Main website

GWT Forum

Green World Trust
Re-examining Peer Review
Contact ClimateGate Skeptical Climate Science Primer In a Nutshell Index to Topics
Links Stickers Videos

The Peer Review system in Climate Science:
excluding good science and allowing fraud

I hope to capture here and relay key stories of what all climate skeptics know: that the peer-review system in Climate Science has become corrupted, that good science which challenges Anthropogenic Global Warming gets excluded, while sub-standard and even fraudulent science gets accepted by prestige scientific journals, so long as the articles subscribe to AGW.

Update 7 May 09: Direct links to stories:

  • Dr Keenan's allegations of fraud against Wang et al, see below and also see WUWT for more recent developments. Wang's paper is important because it formed a cornerstone in Jones' assessment of a low Urban Heat Island effect that is used by the IPCC. With too-low UHI, global temperature rises look more significant than they may be in reality.
  • From Climate Audit: how Dr Garth Paltridge could not get his evidence for decreasing humidity published. Why? Because for AGW, relative humidity is supposed to stay constant so that with temp rising due to rising CO2, more water vapour also ensues - which would amplify the greenhouse effect and temperature rise.
  • From Chris Monckton, his story "Reviewed Or Not Reviewed?" of how the National Academy of Science and the science community handled his paper challenging the IPCC science on climate sensitivity, and the issues of peer-review.

This problem, while it is at the level of psychopathology in Climate Science, is an endemic problem across the board in Science. One of Koutsoyyanis' slides in an examination of the peer review process in all sciences today.

The unwillingness of journals like Nature to accept good science that challenges AGW is only equalled by the unprofessional way they accept material that does support AGW without checking the data: in the two following cases, there is no other way to explain the authors than to say that they have knowingly fabricated data, maths, results: they have committed academic fraud. The following story is reported by Peter Risdon. Click to read originals in full.

Climate fraud allegations

Doug Keenan is an independent mathematician, based in London. After I re-published a list of peer-reviewed papers that question the received wisdom on climate science, I received an email from Dr Keenan drawing my attention to two peer-reviewed papers he had written that are relevant. Both are absolutely gobsmacking, to use a technical word.

The first is titled: Grape harvest dates are poor indicators of summer warmth. A pdf of the full paper can be downloaded here and an introduction can be read here.

On 18 November 2004, Isabelle Chuine and co-workers published a research paper on global warming, in Nature magazine. And it gathered some publicity. Chuine et al. claimed to have developed a method for estimating the summer temperature in Burgundy, France, in any given year back to 1370 (based on the harvest dates of grapes). Using their method, the authors asserted that the summer of 2003 was by far the warmest summer since 1370, in Burgundy.

I had been following global warming studies only as a disinterested outside spectator (and only occasionally). Someone sent me the paper of Chuine et al., though, and wondered what I thought of it from a mathematical perspective. So I had a look.

To study the paper properly, I needed to have the authors' data. So I e-mailed Dr. Chuine, asking for this. The authors, though, were very reluctant to let me have the data. It took me eight months, tens of e-mails exchanged with the authors, and two formal complaints to Nature, to get the data. (Some data was purchased from Météo France.) It is obviously inappropriate that such a large effort was necessary.

Looking at the data made it manifest that there are serious problems with the work of Chuine et al... ...That is, the authors had developed a method that gave a falsely-high estimate of temperature in 2003 and falsely-low estimates of temperatures in other very warm years. They then used those false estimates to proclaim that 2003 was much hotter than other years.

The above is easy enough to understand. It does not even require any specialist scientific training. So how could the peer reviewers of the paper not have seen it? (Peer reviewers are the scientists who check a paper prior to its publication.) I asked Dr. Chuine what data was sent to Nature, when the paper was submitted to the journal. Dr. Chuine replied, “We never sent data to Nature”.

[...] Problems would be obvious to anyone with an appropriate scientific background, even without the data. In other words, the peer reviewers could not have had appropriate background.

What is important here is not the truth or falsity of the assertion of Chuine et al. about Burgundy temperatures. Rather, what is important is that a paper on what is arguably the world's most important scientific topic (global warming) was published in the world's most prestigious scientific journal with essentially no checking of the work prior to publication.

Finally, it is worth noting that Chuine et al. had the data; so they must have known that their conclusions were unfounded. In other words, there is prima facie evidence of scientific fraud...

In this case Dr Keenan took no further action. But this experience led him to look more closely at some of the evidence on which the ideas about human-caused global warming were based. In the process, he uncovered something that he felt demanded further action. He has published a report about this titled: The fraud allegation against some climatic research of Wei-Chyung Wang. Here's the abstract from the pdf:

Wei-Chyung Wang has been a respected researcher in global warming studies for decades. I have formally alleged that he committed fraud in some of his research, including research cited by the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2007) on “urban heat islands” (a critical issue). Herein, the allegation is reviewed, and some of its implications are explicated.

On 20th February 2008 the University of Albany wrote to Dr Keenan confirming that they were going to investigate his allegation. Here are some brief excerpts from the same pdf report (abridged, emphasis added):

The work of Jones et al. (1990) is a significant paper in global warming studies. In February 2007, Stephen McIntyre blogged about evidence he had found showing that it was “impossible” for Jones et al. to have carried out their work as they had claimed... The evidence particularly implicates Wei-Chyung Wang—the lead author of Wang et al. and a co-author of Jones et al...

In global warming studies, an important issue concerns the integrity of temperature measurements from meteorological stations. The latest assessment report from the IPCC indicates that the global average temperature rose by roughly 0.3 °C over the period 1954–1983. Thus, if errors in temperature measurements were of similar size to, or larger than, 0.3 °C, there could be a serious problem for global warming studies. The papers of Jones et al. and Wang et al. both consider this issue. The paper of Jones et al. is one of the main works cited by the IPCC to support its contention that measurement errors arising from urbanization are tiny, and therefore are not a serious problem...

Regarding station movements over time, the papers of Jones et al. and Wang et al. make the following statements.

The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times. [Jones et al.]

They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times.... [Wang et al.]

Jones et al. and Wang et al. consider the same 84 meteorological stations in China. Regarding 49 of those stations, the DOE/CAS report says, “station histories are not currently available” and “details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times ... are not known” (sect. 5). For those 49 stations, then, the above-quoted statements from the two papers are impossible...

The essential point here is that the quoted statements from Jones et al. and Wang et al. cannot be true and could not be in error by accident. The statements are fabricated.

Kafka at Albany

...So far, things had run as might be expected. A fraud had been alleged, the University at Albany looked into it and decided to hold a formal investigation. Dr Keenan waited to be contacted by the investigation and asked to put his case, in line with the university's Policy and Procedures on Misconduct in Research and Scholarship, which includes the lines:

III. A. Rights and Responsibilities of the Complainant... The complainant will be provided a copy of the formal allegations when and if an inquiry is opened. The complainant will have the opportunity to review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports pertinent to the complainant’s report or testimony... After the final determination and upon request to the Vice President for Research, the complainant shall be given access to the full documentation. The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality, and cooperating fully with an inquiry and/or investigation.

Dr Keenan lived up to the responsibility so far as he could. He had made the allegation in good faith and given Professor Wang an opportunity to explain how he had reached his results, an opportunity the Professor had not taken. Keenan maintained confidentiality. In order to cooperate with the investigation, though he would first have to be contacted by it. Dr Keenan waited.

Late in May 2008 a communication arrived from Albany. It said: "After careful review of the evidence and thoughtful deliberation, the Investigation Committee finds no evidence of the alleged fabrication of results and nothing that rises to the level of research misconduct having been committed by Dr Wang. As the institutional official responsible for this case, I have accepted the Committee's findings and the Report. You have fourteen (14) calendar days from the date of this letter to provide any comments to add to the report for the record."

That’s astonishing, but here’s where it becomes Kafkaesque.

The university had initiated an investigation, then broke its own rules by not involving Dr Keenan. It then produced a report that carefully avoided mentioning Dr Keenan, so it could claim he was not entitled to see a copy of this report. It then asked Keenan to comment on the report. But Doug Keenan is a tenacious man. In July 2008, after being refused sight of the report, he submitted a formal complaint (pdf) alleging criminal fraud. He said:

Wei-Chyung Wang is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has been doing research for over 30 years. For this research, Wang has received at least $7 million. The funds have come primarily from the Department of Energy... I have formally alleged that Wang committed fraud in important parts of his research. My allegation was submitted to the University at Albany.

The university conducted a preliminary inquiry. Briefly, Wang claimed that there were some documents that could exonerate him. The inquiry concluded that there should be a full investigation, which should be “charged with obtaining and reviewing any such additional evidence ... so that a final resolution may be made regarding the allegation against Dr. Wang”.

Wang had been claiming the existence of such exonerating documents for nearly a year, but he has not been able to produce them. Additionally, there was a report published in 1991 (with a second version in 1997) explicitly stating that no such documents exist. Moreover, the report was published as part of the Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Research Program, and Wang was the Chief Scientist of that program.

The university conducted an investigation. The investigation concluded that Wang is innocent. I believe that the case against Wang is strong and clear, and that the university is trying to cover up the fraud so as to protect its reputation. Wang is one of the university’s star professors. The conduct of the investigation violated several of the university’s own stated policies... The documents that Wang was relying on were never produced.

I have only examined a little of Wang’s research; so I do not know the full extent of the fraud. It is difficult to examine more, in part because Wang has not willingly made his data available: when asked for the data from the research that I later reported as fraudulent, Wang refused. For that research, though, Wang had a co-worker in Britain. In Britain, the Freedom of Information Act requires that data from publicly-funded research be made available. I was able to get the data by requiring Wang’s co-worker to release it, under British law. It was only then that I was able to confirm that Wang had committed fraud...

In October 2008 Dr Keenan was told there could be a wait of several months while his complaint is investigated.

UPDATE: I did mail the relevant person at Albany myself, some time ago, asking for news of the investigation against Professor Wang. I received no reply. However, within a couple of hours of [this blog] being posted, someone at Albany came to look at it, from the host aspmini-cc326.cc.albany.edu (169.226.172.35), having apparently been sent an email about it. So even if they are not communicative about this case, it seems someone at Albany is keeping their eyes open for reports of it.

UPDATE: Also see new findings on the effect of urban warming.

 

Updated 18th March 2009

 

go to top