Just as some conservative media figures have cried censorship when their terrible movies aren't promoted in film festivals, they now think that if their error-laden, unoriginal papers pushing climate “skepticism” aren't published in top scientific journals, there is a “cover-up.”
The Drudge Report, an influential conservative news website, devoted the top spot of their site on May 16 to hype an article that claims climate scientists “COVERED UP SCEPTIC'S 'DAMAGING' REVIEW” and even compared it to the faux “Climategate” scandal.
The article by The Times, a British newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, suggests that because a paper by the University of Reading's Lennart Bengtsson was not published in a prestigious scientific journal, politically motivated suppression is behind the “cover-up.” Bengtsson recently resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which criticizes almost any policy to address climate change and sometimes misleads on climate science. He claimed that he faced criticism from fellow academics for joining an organization, which he compared to the political witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy.
Nicola Gulley, the editorial director of IOP Publishing, which oversees the journal in question (Environmental Research Letters) stated that the draft paper was not published because it “contained errors” and “did not provide a significant advancement in the field.” Top journals typically reject about nine out of ten papers submitted -- it is not a “cover-up” but a standard practice to accept only the papers that most advance the field.
The Times selectively quoted from one of the independent, anonymous peer-reviews of Bengtsson's submission, to suggest that the paper was rejected because it would help climate “skeptics,” which would be “harmful.” Gulley said that comments were “taken out of context” as the full quote from the reviewer was: “Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from [three scientific assessments], combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side.” The reviewer outlined that the paper notes differences between the assessments but “does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences” even though such explanations are readily available. He or she also noted that the “overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources.”
As Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford explained to the Science Media Centre, "[w]hether there is a story here at all depends on" how you read “harmful,” which could mean “harmful to our collective understanding of the climate system” rather than “harmful to the case for a particular climate policy.” Dr. Simon Lewis added that the editor, not the reviewer, would have final say: “What counts are the reasons the editor gave for rejection. They were because the paper contained important errors and didn't add enough that was new to warrant publication. Indeed, looking at all the comments by the reviewer they suggested how the paper might be rewritten in the future to make it a solid contribution to science. That's not suppressing a dissenting view, it's what scientists call peer review.”
Prof. Allen further noted that leaking a cherry-picked comment from a review for a politicized media story, as The Times did, is harmful to the progression of science:
The real tragedy here is that climate scientists are now expected to check their comments in an anonymous peer review to ask themselves how they might 'play' if repeated in the Times or the Mail. The progress of science since Galileo has depended on the principle that an anonymous graduate student can point out errors in a paper by a Nobel laureate confident that their comments will be used solely for the purposes of editorial judgement.
Even Bengtsson himself took issue with The Times article, saying he did not believe that there is “any systematic 'cover-up' of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being 'deliberately suppressed'”
I do not believe there is any systematic “cover up” of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being “deliberately suppressed”, as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact.
"I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer's comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewers' comments in full. I accept that Environmental Research Letters is entitled to its final decision not to publish this paper - that is part and parcel of academic life. The peer review process is imperfect but it is still the best way to assess academic work.
Those who dismiss the consensus of science often have to claim that the peer-review process -- in a massive conspiracy among the world's scientists -- is systematically suppressing “climate skeptics,” rather than weeding out misleading papers, because so few peer-reviewed scientific papers support their claims:
Drudge is right about one thing: this is an “Echo of Climategate” -- a private communication from a scientist is being taken out of context to try to discredit the extensive science demonstrating the risks of man-made climate change.