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Saturday, March 27, 2010
Censorship at AGU: scientists denied the right of reply

By J. McLean, C.R. de Freitas, and R.M. Carter

Has the Journal of Geophysical Research been coerced into defending the climate alarmist faith?

Science is best progressed by open and free discussion in which all participants have equal rights of contribution. This is especially the case when a scientific issue is related to a matter of high public controversy - such as the hypothesis of dangerous human-caused global warming.

In July 2009 we published a paper in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) in which we described the results of comparing global atmospheric temperature since 1958 with variations in the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climatic framework. Our analysis supported earlier research that demonstrates a close link between these factors, and indicated that a large portion of the variability in global temperature is explained by ENSO variation, thus leaving little room for a substantial human influence on temperature.

On November 20, a newly appointed, replacement JGR editor informed us that a group of scientists led by Grant Foster (aka Tamino) had submitted a critique of our paper for publication in JGR. To which a reviewer responded “But as it is written, the current paper [Foster et al. draft critique] almost stoops to the level of “blog diatribe”. The current paper does not read like a peer-reviewed journal article. The tone is sometimes dramatic and sometimes accusatory. It is inconsistent with the language one normally encounters in the objectively-based, peer-reviewed literature.” Anonymous referee of the Foster et al. critique, September 28, 2009.

We were invited to write a response, which we did, submitting it to JGR on January 14, 2010.

On March 16, the replacement editor contacted us again. He included three referees’ reports, and indicated that on the advice of these referees he was rejecting our response to the Foster et al. critique, and that the response would therefore not be published in JGR.

The practice of editorial rejection of the authors’ response to criticism is unprecedented in our experience. It is surprising because it amounts to the editorial usurping of the right of authors to defend their paper and deprives readers from hearing all sides of a scientific discussion before they make up their own minds on an issue. It is declaring that the journal editor - or the reviewers to whom he defers - will decide if authors can defend papers that have already been positively reviewed and been published by that same journal. Such an attitude is the antithesis of productive scientific discussion.

Something smells, and a hint of what is on the wind is contained in the quotations at the head of this preamble.

To set the historical record straight, we relate below in date order the events - as they are known to us - that led to the editorial censorship of our reply to the critique by Foster et al.

Thereafter, we provide three appendices:

Appendix A - the Foster et al. critique of McLean et al., 2009, as posted on the web prior to its publication by AGU.
Appendix B - our (JGR-rejected) response to this critique.
Appendix C - a recent editorial commentary about AGU publishing practices by the President of the Union (which publishes JGR), Professor Timothy Grove.

The original research paper that is the subject of the critique (Appendix A) and the response (Appendix B) is: McLean, J., de Freitas, C.R. & Carter, R.M., (2009) Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, D14104, doi:10.1029/2008JD011637.

It can be accessed here.

How not to conduct a fair and impartial scientific debate:an itemised history of the AGU censorship

The following events occurred in relationship to a paper that we submitted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research on December 12, 2008, up until March 16, 2010, when the editor rejected our reply to criticism of our paper.

December 12, 2008. Initial submission of a paper by McLean, J., de Freitas, C.R. & Carter, R.M., titled “nfluence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature”, for consideration for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR), Atmospheres.

February 17, 2009. The first JGR editor that we dealt with forwards reports from three referees and a request that the authors revise the paper according to criticisms made by the referees.

One referee commented in part: “I found the paper to be well-organized, well-written, and clear on the importance of the research. The abstract is informative, reference section is excellent, and the graphics are of high quality. The findings are likely to be of interest to a wide variety of readers.”

A second referee commented in part: “This very clear and well-written manuscript is an analysis of the relationship between MSU-derived and radiosonde-based tropospheric temperature variability and the Southern Oscillation, as modified by major tropical volcanic eruptions.  I find few faults with this analysis from a scientific standpoint; my primary concern is the lack of novelty. Climatologists have known about the strong linkage between the SOI (and its cousins) and tropospheric temperature for some time now. The authors acknowledge as much and they include most of the key references on the subject.”

As well as these general comments, all three referees made constructive criticisms of various technical points, to which we responded by modifying our manuscript to take account of them.

March 24, 2009. After incorporating appropriate modifications in response to the referees’ criticisms, a revised and improved manuscript is submitted to the AGU.

April 27, 2009. The editor indicates acceptance of the revised paper for publication in a forthcoming issue of JGR Atmospheres.

July 23, 2009. Publication of the McLean et al. paper in JGR Atmospheres.

The paper first established that a 7-month time-lagged relationship exists between changes in ENSO and changes in average global lower tropospheric temperature, except when volcanic eruptions cause cooling, and then applied this time lag to raw data in the Discussion and Conclusions. The establishment of the 7-month time lag employed an unusual method, but the period was in general agreement with earlier papers by other authors, and our Discussion and Conclusions would have been essentially the same if we had sourced the time lag from one of those other papers.  The relevance of this point will become clear later.

Important note. We note that up to this point, all persons involved - namely, the JGR editor, referees and authors - had behaved according to the normal professional code of conduct that applies to papers being processed for scientific publication, and in accordance with the sentiments expressed on this matter in a statement by AGU president Professor Timothy Groves (see Appendix C). Thereby, a paper had been submitted, refereed, modified according to the referees’ comments, accepted by the editor, and finally published.

However, these circumstances were about to change and for the details we turn to emails that have been released into the public domain by the Climategate affair, and to our emailed exchanges with the JGR editor. Read about what happened next as alarmist like Grant Foster, James Annan, Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Jim Renwick, Jim Salinger, Gavin Schmidt and Kevin Trenberth and then the AGU itself showed their true colors here

See also John McLean’s response to Lewandowsky’s shameless ad hominem rant in the ABC Drum (which was here) here

Posted on 03/27 at 04:49 AM
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