Climate Dynamics Passes the Buck

Willis Eschenbach asked the editor of Climate Dynamics to require the authors of Wilson et al 2007 to archive their data. The editor wrote back that, since the authors had provided the latitude and longitude of the samples, this was sufficient information to permit another laboratory to replicate their results and that it was not the responsibility of journals to ensure that data was archived.

Dear Sir,

The manuscript “Cycles and shifts: 1,300 years of multi-decadal temperature variability in the Gulf of Alaska”, by Rob Wilson, Greg Wiles, Rosanne D’Arrigo, Chris Zweck contains a table providing the location of the dendrochronological series, so that any laboratory can go to the place and duplicate the work.

Archiving raw data is a normal process and should follow accepted practices, but this is not the responsibility of journal editors.


Jean-Claude Duplessy

Climate Dynamics will be a terrific journal for Lonnie Thompson to publish in. He can always say: I’ve provided the latitude and longitude of the Dunde ice core. If you want to verify our statistics, go drill your own f- ing ice core.

It’s interesting that Duplessy’s position as a journal editor is that ensuring that data is archived is not the “responsibility of journal editors”. When I asked Susan Solomon about archiving at a CCSP Workshop, she gave the lame excuse that IPCC did not make authors archive data because that would be “interfering with journals”. Here are my contemporary notes:

I asked Susan Solomon why IPCC did not require authors to archive data and methods. (I have had previous correspondence with her on this topic, which I’ll discuss some time, as it’s rather amusing.) She said that that would be interfering with journals, as “I well knew”. Later, I asked Margaret Leinen of NSF the same question. Leinen said that NSF did require authors to publish in peer-reviewed journals. I pointed out that this was not responsive to my question. She said that I should pay attention to the NSF website as there might be forthcoming changes.


  1. Pat Frank
    Posted Apr 16, 2007 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

    Paraphrasing Truman but inverting his resolve, ‘The buck stops there . . . no, there … no, wait, ummm. What was that, again?’

  2. Ken Fritsch
    Posted Apr 16, 2007 at 7:32 PM | Permalink

    I think we have read a sufficient number of these publishers’ replies to know that the publication rules regarding the availability of data are interpreted with such flexibility that they are essentially meaningless. In my mind raw data will be made available as a matter of policy only through the self-policing of the scientists involved. In the cases that Steve M has chosen to test, we can conclude that these scientists are not particularly concerned about the data and/or replicating the results using it.

    I do not know how much of this carries over to other fields, but as it pertains to AGW, I can surmise that the involved scientists (and this applies, I would guess, to most of the participating scientists regardless of their advocacy stands on AGW) have a nice demand for papers that at this time are rather uncritically accepted as witnessed by the handling of the raw data. It makes the value of a peer reviewed paper on this general subject matter go down but certainly keeps the entire chain, including the main stream media, connected to this paper mill in business. I get the idea that publishers and users of these papers see them as potentially flawed, but the best effort for the time being, and that future papers can correct these papers that are currently rushed to publication.

    This process may seem benign under other circumstances, but when an organization like the IPCC comes along to review the current literature, they can pick and chose papers to fit their political needs without having to acknowledge reservations about the peer review process that the chosen papers survived.

  3. Pat Frank
    Posted Apr 16, 2007 at 8:46 PM | Permalink

    #2 — You’re right, Ken. The doing of science is a messy business. All of that sort of figuring things out typically happens in obscurity, and nothing surfaces into public view as pretty certain knowledge until most of the bugs have been worked out. But with every paper in climate science now grist for the alarmist mill, and with reporters playing up every prediction of disaster, there is no healthy obscurity left. What’s worst of all is that there are plenty of climate scientists who are very willing to urge on the political abuse of their work. They even participate in that abuse. That lends the abuse a legitimacy it would never have if the scientists involved had remained faithful to the integrity of their profession.

  4. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Apr 16, 2007 at 8:57 PM | Permalink

    I have replied to Climate Dynamics as follows:

    Dear Sir:

    It is the stated policy of Climate Dynamics that all authors ensure that their work is replicable, viz:

    The materials and methods section … should provide enough information to permit repetition of the experimental work.

    In practice, it is not possible to repeat a tree ring study without knowing exactly which individual trees were sampled. This is because only certain trees, out of the large number present at a given location, respond to temperature. There is nowhere near enough information in the Wilson et al. study, or for that matter in most dendroclimatological studies, to come anywhere near repeating the study. The latitude and longitude of each location as given in the Wilson et al. study covers over 180 hectares, which is far too little information to enable another scientist to do anything regarding the study, much less repeat it.

    Because of this difficulty, in lieu of listing each individual tree used in a dendroclimatological study, it is (as you point out) a normal and accepted practice to archive the records of the cores, so that other researchers can see if the methods used in a given study are appropriate, and if they have been implemented correctly. Your journal, like most scientific journals, has policies to requiring enough information to allow repetition, which is an essential part of science. Without access to the raw data, no one can be sure if a given study is correct or not. That is why most reputable journals these days require, not request but require, the archiving of such data.

    In addition, the archiving of the data allows other researchers to utilize the information at a later date for further scientific exploration of the field. Again, this is vital to scientific progress.

    You say that it is the responsibility of the authors to archive the data, which is true … but whose responsibility is it to make sure that the policies of your Journal are followed? By allowing authors to appear in your Journal without ensuring that they follow your policies regarding the replicability of their work, it reduces the status of your fine publication from a scientific journal, to just another popular science magazine which publishes interesting but ultimately unverifiable stories about the natural world.

    Best regards,


    Nothing we can do but keep the pressure on …


  5. tc
    Posted Apr 16, 2007 at 9:59 PM | Permalink

    Willis – Excellent follow-up! Your letter to Climate Dynamics puts it perfectly. Thanks for keeping the pressure on.

  6. twq
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 1:13 AM | Permalink

    Hehe, it is interesting for your pursuit. I agree that if you are interested in the original study, you should go to the the place where it is sampled. It is the only way to verify other’s research results. It is incomplete that you just look at the methodology adopted by Rob’s study.

  7. Stan Palmer
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 2:13 AM | Permalink

    The issue here is not academic publishing practice but the use by the IPCC of peer review for a task for which it is not capable. It world governments are acting through the IPCC on an issue of global significance then this effort should not be subject to the desires and convenience of a bunch of professors. Peer review is held up in press reports of IPCC output as a guarantee of validity. Peer review as it normally practice is just an indication that a paper is worth some pages in a low circulation academic journal or conference proceedings. The exploitation of peer review by activists with an agenda is the issue.

  8. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 2:45 AM | Permalink

    twq, you are right that it would be valuable to go to the locations sampled by Wilson and redo the study. However, it is also valuable to determine whether the various researchers, including Wilson, have done their mathematics correctly. These are separate tasks. Neither one is “incomplete”, as you say. Both of them are important to do.

    My best to you,


  9. Gary
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 7:17 AM | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I don’t see the journal editors changing their shoddy practices until they have a personal ethics-check or until some legal action is taken for failing to deliver their product (information) in ways that meet their own standards of quality (backed up by archived data). Public scrutiny of the gap between words and actions by ambitious although probably fool-hardy science writers might help some, but how easily can this story be communicated to a public that already mis-understands science and scientific expertise? By all means critics should keep up the pressure to correct a fundamental flaw in current research practices, but they also should expect a very long haul.

  10. rhodeymark
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 12:11 PM | Permalink

    Honest brokers in the media could begin to report the fact that some science journals aren’t following their own stated guidelines, and appear to be simply allowing their pages to be commandeered for the cause. Or, someone could perhaps highlight this situation via a guest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. More people certainly need to be made aware, because, as with the peer review process itself, there is widespread misconception among laymen about how this works (or doesn’t) in practice. With all due respect, I don’t share your amusement twq.

  11. dover_beach
    Posted Apr 17, 2007 at 5:35 PM | Permalink

    There are two simple ways to solve this problem. One way would be to make archiving of the data, etc. a condition of publically funded research . A failure to archive data within an agreed period of time would mean you exclude yourself from future funding for x number of years. Also, the IPCC should exclude research from its intermittent reports where the data used has not been properly archived and made available to other researchers. The combination of the two would have a profound effect on reluctant discloserers of data, who are otherwise regular published and referred to. It would also have a profound effect on reluctant editors who it appears are quite happy to remain silent so long as their readers do themselves.

    This, therefore, requires talking to our legistators/ parliamentarians. The case against these proposals would be pretty weak and self-interested. All that we are asking for is full public disclosure, and that where this does not occur, an public organisation which gathers together scientific publications in order to draw various conclusions, should not rely in whole or part on publications which do not satisfy the first requirement.

  12. Posted May 22, 2007 at 6:51 PM | Permalink

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