The Warmists Strike Back

Oppose the warmists, and they will enact punishment upon you. 

Dr. Roy Spencer from the University of Alabama Huntsville recently published a paper along with his colleague Dr. Dan Braswell that made quite a splash in the media; their research found that the IPCC and other global warming researchers had underestimated the amount of heat being reflected back into space.  UAH is the principle research establishment that collects and analyzes satellite data, and an analysis of data from NASA's Terra satellite showed that more energy was being reflected into space than was previously thought. They published their findings -- which use the standard models employed by the IPCC and others -- as their starting point, showing why those models are wrong.  Their paper (see here) appeared in the journal Remote Sensing.

While the results may have been conflated by "denier" bloggers, they still struck at the core of climate change theory.  If the Earth's atmosphere is reflecting more heat than thought, then the climate models are wrong. 

This could not stand! 

The editor of Remote Sensing, the publishing journal, has resigned.

According to Wolfgang Wagner's resignation:

Their (the reviewers) aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims.

Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell ... is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.

And so Wagner resigned.  The journal did not issue a retraction.  They did not publish rebuttals.  He resigned.  That is quite an odd thing to do, based on the complaints of critics.

Those complaints were chiefly:

1. Spencer and Braswell did not include rebuttals from other researchers.

2. They issued a press release for the media and the general public.

3. The paper was "off topic" because it wasn't the principle focus of Remote Sensing.

But Spencer and Wagner used the work of other researchers as their starting point; they were rebutting a rebuttal.  And issuance of a press release is standard operating procedure, and we've seen the IPCC issue innumerable hysterical rants for the press and public.  And wouldn't a solid scientist interpreting satellite data publish in a journal called Remote Sensing?

That last highlights an important point, one proven by the Climategate e-mails: "deniers" are discriminated against in the big climatological journals.  They aren't published simply because they are not allowed in.  The BBC article I cited tries to make the ludicrous claim:

They also commented on the fact that the paper was not published in a journal that routinely deals with climate change. Remote Sensing's core topic is methods for monitoring aspects of the Earth from space.

Publishing in "off-topic" journals is generally frowned on in scientific circles, partly because editors may lack the specialist knowledge and contacts needed to run a thorough peer review process.

So what? Maybe the reviewers at the journals are less qualified to review them, but anyone can submit a rebuttal to that journal or others.  If an editor publishes junk science, he issues a retraction, or publishes a rebuttal. 

That is how science is supposed to work.

In 2003, Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado targeted Hans Von Storch, editor of the journal Climate Research:

One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word 'perceived' here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about -- it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts. ... Mike's idea to get editorial board members to resign will probably not work -- must get rid of von Storch too, otherwise holes will eventually fill up with people like Legates, Balling, Lindzen, Michaels, Singer, etc.

Now, Von Storche believed that global warming was real and caused by humanity.  He testified before Congress:

Based on the scientific evidence, I am convinced that we are facing anthropogenic climate change brought about by the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But he had been critical of the CRU for refusing to share data.  He would be forced to resign just days before becoming editor-in-chief at Climate Research.

Ditto Geophysical Review Letters.  In 2005 Michael Mann, then at the University of Virginia, e-mailed the Team:

Just a heads up. Apparently, the contrarians now have an "in" with GRL [Geophysical Research Letters]. This guy Saiers has a prior connection w/ the University of Virginia Dept. of Environmental Sciences that causes me some unease. I think we now know how the various Douglass et al papers w/ Michaels and Singer, the Soon et al paper, and now this one have gotten published in GRL

To which Tom Wigley replied:


This is truly awful. GRL has gone downhill rapidly in recent years. ... If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU [American Geophysical Union] channels to get him ousted.

Editor James Saiers resigned shortly thereafter.

Not only getting editors fired, but squeezing prestigious journals became par for the course.  Consider this exchange about the Royal Meteorological Society:

If the RMS [Royal Meteorological Society] is going to require authors to make ALL data available - raw data PLUS results from all intermediate calculations - I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.

Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

I'm having a dispute with the new editor of Weather. I've complained about him to the RMS Chief Exec. If I don't get him to back down, I won't be sending any more papers to any RMS journals and I'll be resigning from the RMS.

Phil Jones, CRU

And let us not forget this little statement by Jones;

I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!

Indeed, indeed!  Now, remember, these aren't just minor researchers at podunk universities; these are the big powerhouses.  CRU is the primary collector and interpreter of raw surface data, and to be on a blacklist with the director of CRU would be cataclysmic for any editor.  There has been a fundamental, systematic attempt to subvert the system by those who believe global warming, er, climate change is a terrible crisis requiring a fundamental restructuring of human civilization.

And now those forces have claimed another scalp.

Roger Pielke, Sr., emeritus professor of the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and Senior Research Scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), had this to say on the matter:

Wagner is not an expert on the subject of the Spencer and Braswell paper, so he must have relied on input from individuals who were critical of their paper. He cites one reference (in addition to weblogs)

Treerth, K.E., Fasullo, J.T., O'Dell, C., Wong, T. Relationships between tropical sea surface temperature and top-of-atmosphere radiation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 2010, 37, L03702

... but presents no specific scientific information as to how that paper refutes Spencer and Braswell. Moreover, if there is a fundamental flaw in their work, than publishing a Comment in Remote Sensing would have resolved the issue. That is how science is supposed to work. As it is, Wagner has further politicized climate science.

Also, if Spencer and Braswell "essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents", they would be clearly (and easily) refuted in  a Comment in Remote Sensing. This would be an embarrassment to Spencer and Braswell, but that is how the scientific method works.

I have  read the Spencer and Braswell paper in detail, and while I agree that some of the media exposure has been exaggerated and misplaced, the science in their paper appears robust. I certainly can be wrong, but I do not see a fatal flaw in what they did (i.e. an error such that the paper should have been rejected).

If their analysis is robust (even if minor technical errors exist), it is going to make Wolfgang Wagner look very biased. The ultimate arbitrator of the Spencer and Braswell analysis and conclusions will be in the peer-reviewed literature not on weblogs, or whether or not the Chief Editor of a journal decides to resign over a paper.

So, why did this happen? Someone applied pressure to present the image of academic malfeasance on the part of Spencer and Braswell. They could not challenge the substance, and it is doubtful that Remote Sensing was willing to ruin their reputation in the process, so the simplest answer was to have the editor resign (likely with a good severance package and good references) and make some disparaging statements. This made it appear that Spencer and Braswell were wrong without actually having to prove them wrong. Nice trick.

And it bears remembering that there are scientists who have admitted to great pressure to conform to the "consensus" or face professional exile.  The late Joanne Simpson, former Chief Meteorologist for NASA, comes to mind.

Science is supposed to be about truth, not what the party says is truth.  The modern science establishment is increasingly resembling George Orwell's Ministry of Love; two plus two equals five, if we say so!  After all, ignorance is strength!

Now stop that dissent.

Timothy Birdnow is a St. Louis-based writer. He blogs at