Last Friday while at work, my Inbox exploded with news about a “climate skeptic journal getting canceled”. It was news to me, because I didn’t even know there was one in existence. This post is an update that post I made on Friday: The ‘planetary tidal influence on climate’ fiasco: strong armed science tactics are overkill, due process would work better. Today’s post is done with the benefit of more detailed information and more time than I had then.
Much of the mail I received Friday centered around this post by Jo Nova: Science paper doubts IPCC, so whole journal gets terminated!
Jo’s post details that a particular phrase in the announcement seemed to be the reason for the termination of the journal. The editor’s announcement (the first version) is reproduced below, bold, Jo’s:
Termination of the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics
Copernicus Publications started publishing the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics (PRP) in March 2013. The journal idea was brought to Copernicus’ attention and was taken rather critically in the beginning, since the designated Editors-in-Chief were mentioned in the context of the debates of climate skeptics. However, the initiators asserted that the aim of the journal was to publish articles about patterns recognized in the full spectrum of physical disciplines rather than to focus on climate-research-related topics.
Recently, a special issue was compiled entitled “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts”. Besides papers dealing with the observed patterns in the heliosphere, the special issue editors ultimately submitted their conclusions in which they “doubt the continued, even accelerated, warming as claimed by the IPCC project” (Pattern Recogn. Phys., 1, 205–206, 2013).
Copernicus Publications published the work and other special issue papers to provide the spectrum of the related papers to the scientists for their individual judgment. Following best practice in scholarly publishing, published articles cannot be removed afterwards.
We at Copernicus Publications wish to distance ourselves from the apparent misuse of the originally agreed aims & scope of the journal and decided on 17 January 2014 to cease the publication of PRP. Of course, scientific dispute is controversial and should allow contradictory opinions which can then be discussed within the scientific community. However, the recent developments including the expressed implications (see above) have led us to this drastic decision.
Interested scientists can reach the online library at: www.pattern-recogn-phys.net
Initially, this looked like another case of suppression due to the anti-IPCC message conveyed in the PRP Special Edition, much like we’ve seen in Climategate where an email campaign was used to pressure editors, and if the editors didn’t kowtow, “the team” would work to remove them. The Phil Jones email “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow” immediately sprang to mind.
My view was that the journal editor got “team” pressure, such as we witnessed James Annan crowing about, and they caved.
Kudos to Copernicus for the rapid and decisive way in which they dealt with this problem. The problems at the journal were was first brought to my attention by ThingsBreak just last night, I emailed various people to express my concerns and the journal (which was already under close scrutiny by the publisher) was closed down within 24h.
I pointed out that the best way is to let due process take its course:
While the shutdown of the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics that published a special edition on planetary tidal influence on climate is likely a bit of overkill, rebuttals would have been the right way to handle it rather than the Climategate style strong-arm gang tactics exhibited against journal editors…
But then later, after my piece was published, I learned there was far more to the story, and that Copernicus had changed their statement, adding this paragraph:
“In addition, the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing and not in accordance with our publication ethics we expect to be followed by the editors.”
That seems like some post facto CYA to me, or, it could also be just sloppiness due to what appears to be the “panic” they were under after getting hit with an email campaign from James Annan’s “various people”.
Jo wondered in her update:
Copernicus is a large publishing group which also publishes many other journals. I wonder if “nepotism” is the word for pal-review which occurs all the time…
It turns out that “pal-review” was indeed a problem, and that both sides should have seen this showdown coming well in advance. Had either made some effort to head it off, you wouldn’t be reading about it now.
First, let me say that it takes a lot of courage and effort to put together a special edition for a journal, and I admire the people involved for doing that, even though I disagree with much of what was presented.
Secondly, it takes a lot of work to do it right. Doing it right means getting it done where any contestable items of special interest, pal-review, and other biases aren’t part of the publication. That’s where it went wrong.
Third, if the climate skeptic community became aware of a pal-review issue like this in climate science, we’d be all over it. We should hold our own community to the same standards.
In his post about the affair, Roger Tattersall, who was both an editor and an author of a paper in the special edition, responded to William Connolley in this comment with a [Reply].
William Connolley says:
“In addition, the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing…”
Oooh you bad boys. RT: are you in favour of nepotism in review? Come on, don’t be shy.
[Reply] I asked for reviewers from outside our discipline, but with it being a small field, there was crossover. But because the papers are open access, anyone can download, review and comment, so I don’t think it’s a big problem. Let our scientific work stand on its merit, rather than impugning the honesty of the scientists.
Climate science itself suffers from the small field crossover problem to an extent, but as we saw in Climategate emails, often they turn a blind eye to it.
I have no problem with their work in the PRP Special Edition standing or failing on its own merit, but I do have a problem with the way they went about this. For example, in WUWT comments we have:
People are missing the key point,
“…the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing and not in accordance with our publication ethics we expect to be followed by the editors.”
“4. A referee should be sensitive even to the appearance of a conflict of interest when the manuscript under review is closely related to the referee’s work in progress or published. If in doubt, the referee should return the manuscript promptly without review, advising the editor of the conflict of interest or bias.
5. A referee should not evaluate a manuscript authored or co-authored by a person with whom the referee has a personal or professional connection if the relationship would bias judgment of the manuscript.”
The problem is obvious, the papers list in many cases one of the reviewers as an author in the same edition and in some cases a known skeptic. While this is no different than what alarmists do all the time, skeptics will be held to a much higher standard and should not allow themselves to fall into these traps.
This makes what would be a clear censorship argument irrelevant.
Basically, they asked to play in the peer reviewed sandbox at Copernicus, then didn’t abide by the rules of the sandbox for peer review. That was the recipe for disaster everybody should have seen coming.
Which is confirmed:
I’m surprised Poptech fell for the Rasmussen ruse. In his first email to the editors he said he was shutting down PRP because it had allowed sceptics to publish heresy about the IPCC dogma. Only later did he realise the own goal and cook up the unsubstantiated smears about “potential” issues with review.
With the original version I agree with you and on these grounds alone I consider this censorship but that is not the whole story.
My problem is with the process of using authors, editors and known skeptics as reviewers. This is not an unsubstantiated smear but verifiable,
Here are two examples:
“Reviewed by: N.-A. Morner and one anonymous referee”
Dr. Morner is qualified to review this paper but he is an editor and a known skeptic with a potential conflict of interest in that he is sympathetic to Dr. Scafetta’s arguments.
“Reviewed by: H. Jelbring and one anonymous referee”
Hans Jelbring is again qualified but an author in this edition and a known skeptic with a potential conflict of interest in that he is sympathetic to your arguments.
And the reason I am told they published their names, was because they were concerned with having a conflict of interest! Thus, by the publishers own rules they should not be reviewing these papers. The saving grace is that one of the reviewers was anonymous but this is still going to lead to wild speculation for many reasons, especially since the editors were skeptics.
Why give alarmists the ammunition of Pal-Review? I don’t understand this.
Regardless, unless the papers get retracted I will list them, so people can read them and make up their own minds, but I will not be endorsing them nor defending the review process.
One of the PRP editors, Morner, published his own paper in the edition. The other editor reviewed it. And, Morner reviewed other papers. No clearer example of circular review exists.
And then there’s this:
richardscourtney says: January 18, 2014 at 9:04 am
I withdraw the suggestions in my earlier post at January 18, 2014 at 1:58 am.
When I made that post I was not aware that the journal used the same people as authors and reviewers for the papers of each other in a Special Edition on a stated subject. Such a practice is a clear example of pal-review.
The Special Edition should not have been published when its peer review procedures were a clear malpractice. Whether the reasons for withdrawal of the Special Edition also warranted closure of the journal requires additional information but it seems likely.
And so, the perception of the pal-review has trumped any science that was presented, and few people will hear of the reasons behind that problem.
The problem the PRP authors and editors have is existence in a small like-minded universe, yet they don’t see the problem that presents to outsiders looking in. The situation reminded me of a Star Trek TNG episode “Remember Me“ where Dr. Beverly Crusher gets trapped in a “static warp bubble”. The pool of people she interacts with keeps shrinking as the bubble shrinks, and she keeps trying to convince the remaining people of this fact while they look at her like she’s crazy. She finally ends up alone, and doesn’t realize the reality of her isolation until she asks the ship’s computer “What is the nature of the universe?” and it answers:
“…the universe as a spheroid structure 705 meters in diameter.”
That’s about the size of the PRP Special Edition universe, and like the static warp bubble in the TNG episode, it is collapsing in on itself. The big problem with this event is that while that PRP Special Edition universe is collapsing in one place, it has exploded elsewhere, and that explosion has painted all climate skeptics with a broad brush.
Some news coverage of the event:
It was easy to predict what kind of coverage we’d see.
Note there’s no distinction here of a “subset” of climate skeptics, or even “a few climate skeptics”, no, ALL climate skeptics are being painted with this fiasco. That means people like Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, the Pielkes, Curry, Singer, Happer, and many others are being lumped into this even though they had nothing to do with it. I doubt any of them even knew about it, and I daresay that if they did, they’d have similar objections to what has already been voiced on WUWT about the process.
And that, makes me upset. What makes me even more upset is that this mess was wholly preventable if either Copernicus or the PRP Special Edition group had realized what was at stake and done something about it before it became the next target of “the team” looking to pressure an editor like we saw in Climategate. Had I known about it before it exploded. I certainly would have voiced objections about the use of a small and specialized universe of editors and reviewers. Almost any reasonable person looking at this from the outside can see this pal-review issue would eventually blow up, because no matter how careful they might have been internally to prevent such issues, the appearance from the outside of bias is what gets written about, as we’ve seen.
And, there were clear warnings.
Steve Mosher writes to me with this
A while back I happened upon the Tallbloke journal (comments from Tallbloke’s Talkshop)
Steven Mosher says:
cool. not only did you review each other papers ( where the reviewer had the ethical courage to identify himself) but you referenced your own papers that were simultaneously submitted but un published.
wow, way better than the CRU scams.
Of course Ian wilson chimed in
when he knew what I said was true
Steven Mosher says: (bold mine)
“Ian:Three years ago at Lisbon, Mosh told me I needed to provide some numbers to back up our solar-planetary hypothesis. Now we are able to do that, he’s falling back on insult by comparing us to people who bent data and stats methods, intimidated journal editors, removed adverse data, hid sample sizes etc.
It’s standard fare from the people who have lost the plot on what the scientific method is. They play the man rather than the ball, because their threadbare theory has failed.”
No Rog, I’m hold [sic] you to the same standard that we hold mann [sic] and others to.
1. Your [sic] the editor of a journal and you publish your own papers. In the climategatemails we found similar problems; we found authors who selected journals because they had a guy on the inside.
Second, we complained because IPCC chapter authors were referring to their own work. Self interest. I can hardly complain about this practice WRT the IPCC and Mann and then let you slide simply because you are a friend. Further, when I was asked for a list of journals to submit to I eliminated all journals where our authors served as editors or as emeritus editors.
2. We complained about climate scientists citing papers that had not yet been published. Look through your references you’ll find the examples. Again, integrity. And yes, you’ll note for example that our AMO paper ( that confirms some of scaffettas work) was held back from publication until all the other papers it cites were published. To do otherwise is to build a house on quicksand.
3. I missed your policy on archiving data and code. I did note some people giving links as references. Sad. bare minimum would be link with the date accessed.
Finally, I looked for your numbers. they are still missing. At a minimum I should be able to go to the SI, get the data and run the code to make sure that the charts presented actually come from the method described.
Since you’re the editor perhaps you tell us how you plan to practice the things we agreed on long ago. Don’t feel bad, folks who think its not the sun get pissed when I tell them to share data and code.. to basically show their work. But you should not be surprised that I would argue that everybody, not just Mann and Jones, should aim for reproducable research. I’ve been advocating it since 2007. Why would I listen to any special pleading from friends. For example, see my comments in july of 2012 on steve mcintyre’s blog where he and Anthony get an earful from me.
It’s a principle for me.
Did Tattersall or Wilson then do anything about this? It doesn’t seem so, but then again I’m, not privy to what went on behind the scenes, like everybody else, all I can do is look at their universe from the outside and note the clearly evident problems they seem unable or unwilling to see.
And the warnings went back even further, from RetractionWatch:
But scholarly librarian Jeffrey Beall noticed some…patterns in the journal back in
The journal’s editor-in-chief, Sid-Ali Ouadfeul, who works for the Algerian Petroleum Institute, started publishing his research in journal articles around 2010, but he’s only been cited a couple times, not counting his many self-citations.
Co-editor-in-chief Nils-Axel Morner is a noted climate “skeptic” who believes in dowsing (water divining) and believes he has found the “Hong Kong of the [ancient] Greeks” in Sweden, among other things. These beliefs are documented in Wikipedia and The Guardian. Morner has over 125 publications, but pattern recognition does not appear to be among his specialties.
Moreover, speaking of “pattern recognition,” my analysis revealed some self-plagiarism by editor Ouadfeul in the very first paper the journal published, an article he himself co-authored.
Did he ask Copernicus to do something about it? Unknown, but it seems likely they would have been made aware of it. Again Copernicus is a seasoned publisher, they should have solved the problem well before it detonated into the science landscape.
So, in summary:
- While the idea of a special edition is fine, and certainly what science was presented in it should stand or fail on its own and have the opportunity for due process, but now that has been made next to impossible.
- The papers are still available at this link. I urge readers to examine them and draw their own conclusions not only about the science, but about the review and publishing process.
- The public perception problem of pal-review could have been prevented had either the journal itself or the people in the PRP Special Edition universe recognized and corrected the pal-review appearance that their small PRP universe presented to outsiders.
- At multiple blogs, including WUWT and Tallbloke’s Talkshop, some people are now defending the process of pal-review as a “more productive form of collaboration to produce a better result”. I’m sorry, that’s just not only wronger than wrong, it’s FUBAR.
- Copernicus and Rasmussen appeared to be indifferent to the appearance of a pal-review issue until they started to get pressure from “the team” spurred on by James Annan. They panicked, and in their panic, presented a sloppy argument for closure, which had to be revised.
- Knowing of the increasing sea of science journals and choices, Copernicus did what they thought they had to do to protect their brand, but they did it ham-handedly, and invited the Streisand effect.
- Copernicus and Rasmussen aren’t newcomers to this arena, they are considered professionals by the science community. They should have recognized this problem and acted on it long ago. Had they done so, we’d not be reading about it today.
- That said, with warning signs present that we’ve seen before in Climategate, and with the people in the PRP universe aware of those things, they should have been able to see the problem and make corrections themselves. Ideally, they never should have fallen into the trap in the first place.
- When warned about the problem, Tattersall and Wilson should have done something to head it off. They may have, I don’t know, but I see no evidence of it. Likewise it seems almost certain Copernicus/Rasmussen would have been made aware of the problem in July 2013 by Beall, and should have done something if they were aware. If Beall did nothing, he’s culpable.
- The coverage of the affair paints all climate skeptics unfairly, since only a small group of climate skeptics operated within the PRP universe, mostly unknown to the larger body of climate skeptics.
- Skepticism is about asking skillful questions to examine if a claim is true or not. In this affair we have a small group of people who think they have the answer, and they browbeat people who think their answer isn’t accurate or representative. A good skeptic (and scientist) practices doubt, and should embrace criticisms, looking to see where they may have gone wrong.
- This fiasco pretty much dashes any chance of any sort of climate skeptic or citizen science based journal coming into existence, because should such a journal be started, no matter how careful, no matter how exacting, no matter how independent, this fiasco is going to be held up as an example as to why nobody from the larger science community should participate.
It’s a real mess, and instead of apologizing for creating it, what we are seeing from the PRP Special Edition universe is indignant rhetoric because nobody is paying attention to their ideas.
All around, a tragedy, and a wholly preventable one.