John Nielsen-Gammon writes as follows in a comment in the preceding post:
If you are a reviewer and wish to remain confidential while remaining engaged in scientific discourse, it is necessary for you to pretend to not be a reviewer. Scientists expect this and know that reviewers may need to be disingenuous when talking publicly about a paper they have reviewed.
I welcome John’s comments, which have been constructive and interesting, but I don’t think that he has fully thought through what happens when the scientist wishes to talk to the public.
Scientists may expect “disingenuous” conduct from other scientists, but the public doesn’t. The last thing that the climate debate needs right now is more climate scientists being “disingenuous” in their communications with the public – there lies the road to “hide the decline”.
There has to be something wrong with a policy that results in or condones a climate scientist talking “disingenuously” to the public. In the case at hand, I think that N-G goes wrong on his premise:
lf you are a reviewer and wish to remain confidential while remaining engaged in scientific discourse
It seems to me that a reviewer, wishing to engage in public discourse on the reviewed paper, should disclose that he was a reviewer. If he does so, there is no need for dissembling. If he doesn’t want to disclose that he was a reviewer, then he doesn’t need to make public commentary. (I present this as a suggestion, rather than a settled position.)
Steig could easily have avoided the conduct that led Lucia to characterize him as the “Rod Blagojevich” of Science. Steig was on record as saying that he disdained blog commentary on his peer reviewed articles (an odd position for a realclimate founder but that’s another story). If Steig didn’t want to disclose to the public that he was a reviewer of O’Donnell et al 2010, then he could have refrained from public commentary. He could have said that he would reply to O2010 in the peer reviewed literature. But that’s not what he did. After disdaining blog commentary by critics, he himself published blog commentary against those critics and made comments at blogs and to blogs about O2010.
Under the protocol that I suggest here, if he decided to comment to the public either at blogs or to reporters, he should have stated that he had been a reviewer of O’Donnell et al 2010, that, as a reviewer, he had argued that the article was flawed and that the article was ultimately published over his protests. All of this would have been true and would have forestalled at least some of the recent controversy.
In addition, once a reviewer embarks on a path of public criticism of an article that he reviewed, it seems to me that this is (or should be) an implied waiver of any confidentiality claim that the reviewer might expect on his review (in those cases where the journal has confidentiality policies binding on the authors.) It might be worthwhile for journals to think about this issue.
Reasonable people can disagree about precisely how reviewers should deal with this sort of situation. But any policy that results in more climate scientists being “disingenuous” in their communications with the public cannot be right. End of story.