2014 By JoNova
The termination of the Pattern Recognition journal ought to be PR gold for skeptics. Nothing like this happens to unskeptical scientists, ever. It’s a telling spectacle.
A major science publisher gasped in horror that one amongst its scores of journals had “doubted the IPCC”, so the journal had to be axed forever. Oh the Crime! The over-the-top dummy-spit exposes the religious zeal in a supposedly scientific process. So much for the hallowed “Peer Review”. Fans of establishment science want us to believe it’s a gospel part of the scientific method, but it is neither intrinsic nor essential, and skeptics should not be fooled into thinking it is.
Peer reviewed papers may be gems or junk but we won’t know which by discussing who reviewed them.
Let’s follow due process in science, but that is not by review whether peer-or-pal, it’s by prediction, test, observation, and repeat.
Some people seem to have lost sight of this, and think that skeptics ought to be trying to play the Peer Review Game according to the fine print of arbitrary rules dictated by unscientists who hate skeptics and who don’t even play by the rules themselves. The game belongs to them – they set, change and break the rules, and they decide who gets an invite to the clubhouse. But in the end, the review game is a sideshow, and it is usually used to lock out those who question a consensus.
Decisions by anonymous unpaid reviewers are not worth much and never will be.
Should skeptics maintain the high ground? Absolutely, but the real high ground is another level entirely. I’m not going to fight to preserve the current system. Decisions by anonymous unpaid reviewers are not worth much and never will be, the incentives are too weak. We need accountability and responsibility of one individual, not so much committees, or brand-names, or boards.
Anyone who claims that science only exists on official approved pages of anointed publications is a Gatekeeper of Dogma. (How many trolls respond to a valid point by saying “why don’t you publish it in the peer review?”) Real scientists know that the truth is not dependent on where it was printed, nor who reviewed it. It’s time to rise above the Gatekeeper’s Rules, not fight over them.
The rules are arbitrary, the hypocrisy rife. When establishment climate scientists do pal-review they call it peer review; when skeptics do anything that could be construed as pal review, it’s “nepotism and malpractice”, and destructo-the-journal. Seriously?
It’s about politics not science. The publishers themselves said:” PRP was never meant to be a platform for climate sceptics”. No one can define “climate sceptic” in scientific terms (who denies there is a climate?). It follows that if PRP was used as a platform for climate unskeptics, presumably that would be fine.
Neither Peer nor Pal is perfect. Open review is the only one that counts
You don’t need to have a science degree to understand that there is nothing rigorous or scientific about what happened. The charge of “nepotism” was added as an afterthought. The journal announced the termination, and then got blow-back and apparently realized they had accidentally revealed their very unscientific philosophy where the IPCC = God, and one of the ten commandments was that it shall not be doubted. The publishers (“not-so-Copernicus“) belatedly added, without any detail, that the 14 papers published by 19 scientists in one special edition had reviewed each others work, and therefore should not have been published. The only “error” listed was to disagree with the IPCC. This is a scandal.
Not permitted: “This sheds serious doubts on the issue of a continued, even accelerated, warming as claimed by the IPCC project.”
If all these articles had been published one month after each other, who would have noticed or cared that over a year there was a form of what could be construed as pal review? Isn’t this business as usual — if we looked at many clusters of specialist topics wouldn’t we find patterns where a small group of authors and reviewers cross check each others work? What does it mean? It means we can’t ever get past the human foibles, and there are always conflicts of interest. On the one hand if-you-pat-my-back then I’ll-pat-yours is a real phenomenon and definitely a temptation, and virtually impossible to police. But, in a Special Edition, if I allow your junk paper to be published next to my good one, I’m hardly doing myself a favour.
Asking someone outside the group doesn’t guarantee rigorous reviews either. How much effort should an unpaid unnamed reviewer go to, to cross check and improve a paper that they won’t get any credit for? There is no perfect solution. It’s not a bun-fight we need to waste time on. Bureaucratized Peer review is highly flawed, doesn’t prove a thing scientifically and works to the advantage of those who are already in the game.
Asking one outside-reviewer might improve the paper, asking two is better, but how long is a piece of string, and where is the sweet spot? Let’s ask a thousand outside reviewers — call it published and set it free. Then pick the most insightful responses and publish them too.
The only way to know if the review process helped or hindered is to discuss the papers themselves, not the details of the review process. Let’s not get lost fighting in the bureaucratic maze, when what matters is the rest of the universe.
Curve fitting is not a crime
Curve fitting or wiggle-matching is a low end tool. It doesn’t prove anything, but sometimes it points to something worth investigating. Nearly every discovery starts with noticing a curve that fits, then people ask why…
For some perspective, ponder that the people who misuse it shamelessly are the ones with billions of dollars, PR departments, a BBC fan club and two-week junkets to Bali. Climate modelers are the worst Curve Fitters of all. The infamous IPCC climate models do the lowest form of wiggle-matching possible yet are hallowed in the peer review literature and in hundreds upon hundreds of papers, and then in thousands of media articles. In their wiggle-matching there are not even any wiggles to match. It is all done on a monotonically rising CO2 trend. There are no turning points, and no places on any graph where CO2 falls, and leads to a temperature fall. There is only the weakest of correlations between rising CO2 and a rough-rising temperature. (And there are countless examples where temperatures fell while CO2 rose.) Yet billions of dollars rests on these curves.
Just because curve-fitting finds a match, doesn’t mean “therefore” the match is a false one. This is as illogical as pretending curve-fitting is “therefore” the truth. Some forms of curve fitting are worth protesting about. Let’s keep our eyes on the target.
Rise above the Peer Review Game
Current journal reviewers are not crucial to science, there are other ways to review material.
If their pal-review system blocks the truth emerging in their journals, it will emerge somewhere else. So be it.
Reviewing papers is treated far too seriously after the fact, and often far too casually during the review. We have it completely back to front.
Let the free market review the papers
Peer review should not be raised on a pedestal, but it should be overhauled, as well as put back in it’s place. Here’s one possibility, but there must and ought be many, and the more we force science to fit a bureaucratic regimen, the less science we’ll get.
What if one named editor solely makes the decision to publish, and they can ask advice from reviewers, whomever they should choose. The reputation of that one editor should depend on the value of the papers they pass. The buck stops with them. They need to be paid, and the best ones, more. An editor’s name ought go on the paper (obviously as an editor, not as an author). Great editors would accrue great status. Reviewers can earn brownie points from the best editors by doing a good job to protect the editor’s reputation (which means accurate, complete reviews). Good editors pay off the brownie points, in turn, getting the best reviewers to improve and review each others papers. Whether the reviewers are pal or peers is up to the editors judgement — if they only ask pals, and the paper is poor, it’s on the editors head. Reviewers can still be anonymous. If the editor leaves the journal, the cachet of the editor stays with the editor, not with the journal. Some editors will prove to be much better than others at choosing which papers are worth publishing. It would be a very hard job.
As a small point to notice, bloggers sometimes work just like this…
Many journal editors today palm off their responsibility to vague anonymous reviewers. It’s death by committee.
Let’s not lose our focus
I am disappointed to see many good names in the Pattern Recognition paper being treated with so little respect and goodwill. This is not the way to advance science. Can we get back to ideas, tests, logic and results?
The Pattern Recognition debacle exposes what a waste of time most peer review journals are as they currently stand. (Has a single one spoken out against censorship because a paper “doubts the IPCC”?) Anything that shows that there is nothing rigorous about peer review is a good thing for independent thinkers.
Therefore this incident is a bonus in the campaign to let the public know how weak the warmist case is, how unable to compete.
The main aim should be more than Peer Review Poker. The deck is stacked…
The Peer Review Game works as a gatekeeper to silence critics, so pandering and bowing to it is exactly what the unscientists want. Let’s put the process exactly where it belongs. It’s not science, but sometimes it’s useful despite that, and sometimes it’s fun to play anyway, so we do it for the entertainment and wins we get (despite the odds). But the deck is stacked, and when we play the game we should not be placing big bets, nor attacking real scientists to score points in a flawed game.
Science, after all, is not done by “Peer Review”, it’s done by evidence and reason.
Double standards? Not here…
People will accuse me of double standards, but quote me carefully (and in context) and you will find I have never attacked a paper purely because it was pal-reviewed, but always because I had problems with the reasoning and arguments first. When good scientists pal review good science, we can get better science. When poor scientists pal review poor science, we get a cheating loophole, though good editors ought to know that, and rebuttals can clean up mistakes. Pal review merely explains why some truly junky papers get put into supposedly eminent journals. My real problem is with scientists who make out that Peer Review is gospel while practicing bad pal-review. There is active deception in that contrast.
Nils Axel Morner, Roger Tattersall, Ian Wilson, have not said their papers are true because they are published, they all say “judge me by my work”.
Into the Fray (sigh)
In response to Anthony I would say:
1. The media are going to one-sidedly cherry pick a belated unsubstantiated excuse anyway. They always falsely try to pin any flaw to “all skeptics”. Why amplify that or accept it? I would point out their hypocrisy, rather than join the chorus.
2. The real priorities are logic and reason, evidence and free speech. In the peer-pal debate there is no win worth achieving. Peer review is a weak system anyway. And current journal editors are only going to send alarmist papers to independent skeptics as a matter of course when everybody realizes the real debate occurred online, and some bloggers were closer to the truth than Nature. Let’s help independent scientists continue to push the bounds of knowledge.
3. As far as dashing “…any chance of any sort of climate skeptic or citizen science based journal coming into existence…”. I would say, No. Not at all.
4. Until Copernicus shows that the papers contained flaws worse than MBH98, which was not even retracted, terminating a journal for no named error at all is a scandal. When will Copernicus be closing the other journals?
Global Warming: Was it Ever Really a Crisis?
Interviews from the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change. Video: The Heartland Institute