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Conspiracy Dog-whistling about GRL and the New Dessler Paper

Posted on 9 September 2011 by grypo

The new "in press" paper in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) from Andrew Dessler (SkS coverage here and here) has been the subject of many skeptical blogs in the last few days.  Why? Has a major issue been exposed?  Have they put on their skeptical hats and used their minds to take a serious look at the Spencer/Lindzen papers that Dessler finds to be flawed?  Not really (but attempted and already criticized).  It's a bit early for any substantive criticism, so for now, assumptions, speculation, and conspiracy fill that void. According to some, the problem is that the paper was written, reviewed, and accepted too fast!  So instead of light bulbs, we get conspiratorial alarm bells. Let's look at the quotes. 

First, from the usual places, Anthony Watts says:

"This paper appears to have been made ready in record time, with a turnaround from submission to acceptance and publication of about six weeks based on the July 26th publication date of the original Spencer and Braswell paper. We should all be so lucky to have expedited peer review service. PeerEx maybe, something like FedEx?"

Mr. McIntyre:

"It does seem to me that it’s been an awful lot easier for Dessler to publish this comment than it is to publish criticisms of Team articles."

And somewhat surprisingly, Roger Pielke Sr. jumps into the fray:

"[T]he paper was received 11 August 2011 and  accepted 29 August 2011. This is some type of record in my experiences as editor, and indicates that the paper was fast tracked.  This is certainly unusual"

Roy Spencer himself chimes in with his own take on the GRL process:

"At this point, it looks quite likely we will be responding to it with our own journal submission… although I doubt we will get the fast-track, red carpet treatment he got."


"I hope that GRL will offer us as rapid a turnaround as Dessler got in the peer review process. Feel free to take bets on that."

But is this unusual? Fortunately, GRL publishes the received and accepted dates (as do most publications), so we can use our own skeptical minds to find out.  So, for the papers accepted within a few days of Dessler 2011 -- the average turnaround time from receipt to acceptance:  about 28 days.  How many days for Dessler's?  18 days.  But was Dessler the fastest, even within the last few days?  It turns out Dessler ties Peter Martin Grindrod and Stephen Fawcett at 18 days for their breathlessly awaited paper, "Possible climate-related signals in high-resolution topography of lobate debris aprons in Tempe Terra, Mars"

As for the rest of the papers on the 'Papers in Press' page (as of 9/5/11), one paper had a turnaround time of 9 days, another as high as 70.  The issue even had some real outliers like 2 days and 120 days.  So perhaps Dr. Pielke or Anthony Watts can indicate to GRL an acceptable turnaround time, as to protect themselves from insinuations of changing their editorial process to "fast track" select individual papers?  

As a comparison, perhaps they can use another paper that came out in 2009.  This paper called into question decades of established science about the range of climate sensitivity, critical of Charney from the 70's, Plass from the 50's, and Arrhenius too, from the late 1800's.  The author of that paper:  Richard Lindzen.  How long did it take for Lindzen to get a paper of such monumental import through GRL review and get a response? 28 days. Six more for acceptance after a revision, and published a month later.  

For others, I can't speculate as to the difficulty of getting published in a timely manner without a specific paper, journal, or situation to discuss.  But, one reason that skeptical papers may take longer getting through peer review is that they often challenge work that has been established and validated against measurements and analysis for many decades.

So was Dessler 2011 fast-tracked because it is a "Team" publication of established science? Looking at the numbers, this appears like the least likely explanation and nothing more than a political dog-whistle, or a call to those "skeptics" most willing to believe the vast conspiracies revolving around establishment climate science.  Perhaps since Dessler was already well aware of Spencer's and Lindzen's arguments, he was rather more than prepared to write up the rebuttal soon after the release of Spencer's paper in Remote Sensing.  Or, as Texas State climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon puts it to Roger Pielke Sr.:

"It didn’t take my colleague Andrew Dessler long to work out a demonstration that Spencer’s new paper is wrong."

In short, there is no evidence to the claim that GRL "fast tracked" this paper due to preferential treatment over other papers, even within the same acceptance window of a few days.  Quite the contrary.  So perhaps the "skeptics" should follow Dessler's example and examine the scientific content of the paper, rather than weaving conspiracy theories around the fact that it got published in a timely manner.

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Comments 1 to 22:

  1. In the first paragraph, "rebuked" should probably read "rebutted".
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    Moderator Response: [grypo] Thanks. I just changed it to 'criticized'. I'm just trying to show that this entire debate is moving rather quickly, not trying to infer that any conclusions have been made yet.
  2. I think we have identified one of the reviewers of the Dessler paper :-)
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  3. Marco @2, Care to elaborate please?
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  4. Once you have 'seen' the conspiracy it can explain anything. Even the mundane.
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  5. Isn't the whole point of "Letters" journals (such as Geophysical Research LETTERS) to provide rapid turnaround on short research notes on timely topics. Surely Spencer and Pielke know this? Perhaps it is because GRL keeps so quiet about its policies? "GRL is a Letters journal; limiting manuscript size expedites the review and publication process." Sound of straws being clutched at (but in vain).
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  6. "And somewhat surprisingly, Roger Pielke Sr. jumps into the fray" Why surprisingly? RPSr has been, in essence, Watts's sponsor from the beginning. Note that RPSr's and Watts's comments are very similar.
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  7. Dikran @5, Yes, and those inconvenient facts are ignored by the "skeptics". I say "ignored" b/c Pielke et al. know very well that GRL strives to produce a quick turnaround for authors . Hence the brevity of the manuscripts. But hey, you can always count on the "skeptics" to give birth to yet another myth and conspiracy theory.
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  8. Didn't Said and Wegman get a paper through review in 2-3 days? Anyway, I don't see what the fuss is about. The journal I edit for has a fast-track procedure that can turn papers around in 2-3 weeks - and it does not have the reputation for fast turnover that GRL has. Everything does have to go right to meet that deadline (editor identifies reviewers quickly, reviewers agree quickly, reviewers review quickly, everyone agree accept with minor changes, changes are made). But the key point is that "fast-tracking" in and of itself is not an indication of insufficient review. The thing that slows paper review the most is the conflicting priorities reviewers and editors have. If a journal feels a paper is topical, you can speed the review process enormously simply by paying more attention than usual to each of the steps, rather than letting distractions delay the process. If you give a paper high priority, it's amazing how fast a decision can be made. Another thing that can really speed a paper through the process is if it is fairly straightforward. Desslers paper actually fits into that category in that it is a critique of another high profile paper that has obvious flaws. That sets a pretty low bar there. Another thing that would make it easy to review is that it refers to a single analysis (rather than a body of literature). That means the critiques can be evaluated in a pretty straight forward manner by the reviewers.
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  9. Further to Stephen's excellent comments, there is another factor that may have facilitated a rapid peer review, which was that Spencer made sure his paper got a lot of media attention. This means that many potential reviewers would already have read Spencer's paper quite recently, thought about it, and probably noticed some of the errors in it, even before they received Dessler's comment to review. Performing the review while it is still fresh in your mind is much easier, so the reviewers would be only be making life more difficult by delaying.
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  10. How about changing the headline from "Conspiracy Dog-whistling..." to "Conspiracy web spinning...?
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  11. Albatross #2: John Nielsen-Gammon's comments to Roger Pielke Sr, i.e. that Dessler easily found the flaws in SB2011, were made before Dessler et al was out. This suggests he already knew the content of Dessler's paper. There are multiple ways that John N-G may have known this, but I am willing to stick my neck out here and propose John N-G was one of the reviewers.
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  12. @ Marco #11 - that's one explanation - and very much in keeping with the topic of this article. It's almost certainly wrong. IMO the much more likely explanation is because both Prof John Nielsen-Gammon and Prof Andrew Dessler work at Texas A&M University in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and chat from time to time.
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  13. @Marco,sout If Prof. Nielsen-Gammon is a colleague of Desslers in the same department it is very unlikely that he would have been a reviewer of Dessler's paper. It would be an obvious conflict of evidence and as such it is very unlikely that an editor would have made such a choice.
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  14. OK, I just had my head chopped off :-). Note to self: check affiliations...
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  15. Outstanding!!! Any imperfections in the peer-review system certainly have not slowed the rapidly rising rates of carbon emissions and warming of the planetary system. Arguing about whose hose to use while watching a hourse burn is a prescription for disaster. Of course, many are missing the real issue and that is Spencer wants us to believe in magic. We are well above the highest CO2 levels in the past 800,000 years and rapidly increasing that carbon. For some reason clouds are going to stop major climate changes this time even though they never did so in those previous 800,000 years.
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  16. Dikran, Dessler is at Texas A&M, N-G is at UTA.
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  17. jmsully @16, N-G is at Texas A&M. So, of course, is Dessler.
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  18. "IMO the much more likely explanation is because both Prof John Nielsen-Gammon and Prof Andrew Dessler work at Texas A&M University in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and chat from time to time." Dessler wasn't keeping his smack-down of Roy secret, either. As he's said, he tried to educate Roy *before* Roy made a peer-reviewed further fool of himself.
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  19. Ooops, that's what I get for posting at like, 5AM my time.
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  20. "Hey! Look! Over there! A thingy thing!!" (Hides crappy 'paper' under the desk...)
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  21. "for some reason clouds are going to stop major climate changes this time even though they never did so in the previous 800,000 years". Exactly Scott, or in all the millions of years before that. I have been asking this obvious question for some time. Past climatic changes tell us there is no short term feed back mechanism preventing climate change. Perhaps Plimer could explain this to Spencer. The point is so obvious that it is impossible to see any rational reason (excluding ideology) for Spencer to persist with it or for anyone to take it seriously.
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  22. Is it just me, or is the Watts/Pielke Sr etc response an eerie microcosm/metaphor/analogy/whatever of the way denialism works? 1) Encounter inconvenient (ho ho) facts 2) Without checking for context (for obvious reasons) spray out tendentious 'facts' of your own 3) Sit back and wait for howls of outrage/sober-disproving-of-your-"hypothesis", and then wait for 1)...
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