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November 30th 2009 print

David Archibald

Peer review locks gate

As the Climategate emails show, the warmers captured the whole system – all the journals, all their editors and the journals’ boards.

The only thing that the Climategate emails tell us about the peer review process is that it was used as a gate-keeping exercise to keep sceptical papers out of the system. For those of us who served in the trenches in the climate battle, part of the much larger culture wars, this revelation is not news. In disparaging my papers, one of the first things that warmers would say was that they were not peer reviewed. They were, but that did not matter either, because like the warmer scientists, I got to choose my own reviewers. One of my papers passed a higher test than peer review. Real Climate devoted a post to attacking it, which was fabulous because it told me that I was having an effect, and gave me encouragement to keep going. 

My nemesis in the solar science trench of the climate battle recently retired from the fray. One of the things he used to say was that bad papers will be forgotten and that they would be replaced by good papers. Of course, another researcher told me that he had to publish to counter the misinformation from my nemesis, who had taken it upon himself to go through the solar record, flattening out the bumps so that the Sun could not have an effect on climate. All that means is that good and bad papers will be published, nothing can stop that from happening, but the truth will finally out. 

I don’t believe that changing the peer review system will help, in fact any prescribed changes are likely to make it worse. As the Climategate emails show, the warmers captured the whole system – all the journals, all their editors and the journals’ boards. They successfully removed inconvenient editors. As a last line of defence, they were going to change the definition of what peer review meant. Making the system more prescriptive will simply entrench the corrupted establishment, similar to what happened as a result of the ban on tobacco advertising. With no advertising, new brands could not enter the market and the existing brands were spared the expense of advertising, increasing their profitability. 

The way to improve the review of papers is to break the power of the corrupted establishment. Two of the most prestigious science journals have been Science and Nature, but both of these now publish a certain amount of twaddle. In fact Nature seems to have degenerated to occupy the niche formerly occupied by New Scientist, and New Scientist has degenerated into the publishing arm of Greenpeace. There are two ways to break the power of the corrupted establishment. In the first instance stop subscribing to journals that have promoted the climate fraud. If you work in any sort of academic establishment, it is your responsibility to the nation to recommend to your librarian that the subscription to Nature not be renewed. Secondly, we need more online journals so that good work can more easily find a home. This would increase the rate of creative destruction in the journal space.