Cage fight!

Woo, this is great. Watts is now reporting that McI says that the BEST papers got turned down by a reviewer (ahem, well, McK, not even McI) at JGR. Since its McK, that doesn’t necessarily say anything about the paper’s quality. But it does directly contradict what BEST themselves are saying, specifically Elizabeth Muller:

All of the articles have been submitted to journals, and we have received substantial journal peer reviews. None of the reviews have indicated any mistakes in the papers; they have instead been primarily suggestions for additions, further citations of the literature.

How is that compatible with

the journal turned the paper down and asked for major revisions?

or indeed, direct from McK, “I submitted my review just before the end of September 2011, outlining what I saw were serious shortcomings in their methods and arguing that their analysis does not establish valid grounds for the conclusions they assert. I suggested the authors be asked to undertake a major revision… I recommended the paper not be published”.

Someone is telling porkies. But who? At this point, I’m inclined to suspect Elizabeth Muller. I presume she was relying on the confidentiality of the review process in order to get away with misleading us all. As a great philospher once said, Naughty naughty, very naughty. By which I mean telling porkies. Breaking review confidentiality is a comparatively minor sin.

Top comment of the day:

Well, well, Richard Muller seems to be taking flack from all sides today. Note to Dr. Muller – tacking flack does not always mean you are over the target. Mooning an “88” crew can also achieve a similar response.

Refs

* Some newspaper that isn’t keen on publication pre review.
* McK’s review of an earlier version of something. Which answers one question: why make McK a reviewer? Answer, because they cite him.

Comments

  1. #1 Sou
    http://bundanga.blogspot.com.au/
    2012/07/30

    Is it normal practice to ask for a journal to ‘ask for major revisions’ if the paper has been turned down? Doesn’t seem much point.

    Just checked the author guide for AGU, which states:

    Editor makes decision to accept, request revisions, or reject.

    http://authorguide.agu.org/submission-process/

    So while one reviewer might have asked for ‘major revisions’ it doesn’t follow that the papers have been rejected.

    I expect we’ll know sooner or later.

    [I entirely agree: just because McK didn't like it doesn't mean it isn't good, and certainly doesn't oblige the editor to reject it. However, it does make EM's comments very hard to understand.

    Its also true that the editor isn't obliged to pass on all review comments to the authors. But I think it would be highly unusual, and it isn't high up on my list of things to explain the disparity -W]

  2. #2 Marco
    2012/07/30

    My question is: why ask McKitrick to review? All I can imagine is that the BEST team put him on their list of recommended reviewers.

  3. #3 afeman
    2012/07/30

    Ah, who’s gatekeeing who?

  4. #4 afeman
    2012/07/30

    *gatekeeping

  5. #5 Lars Karlsson
    2012/07/30

    The paper that got negative reviews was the one about UHI. Do we know anything about the other papers?

    Why does Watts write “papers” in plural?

  6. #6 Martin Vermeer
    2012/07/30

    William what do you base your judgment on, when it’s the others that have form in, and a long an glorious history of, telling ‘porkies’? Honest question. Anyway it looks more like ‘spin’ from both sides.

    [I think its unlikely that McK would lie about recommending rejection. That is a very direct, unqualified statement, and its also entirely likely that he did make that recommendation (its what I'd expect him to do, if he were a referee).

    By contrast, I wouldn't be too surprised if EM was at the very least being deceptive. Her words are not nearly as direct as McK's, and (as I guess) she thought she was unlikely to get caught out. Or so I guess. Has anyone asked her, I wonder? -W]

    BTW that the papers do not contain any mistakes [of consequence] may well be true. The papers’ main problem is lack of novelty.

    [Agreed. Though that, too, could be grounds for rejection -W]

  7. #7 Gavin
    2012/07/30

    Actually I don’t think there is a contradiction. If the JGR editor thinks that major revisions are required, they usually ask people to resubmit as a new paper. As far as I can remember this started happening a few years ago as part of the drive to reduce the apparent time from submission to publication (since the very first submission wouldn’t count anymore). So while McK could well have suggested rejection (and as you say, this would not be determinative – not even close), and they were told to resubmit with major revisions.

    [I think if they'd been asked to resubmit as a new paper, EM should have mentioned it. Her comments are of the its-all-fine variety. IF they've been asked to resub, then I'd say she is lying -W]

    The idea that press releases and additional papers somehow invalidates the confidentiality promised to a journal is a little strange though – where do people find all these contracts with these odd get-out-of-commitments-free clauses? If it was anyone but McK, one might suspect that this was just a political move to distract attention, cast aspirations, and shore up the folks who believe that there isn’t any such thing as the global temperature….

    [Agreed. To my mind, though, what invalidates the confidentiality [*] is EM’s comments at dotearth saying its-all-fine. If those comments are deceptive, then McK’s revelation is the lesser sin (much as I’d love to criticise McK). My recollection, BTW, is taht someone – McI? _ started publishing reviewers comments. Which was regarded as Bad Form -W]

  8. #8 Sou
    2012/07/30

    It’s certainly put the denier brigade in a turmoil. One tried to ‘match’ the paper with a too-early and far too long ‘paper’ of his own, others are just jumping in with the easy answer – it’s all a giant conspiracy:

    http://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/richard-muller-covert-agent-for-the-climate-conspiracy-the-sceptic-response-to-mullers-best-paper/

    Out of all the ‘skeptics’, my guess is the BEST team has won the tussle – they have access to more credible mainstream media – and have by far the most credible team for the work they’ve done, and the results seem fairly straightforward.

    [Yes, that's a good point. BEST have access to the media, so they are getting their point across. But if the media wake up and start taking an interest, that might fall apart. Mind you, Joe Public has no time or taste for the minutae of peer review and journal submission, so it might be hard to make a story of it -W]

    The others are stuck with having in-house ad hom blog fights with each other, ignored by the general public because they have nothing of substance to add.

  9. #9 Marco
    2012/07/30

    William, I think the issue was not the publication of reviewer comments per se (as indeed done by McIntyre), but rather naming the reviewers, specifically Eric Steig. John Nielsen-Gammon most assuredly was not amused:
    http://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/2011/02/on-revealing-the-identity-of-reviewers/

    [It was the publication of the comments, as far as I was concerned. But if its the naming people... well, McK is perfectly entitled to name himself -W]

  10. #10 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2012/07/30

    As to whether the AGU practice of reject while asking for “major” revisions is a real rejection YMMV depending on where you usually publish (in Eli’s case the “major” revisions category often comes with a lit fuse, which, if the revisions really are major, can be wet down a bit. Bottom line Eli can believe everyone, mostly because it don’t make a damn bit of difference.

    Let’s face it the BEST method has virtues, and McKitrick has published a large amount of fishwrap over time. The interesting thing is who put down McK as a suggested referee, and who suggested him. Eli suspects JC superstar.

  11. #11 Tom Curtis
    Australia
    2012/07/30

    Marco asked the right question. Who asked McKittrick to review an article on UHI. He has almost no relevant qualifications or experience and is a known idealogue with an axe to grind on the issue. I have to entertain the possibility that no-body asked him, and that he merely took the opportunity of the open publication of the submitted article to send in his own review uninvited. If that is the case, I suspect it got filed in the circular filing cabinet and the Elizabeth Muller is telling the truth.

    [This is a possibility - that McK's review was regarded as so silly it was ignored. I think it is unlikely that such a view didn't make it back to BEST, but I concede it is possible -W]

  12. #12 Martin Vermeer
    2012/07/30

    If you read McK’s review, you see that his main critique is that they didn’t do the UHI analysis the way he himself did his socio-economic influences analysis (which got flak from folks I would trust to know what they’re talking about). Hmm.

  13. #13 Neven
    2012/07/30

    My question is: why ask McKitrick to review? All I can imagine is that the BEST team put him on their list of recommended reviewers.

    Good question, Marco. It was the first thing that popped up in my mind. JGR is a serious journal, right? So how on Earth can Ross McKitrick be asked as a reviewer?

  14. #14 Martin Vermeer
    2012/07/30

    From McK’s account: “On March 8 2012 I was asked by JGR to review a revised version of the Wickham et al. paper. ”

    This suggests that “the journal turned the paper down” should not be taken all too literally… what Eli said.

  15. #15 Rattus Norvegicus
    2012/07/30

    Having read McK’s review(s) Martin’s characterization of them is correct. As far as why he might have been chosen, it could be because the UHI paper cited some of McK’s work on UHI.

  16. #16 American Idiot
    2012/07/30

    “The journal turned the paper down and asked for major revisions” doesn’t make sense. If the journal turned the paper down, the decision would have been rejection rather than asking for major revisions.

    It sounds like McK interprets anything other than accepted-as-submitted as being “turned down.” But that’s not how it works in most scientific fields.

    I don’t have stats on JGR though I have some numbers for a particular year for several closely related journals. Averaging across these journals the initial decisions break down as 22% minor revisions, 47% major revisions, and 30% rejected. Add those numbers up and you get 99%. In other words, acceptance-as-submitted is extremely rare. Far from being “turned down,” almost all papers that make it into print started out as having revisions required at the initial evaluation, quite often “major revisions.”

    McK is an economist, not a geoscientist, so perhaps things are different in economics.

    [OK... maybe we can't quite believe McK's "turned down". But "major revisions"? That shouldn't be possible to get wrong -W]

  17. #17 steven mosher
    United States
    2012/07/31

    Gavin is correct.

    “Actually I don’t think there is a contradiction. If the JGR editor thinks that major revisions are required, they usually ask people to resubmit as a new paper. As far as I can remember this started happening a few years ago as part of the drive to reduce the apparent time from submission to publication (since the very first submission wouldn’t count anymore). So while McK could well have suggested rejection (and as you say, this would not be determinative – not even close), and they were told to resubmit with major revisions.”

    McKittrick’s review was signed and the version he posted was accurate. He recommended rejecting the paper. That review was helpful since in his review McKittrick pointed to data ( some in his own paper) which effectively in my mind eviscerated the point he was trying to make as a reviewer. A response was written and the paper was resubmitted.

  18. #18 dhogaza
    2012/07/31

    That review was helpful since in his review McKittrick pointed to data ( some in his own paper) which effectively in my mind eviscerated the point he was trying to make as a reviewer.

    Oh, that’s good. More popcorn!

    (the own goal doesn’t surprise me in the least … even though at this point we can only take Mosher’s word on it.)

  19. #19 Martin Vermeer
    2012/07/31

    Mosher’s account is credible to me as he accurately describes my feelings reading the McKitrick review ;-)

  20. #20 grypo
    2012/07/31

    Unconfirmed twitter quote from Trenberth

    https://twitter.com/sfoucart/status/230401053236023296

    According to Kevin Trenberth, BEST “main paper has been rejected from at least 2 journals”… cc @Revkin

    [That's jolly interesting. I did ask over at dotearth - http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/28/converted-skeptic-humans-driving-recent-warming/?comments#permid=75 - but the thread seems to hoave got derailed into "I hate McK", which rather misses the point -W]

  21. #21 Pete Dunkelberg
    2012/08/02

    {Yes, that’s a good point. BEST have access to the media, so they are getting their point across.}
    Or: Muller defeats all comers with his weapons grade self importance. It probably doesn’t occur to him to worry that McK and McI might not like him anymore. But why does he appear to still take some of their stuff at face value, after the way the part that he examined worked out?

  22. #22 Rattus Norvegicus
    2012/08/04

    If you look at the berkeleyearth.org papers page, it appears as though one (surface stations one, is my guess) has been accepted if the methods one gets accepted (since the method actually is interesting, it will probably make it through).

  23. #23 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2012/08/05

    Obviously, you think Muller was going to send his papers to a good AGU journal instead of Science/Nature or even GRL?

  24. #24 Brian Dodge
    2012/08/06

    I have worked as tech support for a scientist/surgeon(/artist/chef- polymath) and she frequently suggested reviewers with whom she, uhm, “disagreed” – because if someone is motivated to find fault, but the best they can come up with is ” recommend rejection because I wouldn’t have done it THAT way”(grumble, grumble, waves hands & stalks off in a huff), ya know ya got a solid paper. Especially when your work contradicts theirs. Takes cojones, but most published scientists got em. – e.g., “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming.” Take that, every National Academy of Science and major science group! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he sent “courtesy” in your face I’m smarter than you copies to the Koch’s, Morano, Inhofe, Lindzen

  25. #25 James Annan
    2012/08/07

    Late on this and I hardly care, but it seems to me that at least some AGU editors have a rather bad and lazy habit of simply relying on the suggested reviewers, sometimes without too much consideration as to their suitability and independence from the authors.

    Seems like an open invitation to gaming the system, though some papers are sufficiently awful that they fail nevertheless.

    [Ah, c'mon, you have to post *something* -W]

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