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Editors, reviewers, and bias

Richard Lindzen has informed me about some adventures he recently experienced while offering his new paper written together with Choi to PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While it's standard that 98% of the submissions over there get published, the people in charge of PNAS guaranteed that the likes of Gavin Schmidt would be the reviewers. With some additional not-quite-standard procedures, the Lindzen-Choi paper got rejected. So there exists some seemingly polite but inherently nasty correspondence that shows how it exactly happened.

I decided not to run a detailed story on this material because it seemed somewhat frustrating and personal to me (while not sufficiently "fiery") and I was sure that there would be people coming to the discussion - usually people who have no clue just opinions but sometimes semi-qualified people with their own interests - who would be saying "You see! Lindzen got what he deserved! That's how he should be treated. Peer review in action." and so on.

And I just didn't want Richard to be undergoing such things. Not just because of him - he can really withstand such things. But also because of others among us who find Richard's authority to be a helpful island of relative certainty, nostalgia over old-fashioned structure of the scientific community, and a beacon of hope that it will be restored in the world of climatology and other politically loaded disciplines sometime in the future - a world that is so messed up today.




Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts did run stories on the journal submission. The discussions confirmed my expectations. On Steve's blog, climatologist Andrew Dessler (together with Rattus Norvegicus which is just common rat in Latin, not the name of a big ancient thinker!) played the same role I expected. (He has publicly debated Lindzen in the past.) On Anthony's blog, this role was mainly played by an anonymous poster called KR.

When you look what was going on with the submission, you can have no doubts that Lindzen and Choi have received a "special treatment". First, it's normal for the PNAS authors to choose their reviewers. Obviously, this policy can't produce a full-fledged peer review. However, it's being used in a big majority of other submissions to PNAS.

Will Happer of Princeton was classified as incompetent while Chou was rejected because he has "recently" had a paper with Lindzen that was written 7 years ago. In particular cases, if you had more appropriate names, you could agree that those choices were problematic. However, if you know what's going on, they're just very reasonable choices.

Will Happer has written lots of papers on physical topics that are "advanced versions" of the physics needed for the greenhouse effect. He has vigorously studied the absorption and emission of infrared radiation and visible light. His most cited paper on optical pumping has over 1,000 citations which - together with lots of other influential papers - makes him an order of magnitude more successful a research than mediocre scientists such as Andrew Dessler. Happer has actually studied fluid dynamics, too.

Still, Andrew Dessler finds it appropriate to call Happer "incompetent". Where did the arrogance of mediocre scientists in a fringe subfield of physics that has always been attracting the least talented students of physics - who differ from other physicists by their knowing almost nothing about physics in general, besides the narrow-minded and distorted questions about the climate - obtain so much self-confidence to talk in this way about scientists who are 10 times better scientists than the likes of Dessler?

Now, Chou (not to be confused with Choi) is surely competent when it comes to the very detailed content of the paper - energy fluxes in the atmosphere, and so on. It's clear why they didn't like it even though his "detachment" from Richard has safely exceeded those 4 years that PNAS requires.

What the editors and others wrote to Richard and how they decided could make sense in isolation. But if you try to think how other papers get in, you can have no doubts that the authors are being treated differently depending on how "convenient" the message of their paper - and their own personal message - is.

In particular, alarmist climatologists are uniformly working on the same, extremely narrow phenomenon of the CO2 greenhouse effect that is just being "perturbed" by everything else you may see in the climate. From this viewpoint, if you use the same standards as PNAS would like to use for Chou, no alarmist climatologist should be allowed to review another alarmist's paper.

Obviously, alarmists are happily reviewing papers written by other alarmists all the time. Not only that: the agreement about the "underlying questions" between them isn't presented as a clash of interests - like in the case of Chou - but rather as a striking case of the scientific consensus that makes the science settled and that should make you piss in your pants because the doomsday is coming.

How blinded one has to be if he doesn't see that double standards are being applied to the interpretation of the "broader agreement" between several climate alarmists; and the interpretation of the "broader agreement" between several climate realists? In the former case, the broader agreement is viewed as a totally positive thing; in the latter case, it's the other way around. Review process based on such distorted standards simply cannot be impartial.

What I find frustrating is that there's clearly no solution that would use the same set of climate scientists that exists today. You rearrange the capabilities between the editors and reviewers in some "ingenious" way and you will obtain the same bad results. The climatology community is clearly screwed these days. Whatever rules you will impose, it will ultimately be the case that the dishonest and deluded majority will be heard and will be able to strengthen their position further, by increasing rejections of the papers and the people who don't pay lip service to the party line.

Climate science cannot be fixed unless those roughly 90% of the people who got into it in order to promote the climate alarm will be fired. They have to be fired. There is no other way to avoid systematic ideological harassment of fair scientists in the future.

Undoubtedly, the editors of journals have some power. When I was in the Academia, I would review something like 50 papers and I rejected about 1/2 of them. In some cases, I could guess - although I was never quite certain certain - that the editor just didn't like a paper so he chose a reviewer who was likely to reject the paper. It's not surprising that people who know their work and opinions a little bit may predict whether the other person will like a given paper or not.

Of course, in the case of your humble correspondent as a reviewer, there's no problem because your humble correspondent is the 100% symbol of objectivity and impartiality - so any editor who has ever sent me a paper did the most legitimate and objective thing that he could have done. ;-)

However, there are many other potential reviewers who are not as impartial. And my experience has been enough to know that even in fields such as the climate science that really suck, the editor has the power to determine the outcome of the peer review process. So whether the editor is competent and impartial matters.

Someone may worship the peer review process but it is never perfect and it may be extremely far from perfect and even counterproductive, especially if most of the peers just suck and if the editors have too much power in cherry-picking the reviewers, while the editors sometimes suck even more so than the reviewers. ;-)

Climatology has entered a vicious cycle because the percentage of dishonest and fanatical members of the climatological community has exceeded a certain critical mass. Above this critical mass, the mechanisms guarantee that what the research is converging to is not the truth as reflected by the empirical evidence but rather the perfect partisanship and universal parroting of the Gore-style lies about a coming judgement day.

Many people don't like comparisons with the Nazis but I think that they're very important and revealing. Moreover, I think that despite a rather powerful chancellor, Aryan Physics in Nazi Germany has never become so capable of suppressing its "contrarians" as the modern Alarmist Climatology. The same is true about various distortions of natural science that communism wanted to impose.

Aryan Physics was seemingly perfectly politically correct. There were German physicists who wanted to become the "leaders" of a "clean" way of doing physics. However, the Nazi party never gave them as much support as they needed. Moreover, the other genuine physicists just couldn't give a damn.

In particular, take Werner Heisenberg, a great hero of quantum mechanics. He was unquestionably a German patriot and he peacefully supported many goals that became associated with NSDAP. These facts reflected his personality that had nothing to do with science. But of course, he wouldn't be stupid to refuse relativity just because it was discovered by a Jew and his leader didn't like the Jews!

Obviously, Werner Heisenberg - and others - continued to work with relativity and other things that were found by the Jews, as well as others. In 1937, Heisenberg got labeled a "White Jew" in the SS's weekly, The Black Corps. Nice: that was probably meant to be the biggest offense at those times. But it didn't really hurt him. Everyone still knew that he was a genuine German patriot and a top scientist at the same moment. So it was natural to assign him the task to build the German nuclear bomb - as a theorist, he fortunately failed miserably in this task. ;-)

The secret to the failure of Aryan Physics was the actual absence of important interactions between the scientific results and the politicians' goals. If relativity had been found by a physicist of the Nordic race who loved Hitler, relativity would have been totally fine for the German leaders. In some sense, the same thing holds for Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union. If the Lysenkoist agriculture were invented by the capitalists, it could have been dismissed by the Soviet leaders just like proper genetics was.

However, the climate alarm is different. The very outcomes of this "science" - and not only the random historical questions about the identity of the discoverers - are important for the politicians (and other people). The more alarm there is, the more powerful and richer they will become. This correlation is greatly distorting the otherwise "color-blind" and impartial processes within the scientific community and above the critical mass, the personal, political, and ideological interests become the main driving force of the research.

That's why I would give up if I were expected to write papers interfering with sensitive questions about the climate. You're brave if you're ready to struggle with 10 times bigger obstacles than your alarmist colleagues who are not really as good as you are. But does it really have a purpose? Aren't you fighting wind mills? This mess in the climate science has been engineered from the "top", so I am kind of sure that it has to be fixed from the "top" as well.

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