Mark Steyn: End of the Peer Show

  • Date: 25/08/19
  • Mark Sten, The War on Free Speech

Bollocks on stilts. Whoops, sorry, we mean peer-reviewed science.

Dr Tim Ball appears to have won the long legal jihad launched against him by climate mullah Michael E Mann. Because his court follows “the English rule” as opposed to the stinkeroo “American rule”, the loser (Mann) will have to pay costs – which is as it should be after a decade of entirely meritless litigation.

But what if there’s a more effective way to silence your critics? Say, by proving scientifically that they should be expelled from polite society.

Nature, founded in 1869, is generally regarded (with Science) as one of the two most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in the world. Like many great nineteenth-century institutions its distinguished past lends an undeserved imprimatur to its meretricious and ever more politicized present. But that’s just my opinion and it hasn’t been peer-reviewed in a peer-reviewed journal, so pay no attention to it. Here is Nature‘s latest “scientific paper”. Headline:

Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians

This “paper” is by three apparently gainfully employed professors – Alexander Petersen, Emmanuel Vincent and Anthony LeRoy Westerling – who hold distinguished positions at the University of California “Center for Climate Communication” and the School of Engineering’s “Management of Complex Systems Department” plus a chap from the Medialab at what Nature calls “Sciences Po”, which is the slightly misleading abbreviation (at least for anglophone ears) of the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. Personally I find it very hard to invest anything called a “Medialab” with scientific authority, but evidently Nature is more easily impressed, notwithstanding the general air of corruption that afflicts Sciences Po and has had it under investigation by France’s Court of Audit almost continuously for the last three decades. (Among its many prominent alumni is M Macron lui-même.)

Be that as it may, what is this “scientific paper” about? The abstract:

We juxtapose 386 prominent contrarians with 386 expert scientists by tracking their digital footprints across ∼200,000 research publications and ∼100,000 English-language digital and print media articles on climate change. Projecting these individuals across the same backdrop facilitates quantifying disparities in media visibility and scientific authority, and identifying organization patterns within their association networks. Here we show via direct comparison that contrarians are featured in 49% more media articles than scientists. Yet when comparing visibility in mainstream media sources only, we observe just a 1% excess visibility, which objectively demonstrates the crowding out of professional mainstream sources by the proliferation of new media sources, many of which contribute to the production and consumption of climate change disinformation at scale. These results demonstrate why climate scientists should increasingly exert their authority in scientific and public discourse, and why professional journalists and editors should adjust the disproportionate attention given to contrarians.

You might prefer Judith Curry’s pithier summation:

This ranks as the worst paper I have ever seen published in a reputable journal.

For the record, Dr Curry is a “climate change scientist” and indeed an “expert scientist” – former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences, member of the NASA Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee, etc, etc – and, while we’re at it, author of some 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Yet Dr Curry is ranked not among the “386 expert scientists” but among the “386 prominent contrarians” – an ignominious cabal that even includes (horrors!) me. Why should “professional journalists and editors” “adjust” the opportunity for her to “exert” her undoubted “authority” in “public discourse”? And what does it mean when three professors claim to have “tracked” her “digital footprint” across 100,000 “digital and print articles”? Can you track a digital footprint across a print article? Is there a mechanical contraption for it?

Nature‘s paper cloaks itself in scientific language (“quantifying disparities”) to pass off politicized pseudo-science as the real thing. 

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