Today I’ll review one interesting sentence in Climategate Letter 1080257056 on March 22, 2004, in which Jones tells Santer
She [Heike] sent me an email to review a paper two weeks ago. Said I didn’t have time until May.
Innocuous enough on the surface. What makes this sentence interesting (and I noticed it because I looked for something like this) is that, in my opinion, the sentence is sufficient to identify the paper in question. Further, there is convincing evidence that Jones did in fact carry out the requested review (after May, as he says here) and, even though the review is not in the Climategate documents, it is nonetheless accessible and, together with other Climategate Letters, leads on to many backstories.
Heike of the Climategate Letter 1080257056 can conclusively be identified as Heike Langenberg of Nature – enabling us to conclude that, around March 9, 2004, Jones was asked to review a submission to Nature.
On that very date (March 9, 2004), I received two emails from Nature – one from Heike Langenberg saying that MBH would be asked to issue a Corrigendum ( a long story in itself); the other from Rosalind Cotter, another Nature editor, who said that two referees of our January 2004 submission were “essentially in favour of publication in some form” (see here, reviews included.)
We also sent the exchange to two referees, whose comments are enclosed. You will see from this advice that, while our referees are essentially in favour of publication of the comment and the reply in some form, they make important criticisms that we would like you to address before we reach a final decision on publication. Please accompany your revised manuscript with a short letter explaining the changes you have made in response to the comments from the authors and the referees.
The two referees are now known to be Jolliffe and Zorita – both highly qualified on the matter at hand and neither closely associated with CRU and the Team. At the time, I suspected that Nature was more than a little surprised that our submission had received favourable reviews.
We resubmitted our revise-and-resubmit a couple of weeks later, but didn’t receive a decision until August 2004. It took more than twice as long for the revise-and-resubmit to be reviewed as the original article. We learned that a third referee had been added – a referee with definite animus towards us. His review was as follows:
It seems interesting that in the comment not only the original publication (MBH98), but also, MBH99, a rebuttal by Mann et al. available from a CRU website (ref.3), an “unreported MBH calculation” available from a University of Virginia website (ref.5), another rebuttal (corrigendum) by Mann et al. now published in Nature (ref. 9), and a detailed critique of MBH by McIntyre and McKitrick published in Environment and Energy (ref. 14) are cited. Additionally, the paper by Jones and Mann published in Reviews of Geophysics (ref. 4, response) already touches this issue. [Received 20 October 2003; revised 4 February 2004; accepted 17 February 2004; published 6 May 2004.]
Besides numerous technical and data-related issues, McIntyre and McKitrick also address a possible CO2 effect on southwestern US strip-bark trees that was “corrected” using high-latitude tree-ring data. Whether it was at all useful to use these data or to apply this correction, seems not highly relevant, since MBH never hid this issue, but described it in detail. More relevant and pleasing would be if someone would find a way to assess the possible CO2 fertilization effects that potentially influence growth at many sites. Additionally, the observation that some of the chronologies used in MBH98 and MBH99 have quite low sample replication during their early periods is also not new and was mentioned in a recent paper published in EOS.
To judge that the criticism by McIntyre and McKitrick is valid would require downloading all data and applying the seemingly differing approaches. Further, judgments would be needed on methodological decisions that were made by both McIntyre and McKitrick and by Mann et al. as two possibilities within the whole spectrum of methodological decisions on which chronologies to use, the calibration and computation of PC’s over different time periods, special treatments to series, and so on. It could be seen as interesting, that the calculations as done by another operator with other perhaps reasonable alternative methodologies can have such a large effect on the resulting reconstruction.
Unfortunately, I have the impression that preconceived notions affect the potential “audit” by McIntyre and McKitrick. That would, of course, not mean that their assessment is necessarily wrong, but might explain the rather harsh and tricky wording used here and at other places by both parties, and I generally do not believe that this sort of an “audit” and rebuttal will lead to a better understanding of past climate variations.
Generally, I believe that the technical issues addressed in the comment and the reply are quite difficult to understand and not necessarily of interest to the wide readership of the Brief Communications section of Nature. I do not see a way to make this communication much clearer, particularly with the space requirements, as this comment is largely related to technical details.
I also find it relevant that McIntyre and McKitrick already published a critique on MHB98 including some arguments similar to what is outlined in the current manuscript (ref. 14).
There’s another strand of evidence suggesting that Jones was the added reviewer. Elsewhere, we’ve seen Jones’ tendency in reviews to self-cite. The added reviewer cited Jones and Mann (2004) on matters M&M – an article that was not even published until May 6, 2004 – after our re-submission to Nature in late March 2004.
Right now the evidence is circumstantial. (The question could be easily settled by either the University of East Anglia or Nature.) I suppose that it is remotely possible that, in March 2004, Nature asked Jones to review another paper and asked someone else to review our submission. But that seems a bit farfetched. For now, let’s work with the assumption that Jones was the added reviewer (and I’ll refer to the review by the added reviewer for the rest of the post as the “Jones Review” ).
Amusingly, the “Jones Review” used the word “tricky” – a word that Jones notoriously used elsewhere (as “trick”) in his es’ email about a “trick… to hide the decline”.
Academic Check-Kiting: The citation of Jones and Mann (2004) in the “Jones Review” extended an academic check-kiting incident that I’ve mentioned passim at CA before. Jones and Mann 2004 check-kited claims about M&M from Mann et al., “submitted to Climate Change, 2003”. This article was never published.
The MBH98 Corrigendum (July 2004) also check-kited Mann et al (Clim Chg submitted) (see here) In passing, the MBH Corrigendum was not externally peer reviewed – a point directly confirmed by Marcel Crok. It was merely edited -presumably by Heike Langenberg. In addition, according to an email to me from Nature, not only was the MBH Corrigendum not peer reviewed, it wasn’t even reviewed by a Nature editor.
The handling of the MBH submission to Climatic Change features heavily in Climategate Letters in early 2004 – Jones and Santer were both on the editorial board of Stephen Schneider’s Climatic Change and lobbied hard to prevent Mann from having to provide computer code to a reviewer who had requested it for the purpose of carrying out peer review. (A story for another day.)
Wahl and Ammann: Another backstory from the Nature 2004 submission and response hasn’t been discussed much yet. The battleground arguments in Wahl and Ammann 2007 (increasing the number of retained North American PCs from 2 to 5; the no-PC case etc.) all originated in the Mann et al 2004 response to our Nature submission (and were re-stated in early realclimate posts in late 2004 and early 2005.)
Although the key arguments of Wahl and Ammann are first developed in Mann’s 2004 Nature article, Wahl and Ammann do not acknowledge Mann’s Nature response (the first response had even been published online at Stephen Schneider’s website) or the realclimate posts published in late 2004 and early 2005- both of which were cited in MM (E&E 2005). For that matter, Wahl and Ammann didn’t even acknowledge Michael Mann, though they acknowledged Doug Nychka.
It seems surprising, to say the least, that Wahl and Amman developed precisely the same arguments sufficiently “independently” as not to require citation of Mann’s prior submissions on the same topic.
Wahl and Ammann is first mentioned in a Climategate Letter here of Dec 14, 2004 from Mann to Briffa entitled “paper in review in J. Climate (as a letter”. Note that this is before the publication of our 2005 articles. This may shed some light on something that is very frustrating about Wahl and Ammann (eventually Wahl and Ammann, 2007) – it’s hugely frustrating to deal with because it seldom dealt squarely with our 2005 papers. In particular, in MM 2005 (EE), we discussed the various cases in the MBH submission to Nature (relying on the realclimate posts as authority). Wahl and Ammann discussed the same cases without reconciling (or even citing) our analysis of the same cases. It was as though they had never even read our 2005 paper. (As a reviewer of Wahl and Ammann, I pointed out that they had failed to assess this literature as required under Climatic Change policies, but Wahl and Ammann were not required to do so and I was terminated as a reviewer.)
I haven’t seen the December 2004 version of Wahl and Ammann mentioned here. But I suspect that it might be surprisingly similar to the May 2005 submission to Climatic Change. If so, that would explain why Wahl and Ammann seemed to be more about our Nature submission in 2004, than our substantially re-stated 2005 publications in GRL and EE. Bishop Hill’s excellent essay Caspar and the Jesus Paper will be interesting to revisit in a Climategate context.
Lots of strands and lots of backstories. However, the point of today’s post was to merely preview the backstories and so let’s return to Nature’s actions.
Assuming that the above identifications are correct, Nature responded to the favorable revise-and-resubmit on March 9, 2004 by immediately adding a reviewer with a known adverse interest (to us). Jones had been Mann’s coauthor in Mann et al (Eos, 2003), Jones and Mann (GRL, 2003) and the pending Mann and Jones (Rev Geophys, 2004). Jones and his associates at CRU had published a webpage in later 2003 supporting MBH against MM2003 (also publishing their online response to MM2003). (This is quite aside from the Climategate Letters, which obviously much other evidence of a very close relationship between Jones and Mann.)
This adverse reviewer stated that the “technical issues” in our comment were “quite difficult to understand” – an embarrassing statement in a supposedly eminent science journal – and opined that these issues were “not necessarily of interest to the wide readership of the Brief Communications section of Nature”. If nothing else, this seems to have been a pretty serious misjudgement. Obviously there’s been no shortage of interest in the technical issues involved. It seems like an unusual thing for a reviewer to be opining on anyway.
The “Jones Review” argued that space limitations for Brief Communications stood in the way of the comment: “I do not see a way to make this communication much clearer, particularly with the space requirements, as this comment is largely related to technical details.“ This seems to tie back to earlier actions by Nature. We submitted our revision on March 21, 2004 and a few days later were told to shorten the submission to 800 words. In the final decision, we were told that the decision was rendered on the basis of an allowance of 500 words ( a limit much lower than contemporary comments on Emanuel (2005) for example) as follows:
we have regretfully decided that publication of this debate in our Brief Communications Arising section is not justified. This is principally because the discussion cannot be condensed into our 500-word/1 figure format (as you probably realise, supplementary information is only for review purposes because Brief Communications Arising are published online) and relies on technicalities that do not bring a clear resolution of the underlying issues.
Both at the time and in retrospect, this seemed like a very unsatisfactory disposition of the matter.
One wonders how much more rational the subsequent debate would have been if Nature had published our original comment.