Climategate Peer Review: Science red in tooth and claw

See also see this story on proxies

I am a scientist and I have lived around fellow scientists for many years and I know their feeding habits well. I therefore know that the members of our secular priesthood are ordinary folk. But civilians were blind to this fact because our public relations department has labored hard to tell the world of our sanctity. “Scientists use peer review which is scientific and allows ex cathedra utterances. Amen.”

But the CRU “climategate” emails have revealed the truth that scientists are just people and that peer review is saturated with favoritism, and this has shocked many civilians. It has shaken their faith and left them sputtering. They awoke to the horrible truth: Scientists are just people!

Now all the world can see that scientists, like their civilians brothers, are nasty, brutish, and short-tempered. They are prejudiced, spiteful, and just downright unfriendly. They are catty, vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded, and nearly incapable of admitting to a mistake. And they are cliquey.

Thus, we see that the CRU crew define a “good scientist” as one who agrees with them, a “bad scientist” or “no scientist” as one who does not agree with them, and a “mediocre scientist” as somebody who mostly agrees with them. Further, these judgments are carried to the peer-review process.

Claiming lack of peer review was once a reasonable weapon in scientists’ argument armamentarium. After climategate, all can see that this line of logic is as effective as a paper sword.

Alfred's Global Warming Poem

For example: the CRU crew publicly cry, “If our skeptics had anything to say, let them do it through peer review, otherwise their claims don’t count.” Never mind that this parry is a logical fallacy—an argument is not refuted because it was uttered outside a members-only journal. Pay attention to what they say privately:

Proving bad behavior [about peer review] is very difficult. If you think that [Geophysical Research Letters editor] Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.1

They say that this journal or that one, because it dared publish peer-reviewed work that did not agree with the CRU consensus should be banished from the fold, and that its editors should resign or be booted, and that everybody should agree not to cite papers from those journals, and so on.

In other words, use muscle and not mind if you don’t like the results. Get rid of the editor and put an agreeable apparatchik in his place.

Another popular thrust: claim that it wasn’t real, genuine, honest-to-goodness peer review that led to skeptical findings being published. Something must have gone horribly wrong for those papers to have seen the light of day! Peer reviewed is thus implicitly defined as that process which publishes only those views that agree with prior convictions.

Sensing that that tactic could fail, some said, “Aha!, let’s see if we can disparage the authors of those skeptical papers: if we can successfully savage and malign them, then their findings are wrong.”

Yes, sir, dear reader, you guessed it. Another logical fallacy. It is absolutely no argument whatsoever to say a finding is wrong because its purveyor is “not a real climatologist” or “has not published much” or that he “has few citations from previous papers.”

It is also a fallacy to say that because a skeptical argument has appeared on a website—and could not pass through the gauntlet of the good-old-boy peer review system—that it need not be answered.

Here’s some advice to my fellow scientists: If an argument appears on a website, or on FOX news, or in a newspaper, or even on the back of the t-shirt, and that argument fails, then simply say so and say why. And then be done with it. Do not make an ass of yourself by claiming that answering criticisms that do not come from your circle of friends is beneath you.

If an argument that is old and has been well refuted elsewhere, say so, and say where a reliable refutation may be found. It makes you look desperate and foolish to say that the argument came from a blogger and is therefore suspect. And it makes people believe the blogger.

Anyway, do not cry foul over skeptical blogs and then simultaneously publish your own blog to disseminate your own beliefs. “They can’t publish a blog but we can.” That just looks stupid.

But don’t let’s get too carried away, everybody. These kind of behind-the-scenes activities, perhaps more heated in some respects, are the same in every field. Climate scientists are people and so are scientists in other areas. Bad behavior is nothing new and will never change, because people will always be people.


1I wrote to the author of those words and asked, “I can understand that you feel strongly about the matter, but does your conviction run to harming the career of a fellow scientist merely because he disagrees with you?” I’ll let you know if I receive and answer.

See also see this story on proxies


  1. William

    Very relevant to the ‘sociology’ of science as revealed by these e-mails are the last few chapters of Lee Smolin’s book ‘The Trouble with Physics’, which more or less says that the String Theory community is running a similar show there.

    This kind of thing – a capture of an entire field by a group of vocal, well-connected, and not entirely scrupulous people seems to be quite common. Unfortunately, when this is linked to political action (as with climate research) the potential for harm is greatly magnified.

  2. Good morning Matt,

    This post is quite a coincidence. Just this morning I was reflecting on the peer-review line as follows.

    Originally, the line was more or less that, Eventually peer-review will correct all errors and problems and our knowledge will be true and correct.

    Not long after that the line became, Peer-review is necessary but not sufficient.

    Recently, the line has become, Well, in spite of the marvelous peer-review system we employ in Climate Science, some crap will get published.

    However, the Evidence presented for crap seems to always and only be papers that are counter to The Consensus.

    My questions are, What is the probability that published crap will always and only be papers counter to the Consensus? and, What is the probability that no papers consistent with The Consensus will ever be crap?

    Thanks for any assistance.

  3. Sara

    Unseat the god of political correctness for it is that ideology or mythology that led these climate scientists down the road to hell, which we know is always paved with good intentions.

  4. David C.

    I have worked in and managed large teams in a large corporation’s technology community for 30 years. My academic background and training is adequate to understand the issues involved. Here is my take on the documents from a leadership perspective.

    What did not surprise me is the focus and intensity that “The Team” applies to supporting the policy (not scientific) implications of its work. I am not surprised that people feel energy from what they believe and want to apply that energy in every was possible to help their project. I have no problem with that. I expect teams to compete for time, attention, and funds.

    However, in my work life I did expect that the data on which the teams built their arguments would be available to me, without restriction or filtering. I could and did support teams when they encountered something new which could not have been anticipated. But if they ignored, hid, or gave short shrift to a known problem or potential problem, well that could be a career limiting experience.

    However, here the AGW teams act as an adjunct to government. Unlike in a corporate situtation, the teams are not competing for primacy of thier product, they compete for influence and funds as well as for the public outcome. Given the impact of the policy on the “customers” of government, it seems to me that the standards for openess should be higher. The stakes are far to high for this kind of adolescent, thuggish behavior. I have seen teenagers with more maturity than many of these adult scientists.

    Moreover, instead of collaborating to acheive transparancy, they did the opposite; deciding how to provide data in obscure or not useful formats, hiding analytical steps, using administrative process to hide behind. If I had seen a team acting like this, and once in a while in business it happens, nothing short of a wholesale leadership change would do. In additaion, since large amount of governement money has been spent, it would seem to me that a significnat investigation is in order, not on the science, but on the adminstrative process. I don’t fault the individual scientists (except so far as they did not break the law) but I think the adminstrators of each of these units needs a wake up call or needs to be replaced.

    In my historical context, this behavior signals a team in deep trouble. Not because of the science, what ever its standing. The problem is the culture that they have created. It is harmful to real scientific progress. Worse within that culture they do not know what truth is and have lost the ability to confront truth and deal with the implications. I have seen whole research departments (at companies other than my employer) where the atruthfullness (that is the impossibility of determining what is true and not true regardless of intention) of interaction prevents recovery.

    It’s a sad day, really, not matter what you think about AGW.

  5. JFK

    I have spent my entire career drawing conclusions from data in many different areas, e.g. lawsuits, insurance reserves, valuation of compaines, and for the past five years building models that predict insurance losses. Often I deal with analysts and modelers from outside my team who have studied their own data and arrived at different conclusions. The ones who are confident in their methods and want to get to the right answer do not hesitate to share their data with me, and engage in productive discussions about where we differ. I have always welcomed scrutiny of my work by a sceptical outsider because it can lead to new discoveries which I don’t hesitate to incorporate if they have merit. And if the outsider doesn’t know what he’s talking about that soon becomes clear to everyone.

    Then there are the ones who won’t share their data or code and provide limited detail about how they arrived at their conclusions. In every case I’ve found that the person is either under enormous political pressure to arrive at a pre-ordained conclusion, and their position and even their livelihood may be at risk if they don’t arrive at that conclusion. Or they know they are out of their league and detailed scrutiny of their methods would show that, so the withhold the data and details of the analysis and present their conclusions in an ex-cathedra manner.

    So given the history of the scientists in question of reluctance to provide data or engage with those who disagree with them, the contents of the CRU emails come as no surprise to me.

  6. John M

    Somehow, the subject of this post and title of the previous one seem to go together.

  7. Dialla

    You have bias and then you have the impact of the bias.

    Bias here on a scale from 1-10 is about a 7-8 but the impact is a 10, that is what makes this so bad.

    Often when the bias is 10 the impact is 1-2 and there isn’t a group invested in the result.

    This was a large group of 42 scientists invested in the result.

    That is what will make this the biggest scientific scandal of all time.

  8. Dialla hit the nail square on the head.

    This particular clique of vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded scientists happen to be prime movers of a theory (AGW) used to justify authoritarian socio-political economic upheavals, deprivations, and assalts on human rights worldwide. Setting aside their common personality defects, their science in support of their theory has been tainted with bias. That’s what’s important here. The science was bad. The proposed authoritarian punishments are without logical foundation.

    Science is widely (most if not all disciplines) tainted by political correctness, especially the observational (non-experimental) sciences. When the object of study is too big to put into a Petri dish, such as the atmosphere, a forest, an ocean, a wildlife population, a village, etc., then controlled experiments cannot be conducted. Observational evidence is weak compared to experimental evidence, and so the observational sciences are also weak. As a consequence, they are infected with cliques of vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded scientists who manipulate conformity to non-empirical (scant, tainted, observational evidence only, model-driven) theories.

    In this case, the magnitude of the authoritarian political response to the tainted theories overrides all that. I accept that Science is conducted by normal people and, as a result, is in many cases (including this one) highly defective. What I do not accept is worldwide authoritarian socio-cultural punishments and impoverishments for imaginary sins.

  9. Tony Hansen

    Dan Hughes,
    Both indistinguishable from zero?

    However, I have a problem with the definition of crap.
    What is a crap paper?
    Or what is the probability of any paper being unimpeachable?

  10. JD

    Well said Mr. Briggs, and some good comments too.

  11. SteveBrooklineMA

    “Now all the world can see that scientists, like their civilians brothers, are nasty, brutish, and short-tempered. They are prejudiced, spiteful, and just downright unfriendly. They are catty, vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded, and nearly incapable of admitting to a mistake. And they are cliquey.”

    Not all scientists are like that. Just the successful ones!

    Seriously though, as far as the science goes, I haven’t seen any smoking gun in these documents. Take for example the mail where one guys says he’s tried every statistical approach he can think of and still can’t get a significant warming trend from his data set. Now sure, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done, but let’s face the fact that everyone whose results aren’t looking too strong tries this.

  12. Alan D. McIntire

    I’m reminded of these statements by Richard Feynman on honesty in science:

    “I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
    but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
    the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
    tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
    girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be
    a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll
    leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about
    a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
    have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
    scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.”

    (second source)

    “It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can
    tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. ”

    Steve McIntyre, involved in mining, probably dealt frequently with people trying to sell mineral rights with the “used car salesman” /anti-Feynman approach: Bring out the good points and let the bad ones speak for themselves. I suspect that’s why he was skeptical of the Mann hockey stick paper in the first place.

  13. 49erDweet

    Matt said:“scientists [are]…..nasty, brutish, and short-tempered….. prejudiced, spiteful, and just downright unfriendly………catty, vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded, and nearly incapable of admitting to a mistake……… cliquey.”

    Rats! I’d never realized until now that I am a scientist.

  14. Beyond the impact on government, and the public, what about the impact on the scientific community itself ? It is not the pettiness that Hadley directed at their detractors that is most damaging, but they way they handled inconvenient questions from their supporters. This reinforces the impression that the pinnacle of the AGW crowd is a religious and not scientific movement. The greatest threat to the IPCC is not the skeptics, but supporters within the scientific community that realize that as far as Hadley was concerned questions – even from supporters were out of bounds. The skeptics are at best getting confirmation of what they already believed. It is supporters in the scientific community that may have the scales fall from their eyes.

  15. Rich

    49erDweet, you have an undistributed middle term in your implicit Minor Premiss thus your syllogism is invalid and your argument fails. Your conclusion, however, is true with a probability of 0 or 1.

  16. Ken

    The Wegman Report has a nice summary describing just how cloistered & incestuous the climate community is, including a social network analysis presented graphically.

    Type “Wegman Report” in your browser & then search the article using “peer review.” Here’s one link to it:

    This incestuousness was identified when Wegman’s group was reviewing challenges to Mann’s “hockey stick graph.” Which is to say they weren’t looking for it, but this was so apparent it ended up consuming almost 20 percent of that report (pages 38-48 of the 51 pages of the main report, excluding bibliography & appendices).

    In Wegman’s paper is the following tidbit:

    “The socail network analysis of authors’ relations suggests that the “independent reconstructions” [of historical temperature data] are not as independent as one might guess. … It is clear that many of hte proxies are re-used in most of the papers. It is not surprising tha tthe papers would obtain similar results and so cannot really claim to be independent verifications.” (pages 46-47)

    And in the Conclusions and Recommendations section (sect 7):

    “Conclusion 3: As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implicaitons of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently no independent statistical expertise was sought or used.”

    So there you have it, crude analyses copied & re-packaged [much like taking one’s older sibling’s high school Americal History paper & changing a few words & resbmitting it to the same teacher the next year], coupled with the outright self-segregation of the participants.

    That’s the same type of tactic used by organized crime families & toxic cults.

    Even given that mainstream science & its members can be “so ‘nasty, brutish, and short-tempered…prejudiced, spiteful, and just downright unfriendly … catty, vindictive, scornful, manipulative, narrow-minded, and nearly incapable of admitting to a mistake. And … cliquey.” the Wegman Report addressed the incestuousness observed with climatologists because they were and continue to be exemplars of the worst of this human characteristic.

  17. Bernie

    I agree. Wegman looks prescient in calling attention to and calling out the incestuous nature of this research. Looks like the foxes were guarding the IPCC hen house.

  18. Briggs

    I remember Wegman picking on me. He announced the AMS’s Probability & Statistics Committee only had two members that were actually statisticians, and that one of these was a lowly professor at a medical school.

    My attempts at emailing Wegman went unanswered.

    Sniff, sniff.


    Sorry for slow and unanswered comments. Been real busy.

  19. Scientific Doomsday Mania
    Amitakh Stanford
    22nd November 2009

    There is a doomsday message that is swiftly gaining global acceptance. The new wave is clothed in acceptable clichés and has won over the support of many of the respected scientific communities.

    Unlike most other doomsday messages, this one is supposedly based upon scientific evidence. The scientific “doomsdayers” wear masks and pretend that they are predicting calamities based on hard evidence. This lulls the unsuspecting public into absolute belief and acceptance of the doomsdayers’ ravings.

    If the same message were given in a spiritual setting, the adherents would probably be encouraged to turn to God in preparation for the final days. Generally, scientists have sneered at and mocked spiritual predictions regarding the end times, and the same scientists have convinced the general public to do likewise. Further, governments of the world use their police powers to suppress, restrict, or even eliminate these spiritual-based groups. Scientists have now one-upped the spiritual believers by supporting their dire predictions of calamity with supposed scientific evidence. Using their scientific clout, they have now convinced most of the world leaders to meet in Copenhagen. The stated agenda of the gathering is to halt global warming with a unified and urgent approach.

    People may remember that there have been similar gatherings to solve the global economic crisis. In those meetings, every leader attending was told to boost their economies by stimulus spending. By and large, the world leaders have dutifully followed those dictates. One might ask: Is the global recession over due to this unified approach – or is it deepening? Many thinking economists have finally realized the latter to be the case.


    Were the carbon traders truly concerned that global warming is a seriously urgent issue, they could perhaps justify following their untested carbon-trading notion. But if it were an urgent situation, why would they offer a solution that will take decades to take effect? If they have decades to work on the solution, by definition, it cannot be that urgent. And, if they have decades to implement their plan, could they not spend at least a few years or even a few months openly and transparently debating which course of action will save the planet from its imminent death?

    To demonstrate the absurdity of the current “green” position, consider that they are proposing massive increases in nuclear power because it is supposed to be carbon friendly. The nuclear proponents do not seem to care about the disposal of nuclear waste from these sites. This means that they are presenting an extremely short-sighted solution, which is not really a solution at all. Besides, the proponents of expanding nuclear power want to tremendously restrict who can and who cannot use nuclear power. For instance, Iran and North Korea are presently being ostracized for, among other things, having nuclear-power programmes. This is a glaring instance where part of the real agenda of the ruling elite shows through; the nuclear proponents are not as concerned about global warming as they are with political dominance.

    As indicated earlier, humans are only marginally responsible for global warming. The hotter sun is undeniable, and it is the main reason for global warming.


    This would be all well and good if it could be believed that scientists are acting in the people’s best interests. But, since when have scientists been assumed to be altruistic? Why is it accepted that they will only act in the best interests of humans? And why should it be accepted that the scientists are correct about human causes of global warming?


    The carbon-trading schemes, and other emissions-based solutions presented by the ruling elite’s scientific doomsdayers, will not solve global warming. But, if they get their way, they will change the lives of people for the worse.

  20. Briggs


    Dude. You’re frightening me.

  21. sabril

    I basically agree with JFK. My experience as an attorney has confirmed the rather obvious proposition that when people resist producing information in respsone to lawful requests for that information, it’s usually because that information is damaging to them.

  22. Tudor Eynon

    Well said William Briggs. All these points are ones that I would raise myself and, well, this is how, in my experience a lot of ‘science’ these days is being done.

    What is not appreciated is that, when the Anthromorphic Climate Change research grant bandwagon comes crashing down, as it will in about a decade or so, the damage that will be done to the public reputation of scientists and ‘science’ will leave a legacy that will take decades to undo.

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