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« Dear Kev | Main | Frankely, a bit of a stretch »

Why no resignation?

David Stockwell has a fascinating post about a paper in Nature by Thomas et al. Thomas is Chris Thomas of the University of Leeds and his co-authors include a bevy of academics as well as NGO people from bodies like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Conservation International.

The subject is the effects of climate change on biodiversity and the paper appears to be quite monumentally bad - one naturalist described it as the worst paper he had ever read. Thomas et al not only use climate models that have no proven skill at the habitat level as the basis for their projections but then assume that any species whose range expands under climate change will...go extinct. Amazing.

And this made it past the editorial team at Nature, the peer reviewers at Nature and the 2500 scientists in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report.

And has Philip Campbell resigned? Or Raj Pachauri?

This is why it's hard to give any credence to the utterings of the IPCC. Both they and the underlying scientific literature they claim to rely on are so corrupt, so bereft of any integrity, the idea of relying on them as the basis for public policy is absurd.

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Reader Comments (42)

Might be a chance to test an hypothesis of mine!

Conventional wisdom suggests that, to achieve a high citation index, one should produce a high quality paper.

My hypothesis is that one could achieve an even higher CI by producing the worst paper that you could get published. Not only would it be cited by anyone in the field, I suspect it would also be cited by a heap of "Me Too's" to show that they know of it. And thus a higher CI.

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

Your grace

The link behind, "one naturalist described it as the worst paper he had ever read."

appears to be to an out of date post (2007). At first glance, I cannot see anything appropriate in the up to date posts by the same blogger.

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Bates

Dear Mr Pachauri,



Sep 4, 2011 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterqwerty

Yeah well, Prof' Simon Lewis is of that Ilk [Leeds Uni] and remember how objective he is.

This looks like an undergrad' dissertation, if one reads along to the 'methods' in the paper [Nature] the warming scenarios are patent boondoggles, ie, by 2050 increase in T of 0.8 - 1.7 C with CO2 @ 500ppm, or >T of 1.7 - 2.0 C with 500 - 550ppmv and maximum 'expected scenarios' of > 2 C with CO2 >500ppmv blah blah.

What if............... apples and nuts and ifs and buts.

IPCC? - "the Threat to biodiversity!"....................... No change there then, what a desperate crew they are.


Sep 4, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan

Daniel Botkin has been a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 1979. Currently Dan is Professor Emeritus, Department ... has also worked as a professional journalist and has degrees in physics, biology, and literature.

The assumption was that any species whose range increases (or stays the same) will never go extinct. This is a sort of extreme cherry picking. Its a bit like giving a medical treatment (global warming) to a group and a certain percentage die, then saying the treatment (global warming) killed them, without considering how many would have died anyway. Maybe more got better than died, so the treatment was worth it. Perhaps delete was a bad choice of words on my part. But the flaw is a very basic experimental design issue.

The relevant chapter in WGII is typical of most of the IPCC that seems to be summaries of the abstracts, when the real uncertainties and problems are buried deep in the text, if at all.

On the issue of resignations, if everyone resigned over an error of judgement no-one would do anything.

Sep 4, 2011 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Stockwell

Can I ask you to reserve judgement on IPCC AR5?

I was a co-author on the Botkin et al paper which criticised Thomas et al, and am now a Lead Author on the Terrestrial and Inland Water Systems chapter in WG2 for AR5.

Please volunteer to review our First Order Draft when it is available early next year!

Sep 4, 2011 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

Richard Betts

Your request suggests that you may know something that the rest of us don't. In the absence of that information and with the present structure still intact, I think your request will fall on deaf ears.

Sep 4, 2011 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

I just finished reading your Botkin et al article. It was very clear, very measured and, IMHO, way too polite and circumspect. I can just see how it was critical of Thomas, but it is hardly a repudiation - at least for lay readers like myself. My sense after reading it, is that as statistician Matt Briggs ( ) would say, Thomas et al are far too certain of things that others would say we do not understand.
My fear is that reasoned and reasonable voices like yours are too easily drowned out by alarmists and extremists. For example, I heard an interesting story yesterday on the radio from one of the founders of that articles that are highly publicized remain heavily cited even after they are broadly refuted. I suspect that Thomas et al are still affirmatively quoted whereas your critical assessment of it is not acknowledged.
As with the media in general, bad news gets a headline where good news and genuine uncertainty seldom gets a mention.

Sep 4, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Richard Betts. You ask us to reserve judgement on AR5. I do value your contributions here but......

In WW1 Blackadder, Lord Melchett has a cunning plan, to bombard the enemyn lines and then go over the top with infantry charge. It did not work the previous 26 times, but it would work this time because the Germans would never beleive the British would be stupid enough to try it again.

The bombardment of the enemy lines by IPCC stalwarts has started, going over the top with outrageous claims has never stopped. Despite warnings from academic bodies, AR5 will include grey literature, which to quote Schmidt,(?) is easily tossed

If one of the definitions of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome, how cunning a plan is AR5 going to be?


Sep 4, 2011 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

I really do wonder how often journal editors resign over articles which are not retracted?

Sep 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Why No Resignation ?
Because David Stockwell's fascinating post is just a blogpost that's got into a report by right wing think tank Heartland Institute . It's opinion, that is all .

Sep 4, 2011 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone


Yes, just keep telling yourself that. Don't let those horrible doubts creep in..

Sep 4, 2011 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJJB MKI

Donna Lafromboise has also blogged about Chris Thomas (whose recent paper was behind the BBC's "Species flee warming faster than previously thought" story last month.)

Sep 4, 2011 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Dr Betts -
A side point on which I'm curious and would appreciate some clarification. If a scientist wishes to rebut a paper, is it typical to publish in the same journal as the original paper? Or in another place? What considerations apply, from the perspectives of the authors and journals?

I ask because in the instance at hand (Thomas et al.), the original paper was in Nature, while your rebuttal appeared in Bioscience. Apparently a rebuttal to S&B's Remote Sensing paper will appear shortly in Geophysical Research Letters. Elsewhere it has been suggested that a proper response to S&B would lie in a Comment at Remote Sensing.

Sep 4, 2011 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

HaroldW, rebuttal papers could very well be sent either to the original journal or to somewhere completely different; there are no hard and fast rules. Comments would always be sent to the original journal, but these are rarely used, partly because they usually have ferocious word limits, but also because journals often reject them out of hand. You normally try a comment if the rebuttal is simple, short, and devestating, and if the original journal is high profile, but it can be simpler just to send a new paper somewhere else, particularly if you have something new to say beyond the simple rebuttal.

In my Gaussian Sums case I sent a 1 page comment (which was, IMAO, devestating) to Phys Rev Lett, which they rejected out of hand (the reply from the authors of the original paper apparently convinced them that my comment had no merit). So I extended it into a 2 page mini article which I sent to Phys Lett A. They sent it to independent referees who agreed with me, and so it was published there.

Note that rebutting a paper is quite different from getting a paper withdrawn; that only happens when the faults in the paper go well beyond honest mistakes.

Sep 4, 2011 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Jones

"...Apparently a rebuttal to S&B's Remote Sensing paper will appear shortly in Geophysical Research Letters. Elsewhere it has been suggested that a proper response to S&B would lie in a Comment at Remote Sensing...."

"Eric Calais, Editor in Chief" --

"Let's hope that new editor-in-chief Eric Calais has a better grasp of the journal's rules than his predecessor," -- Montfort

Sep 4, 2011 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Channon

Yesterday Andrew Montford tweeted that most of a critical appraisal of Spencer was ad-hom . When I asked him to substantiate his comment Montford's reply was that the ad-hom was in examining Spencer's motivations. It's a very wide definition of ad hominem, but Montford supports this by tweeting "the motivations are irrelevant to the science".

Today Montford is taking the opposite stance and attacking the integrity of 2500 scientists in an ad-hom attack "they and the underlying scientific literature they claim to rely on are so corrupt, so bereft of any integrity..." There's no support offered for the words corrupt and bereft of any integrity.

So Montford's maxim that 'the motivations are irrelevant to the science' only applies when it's convenient to Andrew Montford. Examination of the motives for say Roy W Spencer of The George C. Marshall Institute is off-limits , yet he assumes a starting point that all IPCC scientists are corrupt and bereft of any integrity. Relying on Montford's double standards as the basis for public policy is absurd.

Sep 4, 2011 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone


You claim:

Because David Stockwell's fascinating post is just a blogpost that's got into a report by right wing think tank Heartland Institute . It's opinion, that is all.

I suggest Wagner's following statement also refers to opinion:

The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have
already been refuted in open discussions.

Sep 4, 2011 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

I've got nothing against opinion, we just need to know how much weight to attach to each opinion.

Sep 4, 2011 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

the main concern of RealClimate re the report was its neglect for statistical accuracy.
Like in : they know about that.

Statistics is what The Team stumbled upon , haphazardly, 2 years ago after incursions like the BV-VS blog (which is by now completely scrubbed clean)

Before that we had scientists in that backward corner called climate and atmospheric science, who drew regression lines "because they looked nice"

Sep 4, 2011 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered Commentertutut

I checked professor Steven Jones reports ,rebuffing the UrbanHeatIsland effect, on statistical significance etc

but no. nothing.

Sep 4, 2011 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered Commentertutut

For those interested, there is a wonderful podcast with Daniel Botkin, and interview with Russ Roberts from a few years ago.

Sep 4, 2011 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRandomReal[]

Richard Betts says "Can I ask you to reserve judgement on IPCC AR5? "

Certainly. Trenberth's hypothesis reversal trick has wide application. Here is my civil response.

The IPCC's ongoing execrable behavior and overt love of CACC has settled the debate.
The null hypothesis is that AR5 will not be a scientific document, meaning:
It will be infested with a plethora of policy-based evidence-making;
It will rely heavily on sciencey NGO brochures written by atephobic hacks;
It will not provide legally binding predictions;
As with horoscopes, policymakers should use this document for entertainment purposes only.

It is now up to the IPCC authors to falsify this null hypothesis, if they even care to.

Good luck.

Sep 4, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

This is a very good time for a refresher on Fred Pearce's Climategate emails article in the Guardian

Sep 4, 2011 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos


Thanks for your comment. There's no great secret that I'm party to - it's just that:
(a) there's been a lot more work published in the literature since AR4, so much more information from a diversity of sources
(b) many of the authors in AR5 are new (they weren't in AR4 at all, or in a few cases, were in a different Working Group in AR4 so can bring a fresh approach or different area of expertise to the WG they are in now),
(c) the review process for WG2 in particular will, hopefully, be wider and include people from more disciplines, so more cross-checking of things like appropriate use of climate model projections for impacts studies
(d) lessons have been learnt from AR4, including through the IAC report (yes I know BH will probably say that not all the IAC recommendations have been implemented, but even so, important points were made and accepted, eg: communication of uncertainty, focussing more on negative rather than positive impacts)
(e) there's a stated aim by the new WG2 co-chair (Chris Field) to encourage more systematic analysis and discussion of process understanding in AR5 WG2 than was undertaken in AR4 WG2.
(f) there are very clear guidelines on use of "grey literature" including making sure that where it is used, this use is necessary and the material has a credible pedigree

Golf Charley: thanks for the Blackadder quote, love it! I realise that what I describe above probably does not count as "a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel"(!) but hopefully nevertheless it is a reasonable plan for increased robustness.

Hengist: thanks for defending our integrity!

chris y: thanks for elucidating so clearly what a lot of people think, and for the excellent phrase "policy-based evidence-making" which I will use myself if I see any signs of that kind of thing... :-)

You are right that it is down to us to falsify your null hypothesis. See you in 2014 to see if we have done this or not!

Sep 4, 2011 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

@RandomReal[], just to say many thanks for the link to the Daniel Botkin podcast and to EconTalk - there's some very good audio on that site.

Sep 4, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Richard Betts

I fear that your eventual memoirs will be the equivalent of Sissons or Buerks railing against ingrained institutionalised BBC bias. Even if in the IPCC psyche you could perform a miracle and create the spirit that is willing, the body is weak.

Sep 4, 2011 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Mo Money, Mo problems(scientificaly)?

Sep 4, 2011 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJon

If you are a CAGWist bad-consensus science is not as bad as bad-sceptical science.

I believe that they only way you can explain wagner's resignation was that was got at. It would not suprise me if his future publishing efforts were subject to threats and so to invitations to conferences and presentation. His resignation was simply a botched attempt to put distance between himself and the journal he edited.

By the way Philip Campbell was forced to resign from the Russell review panel because he badly compromised himself.

Sep 4, 2011 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterMa

Richard: I warm to your enthusiasm, but no matter what you, your colleagues and the literature come up with the IPCC is still there to promulgate the message of catastrophic anthroprogenic global warming, it has no other purpose. It is not conceivable that there will be no benefits from a rise of 2.5C in global temperatures with an enriched CO2 atmosphere and the extra precipitation. The tropics would be extended north and south of the equator and these are the most fecund places on earth, yet I bet we don't see anything but a passing comment on the improvements we can hope for in a warmer earth.

I'll bet you a tenner that the number of papers you're reviewing in WG2 that are predicting the apocolyptic results of global warming will dwarf those that are dealing with the benefits by 10 to 1 or more. Let me know if I'm wrong, and I will give the money to your charity of choice provided it's not associated with WWF, Greenpeace or Oxfam, in any way, shape or form.

BTW Hengist doesn't give a fig about the integrity of the IPCC, he just comes on here to wind the posters up, so I wouldn't take too much from his praise if I were you.

Look forward to giving my tenner to the charity of your choice, but somehow don't have the feeling I'll have to.


Sep 4, 2011 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Hi Richard, where you say:

(f) there are very clear guidelines on use of "grey literature" including making sure that where it is used, this use is necessary and the material has a credible pedigree

it raises a few intrigueing thoughts......

'necessary' for what exactly (can't be science as it is grey) , so please explain the purpose and requirement of its use..

similarly do you have definition of a 'credible pedigre'e, as 'grey' implies by default that it is not credible. and who decides what is a 'credible pedigree' or not, people with connections to the groups?

As I understand it the IPCC is not going to be making it clear what is grey literature or not in the reports, again against IAC recommendations or not

Additionally, why not implement conflict of interests recomendations, or at the very least have all those involved declare any potential conflicts of interests or perceptions of vested interests..

Richard, of the above, I would be most interested in your thoughts on 'necessary' and 'credible'

And perhaps, these thoughts of mine might give an insight of how IPCC outsiders percieve the IPCC

thx Barry

Sep 4, 2011 at 8:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


That's a very interesting challenge! If you're serious, I'd probably choose the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (I don't tend to do environmental charities, for reasons that are probably apparent from my Twitter feed if you ever look at that - eg: Greenpeace's unscientific attitude to GM for example)

But we'd have to be careful to define exactly what we're betting on. You said

the number of papers you're reviewing in WG2 that are predicting the apocolyptic results of global warming will dwarf those that are dealing with the benefits by 10 to 1 or more
do you mean what I personally am reviewing, or all authors, and do you just mean the ones I'm reading or the ones that will actually be cited in the final report? Also, there's a large gap between "apocalyptic" and "benefits" so are we saying that anything that is negative is "apocalyptic"? And finally, what about when there is no clear pro or con either way?

Maybe I'm taking this too seriously...? :-)

Sep 4, 2011 at 8:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts


WG1 are still pretty much ruling out "grey literature" as they deal with the physical science, and most if not all of the info is in the peer-reviewed literature.

For WG2 (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) it's harder, as some of the most useful and relevant info is not in journals but in consultancy reports, government documents etc - eg: for impacts on, say, energy or water infrastructure in a country where those industries are privatised, the work will have been commissioned by the private companies themselves, who don't want to wait for a paper to spend months getting published in a journal. Nevertheless they will still (in my experience) expect a high standard of quality if they are going to use the information to make billion-pound decisions (see Steve McIntyre's frequent comments on the mining industry's standards of scrutiny, for example). So in this case, important information relevant to climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability may be in a high-quality report which is outside of the academic literature.

Of course this is not to say that all grey literature is of such high quality. Much of it of course is not! However, it has been made very clear to us as lead authors that we are expected to check such things out - and also that the grey literature in question must be available to reviewers.

(The best thing, of course, would be if such consultancy reports were also turned into peer-reviewed articles.)

Sep 4, 2011 at 8:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

with the recent greenpeace link, lead authors and the IPCC renewables issue, extensively covered at Mark Lynas's blog, where Mark thought so little of the process, that he said he was with Steve Mcintyre on the issue. (ie he was a 'denier' too)

just how much confidence can we have with the processes.. again to quote a friend wg2 was a bit of a mess,

I hope you can help sort it out, because Donna Laframboise will no doubt be primed and ready to look into things of AR5

I just tweeted you, as Judith Curry, celebrated a 1 year blog anniversary, where looking back she had hope to have a number of guest posts from climate scientists, which have unfortuanetly proved illusive. perhaps because the issue in the USA is much more percieved as politically devisive than in the UK.

Perhaps you could discuss a guest post with Judith.. as she does say from her feedback many scientists lurk, with interest. and I''m sure you're open mindedness of actually reading, lukewarmer books like - The Hockey Stick Illusion, Montford & Climategate - The crutape Letters, Mosher/Fuller, would allow a good natured discussion..

Maybe as a suggestion, the differences, (if any)between the interaction between climate scientists in the UK and sceptics/lukewarmers, vs America..

or of course, anything that you might find of interest.

as like Judith, you have gone out and engaged and participated in discussions on blogsvery, I'm sure you would be very welcome

I'll even vouch for you.... ;) not that you need it ;) !

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

link for Judith's blog and comments about wanting guest climate scientist posts...

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Thanks Barry

I'm looking forward to Donna's book, expected soon I believe.

BTW folks I'm @richardabetts on twitter .... Barry is @realclim8gate ...

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

Dr Jones, thanks for your reply (1:59 PM), it was quite helpful to me.

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

I'd forgotten all about Donna's book ! ..

It's a bit of a strange evening for us, our son is having his first ever sleep over at his best friends house (his friend was 8 today,( so a treat for both) leaving us with an empty bed for the first time ever.. all a bit emotional.

Sep 4, 2011 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Two decades ago there was established a monopoly on truth. Nearly all funding for research has been to back this truth. With no objective standard for peer review, and contrarian views possibly challenging the revenue of the journal and the income of any reviewer, there is a huge incentive for bias. In the academia, establishing oneself is through publishing and gaining status. (Nobody enters research for monetary rewards, it is status that matters.) The easiest route in economics is by disputing or even overturning the work of giants, not by agreement. In climate science, this route to status is blocked, so often the route is through agreement, but in a novel and more extreme way.
We should remember that "Ivory towers" are not quiet secular cloisters, but some of the most competitive environments on earth. Correctly structured they can sometimes achieve phenomenal scientific breakthroughs. Incorrectly structured "Ivory towers" degenerate into vicious turf warfare. One mark is the huge variance in standards of the peer review process.

Sep 5, 2011 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

I'd like to address your point " It is not conceivable that there will be no benefits from a rise of 2.5C in global temperatures with an enriched CO2 atmosphere and the extra precipitation."
You're probably right, there will be some benefit somewhere, but to say that without considering whether there will be a net benefit or a net loss is cherry picking.

Suppose my ancestral land is threatened by sea level rise and your neighbouring ancestral land is not . At some point my grandchildren are going to want to come and live on the high ground with your grandchildren, that will cause some conflict which will certainly result in a net loss. Adaptation strategies simply aren't addressing this problem. Id be interested to see how anybody rebuts that assertion, I'd venture a little further and say that the IPCC isnt addressing this problem either.

Sep 5, 2011 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

'ancestral land' how very emotive.

Interesting sea level rise. Neighbouring lands one threatened one not.... how so ;) !

seriously, sea level has been gardually rising for thousands of years. and the generations have coped. additionaly not even Tuvaluu or Kiribati are sinking, even Bangladesh, puts on land mass every year, and will continue to do so, untli the Himalayas erode away.. don't confuse a changing river delta with climate change (man made or otherwise)

and according to AVOID (UK governent advisors). the probable sea level ris in the next century, is UPTO 2 feet.. ie maximum of probable is 2 feet, with real word 6-18 inches, which is pretty much what has been happening per century for hundreds of years.....

Sep 5, 2011 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Barry , land by the seashore is threatened by a 2ft rise, there is a gentle slope to higher land .

Sep 5, 2011 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

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