Home > Climate Change, Global Warming, IPCC, Omniclimate, Policy, Science > Review, Peer Review and the APS Debacle

Review, Peer Review and the APS Debacle

With their over-the-top reaction to the publication on one of their newsletter of Monckton’s ideas on climate sensitivity, the APS leaders have shown themselves not stupid…

…because a “stupid” is somebody that damages others without a gain for himself: whilst the APS has only damaged itself.

Look at the “peer-reviewed” issue. Monckton is likely to be behind a wildly-exaggerated press release by the SPPI

Mathematical proof that there is no “climate crisis” appears today in a major, peer-reviewed paper in Physics and Society, a learned journal of the 46,000-strong American Physical Society, SPPI reports.

Should have been child’s play to issue a counter-release explaining that there cannot be any mathematical proof in a scientific field (outside of mathematics, that is); that “Physics and Society” is a newsletter, and not a “learned journal”; and that Monckton’s invited article was only part of the beginning of a debate.

Look what’s happened instead: Monckton is now perfectly in the right to state that he’s been unfairly, and uncourteously treated. He’s been invited to write an article that has been published, that then caused APS to undergo all sorts of fits, including a series of unwarranted put-downs plastered all over the place in apparent panic.

In fact: at this very moment both Monckton’s article and the IPCC-consensus piece by Hafemeister and Schwarz sport on top the following statement in black ink (my emphasis) (this is similar to what appeared in red ink on Monckton’s article alone):

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review, since that is not normal procedure for American Physical Society newsletters. The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007: “Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.”

Something similar has materialized at the beginning of the FPS July 2008 issue’s web page:

The Forum on Physics and Society is a place for discussion and disagreement on scientific and policy matters. Our newsletter publishes a combination of non- peer- reviewed technical articles, policy analyses, and opinion. All articles and editorials published in the newsletter solely represent the views of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Forum Executive Committee 

But that is not the way the FPS is presented:

Physics and Society is the quarterly of the Forum on Physics and Society, a division of the American Physical Society. It presents letters, commentary, book reviews and reviewed articles on the relations of physics and the physics community to government and society.

Now..what is the difference between peer-reviewed and reviewed?

Is there such a thing in scientific circles as an article reviewed but not by peers?

Has anybody ever heard of an inferior-reviewed article? Or of a superior-reviewed article? Who knows?

Looks like at the APS they have been cavalier with the issue of reviewing, until now. But if they need to sort out their own house, it should be for the future, and not for the past (unless they want to go against the principle of cause and effect).

And so Monckton on one thing is certainly right: for all intents and purposes, maybe the wrong way, maybe without thinking at the consequence, but Monckton’s article has been peer-reviewed indeed.

  1. John Mashey
    2008/07/27 at 05:55

    There is an accurate description of the process by which this happened at
    New Scientist.

    Bottom line: APS Fellow Gerald Marsh gave the editors a list of names to contact; one of them was Monckton, and he was the only one interested in writing, and they didn’t check, given the source of the names….

  2. 2008/07/23 at 10:36

    Omnologos; I cordially disagree. There is nothing wrong with the original statement on the FPS newsletter about review. It was accurate and clear. Articles ARE reviewed and it is only proper to say so. There’s no need to emphasize that the review is not a scientific peer review. The kinds of folks who read a newsletter like this know that peer review is a very particular kind of review, and not used in a newsletter.

    It is absurd to retroactively object to this wording, just because subsequently Monckton mixed up the notion of peer review and review. Monckton is wrong from start to finish on this one. He was wrong in almost every respect of how his press release described the article. He was wrong to take offense when the APS put out a clear correction to his distortions. To top it off, the actual content of his article is mathematically ludicrous in its wrongness. He was also, I am certain, ethically wrong in deliberately inflating the standing of his article and the newsletter in which it appears.

    Monckton is not a trustworthy or honest person. He has a record of bizarrely inflated self-aggranizement. I had originally given some other examples here, but I’ve deleted them as beside the point. I can back up my claim if you would like. The real point is that although we should in general give people a presumption of good faith, we need not also be blind to demonstrated bad faith.

    There was no failure in manners of the APS. Their response was calm and firm. It made no attack or criticism of Monckton, in either the form put on the newsletter right at the first or the form that has apparently been settled for now. Monckton beating up the notice as some kind of insult is as inflated and absurd as his initial descriptions of the standing of the article that made it necessary.

    The APS put up simple straightforward and accurate statement where it would be immediately obvious to people looking for the article that had been so misrepresented. The statement was not at all impolite or disrespectful. It was appropriate to put it up immediately, given the speed at which the misrepresentations were spreading.

  3. 2008/07/23 at 09:15

    For Duae Quartunciae: technically, you are right.

    But for all intents and purposes, Monckton is right. The APS should not have mentioned “reviewed articles” in the FPS presentation in the first place; and they should have firmly but calmly rejected Monckton’s claim, afterwards. Manners do count.

  4. 2008/07/23 at 08:55

    Yes there is a difference between “peer review” and “reviewed”. Furthermore, it is a difference that would normally be immediately clear to people familiar with the practice of science.

    Scientific peer-review is a long and time consuming process. It generally takes months, and sometimes years. It involves distributing a paper to a number of reviewers who must themselves be familiar with the basic area of the article, and competent to evaluates its technical merit and relationship to the existing literature. I’ve been involved in this process, both as as reviewer and as one being reviewed. The rejection rate in the peer-review process is very high.

    There are other less arduous forms of review that are appropriate for less formal scientific outlets, and there is a genuine difference in standing between articles that are published in a peer-reviewed journal, and articles which have a simple editorial review to check for things like clarity, completeness, grammar, etc. There’s obviously a place for both.

    The review given to articles in the P&S Forum newsletter is not peer review. They do get examined (reviewed) by an editor who may decide to accept accept or reject, or suggest some editorial changes. That is not being cavalier at all! It’s just normal common sense for the kind of editorial review appropriate to a newsletter like this.

    People may be confused on this matter… particularly because the confusion was apparently deliberately introduced by Monckton himself as soon as his article appeared. The APS is entirely correct to set the matter straight for the benefit of those who are unaware of this important and rather drastic difference.

    Monckton is flatly wrong to call his article peer-reviewed. Given his record, and I pretty sure he knows that, and doesn’t care. Not all skeptics are equally honest or trustworthy.

  5. papertiger
    2008/07/22 at 23:19

    The dude who named his blog for ancient Greek coins – lets call him Pete –
    that math he used to show up Monckton – including the faux eye rolling and “don’t have a clue where he got that number” interjections – when labeled correctly reveal to be the numbers Monckton extracted from the tropic radiosonde.
    The climate change people hate the radiosonde data because it is one of the few pristine records not within their ability to “adjust”.
    Take a closer look at Pete’s numbers and cross check with Deltoid’s – you’ll see what I mean.

  1. 2008/07/22 at 21:36

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