both due to Mann’s behavior regarding this incident, his well-known inclination towards manipulating journalists, as well as the original wording in Pearce’s article, which was:
“But many on the 10-man editorial board agreed with Mann. They concluded that their colleague de Freitas had ignored the anonymous advice of four reviewers to reject the paper.”
There is no way to know for certain; it certainly isn’t clear. All I know is that Mann and his friends, and this is the short list, when confronted with a paper that challenged their own work, threatened to boycott the journal, tried to get the editor fired, tried to get the authors fired, and was even so juvenile as to file a complaint against the New Zealand Herald for not letting him publish his attacks against de Freitas.
Obviously, he is the quintessential climate scientist of our day – and I hope one day that Wikipedia gives him due credit as such.
UPDATE: Following a conversation on Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales’ talk page the error has been removed despite initial resistance from those who perpetrated the misinformation:
Also, I’d like to thank Nona, who tried to correct the error earlier as an anonymous user.