25 February 2011

Full Comments to the Guardian

The Guardian has an good article today on a threatened libel suit under UK law against Gavin Schmidt, a NASA researcher who blogs at Real Climate, by the publishers of the journal Energy and Environment.  While Gavin and I have had periodic professional disagreements, in this instance he has my full support. The E&E threat is absurd (details here).

Here are my full comments to the reporter for the Guardian, who was following up on Gavin's reference to comments I had made a while back about my experiences with E&E:
Here are some thoughts in response to your query ...

In 2000, we published a really excellent paper (in my opinion) in E&E in that has stood the test of time:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., R. Klein, and D. Sarewitz (2000), Turning the big knob: An evaluation of the use of energy policy to modulate future climate impacts. Energy and Environment 2:255-276.

You'll see that paper was in only the second year of the journal, and we were obviously invited to submit a year or so before that. It was our expectation at the time that the journal would soon be ISI listed and it would become like any other academic journal. So why not publish in E&E?

That paper, like a lot of research, required a lot of effort.  So it was very disappointing to E&E in the years that followed identify itself as an outlet for alternative perspectives on the climate issue. It has published a number of low-quality papers and a high number of opinion pieces, and as far as I know it never did get ISI listed.

Boehmer-Christiansen's quote about following her political agenda in running the journal is one that I also have cited on numerous occasions as an example of the pathological politicization of science. In this case the editor's political agenda has clearly undermined the legitimacy of the outlet.  So if I had a time machine I'd go back and submit our paper elsewhere!

A consequence of the politicization of E&E is that any paper published there is subsequently ignored by the broader scientific community. In some cases perhaps that is justified, but I would argue that it provided a convenient excuse to ignore our paper on that basis alone, and not on the merits of its analysis. So the politicization of E&E enables a like response from its critics, which many have taken full advantage of. For outside observers of climate science this action and response together give the impression that scientific studies can be evaluated simply according to non-scientific criteria, which ironically undermines all of science, not just E&E.  The politicization of the peer review process is problematic regardless of who is doing the politicization because it more readily allows for political judgments to substitute for judgments of the scientific merit of specific arguments.  An irony here of course is that the East Anglia emails revealed a desire to (and some would say success in) politicize the peer review process, which I discuss in The Climate Fix.

For my part, in 2007 I published a follow on paper to the 2000 E&E paper that applied and extended a similar methodology.  This paper passed peer review in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (2007), Future economic damage from tropical cyclones: sensitivities to societal and climate changes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 365 (1860) 2717-2729

So, in my case alls well that ends well. Over the long run I am confident that good ideas will win out over bad ideas, but without care to the legitimacy of our science institutions -- including journals and peer review -- that long run will be a little longer.

Please follow up if anything is unclear or if you have other questions ...


  1. Your disagreement with E&E to one side for a moment, the threat of a libel action from E&E *may* be absurd, but let's wait until they actually threaten a libel action:


    The only reference to libel is in the *subject* of the email to Gavin Schmidt, which reads:

    "E&E Libel"

    which isn't a threat of any kind. The body of the email makes it clear that they want to work to resolve the issue without escalation.

    Schmidt has gone crying his eyes out over imagined threats, I'm surprised you've fallen for it (although not surprised at the sympathetic Guardian piece).

  2. And Gavins buddy Michael Mann threatens Minnesotan's for Global Warming as well.

    If one prefers to live in a glass house one shouldn't throw stones.

  3. If you think the other "consensus" journals are not politized, then you need to give your head a shake.

  4. Libel? What libel?

    Roger you have been taken in by an RealClimate absurdity and by the eco-fantasists at the Guardian.

    Shame on you.

    As Freeman Dyson would say, "The whole point of science is to encourage disagreement and keep an open mind."

  5. The story looks very close to the copy that is on the RC site. It seems as though the PR machine is rolling. I think articles in E&E are of a mixed quality - but Gavin Schmidt's response is very odd and seems a tad personal.
    t strikes me odd that this should break as Judy Curry's querying of the Hide the decline and Gavin's lame response should have generated 2000 - yep two thousand - comments in a matter of days.

  6. Oh dear.

    Schmidt writes:

    “The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line. ”

    Editor being Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen of course. I can imagine she feels agrieved.

    The response from the publisher in her defence asks of Schmidt:

    "At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate. I’m quite happy to work with you to find a mutually satisfactory form of words: I appreciate you might find it difficult."

    For those with english comprehension problems "settle for a retraction" means an admission of error. No laywers need be harmed in the making of such an admission.

    Roger, this is a pitiful post.

  7. Roger,

    Good for you.

    I'm curious though why you chose to use hurricane damages from climate change as your example to disprove the logic between energy policy and climate policy. You've said on many occasions that hurricane damages are not (yet) correlated with observed climate change. Consider me convinced on that score!

    Would the conclusions of your paper change if you considered the sum total from other likely damages (e.g. sea level rise, droughts, floods, etc.)? IOW, while I agree completely that one shouldn't assume that energy policy alone can get us to where we need to be (i.e. livable climate with improved resilience/adaptation to committed impacts from historical emissions), it nevertheless is still the elephant in the room isn't it?

    As for the rest of the commenters upthread -- stop being so obtuse. If they weren't *threatening* libel they wouldn't have mentioned it ANYWHERE in the e-mail.

  8. I disagree with Geckko. The letter clearly carries an implied threat of libel action.

    I'd love to find out exactly how bad E&E is, but they're behind a paywall. Shame.

    So, if a US citizen is sued for libel in the UK, and loses, how do they enforce the judgement?

  9. Marlowe - you are being obtuse. You don't threaten libel, you are the subject of a libel. You can threaten to sue if you feel you have been libelled, but you do not have to.

    E&E obviously feel they have been libelled, therefore the mention of it in the subject.

    The level of redress required for libel is determined by the aggrieved party.

    Asking for reflection on what was said and a public apology is all the redress being sought.

  10. E&E published a paper in 2009 by Martin Hertzberg: EARTH’S RADIATIVE EQUILIBRIUM IN THE SOLAR IRRADIANCE.

    You can see it (free) online.

    I haven't checked out many other papers in E&E, but if this is representative, then clearly E&E isn't a science journal at all.

    The author doesn't understand Kirchhoff's law. This might be bearable if the whole essence of his article didn't depend on (misusing) Kirchhoff's law.

    If he thought the law was flawed and needed amending he would have mentioned it.

    And this is the stuff you find in every introductory heat transfer textbook. It's not a "subtle" point at all.

    How did the editors not pick this up?
    "Peer reviewed" means the reviewers need to understand the subject.

    I have written to E&E suggesting they retract the article. We will see if they do.

  11. Gerard
    Can you think of a meaningful way to ask for a retraction of something that you consider libel without their being some kind of implied threat? Gavin seems to be complaining that the publisher should have the temerity to even write a letter requesting what is essentially an apology. I do not see the basis for Gavin's response at RC and the Guardian echo chamber. The same letter from a lawyer would be a different matter entirely.

  12. Very wrong-footed, Dr Pielke. I'm very surprised.

  13. "Libel" is mentioned only in the subject line as "E&E Libel".

    It appears nowhere in the body of the email which is itself totally at odds with the distortion that Schmidt has chosen to portray in his ill-advised bleat and which the Guardian has lapped up and reproduced apparently without question.

    The subject of the email is the remarks that Schmidt made that E&E consider libellous. "E&E Libel" clearly refers to the act of being libelled, *not* the imaginary threat of suing as a result of being libelled.

    This is not sophistry or pedantry, but in fact a standard and *correct* interpretation of the word "Libel" as used in the email subject.

    As for the Guardian piece, a poor, belated and opportunistic attempt to rubbish peer review at E&E and "redefine what the peer review process is"


  14. It was a threat to sue. Sonja has confirmed. See my place for evidence.

  15. Marlowe Johnson: "As for the rest of the commenters upthread -- stop being so obtuse. If they weren't *threatening* libel they wouldn't have mentioned it ANYWHERE in the e-mail."

    Marlowe, your lack of comprehension of the English language should remain YOUR problem, not inflicted on the rest of us. Libel is an act of defamation. You're confusing "libel" and "legal action in response to libel", popularised as "libel action".

    Apparently, so is Dr Pielke, and so is Gavin. I know why you and Gavin are doing so, but I'm surprised by Dr Pielke's lapse in common sense and reasoning.

  16. @ Gerard Harbison

    The letter threatens to kill Schmidt just as much as it threatens libel.

    Besides, libel laws are there for a purpose.

    What if I was to call the work of Schmidt fraudulent? Or how about Roger?

    The comments by Schmidt rank pretty high on the scale of malodorous tripe.

    Roger's "support", stinks in sympathy. As does yours.

  17. -16-Geckko and others

    Your views are welcome here, especially those that offer a view counter to my own, but please be mindful of tone.

    The posting of a comment from Sonja B-C by bigcitylib should dispel the notion that there was no veiled threat of a law suit:

    Blog debates over semantics and revealed meaning can be fun, but I'd prefer those be taken elsewhere.

    Thanks all!

  18. The specific link to Sonja B-C's comment appears to be: http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2011/02/sonja-boehmer-christiansen-on-e-vs.html

  19. If you think ISI listing makes a journal high quality, and lack of it makes a journal garbage, you are mistaken. Each article has to stand on its own, and each editorial also has to stand on its own. I agree there are probably fewer good papers in E & E, but try to tell me many of the the other journals have not become biased, with many poor papers and editorials also. There have, in fact, been some efforts to publish mainstream articles that were not accepted due to not accepting the position of skeptics. Some of these were published in E & E. Since I am always a skeptic on published papers until a time has passed supporting the results, the fact that more of the E & E papers fail the long term test is not as important as that the papers had a chance for exposure. Are you afraid that a wrong paper will somehow contaminate you? Many of the MSM papers are clearly wrong, so why don't you also point that out?

  20. Apologies if my remarks strike an offensive tone to the host - whatever else, I appreciate the fact that they were allowed through uncensored, something that's not always guaranteed.

    I'd have to say my position doesn't change at all - on a threat scale of 1 to 10, it rates about a 1.

    Schmidt escalates it to an 11, his apparent position being that if he can't bleat without sanction of any kind from any quarter, he's being assailed by the mass forces of evil.

    Still, it afforded him an additional opportunity to fling crap at his target in front of a much wider audience, so well done to him.

  21. "The posting of a comment from Sonja B-C by bigcitylib should dispel the notion that there was no veiled threat of a law suit:

    Revisionism. Arguably worse than misinterpretation, since the revisionism is wilful.

    bigcitylib's correspondence was not available at the time either you or Schmidt misinterpreted the TEXT of the letter from Sonja. The criticisms that were made with regard to yours and Gavin's extrapolation to a threat where none had been intimated remain valid.

    It is reasonable to ask whether Sonja's response to bigcitylib was written in the context of the way her message was received rather than in the context of the original message. Since we cannot know either way, your use of bigcitylib's correspondence with Sonja as proof positive of her original intent is circular reasoning.

  22. mrsean2k, I may be wrong but I rather got the impression that E&E's letter was a much-needed diversion from the furore over the "hide the decline" trick. I can see no other justification for Schmidt to explode this way at this time.

  23. @Simon

    I hadn't equated the two - I thought it was fairly simple opportunism as far as rubbishing E&E was concerned - but now you mention it, the timing fits.

    I couldn't see any comments link on the article. I could easily just be missing it, but one comment and a link would blow Schmidt's exaggeration and blustering out of the water.

  24. FWIW, E&E is now listed in ISI.