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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Blog  /  Blog Entries  /  The perils of unsolicited invitations

The perils of unsolicited invitations

Posted by ucfaam0 at Sep 13, 2013 10:30 AM |

By Chris Brierley

During my first year at UCL, I was invited to join the editorial board of a new journal that was being established. I must confess I was pretty pleased to be invited, but wasn’t sure what it would entail. This journal was to be an open-access one. I knew that there are some predatory publishers out there, who aim to con unsuspecting scientists into paying a publishing fee and then making off with the money. So I checked whether this publisher was on Beall’s List and rang them to speak to the staff in Switzerland. I also knew of a couple of members of the Editorial Board, so joined in September 2012.

Apart from a nice Christmas eCard, the next I heard was when the first issue was published in June 2013. (I don’t think this this is exceptional, as they didn’t want to bother me unduly). There had been a fair bit of discussion amongst my colleagues and the media about the recent prolonged colder weather, so I was pleased to see an article tilted “On the present halting of global warming” in the first issue. Upon reading it though, I was shocked to see that it not only disputed the role of anthropogenic CO2 emissions in climate, but also failed to test any of its hypotheses. I would have rejected it if it had come to me as an editor (possibly without imposing on the good will of my peers to review it). I decided to resign immediately to show my disapproval of the lack of scientific rigour.

After further investigations, it appears that the paper was submitted by the founder of the Institute where the Editor-in-Chief works. My first hit when Googling for the author and the keyword “climate” was a debunking of the author’s earlier work on Skeptical Science. Not only did that earlier work seem suspiciously similar, but none of the criticisms of it had been addressed in this new paper. I have since been told that three peer-reviews were received for the paper and that they were supportive.

Normally, resigning would be a sufficient step to make a statement about the quality of a paper and I could stop there. Yet climate is a rather emotive topic and the blogosphere readily jumps on “science” disputing humans’ role in global warming. I have therefore posted an open resignation letter, discussing the poor quality of the science in the paper, on the Skeptical Science website (which collates and debunks arguments for why climate change is not important). It seems that the publishers have been a little taken aback and have solicited formal comments - to be published in the journal alongside the article. (Functionally the paper argued that CO2 concentrations have risen quadratically, whilst the temperatures have risen linearly. In fact CO2 concentrations rose exponentially and climate responds to the logarithm of CO2 - the logarithm of an exponential is linear.)

This whole saga has ended up taking up a lot time. I could have avoided it all if I hadn’t let the flattery of the invitation influence me. This has reiterated to me that a paper is only good science if you (or preferably the community as a whole) judge it to be good science. Peer-review is not stringent arbiter of quality science - rather it is a sieve. It relies upon the goodwill and attentive efforts of volunteers, who sometimes have bad days and the dregs can slip through.

 

Chris Brierley is a lecturer at UCL Geography. Details on his research interests can be found here. Read Chris' Skeptical Science post and follow the debate here.