Rahmstorf on peer-review vs. the rabbleJanuary 2, 2011
Stefan Rahmstorf has made a (vague) response to my questions about updated sea level data and groundwater depletion. His response, which can be seen as the second comment here is …
“Science progresses by peer-reviewed publications, not blogs. We are well advanced in preparing a paper that includes the latest sea level data and groundwater pumping estimates, as well as looking at a number of other factors. That will be up for discussion once it appears in the peer-reviewed literature. (Without giving away too much, I can probably already say that we come to different conclusions from what you claim.)”
The progress of science
”Science progresses by peer-reviewed publications, not blogs.” That’s an interesting position from Rahmstorf, since he is a principal contributor to the RealClimate blog. Perhaps RealClimate is to be seen not as a blog, but as a pulpit from which Rahmstorf can preach to the faithful as they sit at his feet and listen in awe. Science does not progress there, it just gets passed down from on high by the priests. Rahmstorf may even deign to take questions from the faithful, as long as they keep their eyes lowered and remember their station. But the real progress can only be made by authors and peer-reviewers when the room has been cleared of the unwashed.
The striking thing about Rahmstorf’s response is that he thinks he has the authority to dictate how “Science progresses.” Anything that deviates from the comfortable format where he wears the mantle of authority is not worthwhile. This is pretty much the attitude that I expected from him.
Peer-review comfort zone
We all understand the peer-review paradigm. A paper is written for publication, but first submitted it to a group of peers for review. The peers’ criticisms are dealt with in a way to make the paper a stronger piece of work.
This peer-review process evolved when communication was slower, contemplation times were longer, and the participants inhabited small esoteric worlds in which the rabble had little interest and rarely visited. It works well with dry questions of science and engineering.
Scientists are human beings and many, as they age, become comfortable in their way of doing things. They build their careers on the model of publishing papers, reviewing papers, and attending conferences. They have paid their dues and they expect their status to be respected.
In the world of climate science some “experts” have puffed themselves beyond the bounds of their arcane niches and on to the political stage. The peer review process becomes fraught with intrigue when the science is saturated with politics, or when sycophantic peers become rubber stamps.
Peers or sycophants?
What does “peer-reviewed” mean to Stefan Rahmstorf? An email he sent me three years ago is enlightening. The Journal Science, probably the most influential journal in the world, had published his widely circulated paper “A Semi-Empirical Approach to Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise” about six months before. He sent me the code used to make his projections of “future sea-level rise” and told me “you are the first outside person to test this code.” In other words, peer-review for Rahmstorf and Science includes sycophants from his group, but not an “outside person.”
Up for discussion
Stefan, I have been pointing out flaws in your work and conclusions for quite a while now. You say these issues “will be up for discussion” when your encyclical “appears in the peer-reviewed literature.” This is another place where your are wrong. They are already very much “up for discussion” whether or not you have given permission.
The fear of sea level rise is being used to influence world-wide political and social movements. You are at the forefront of the sea level rise scare. This wrenches all of your work from the ivory tower and places it in the middle of the town square.
Communication is fast now, the rabble has taken an interest, and many are not inclined to genuflect before the experts curriculum vitae. It is only beginning to dawn on many of the anointed that the internet may pull the rug out from under their claims of impending climate disaster. The peasants have breached the gate and are questioning the infallibility of their supposed betters.
I will continue to criticize your past work, and you can bet that I will be dissecting your future work. And I will not recognize some special status that elevates you above your critics. So if you want to be considered something other than an overwrought alarmist, you better start getting things right.