Leaked emails challenge peer-review
November 28th, 2009

Regardless of one’s opinion on global warming, the leaked emails now making headlines are interesting for another issue. They are shining light into a growing challenge to scientific publication peer review. A Wall Street Journal opinion essay today explores these issues in our era of increasing open source of many sorts. Some highlights for the WSJ article:

According to this privileged group, only those whose work has been published in select scientific journals, after having gone through the “peer-review” process, can be relied on to critique the science. And sure enough, any challenges from critics outside this clique are dismissed and disparaged. . .

A more thoughtful response to the emails comes from Mike Hulme, another climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, as reported by a New York Times blogger:

“This event might signal a crack that allows for processes of re-structuring scientific knowledge about climate change. It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

The response from the defenders of Mr. Mann and his circle has been that even if they did disparage doubters and exclude contrary points of view, theirs is still the best climate science. The proof for this is circular. It’s the best, we’re told, because it’s the most-published and most-cited—in that same peer-reviewed literature. The public has every reason to ask why they felt the need to rig the game if their science is as indisputable as they claim.

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