12 April 2011

Richard Muller on NPR: Don't Play With the Peer Review System

I haven't really been paying much attention to the various issues associated with the Berkeley Earth project run by Richard Muller.  I expect that the peer-reviewed literature will sort it out eventually.  Whatever the ultimate scientific merit of that project, these comments of his on NPR yesterday are worth thinking about, and spot on in my view:
CONAN: Do you find that, though, there is a lot of ideology in this business?

Prof. MULLER: Well, I think what's happened is that many scientists have gotten so concerned about global warming, correctly concerned I mean they look at it and they draw a conclusion, and then they're worried that the public has not been concerned, and so they become advocates. And at that point, it's unfortunate, I feel that they're not trusting the public. They're not presenting the science to the public. They're presenting only that aspect to the science that will convince the public. That's not the way science works. And because they don't trust the public, in the end the public doesn't trust them. And the saddest thing from this, I think, is a loss of credibility of scientists because so many of them have become advocates.

CONAN: And that's, you would say, would be at the heart of the so-called Climategate story, where emails from some scientists seemed to be working to prevent the work of other scientists from appearing in peer-reviewed journals.

Prof. MULLER: That really shook me up when I learned about that. I think that Climategate is a very unfortunate thing that happened, that the scientists who were involved in that, from what I've read, didn't trust the public, didn't even trust the scientific public. They were not showing the discordant data. That's something that - as a scientist I was trained you always have to show the negative data, the data that disagrees with you, and then make the case that your case is stronger. And they were hiding the data, and a whole discussion of suppressing publications, I thought, was really unfortunate. It was not at a high point for science

And I really get even more upset when some other people say, oh, science is just a human activity. This is the way it happens. You have to recognize, these are people. No, no, no, no. These are not scientific standards. You don't hide the data. You don't play with the peer review system.


  1. The peer review system is totally inadequate for the type of science that the public needs to make sound policy in an area such as this. Work needs to be checked. Until the stats and software are known to be solid, purported findings in studies should be regarded as nothing more than interesting suppositions in need of substantiation.

  2. Finally someone is saying what needs to be said.

    For my work in creating technology to support group interactions, I have read in the literature that there are three kinds of trust. These are interpersonal trust, integrity trust and competency trust. For non-face-to-face interactions, interpersonal trust diminishes in importance. However the other two are important across all forms of interactions and importantly for the AGW issue interact with each other. If the level of integrity trust is diminished so will the level of competency trust. So if one feels that one cannot trust the integrity of another then one's estimation of their competency is diminished. That is why the adherence to the open standards of scientific inquiry is so important. If the public feels that a group of scientists have become advocates and that one cannot trust that their scientific statements contain the whole truth then the public's estuation of the scientific merit of the work will also be diminished. Why should the public follow the recommendations of scientists whose statements that they cannot trust and whose competency is in doubt?

    The AGW issue is about trsut and if scientists become advocates then they will lose that trust.

  3. re 1

    It isn't teh peer review system per se that is inadequate fro this task, it is the idea that such a globally important issue can be guided and controlled by the method of academic scientific publishing.

    As an example, the statistical methods used for paleoclimate reconstructions have been challenged. How is this issue being addressed? Statisticians are not asked or tasked to study this issue and develop new methods. The IPCC needs to be reorganized so that specific problems can be identified and resources allocated to resolve them. This, in itself, would provide the focus ad accountability that is lacking in the current system and help to restore the public's trust in the issue.

    One particular issue was the quality of temperature monitoring sites. I personally found it astounding that there was no effort prior to that of Watts to see is these stations met standards. From what Muller has recently said it appears that there was little known of what requirements needed to be met to create an adequate station. We are being told to restructure our society based partially on stations who quality and requirements for quality were unknown.

    The entire IPCC effort should be reorganaized since it is inadequate to meet the needs of this issue.

  4. The peer-review system is not just inadequate, it is corrupted, and inherently corrupt, and across the sciences, not just climate science. Muller is being too chummy with his fellow academics who he says "were hiding the data..." but it was only "really unfortunate". That's academic bull-hockey. As a scientist, I consider their behavior criminal, and the only excuse they or Richard Muller or any other scientist has is that so many scientists have been incompetent in this long and still-continuing scandal. Don't wring your hands in public, Dr. Muller; face the facts and call for a complete clean-up of the mess, starting with an independent scientific investigation by non-climate scientists of the corrupt climate science. And then go on to face the same corruption in other areas, and clean them up. You academics had better start getting out in front of the clean-up, because your system of checks and balances smells to high heaven, and that smell won't go away just because you won't face it properly and professionally.

  5. I think that Muller's comments here are exactly right.

    With regard to the peer-reviewed scientific literature, it is very important but probably not sufficient for a situation where the associated costs are in the trillions of dollars. If we seriously want to base our responses to global warming on scientific studies, an appropriate model is perhaps the way things are done for licensing of nuclear facilities, where there are very strict requirements on documentation, transparency, review, etc. However, it should be clear from the history of the last 40 years that such requirements still cannot completely solve the problems caused by differences in values of various groups (e.g., no study will ever satisfy a committed anti-nuclear activist).

  6. .

    A huge part of the problem is that the case for CAGW is at its heart an appeal to authority and the authorities have been shown to be less than honest. Until all data and methods are open to public inspection, the priesthood will always suspect.


  7. I agree that Muller’s responses were good. However, Neil Conan did exhibit why many don’t think NPR is as unbiased as they think they are, namely: CONAN: “You mentioned Anthony Watts. He runs a website for climate deniers”. I sent a comment to NPR pointing out that labeling skeptics as deniers had inappropriate connotations to at least try to educate him.

  8. The problem with analysing the effect of CO2 on climate is that the judge and the prosecutor are the same institution: IPCC, there is no defence for CO2 nor an impartial judge.

    There should be two IPCC reports:
    one report listing all CO2 hazards
    one report listing all CO2 benefits
    you be the judge.