Holy editor resignation, Batman!

This couldn't be more damming:


the paper by Spencer and Braswell [1] that was recently published in Remote Sensing... should therefore not have been published... I agree with the critics of the paper. Therefore, I would like to take the responsibility for this editorial decision and, as a result, step down as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing... I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper's conclusions in public statements

Spencer and the Mystery Journal refers, as does the eerily-similar von Storch Climate Research affair.

h/t: JM and FS.

Updated to add: the more detailed reasons are interesting:

If a paper presents interesting scientific arguments, even if controversial, it should be published and responded to in the open literature. This was my initial response after having become aware of this particular case. So why, after a more careful study of the pro and contra arguments, have I changed my initial view? The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature (cf. [7]), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal.

What I read that to mean is that Yes, novel and interesting challenges to the established view should be published - perhaps even get given a slightly easier ride, if they are novel. But No: just saying the same old thing again isn't any good.

Another update: Woy Wesponds: it appears the IPCC gatekeepers have once again put pressure on a journal for daring to publish anything that might hurt the IPCC's politically immovable position that climate change is almost entirely human-caused. I can see no other explanation for an editor resigning in such a situation. Quite where Woy gets the evidence for IPCC involvement is a mystery; presumably, it is inconceiveable that there could possibly be anything wrong with any of his papers. Spencer's "Update 2" is funny as well; his "immediately corrected" is a joke; his temperature series was wrong for years on end, before RSS put him straight.

Update, again: this is just too funny: Woy, in the comments section:

Well, well...is that you, Kevin Trenberth, hiding behind a screen name? [Obscurity - WMC] First of all, our results were GLOBAL, so transport between regions are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Secondly, the lag associated with the heat carrying capacity was central to the point we were making!!! If you even bothered to read our paper, you would understand that! OMG! You are wasting time and space here with your straw men and red herrings! CONGRATULATIONS, OBSCURITY, YOU ARE THE FIRST TO BE BANNED FROM THIS SITE. THE CHARGE IS EITHER (1) CHRONIC IGNORANCE, OR (2) MALICIOUS OBFUSCATION. YOUR CHOICE.

Another update: Spencer will be delighted: the creationists are on his side.


* Grauniad
* Beeb Journal editor resigns over 'problematic' climate paper
* Remote Sens. 2011, 3(9), 2002-2004; doi:10.3390/rs3092002 Editorial: Taking Responsibility on Publishing the Controversial Paper "On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth's Radiant Energy Balance" by Spencer and Braswell, Remote Sens. 2011, 3(8), 1603-1613. Wolfgang Wagner; Published: 2 September 2011
* MediaMatters: Journal Editor Resigns After Publishing Flawed Climate Study Touted By Forbes, Fox
* Retraction Watch
* Deltoid
* Bart
* Peter Gleick in Forbes
* QS
* Fluffy

* SMBC (its even vaguely relevant: h/t: BA)
* BB
* arstechnica
* Nurture - but beware porkies in the comments
* Science
* Kevin Trenberth, John Abraham, and Peter Gleick say Spencer is cr*p
* RP Sr foams at the mouth

More like this

Wow ... that's stunning. Roy Spencer must be apoplectic right now.

[Speaking of which, I left a comment on his blog. But it seems to have mysteriously vanished. This is up there now: I wonder if it will stay -W]

I'm playing bingo - how long until I get the coveted "This only shows the *power* of the global warming conspiracy" square filled?

[Too easy, you've won already -W]

William, Spencer now has a whole post up on his blog, unsurprisingly proclaiming this to be due to political pressure, lamenting something about the media running with the story (ignoring his own press release).

I'm not linking there, my SiteAdvisor goes crazy on his site.

SteveWW, by the time you wrote that comment, WUWT was already hosting a whiny tirade by Roy:

"Instead, it appears the IPCC gatekeepers have once again put pressure on a journal for daring to publish anything that might hurt the IPCCâs politically immovable position that climate change is almost entirely human-caused. I can see no other explanation for an editor resigning in such a situation."

Comment #1 compares Roy to Galileo. No doubt it will be an interesting thread.

Re: the wtf thread. Yes it's amazing watching them decide that his stated reason is a lie, as is his support for publishing minority views.
Morton's demon is strong.

By blueshift (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

Judith's bottom line:

So should the paper by Spencer & Braswell have been published? Ideally, it would have undergone a more rigorous peer review and have been improved as a result of that process. Spencer & Braswell make some points that are worth considering, but this needs to be done in a more rigorous manner (and with much less hype.)

Totally ignoring the editors' lament made just as he was falling on his sword:

The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature (cf. [7]), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper

Has the actual paper been retracted yet?

By Nathan Johnson (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

Doesn't retraction normally require some degree of cooperation from the authors?

Erratum: Damning, as well.

Judy seems interested in staying just this side of the line where people at conferences start laughing and pointing at her when her back is turned.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

No, actually retraction does not, although it is unusual. In the rare cases where it happens there is often a finding of fraud. Poke around retraction watch for examples

Spencer's acting like a three year old at his blog ... whoever "obscurity" is, he's got spencer rattled and upset.

I fear this editor resignation will have little positive effect overall.
The climate denialists will claim they are the victims of an organized persecution to silence them, and play the Galileo card.

Hi William,

It is me, "Obscurity". And no, I am not Trenberth, although I am flattered that Roy would think so. But really, paranoid much Roy?

[I think the OMG's you've got out of Spencer are wonderful. And yes, you're right about the longstanding problems with S+C which he wasn't exactly keen to fix -W]

Sadly, Roy banning me from his site is quite ironic and hypocritical given his (unsubstantiated) allegations of gate keeping and censorship against the IPCC etc. I also called him on some rather egregious errors in another recent blog post by him titled "The Al Gore Show: 24 Hours of Denying Reality". Pay close attention to the second graphic he posts on that thread.

Here is my reply to his defense that they were proactive in correcting the temperature record. First his indignant reply:

""Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D. says:
September 2, 2011 at 1:33 PM

OMG! You did it again! Wentz & Mears discovered a correction that needed to be made, one which no one else would have ever thought of (orbital decay)â¦improvements in science like this happen all the time.

We have also found an error in THEIR processing, but we were gentlemen enough to let them know rather than writing a paper on it! And now THEIR temperatures are diverging COOLER than ours, and by a substantial amount! Have you noticed that?? Itâs because their diurnal cycle correction is based on climate MODELS, which have notoriously bad diurnal cycles. (Ask Trenberth, whom you apparently rely on for talking points)."

My reply (which never appeared because he censored me):

"Hello Roy,

You elected to miss the point entirely, and I'm not particularly interested in more obfuscation from you on this point.

The fact remains that you knew that your product was an outlier well before 2005 (Hurrell and Trenberth (1997) highlighted some potential problems with the MSU data), yet, at least initially it seems that you chose to believe that everyone else was wrong. Why? Only you know why, but I suspect it is because you liked the answer-- cooling versus warming. and there is good reason for saying that; Roy can you tell your readers where this quote comes from:

"Spencerâs article (â1995: The Warmest Year That Wasnâtâ) relies, as expected, on the satellite data; he is the author of the famous Science paper that first showed the satellites werenât finding any warming. It, too, is very well written.".

" You did it again! Wentz & Mears discovered a correction that needed to be made, one which no one else would have ever thought of (orbital decay)..."

Actually the Mears and Wentz (2005) wrote a paper speaking to the diurnal correction, a separate issue. Wentz and Schabel wrote a paper about the orbital decay in Nature 1998, you then wrote a paper in 2000 with Christy and Braswell in which you applied their correction (which you had been aware of since 1998 b/c Wentz and Schabel kindly provided you with a copy of their 1998 paper before it was published)-- so again after someone else had identified the problem and come up with a solution before you did.

Yes, correcting errors is an improvement to the science, but what you seem intent on ignoring is that said corrections did not initially come from you nor John."

Sadly, this resignation is allowing the "skeptics" to play the victim and entertain all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories. The real victim here if any, IMHO, is Dr. Wagner-- unfortunate, because he is the one with the guts and integrity to man up for a mistake and take the fall for a mistake that was not even his.

By Obscurity (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

Leave Spencer to the dustbin of history he so thoroughly deserves.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

Spencer's conspiracy rant is pretty funny. Amazing that the big monster IPCC and their "gatekeepers" has become so powerful that they are able to have such incredible control over every journal where climate science studies are published. It is even to the point where the editor is clearly forced to make those carefully-worded canned statements as to "why" he's resigning, words I'm sure he's extremely ashamed to say, but had to say them for otherwise he would lose his job. Oh wait...clearly they've gone much further than this, maybe promising to destroy his credit rating and threatening his family.

Or maybe Spencer's paper just isn't very good. Nahhh. As stated by Spencer today, he's only made one mistake in his career.

Meanwhile in the real world can you imagine if this paper had been about galaxy structure that the editor would have resigned over something like this?

[Because it would never have been published in the first place -W]

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink


The results of a crappy paper like this would not have been abused by the authors and the conservative media in the way this one was if it was about the structure of galaxies.

Your analogy is so inappropriate on so many levels, that I really don't want to begin to address it on a late night blog comment. Think a little more closely about your analogy and come up with a better one.

By Rattus Norvegicus (not verified) on 02 Sep 2011 #permalink

IMO Wagner gave the real reason for resigning, just a little obliquely:

"The managing editor of Remote Sensing selected three senior scientists from renowned US universities, each of them having an impressive publication record."

His boss, managing editor, Mr Elvis Wang, is an MDPI office wallah, and AFAIK not a scientist. That's a pretty unusual level at which to choose referees. And when they all turn out to be sceptics, and don't pick up on all the stuff S&B aren't citing, then I think that's a classic situation where the scientist Editor-in-Chief just can't continue.

@ 20 Nick Stokes, I fully agree.

sagree. Seems to me that one of the few cards left in the hands of these folks is the conspiracy card. And the conspiracy just keeps growing to include more and more people in on it.

You can't even invoke Occam's Razor ... because the response is that Occam's Razor is a response invented by the conspirators.


So are you saying that bad papers don't get published in other fields, and that it isn't discovered later in some cases? Say in what might argue are even more important fields like Medicine?

[I'm not really sure what you're trying to get at (I thought you'd be back, and was pondering this while sculling today). So, your question was "can you imagine if this paper had been about galaxy structure that the editor would have resigned over something like this?" Why don't you try giving your own answer to what I think was your real question: "why has the editor resigned in this case?" -W]


You can take that as an additional analogy. I seem to recall some kind of issue with a paper on the subject of vaccines? Who resigned after that one?


Do we now know who the referees were?

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

Nicolas, there has been quite a bit of pressure on Horton to resign from The Lancet. But unlike Wagner (he likely was not pressured to resign, no matter what the deniocrowd is screaming), Horton did not.

There's another difference: Wagner has his normal dayjob as a professor, Horton is The Lancet's professional Editor-in-Chief. No job when he quits...(most of his side-jobs are very much linked to his Editor function).

I seem to recall some kind of issue with a paper on the subject of vaccines? Who resigned after that one?

I think you're ignoring a key issue, which is the youth of the journal. They're only beginning to build a reputation. Chances are, most people are only aware of them to do with this kerfuffle.

Your new analogy fails because the Lancet is "one of the world's best known, oldest, and most respected general medical journals", according to Wikipedia anyways. They can shrug off a little fail now and again because the fail is much smaller than the rest of their body of work.

Remote Sensing can't.

NN -- "Do we now know who the referees were?"

After claiming in comments at his blog that the reviewers were anonymous and he didn't know who they were except for one, Spencer went on to claim they were all highly published on the subject of climate sensitivity.

Spotted the problem with that? More HERE from Obscurity 2/9/11 9:45 PM

No one can separate the publicity campaign (which Spencer was heavily involved in) from the paper and its publication, which is why the galaxy thing is a flubber.

The vaccine issue is closer, but so what? Remember what your mom was supposed to tell you? It doesn't matter what the others do.


Well I thought my point was obvious but I'll make it explicitly. In my opinion Wagner's resignation was about politics not science. And by that I don't mean any conspiracy, I just mean that Wagner was unhappy being associated with the paper. There was no need to resign over the scientific issue here. The course of action is I think well understood. If he thought that the authors had been misleading, or made some fundamental flaw he would first ask for their comments on the issue. If he was unsatisfied with the response he would ask them to retract. If they refused he would go through whatever process the journal had to consider retraction if that was appropriate for the alleged errors. In addition he would likely have sought comments from scientists on the specific errors.

[I think Wagner's resignation was about his own personal reputation and morality. I've just said so in a new post. I agree that it would be natural to get the paper retracted; that it hasn't been suggests, to me, that the journal has refused to let it be retracted, just as occurred in the von S affair a while ago. You think that "Wagner was unhappy being associated with the paper" and I agree; that seems obvious -W]

I actually don't understand what the problem was with the analogy to a paper galaxy structure. I assume that by saying that was a bad analogy you all are saying that what makes this different are the political implications. That isn't science which is where I started.


I had guessed that Wagner had a day job. My next guess is that he perceives that this resignation will benefit him professionally. Let's wait to see where he pops up next.


If the problem is for remote sensing then again Wagner didn't need to resign unless this was all his idea.

J Bowers,

Well we still don't know who they are, so the statement by Nick that they were all climate skeptics seems like a flyer. Maybe true, but without evidence. We in fact don't seem to know a single one of the reviewers although Spencer says he does.

[The evidence is Wagner's resignation letter; he says it in there -W]

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

See http://www.mdpi.com/ and http://www.mdpi.com/journal/remotesensing/editors/

Dr. Shu-Kun Lin is the Publisher of a vast array of journals,
even larger than Otto Kinne's group, which included Climate Review.

Each CR associate editor had *complete* control over the selection of reviewers and acceptance, which led to the Soon&Baliunas mess. There was no E-i-C and Kinne named von Storch to become one.

von Storch wanted to write an editorial and demanded veto power to avoid the Soon&Baliunas, Kinne wouldn't let him, so he (and others) resigned.

There are differences, but some parallels. The powers of the E-i-C can vary widely among journals, especially those run outside science societies. In this case, we have no idea of the relationships among Publisher, Managing Editor, Edtiorial board, as to who exactly does what.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink


Well we still don't know who they are, so the statement by Nick that they were all climate skeptics seems like a flyer. Maybe true, but without evidence.

Wagner says he knows who they are and that they're climate skeptics. Your claim that Nick's statement is "without evidence" is bogus.

Now, if you want to claim that Nick's evidence is unreliable because you think Wagner's a liar, well, say so clearly.


That's what I was asking. Where does Wagner say that they are climate skeptics? I didn't read his resignation letter did he say that there?

["the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate sceptic notions of the authors". He uses a c, as he should, so your search didn't find it -W]

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

Ok, here is what he says.

"But, as the case presents itself now, the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate sceptic notions of the authors."

Doesn't change any of the fundamentals but I see where this statement comes from. As I said we still don't know who they are.

By Nicolas Nierenberg (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

NN -- "Well we still don't know who they are, so the statement by Nick that they were all climate skeptics seems like a flyer."

It's in Wagner's resignation grenade. It doesn't exactly beggar belief that Wagner's been reading up on not only the climate sensitivity literature but also the blogs, and half a day's reading would let you know where they stand, especially if all three are oh-so-spookily-and-coincidentally consultants/experts for the likes of Heartland or CEI. Even I can take a punt at who they were, and I'd even put money on it. Given that probably only a handful of sceptical scientists have actually published on sensitivity or attribution (of course, I'm more than willing to be corrected), what are the chances that all reviewers, as a random choice, would be sceptics?

[Oh go on then, present your guess, and optionally offer to bet up to £50 on your being right on all three (not a very attractive offer, I know). Pay-out only if we get to know for certain who they were, of course -W]

Nicolas, I doubt resigning benefits his career in any other way than being known as a very ethical person who does not like being abused for political purposes.

Which, of course, is not a minor personal issue, but Horton has had very little 'political' damage from his defense of the Wakefield paper. So, Wagner can't expect much.

William, I'll make a few educated guesses, but won't put any money in, on the 5 reviewers Spencer selected:
1. John Christy
2. Fred Singer
3. David Douglass
4. Roger Pielke Sr
5. Stephen Schwartz

I'm least certain about the latter two. If I get two right, I'll only claim bragging rights.

[Good thoughts. I'd forgotten Schwartz, but yes he satisfies the two criteria of publishing on Climate sensitivity and being hopelessly wrong. RP Sr? Maybe. Agree the others are plausible -W]

Hang on, I thought we were guessing on the actual three? As I'll do it for the dosh, I'll present mine tomorrow.


Substitute Lindzen for Singer in your list and I'd say it looks pretty plausible. He his highly published, has published on sensitivity and, most importantly, he is wrong.

By Rattus Norvegicus (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

Wm., let's make it more interesting. There were three responses to the paper from the reviwers; one asked for a major revision, one asked for a minor revision, the remaining one said to publish as is. I'll try to tie the individual name to the level of revision as well ;)

Having lately reinforced Silverberg's Law of Scientific Publication "

'90% of the papers published are junk.'

Roy seems bent on proving Minsky's Corollary:

'So are 95% of the remainder.'

Both cut in with axiomatic vengeance when there are less than 20 bona fide scientists publishing on one side of an issue.

If Roy sounds like a possum in the throes of major organ death , it's because only 19 published souls attended the first Heartland Conference, where his tautology debuted, and their dribble of dud papers just can't sustain scientific curiosity.

Pace Al Gore, the spectators at this wrassling match are dying of boredom because the stars no longer have the strength to lift their folding chairs unassisted .

By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

Eli is right. To my knowledge, normally only the authors themselves can retract a paper, which is the honorable thing to do for authors noticing after publication that their paper is fundamentally flawed. Less fundamental, but still essential, flaws can be addressed by a 'corrigendum'.

A paper being retracted by a journal is very unusual, and that is for a reason. It may happen when a paper is found to be fraudulent, as was the case with a recently retracted Wegman paper. Anything less than proven fraud won't do.

It's a bit like getting a tenured professor fired, which is similarly almost impossible, for similar reasons. As Steven Dutch writes:

Once professors get tenure, it pretty much takes a thermonuclear weapon to remove them. That protection is there because a significant part of our job is to tick people off. We tell them things they don't want to hear, like the earth is 4.6 billion years old, there is a finite amount of oil in the ground, you can't provide government services without taxes, we really did go to the moon, or they didn't learn enough to pass the course.

By Martin Vermeer (not verified) on 03 Sep 2011 #permalink

"In this case, we have no idea of the relationships among Publisher, Managing Editor, Edtiorial board, as to who exactly does what."
John, you have a point there. I did find in the DPMI pages this statement:
"The Editorial Offices will organize peer-review and collect at least two review reports per manuscript, ask the authors for adequate revision (peer-review again whenever necessary), before requesting the decision of an external editor (usually the Editor-in-Chief of a journal or the Guest Editor of a special issue)."

Seems odd - the E-i-C only comes in at the end. It seems to put them in an impossible position if the review selection wasn't done properly, and reviewers didn't inform them properly. So I'm not surprised Wagner didn't want any more of it.

"The Wasted Space-Time Continuum"
-- Horatio Algeranon's versification of a rant by Roy Spencer at his blog
(Horatio took a few liberties, but very few)

Well, well...Kevin Trenberth, is that you?
Hiding behind a screen name as you do?
Your points are lame
Our results were GLOBAL
-- and your straw men are ignoble.
If you even bothered to read our paper,
You would not be passing vapor!
OMG! You're wasting time and space
With your red herrings at my place!
FROM THIS SITE, (your hide is tanned)
OR MALICIOUS OBFUSCATION. Whichever your preference

By Horatio Algeranon (not verified) on 04 Sep 2011 #permalink

A proper analogy is if you had some intelligent design "scientist" who went shopping for journals and published a paper that had already been refuted in in the literature, and then issued a press releases declaring that Evolution had been totally disproven, and then used every media outlet who'd listen to publicize those results. It's perfectly reasonable for fields like climate science and evolution to be sensitive to such publicity, given the huge disconnect between what scientists believe and what the public believes. Astronomy is being attacked 50 times per second in the media.

Okay, for 50 squid...

Pielke Sr.; major revision.
Lindzen; minor revision.
Soon; publish as is.

[Accepted, even though I think there is a reasonable chance that you are correct -W]

@ Wm.

Tell you what, then; let's make it a donation to a charity of your choice if I'm wrong, and my choice if I'm right, if you're okay with that?

[Fair enough. It is unlikely that we'll ever know, so pay-out isn't probable -W]