45 Responses to Science Stunner: Editor of Journal that Published Flawed Denier Bunk Apologizes, Resigns, Slams Spencer for Exaggerations
Wow. Double wow. Stop the Presses, Deniers! Your effort to deny basic climate science based on bunkum has met its match.
Here’s an editorial by Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, Editor-in-Chief of Remote Sensing, taking responsibility for the egregious blunder of publishing a “fundamentally flawed” paper by climate science denier Roy Spencer:
Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science. Their aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims. Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell  that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.
After having become aware of the situation, and studying the various pro and contra arguments, I agree with the critics of the paper. Therefore, I would like to take the responsibility for this editorial decision and, as a result, step down as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing.
With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements, e.g., in a press release of The University of Alabama in Huntsville from 27 July 2011 , the main author’s personal homepage , the story “New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism” published by Forbes , and the story “Does NASA data show global warming lost in space?” published by Fox News , to name just a few. Unfortunately, their campaign apparently was very successful as witnessed by the over 56,000 downloads of the full paper within only one month after its publication. But trying to refute all scientific insights into the global warming phenomenon just based on the comparison of one particular observational satellite data set with model predictions is strictly impossible.
For those who want the full debunking from “climate researchers and engaged observers” that persuaded Wagner, see “Climate Scientists Debunk Latest Bunk by Denier Roy Spencer.” The key scientific point is that there are multiple lines of evidence that the climate is quite sensitive to greenhouse gases and that Spencer’s approach is deeply flawed.
For a list of the overblown hyping of this paper by the deniers, see Media Matters’ post, “Climate Science Once Again Twisted Beyond Recognition By Conservative Media.” All of them should issue retractions, but few if any will.
While resignation of an editor over a bad decision to publish a flawed denier paper is extremely unusual, it isn’t completely unprecedented. As Deltoid (aka Tim Lambert) points out on his blog, “This reminds me of what happened in 2003, when several editors at Climate Research resigned because of the publication of Soon and Baliunas, another paper that should not have been published.”
Wagner has much more to say that is worth reading:
Aside from ignoring all the other observational data sets (such as the rapidly shrinking sea ice extent and changes in the flora and fauna) and contrasting theoretical studies, such a simple conclusion simply cannot be drawn considering the complexity of the involved models and satellite measurements.
The political views of the authors and the thematic goal of their study did, of course, alone not disqualify the paper from entering the review process in the journal Remote Sensing. As I stated in my editorial at the launch of this new open access journal  one of the premier goals of remote sensing as a discipline is to better understand physical and biological processes on our planet Earth. The use of satellite data to check the functionality of all sorts of geophysical models is therefore a very important part of our work. But it should not be done in isolation by the remote sensing scientists. Interdisciplinary cooperation with modelers is required in order to develop a joint understanding of where and why models deviate from satellite data. Only through this close cooperation the complex aspects involved in the satellite retrievals and the modeling processes can be properly taken into account….
… editors should take special care that minority views are not suppressed, meaning that it certainly would not be correct to reject all controversial papers already during the review process. If a paper presents interesting scientific arguments, even if controversial, it should be published and responded to in the open literature. This was my initial response after having become aware of this particular case. So why, after a more careful study of the pro and contra arguments, have I changed my initial view? The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature (cf. ), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers.
Wagner points to Kevin Trenberth et al., “Relationships between tropical sea surface temperature and top-of-atmosphere radiation,” in Geophysical Research Letters, available here.
In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal. This regrettably brought me to the decision to resign as Editor-in-Chief―to make clear that the journal Remote Sensing takes the review process very seriously
Kudos to Wagner for this principled stand. He sounds like the kind of person who should be an editor.
It bears repeating, however, that Spencer committed one of the most egregious blunders in the history of remote sensing — committing multiple errors in analyzing the satellite data and creating one of the enduring denier myths, that the satellite data didn’t show the global warming that the surface temperature data did.
It also bears repeating that Spencer wrote in July, “I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”
That doesn’t mean Spencer’s new paper on remote sensing was a priori wrong, but it means his work on the subject does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, as most climate journals would know.
Indeed, as climate scientist Peter Gleick puts it in his post:
There is a famous saying in science: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In this case, the arguments for climate change are backed up by such an astounding degree of science and evidence, that one, or even a few, papers that claim to refute the science of climate change deserve careful scrutiny. As the author of Skeptico notes:
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence because they usually contradict claims that are backed by extraordinary evidence. The evidence for the extraordinary claim must support the new claim as well as explain why the old claims that are now being abandoned, previously appeared to be correct.”