Steve McIntyre On The Bengtsson Affair

  • Date: 16/05/14
  • Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit

The publisher of Environmental Research Letters today took the bizarre position that expecting consistency between models and observations is an “error”.

The publisher stated that the rejected Bengtsson manuscript (which, as I understand it) had discussed the important problem of the discrepancy between models and observations had “contained errors”. [....]

Thus, the “error” (according to the publisher) seems to be nothing more than Bengtsson’s expectation that models be consistent with observations. Surely, even in climate science, this expectation cannot be seriously described as an “error”.

This is not to say that specific comparisons cannot be flawed e.g. around the edges, one may take issue on whether the geographical coverage of models corresponds to geographical coverage of observations (pace Cowtan-Way). But such craftsmanship issues hardly impugn the purpose of comparing models to observations – an exercise which was widely valued by climate scientists prior to the hiatus. It is ludicrous to suggest that the expectation of consistency is an “error” because “no consistency was to be expected in the first place”.

The publisher also said that the article “did not provide a significant advancement in the field”. However, most academic articles do not constitute “significant advancements” in their field and they still get published.

However, when AR5 was released, I noted that there was negligible literature available to AR5 about the discrepancy between models and observations, leaving IPCC in a very awkward position when it came for assessment. I noted that journal gatekeeping had contributed to this dilemma – both Lucia and coauthors and Ross and I had had submissions about model-observation discrepancies rejected. The Bengtsson rejection seems entirely in keeping with these earlier rejections.

Given the failure of the publisher to show any “error” other than the expectation that models be consistent with observations, I think that readers are entirely justified in concluding that the article was rejected not because it “contained errors”, but for the reason stated in the reviewers’ summary: because it was perceived to be “harmful… and worse from the climate sceptics’ media side”.

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