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New Climate Analysis Group Slams Nature And Science Magazines

A new climate group sought to replicate findings from recent analyses – and did – and Richard Black at the BBC seeks to spin that as stating Phil Jones of East Anglia University needs an apology.

Did anyone really doubt the numbers would match?   While the ‘hockey stick’ was an unfortunate Frankenstein-ed series of graphs to make a point, the data was not fraudulent, no one says it was (well, no one not a partisan kook) but they instead say that the researchers had a bunker mentality and sought to block freedom of information requests and to pressure contrarian findings out of journals – which the emails showed for anyone to see.

Black certainly finds a silver lining in the work of The Berkeley Earth Project. Worse, he can’t even get NASA or NOAA correct (‘Nasa’) but does manage to understand that East Anglia (UEA) is an acronym.  I get that the BBC would like to be more ‘new media’ and that means not having editors, but it should also mean having someone pontificating on climate studies who has actually seen NASA before three days ago.

But NASA is not his point of discussion, vindication of Dr. Phil Jones at East Anglia seems to be.  Or perhaps vindicating all climate scientists, it’s hard to tell with partisans who masquerade as journalists.  It’s not that Black is wrong, no one expected Jones to be wrong and the data certainly has shown we have a problem, it’s that science cheerleading is a lot more cloying in 2011 than it was even in 2006. Generally, journalists should knock it off and get back to being trusted guides for the public but some of them think they don’t frame the data enough.  It’s a key reason why science journalism has evaporated and been replaced by Science 2.0, just like this new group seeks to bypass legacy peer-review and first open the data for commentary.

The Berkeley Earth Project was founded by physics professor Richard Muller, who was worried that climate groups were not open with their data and methods – the complaint behind“ClimateGate” – so how does Black feel it vindicates them or find it means Jones is owed an apology?  No clue, since the Berkeley group was founded to help marginalize researchers like Jones, who even former members of the East Anglia CRU regarded as kind of a global warming cult figure, and get people talking about data rather than personalities.

The Berkeley group contains newest physics Nobel laureate Saul Perlmutter, who is soon likely to be tired of having his name invoked for legitimacy, and its intent was simple; “I was deeply concerned that the group [at UEA] had concealed discordant data,” Muller told BBC News.  “Science is best done when the problems with the analysis are candidly shared.”

Is he trapped in 1990?  Surely he recognizes that modern science is about using gray literature and then releasing media talking points six months before the results and declaring science issues settled, right?  

Well, of course it isn’t and it’s a reason climate scientists have a credibility gap, even among other scientists.  The data is correct but they created their own public relations nightmare (along with science journalists who are interested in cheerleading or doing good works) so they have to battle back from it.  The Berkeley Earth Project is pulling no punches and is funded by groups across the board, including, as Black notes, the industrialist Koch brothers, who have funded research to poke holes into global warming studies.

But it’s the modern science mentality that really get condemned. While Phil Jones is cautious toward the results because they aren’t in a peer-reviewed journal (he would be – the emails from him that set off ClimateGate showed intentional efforts to block publication of any contrarian data in those journals) the Berkeley group says releasing the data first, before peer review, and going open science is a return to the historical way.

Seven of the 10 are physicists so it is no surprise that they prefer pre-publication, like is done with arXiv.  

“That is the way I practised science for decades; it was the way everyone practised it until some magazines – particularly Science and Nature – forbade it,” Muller said. “That was not a good change, and still many fields such as string theory practice the traditional method wholeheartedly.”

Pre-printing has gotten a cold reception from biology and earth scientists, however, so clearly they like the current system. Physicists generally don’t have the same impact factor fetish as some fields but blaming the magazines for the change seems a little off base; if anything they had more power 30 years ago so open science would not exist at all if they still retained any authority beyond what researchers choose to give then. The magazines are doing what they can get away with because very few researchers object. In that sense they are reflecting the culture, not creating it.