Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Peer Review At E&E: A Case Study

Bill Hughes, editor of the climate change denialists journal of choice, Energy & Environment, is threatening to sue the lads at RealClimate over the claim that E&E has "effectively dispensed with substantive peer review ". Its a bullshit suit, and won't ever happen, but I thought it might serve as inspiration for this mini-case study of how E&E editors (or at least Sonja A Boehmer-Christiansen) deal with the material submitted to them. The author is Oliver "Iron Sun" Manuel, and he published this book review in their Sept 2008 issue, and Earth's Heat Source - The Sun in January 2009. From the abstract of the latter:

The Sun encompasses planet Earth, supplies the heat that warms it, and even shakes it. The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assumed that solar influence on Earth's climate is limited to changes in solar irradiance and adopted the consensus opinion of a hydrogen-filled Sun — the Standard Solar Model (SSM). They did not consider the alternative solar model and instead adopted another consensus opinion: Anthropogenic greenhouse gases play a dominant role in climate change. The SSM fails to explain the solar wind, solar cycles, and the empirical link of solar surface activity with Earth's changing climate. The alternative solar model-molded from an embarrassingly large number of unexpected observations that space-age measurements revealed since 1959-explains not only these puzzles but also how closely linked interactions between the Sun and its planets and other celestial bodies induce turbulent cycles of secondary solar characteristics that significantly affect Earth's climate.

So, yeah, Manuel is that guy that thinks the Sun is like a giant, really hot ball-bearing.

In any case, Manuel first starts circling denialists blogs and forums in 2007, including the Climatesceptics mailing list, of which I am a proud member. In late 2007, Sonja reached out to Manuel, who had been promoting his ideas on the list, as follows:

Dear Oliver
Would you have time to write a rather readable paper for me, addressing not the science community or even climate scpetics, but the energy policy community, with your challenging ideas?

References would be 'scientific ' of course. It could be a Viewpoint, relatively short and not peer reviewed, or a proper review paper, whioch would be.If interested, ask Louise for more detail, please.
Best wishes


A year passed. In late 2008, just before the publication of the 2nd piece, Sonja posted a brief note to Climate Skeptics:

Just for info, the people i asked did not think much of Oliver's ideas and complained that he has no evidence and mainly cites himself. Hence his paper could not be published as peer reviewed, but as a viewpoint. As you know, I like to publish what is considered outside currently accepted ideas. But being published in E&E is for debate, not evidence of 'truth'.

However, Manuel gave some push-back, noting several peer-reviewed manuscripts, mostly co-authored by him (such as this), to which Sonja eventually responded (in February 2009):

Oliver, I should really shut up about this.

I only got involved because I had to read some peer reviews of your latest paper, and they were not positive , but made me aware that there are deep rifts between solar scientists, including about the sun consists of…..

I do not want E&E to take up the solar debate as well, in part because I do not see the link to energy policy, though there may well be links to climate…though I am not even clear about that.

While I think I can understand the politics behind the AGW (climate) debate, I do not understand why solar scientists fight each other, and hope that this is not related to policy (other than getting research funding).

If not, then a genuine scientific debate may be going on, but I cannot judge this. [I wished my father in law was still alive….he started as a solar physicist but became a famous radio astronomer.

If fact and fiction are so readily distinguished as you suggest, I do not understand why the debate continues.

The only theoretical physicist I know here, did not take your argument seriously) Whom to trust??

All I would like to say is that E&E is not a journal for solar physics, the editor can’t handle it!

And then a few days after that, after one of Manuel's supporters had flashed around some video demonstrating that the Sun is a solid dammit!--

You do know you are right in that the pictures taken over a fairly time show ejections coming from a surface that does not change at all. With the exception of the fissures everything remains constant shape. If it were a gas you know what it would look like. Just look at the clouds in the sky. It is a solid. Could it be somewhere near molten, sure. but it has features that do not change over time.

--Sonja changed her tune a little:

Most interesting, I now understand the controversy and that Oliver whilst not among the mainstream, is no crank.

Hydrogen only on top, says Oliver… iron below, but this has much wider implications for the origin of our universe!

I have had to conclude that my French referee was too dismissive….l..there are arguments on both sides, and science should,( but does not it seems at the personal level) thrive on honest argument rather than ridicule.

In any case, I am pleased we published this paper, if not as peer reviewed, but as an opinion piece. This seems fair enough as E&E is not a pure science journal, but is only interested in science as far as it influences the politics of energy policy and technology.

Sonja B-C

So that is the story of Oliver Manuel's publication history with E&E. I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether such treatment constitutes "substantive peer review".

PS. You have to be one of the 500 plus members of the CS list to get a peak behind at their archives; that's why there are no links in the above. You can look at the front page here.

PPS. Here's a link to a preprint of Earth's Heat Source.


Kooiti Masuda said...

If the paper "Earth's Heat Source - The Sun" was really published in January 2009 and if the date of the e-mail exchange was in February 2009, then the email exchange occurred after the paper was published.
Or was the issue 2009-1/2 of the journal actually published later?

bigcitylib said...

As far as I can tell, most of the back and forth between Sonja and Feb. is after the publication of both pieces. The publication of the piece under discussion is in past tense. It is referred to as Manuel's "latest paper", so presumably we are talking of "Earth's Heat Source" rather than the book review published in Sept 2008.

Her remarks from December are presumably about the same paper, which would at that time not have come out yet. I suppose it is also possible that its about the earlier book review, although that seems unlikely.

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Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
very1silent said...

Gavin appears to be using your example as exhibit A in how shoddy E&E is.