25 February 2011

Full Comments to the Guardian

The Guardian has an good article today on a threatened libel suit under UK law against Gavin Schmidt, a NASA researcher who blogs at Real Climate, by the publishers of the journal Energy and Environment.  While Gavin and I have had periodic professional disagreements, in this instance he has my full support. The E&E threat is absurd (details here).

Here are my full comments to the reporter for the Guardian, who was following up on Gavin's reference to comments I had made a while back about my experiences with E&E:
Here are some thoughts in response to your query ...

In 2000, we published a really excellent paper (in my opinion) in E&E in that has stood the test of time:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., R. Klein, and D. Sarewitz (2000), Turning the big knob: An evaluation of the use of energy policy to modulate future climate impacts. Energy and Environment 2:255-276.

You'll see that paper was in only the second year of the journal, and we were obviously invited to submit a year or so before that. It was our expectation at the time that the journal would soon be ISI listed and it would become like any other academic journal. So why not publish in E&E?

That paper, like a lot of research, required a lot of effort.  So it was very disappointing to E&E in the years that followed identify itself as an outlet for alternative perspectives on the climate issue. It has published a number of low-quality papers and a high number of opinion pieces, and as far as I know it never did get ISI listed.

Boehmer-Christiansen's quote about following her political agenda in running the journal is one that I also have cited on numerous occasions as an example of the pathological politicization of science. In this case the editor's political agenda has clearly undermined the legitimacy of the outlet.  So if I had a time machine I'd go back and submit our paper elsewhere!

A consequence of the politicization of E&E is that any paper published there is subsequently ignored by the broader scientific community. In some cases perhaps that is justified, but I would argue that it provided a convenient excuse to ignore our paper on that basis alone, and not on the merits of its analysis. So the politicization of E&E enables a like response from its critics, which many have taken full advantage of. For outside observers of climate science this action and response together give the impression that scientific studies can be evaluated simply according to non-scientific criteria, which ironically undermines all of science, not just E&E.  The politicization of the peer review process is problematic regardless of who is doing the politicization because it more readily allows for political judgments to substitute for judgments of the scientific merit of specific arguments.  An irony here of course is that the East Anglia emails revealed a desire to (and some would say success in) politicize the peer review process, which I discuss in The Climate Fix.

For my part, in 2007 I published a follow on paper to the 2000 E&E paper that applied and extended a similar methodology.  This paper passed peer review in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (2007), Future economic damage from tropical cyclones: sensitivities to societal and climate changes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 365 (1860) 2717-2729

So, in my case alls well that ends well. Over the long run I am confident that good ideas will win out over bad ideas, but without care to the legitimacy of our science institutions -- including journals and peer review -- that long run will be a little longer.

Please follow up if anything is unclear or if you have other questions ...