Remember the cold fusion claim by Fleischmann and Pons in 1989? Remember how there was a press conference announcing their discovery before peer review? The same justification was applied: This work was so important and had such enormous implications for the economy, global politics, energy policy, and of course, climate change, that the world needed to know NOW. Of course, their work was flawed and debunked. Careers were ruined. Institutions were embarrassed. And in the aftermath of that event there was a lot of talk about the importance of peer review. Sound familiar? Climate science infused with activism and politics is, in my opinion, junk science. Our knowledge will advance much more quickly if we remain scientifically cautious and keep the politics far far away–which means embracing high quality peer reviewed work and allowing for a culture of questioning results without being branded a “denier”.
Hey, Jack – The cold fusion example is great to bring up in this context since it was pre-Internet. Say that happened today. Instead of calling a presser and conveying their (wrong) info in a one-way fashion to press, those researchers would have had to publish everything online. It would have gotten scrutinized like crazy because it was such an out-there claim. It probably would have gotten debunked more quickly, too.
Even look at something more recent like the cell phone / rat brain cancer study. The initial reporting, some of it sensational, and the debunkings of that sensational reporting, were all published on the same day. The communications environment is just totally different now.
If this team is wrong, we’ll learn soon enough and everyone will get to be even more skeptical next go around. But they’re strong scientists, they’ve developed robust models for analyzing these phenomena and they’re sharing those model results with the public and other stakeholders at a time when they are interested in the results.
“Climate science infused with activism and politics” is very much in the eye of the beholder, in my experience. When researchers are working on a topic that is the subject of public controversy, they should be more open, not less so.
Good example, but extremely rare case. Since Fleischmann and Pons story, there were hundreds of “peer reviewed” papers retracted as a result of post publication scrutiny. Further, research has shown that almost 80% of “peer reviewed”, published science is not reproducible. So on average, the level of confidence in “peer reviewed” publication is not much better than a story published in tabloid press. Competent scientist will distinguish good science from bad science, regardless whether the paper was peer reviewed or not.
This is an excellent discussion. Personally, I’d rather see scientists inform public conversations like this with some analysis rather than no analysis. As long as scientists are being clear about the process they are using – pre-publication release w/ standard peer review, open review, etc. – they’re doing fine in my book.
I also thought the Retraction Watch team made a pretty compelling case here for more open peer review: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/08/peer_review_in_public_james_hansen_s_climate_predictions_released_as_a_draft.html.
It’s not going to be a fit for every paper or project – scientists still deserve the chance to fail quietly among their peers! – but it’s another tool scientists can and should use to communicate their work, especially when it has bearing on societally relevant and publicly contentious issues.
Big picture, all publishing is becoming more open and subject to review and feedback throughout the process. In that sense, journalism and science face some similar challenges, though the scientific community has arguably been slower to adopt new tools. Scientists and their institutions need to be able to trust their audiences, including journalists and the public, to be savvy consumers of scientific information. Journalists are certainly going to be more skeptical of papers that haven’t gone through full review yet, but that’s a skepticism they can pass on to their readers.
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