Conspiracy Dog-whistling about GRL and the New Dessler Paper

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.

Posted by grypo on Friday, 9 September, 2011

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.