In order to respond to Nielsen-Gammon’s comments about the morality of publishing review comments and/or speculating on reviewer identities, I think that it would be helpful to review a couple of other incidents.
Today I’ll review an incident involving Tom Crowley’s publication of a farrago of falsehoods in EOS (as well as in contemporary interviews) concerning our previous correspondence. In an effort to defend myself, I published both the underlying correspondence and the review comments on my attempt to reply at EOS.
In an unexpected byproduct of O’Donnnell et al 2010, Crowley recently (Jan 4, 2011) apologized unconditionally both for his initial article and his failure to apologize previously.
Let’s review these events under Nielsen-Gammon’s moral compass.
In my original decision to publish the correspondence online, I believed – and this remains my belief – that Crowley had forfeited any expectation that the correspondence would remain private by making untrue and damaging statements about the correspondence.
EOS had made no attempt to obtain my side of the story or apparently made any effort at due diligence to verify that Crowley’s allegations were true. When I attempted to defend myself by publishing a reply at EOS (rejected reply here), the journal submitted my reply to peer review, which dragged on and on. The peer reviewer conceded that my objections seemed valid. However, the editor of EOS ruled that the matter was no longer topical and rejected my reply. I asked EOS to retract the article to no avail.
I posted the review comments and rejection letter as an update to the original post, showing that the reviewer had conceded the validity of the points in my reply and that the EOS rejection was unjustified. (I posted these up only in October 2009 a month before Climategate; I do not recall what prompted me to do so then.)
In the aftermath of O’Donnell et al 2010, Crowley challenged the veracity of 88 pages of review correspondence with Reviewer A, conceding that we might well have a point if this were true. Crowley offered to adjudicate. This led to emails between Ryan, Crowley and me, in which the past history was noted. Out of the blue, Crowley admitted that the statements in his EOS article were untrue and apologized (see here.). There can thus remain no doubt as to the rights and wrongs of the original article.
Under my understanding of Nielsen-Gammon’s moral compass, Crowley’s publication of untrue statements would only be “sub-optimal” communication, while my publication of the EOS review comments would be a serious offence against the sanctity of the review process. I submit that this is not a sensible disposition of the incident.
My original question about the provenance of a possible duty of confidential for an author in respect of review comments was a more technical one than most readers have assumed (on either side). Here’s why. Some journals have authors’ guides or reviewers’ guides which state that an author agrees to maintain the review correspondence confidential. (AMS doesn’t.) If an author submits an article to a journal and a journal agrees to review it, it seems to me that the author and the journal have, in effect, entered into an agreement and that the terms of the various guides are implied terms of the agreement. (I think that the analysis is helped by framing it in this way.) If a journal’s guide says that an author agrees to keep the review correspondence confidential, then it seems to me that an author by submitting an article to that journal agrees to comply with that term of the agreement. We may disagree as to whether it’s a good policy or not, but that’s a different issue.
Disputes over agreements arise all the time. It’s what keeps lawyers busy. A key principle of contract law is that there needs to be consideration for an agreement. Another principle is that parties cannot pick and choose which clauses of a contract are in effect.
In the Crowley example, it was my view that Crowley’s publication of untrue statements about our correspondence was a fundamental breach of any implied agreement that the correspondence was private, thereby terminating whatever agreement we might have had. I was therefore entitled to publish the correspondence in my own defence. Similarly with EOS. They published false statements about me and had an obligation to deal fairly with me to mitigate the damages. They breached that obligation and, in my opinion, could no longer insist on that the review comments were confidential.
Under Nielsen-Gammon’s world, the offence was the publication of the correspondence and review comments, not the original publication of false statements. Perhaps in the bizarro world of climate academia, but not in the real world.