Worst of the BEST: Peer reviewer Ross McKitrick breaks confidentiality to speak out
Ross McKitrick, University of Guelph, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
[h/t to Adam] Hi Everyone! This is a repost from Ross McKitrick’s website. Ross was a peer reviewer of the original BEST paper.I think its important to get this publicised as widely as possible, as the Guardian, LA Times and many other media outlets recently carried an opinion piece from BEST team leader Richard A Muller trumpeting his rejected JGR paper as if it was worth something. The L.A. Times followed up with another opinion piece, a classic foot in mouth. Steve Mosher and Zeke Hausfather also have some coverage of the BEST team’s data update at Judy Curry’s site. – Rog.
Judy herself was rather scathing about the BEST paper, saying
the method used to attribute the warming to human emissions is way over-simplistic. I don’t think this question can be answered by the simple curve fitting used in this paper, and I don’t see that their paper adds anything to our understanding of the recent warming.
BERKELEY EARTH STUDY REFEREE REPORTS
On September 8 2011 I was asked by Journal of Geophysical Research to be a reviewer for a paper by Charlotte Wickham et al. presenting the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (“BEST”) analysis of the effect of urbanization on land surface temperatures. This work is mainly associated with Richard Muller and his various coauthors. I submitted my review just before the end of September 2011, outlining what I saw were serious shortcomings in their methods and arguing that their analysis does not establish valid grounds for the conclusions they assert. I suggested the authors be asked to undertake a major revision.
In October 2011, despite the papers not being accepted, Richard Muller launched a major international publicity blitz announcing the results of the “BEST” project. I wrote to him and his coauthor Judy Curry objecting to the promotional initiative since the critical comments of people like me were locked up under confidentiality rules, and the papers had not been accepted for publication. Richard stated that he felt there was no alternative since the studies would be picked up by the press anyway. Later, when the journal turned the paper down and asked for major revisions, I sought permission from Richard to release my review. He requested that I post it without indicating I was a reviewer for JGR. Since that was not feasible I simply kept it confidential.
On March 8 2012 I was asked by JGR to review a revised version of the Wickham et al. paper. I submitted my review at the end of March. The authors had made very few changes and had not addressed any of the methodological problems, so I recommended the paper not be published. I do not know what the journal’s decision was, but it is 4 months later and I can find no evidence on the BEST website that this or any other BEST project paper has been accepted for publication. [Update July 30: JGR told me "This paper was rejected and the editor recommended that the author resubmit it as a new paper."]
On July 29 2012 Richard Muller launched another publicity blitz (e.g. here and here) claiming, among other things, that “In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects [including those related to urbanization and land surface changes] unduly biased our conclusions.” Their failure to provide a proper demonstration of this point had led me to recommend against publishing their paper. This places me in an awkward position since I made an undertaking to JGR to respect the confidentiality of the peer review process, but I have reason to believe Muller et al.’s analysis does not support the conclusions he is now asserting in the press.
I take the journal peer review process seriously and I dislike being placed in the position of having to break a commitment I made to JGR, but the “BEST” team’s decision to launch another publicity blitz effectively nullifies any right they might have had to confidentiality in this matter. So I am herewith releasing my referee reports. The first, from September 2011, is here, and the second, from March 2012 is here.