Science magazine, the flagship publication of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, has taken a reputational beating after the publication and retraction of the so-called gay canvassing paper by Michael LaCour and Donald Green. This resulted substantially from an appeal to the authority of the senior author and the editors’ desire that the results be correct. Add in a culture that discourages junior scholars and senior scholars alike from publicly questioning others’ work, and what’s left is an ineffective system of scholarly peer review.
Today, Science published a new article alleging for the first time that the observed recent pause in global warming is imaginary. Has Science repeated the errors it committed in the case of LaCour and Green (2014)?
The global warming article is authored by Thomas Karl and eight colleagues. From the abstract:
Much study has been devoted to the possible causes of an apparent decrease in the upward trend of global surface temperatures since 1998, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the global warming “hiatus.” Here we present an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than reported by the IPCC, especially in recent decades, and that the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a “slowdown” in the increase of global surface temperature.
The article is accompanied by a news story that goes beyond what the authors publicly claimed, and even adds a little snark. Compare “These results do not support the notion of a ‘slowdown’ in the increase of global surface temperature,” the conclusion in the article’s abstract, with “Much-touted global warming pause never happened,” the title of the news story.
The news story quotes only researchers who broadly agree with the authors, and it treats this single study as a complete rebuttal of previous research. The first practice is incompatible with sound journalism; the second is incompatible with science.
The AAAS have been politically invested in global warming for many years, so there is reason to be concerned that the editors of Science published this article for the same reasons they published LaCour & Green (2014) — they appealed to the authority of the senior author and they wanted the results to be true. That desire is certainly conveyed in the accompanying news story.
To manage this conflict of interest, Science had a duty to ensure that its peer review of the Karl et al. article was extraordinarily rigorous and independent. One way to show that they fulfilled this duty would be to publish the reports of the peer reviewers.