Opinion by Dr. Tim Ball
Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for the rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge. – Erwin Knoll
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers. – Thomas Jefferson
CRU and Academic Publishing
Recent revelation of extensive corruption of the peer review process, by a group of academics, is another blow to academic credibility. Commendable in the tawdry story was the reaction of the publisher of the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC); they immediately withdrew 60 articles. But what happens when the publisher is part of the schemes to pervert the proper scientific checks and balances? How many other corrupted publishing stories are there? How many with or without knowledge of the publisher? Probably many, as the iceberg analogy almost always applies.
For example, a story of control of the peer review process was reported recently by Nature News. It’s ironic because Nature, the “International weekly journal of science”, has a troubling involvement in the false narrative and controlled message of global warming science.
Some media agencies are openly selective, which is more frightening, because they apparently believe it is reasonable. Indeed, their pronouncements indicate they believe it is their duty to protect people from what they consider harmful. In doing so the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) actively pursues political bias and censorship with a policy banning skeptics and their views. It is totally unacceptable and contradictory because the BBC is taxpayer funded and presents itself as a source of diverse views. It fulfills the old joke that, come the revolution you will do what you are told.
The role of some academic journals in the spread of misinformation about global warming and climate change is important and disturbing. We learned much about their role from the leaked Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails and the behavior of some editors. CRU activities involved control of information, especially through academic journals. This was made necessary by their chosen focus on “peer-review” in a deliberate, but oblique, appeal to authority. It was made easier for them by arranging peer review of each other’s articles, as the Wegman Report identified. They attacked editors who published material they didn’t like, including getting one fired. It is a litany of corruption of the peer-review process, including getting priorities for publications to meet deadlines for inclusion in IPCC Reports. According to Donna Laframboise, they even controlled editorial positions at the Journal of Climate.
A few so-called skeptics got a peer-reviewed paper published in a journal. Michael Mann apparently believed they did it by taking control of the editor and the editorial board, a tactic familiar to CRU people. On 11 March 2003 he wrote to Phil Jones,
“The Soon & Baliunas paper (see my article on John Holdren’s role in this paper) couldn’t have cleared a ‘legitimate’ peer review process anywhere. That leaves only one possibility–that the peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board.”
This was the danger of always criticizing the skeptics for not publishing in the “peer-reviewed literature”.
An important question is why were some journals, especially supposedly prestigious ones like Nature, vulnerable to coercion and manipulation? When added to the bias and selectivity of the mainstream media (msm), it created a singular, unbalanced and unscientific picture for the public.
Journalists and Journalism
Most journalists have two natural biases that influence and limit their work; no science training, and a determination to push their institutional and personal bias on society. Stories about climate, and they are mostly stories, devolve to sensationalism. Balance and objectivity are virtually gone in the media. Fox News’ slogan “fair and balanced” should be a redundancy, but became a proud and almost unique claim, albeit tokenism. Nowadays, news reporting is almost always an opinion or an editorial.
I noticed, over time, a general sequence to interviews. It usually started with a question about my opinion regarding an event. When that wasn’t sensational or controversial, the tactic switched to confrontation. The question preface usually became, “Well, ‘so and so’ says…” If I said I agree with that person, the story, or at least my commentary, never appeared. That sensationalism and confrontation sells, is no revelation, but why was “selling” an academic journal, allowed to supersede accuracy, integrity, probity and avoidance of bias?
A reporter, with no science training, yet writing articles mostly related to environment and climate, told me a major source of topics was Articles or Letters published in Nature. He looked for sensational titles and then put a journalistic spin on the story. It worked because he knew the headline was everything. It attracted attention and later was all the public remembered. Headlines are active voice, present tense, and definitive. The story invariably includes all the limitations and conditional phrases of the original article, but those are overlooked or quickly forgotten. Global warming alarmists exploit this situation by publishing articles simply to create a headline. Headlines are a form of literary sound bites. They are even more important now “keywords” are central to Internet searches.
Changing Dynamics of Professional Journals
Professional, especially academic, journals are esoteric and mostly only read by a few people. University presses usually published them, with some journals requiring payment to publish an article. This changed for several reasons, but primarily because of increasing specialization and costs. More specialization meant more specialized journals and fewer people contributing or buying them. Subscription costs were high because the taxpayer, not the academic, paid through various agencies.
This practice increased as university funding became a major concern in the 1980s. Universities realized they could take a higher percentage from the research funds brought in by each faculty member. Journals could increase fees by providing a much higher rate for institutions; they became commercially attractive to publishers.
The late John Daly noticed that the bias in publishing global warming articles was already apparent in 1997 when he wrote,
The de la Mare paper, fully peer reviewed and published in `Nature’ is a classic example of how questionable science easily slips through the current mindset created by the global warming hysteria where normal scientific standards are readily compromised provided the orthodoxy of global warming is reinforced. It also represents yet another failure on the part of the much-vaunted peer review process.
In one article he sarcastically commented, “A magazine named Nature is said to be a “journal of science”. It got worse, as the leaked Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails revealed. Nature’s problems as a business, besides editorial bias, was that the public did not read their journal and many, who might, balk at the price.
Transition From Specialized Academic Publications to The Newsstand
Nature Publishing Group (NPG) offset the cost and narrowness of the flagship journal in two ways. They increasingly shifted focus in Nature to sensational topics, particularly global warming. They became involved in popular publications beginning in June 2007 with publication of Nature Reports Climate Change, which became Nature Climate Change after May 2010. Sensationalism was used to increase circulation and improve “the bottom line”, which is commendable, but the price was lost accuracy, balance, objectivity and openness.
Scientific American (SA) used to produce informative articles about scientific research. They helped the public get a general understanding, however, they were simplistic if you knew the subject. Apparently, as sales declined, articles changed from interesting and challenging to sensational and one-sided about controversies. (There are five articles by Michael Mann since 2010.) In 2008, apparently, in conjunction with attempts to appeal to a wider audience, SA was put under the control of NPG. They expanded their propaganda role in October 2012, as science reporting became increasingly political and sensational.
Nature and Scientific American teamed up to produce the first State of the World’s Science report in October 2012. Set to be an annual publication from Scientific American, this report explores the idea that the pursuit of knowledge is a global enterprise, and how globalization is changing the way science is done and how it informs the world.
Welcome To The World Of (Political) Science
Ideally, science is apolitical and amoral. The more it compromises those ideals, the greater the loss of credibility and integrity. Global warming deception succeeded because a few scientists and academic journals became political. The scientists participated for a variety of reasons including, funding, career opportunities, and political leanings. The journals were involved, because prestigious scientific publishers apparently chose sensationalism and political bias over balance and objectivity. The transition was gradual, so few realized what was going on.
Fortunately, there were a few people and publications with integrity, not least Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and the journal Energy and Environment (E and E). They published McIntyre and McKitrick’s analysis of the now infamous hockey stick thus incurring the wrath of the CRU gang, who were supported by most academic journals.
Unpleasant as it is, few greater tributes can accrue than to be the target of attacks. Wartime pilots knew you were over the target if the flak was heavy. Paul Thacker cynically in 1995 wrote, “If the manuscripts of climate change skeptics are rejected by peer-reviewed science journals, they can always send their studies to Energy and Environment.” He further quotes Sonia Boehmer-Christiansen saying “It’s only we climate skeptics who have to look for little journals and little publishers like mine to even get published”. The sad story is, too many mainstream academic publishers, like Nature, appeared to lack such integrity.