John Nielsen-Gammon has articulated a doctrine of what might be termed justified disingenuousness as applying to climate scientists acting as reviewers. I criticized this doctrine in yesterday’s post.
In comments to that post, Nielsen-Gammon said that I made unrealistic assumptions about the academic world, that I was (in effect) too idealistic, perhaps even a pollyanna about the hard truths of modern academic climate science. (I’m expressing his points in more lively terms, but I think that the characterization is fair. Readers in doubt of my characterization are asked to review N-G’s comments here.) Nielsen-Gammon paints a picture of a world where scientists fear reprisals, if they have the temerity to criticize the dons. Where safety exists only in anonymity. Accordingly, Nielsen-Gammon has harsh words for those who break the sanctity of the witness protection program. While many CA readers have criticized the witness protection program, Nielsen-Gammon’s words of caution deserve attention, lest the cure be worse than the disease.
Fear of reprisals is definitely at large in modern climate science. Some surprisingly prominent climate scientists have told me privately – and only under the condition that their identity remain confidential – that, in their opinion, our criticism of Team-style proxy reconstructions had ended that line of argument and that 1000-year proxy reconstructions would be unable to advance without the development of more reliable proxies. Despite their apparent prominence, for fear of reprisals, they were unwilling to express these views publicly or to allow me to use their names in support.
Police undercover agents are also permitted latitude for “justified disingenuousness”, but, even for police undercover agents, there are limits. Surely there are limits in climate science as well. I submitted the following incident to Nielsen-Gammon for assessment:
One of the complicating issues in this has been Steig’s public statements at realclimate and elsewhere. Another example not in Lucia’s list is a comment at RC from Steig on March 24, 2010. ( His review had been submitted three weeks earlier on March 5.) Steig’s allegation that we had been “unwilling” to do the work of re-analysing his data was completely untrue. At the time, as Reviewer A, he knew that we had submitted a comprehensive article. (Santer’s allegation was untrue as well. McKitrick and I had twice submitted an article showing that important Santer results did not hold up with updated data, and each time the article was rejected with scurrilous reviews.) Steig:
Eric Steig says:
24 Mar 2010 at 7:04 PM
Here are my edits of Ben Santer’s comment, so that it applies to me:
In fact, my position on this matter was that Mr. McIntyre’s data requests were superfluous and frivolous, since Mr. McIntyre already had access to all of the raw climate
modeldata my colleagues and I had used. Mr. McIntyre also had access to all the algorithms required to calculate intermediate “value-added” information from the raw climate modeldata. With some work – which he was unwilling to do – Mr. McIntyre could have replicated all of the
calculations performed in the
2008 SanterSteig et al. InternationalNature paper.
Journal of Climatology
Anyone see a pattern here?
While I find it hard the doctrine of justified disingenuousness in climate science as pretty hard to choke down, it seems to me that here Steig went far beyond any conceivable doctrine (however repugnant). Steig’s allegations were untrue on multiple counts.
That we now know that Steig was Reviewer A (who submitted his first review on March 5, 2010) makes this assertion even worse than we previously thought. Extensive analyses of Steig et al 2009 had obviously been carried out at CA and tAV in 2009. But, at the time that Steig made this comment, he knew that I was one of the coauthors of O2010, which had carried out a comprehensive analysis of Antarctic data from the bottom up. His public statement about being “unwilling” to do the work was completely untrue and malicious.
The “unwillingness” to do work in connection with Steig et al 2009 is not the only untruth here. Santer’s allegation is also untrue – something that Santer knew as well. Ross and I had twice submitted a comment showing that key results of Santer et al 2008 fell apart with updated data. Our comment had been twice rejected. (McKitrick et al 2010, published later in 2010, revisited this topic using different methods and was accepted in a statistics journal.) The first rejection was promptly reported to Phil Jones by Peter Thorne in a climategate letter – search “fraudit” – before anyone unconnected with the review process was aware of the rejection.)
Steig’s statement about data availability was also untrue. At the time of my initial inquiry, no Steig data had been placed online. Some of the data was made available very grudgingly. As of August 2009, Ryan’s requests for underlying AVHRR data had been stonewalled. The AVHRR data was made available only after a Materials Complaint to Nature (which, despite criticism, is taking a harder line on data obstruction by climate scientists than Science and some other journals.)
Nielsen-Gammon replied by email as follows to my a request for a specific comment on the Steig incident:
Steig is on record as strongly favoring the peer-review process for legitimate criticisms of his work, and frowning upon blog postings with incomplete analysis as a way of advancing the science. It seems to me that Steig is criticizing the blog postings. Note that Steig retains past tense: “was unwilling to do” instead of “is unwilling to do”.
I’d also point to the fact that after the paper does come out, he compliments you for doing the work.
If I remember the context correctly, one of the initial concerns that featured prominently in your blog posts was problematic data from station ‘Harry’, etc., which when the calculations were finally performed turned out to be of little or no consequence to the reconstruction results. You’d have to ask Steig yourself if that’s the sort of thing he was referring to.
I will, however, acknowledge, using the same words as Ryan O’Donnell used with regard to his conduct immediately following Steig’s RealClimate post, that Steig’s comment was “not optimal”.
“Not optimal” are faint words relative to his criticism of Ryan O’Donnell breaking the code of omerta on peer reviewer identity. Nor do I believe that a rational code of conduct would acquiesce in scientists making this sort of untrue statement that Steig made here, while preventing the targets from defending themselves through exposure of Steig as Reviewer A.