by Michael Asten
I have decided to reject the submission based on the significant scientific consensus regarding the question of human-induced climate change. – Eos editor
After reading in the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) newspaper Eos, (4 Feb 2014, here ) an oddly emotional account of a recent unexceptional and unquestioning film on climate change consensus science, I penned a Forum article for Eos.
According to the Eos guidelines:
Forum contains thought-provoking contributions expected to stimulate further discussion, within the newspaper or as part of Eos Online Discussions. Appropriate Forum topics include current or proposed science policy, discussion related to current research in the disciplines covered by AGU (especially scientific controversies), the relationship of our science to society, or practices that affect our fields, science in general, or AGU as an organization.
The text of the Forum essay that I submitted can be found [here EOSforumSubmission]. I proposed via the article to have a forum where scientists, especially graduate students, could offer a personal summary view of a data set of particular interest, relating to an aspect of climate sensitivity, global temperature change, sea-level change and associated indications of anthropogenically driven or natural variation. A brainstorming of ideas if you will, with the essential criterion that each must be founded on a credible data set. Or in the language of the AGUs mission statement, it would be a forum for a diversity of scientific ideas and approaches.
I fear I caused some consternation in the inner sanctums of our peak geophysical body; it took six weeks for the Editor in Chief to assign an editor and another 6 weeks to produce a decision (and this, for a weekly newspaper).
The text from the Editor’s letter to me is appended below. The Editor stated that the decision is “reject” because “climate change ….is no longer a topic of scientific controversy. ”
It is slightly ironic that such a blinkered response, contrary to AGUs mission statement of “open exchange of ideas… diversity of background, scientific approaches” , should come at the same time as we have news of the outpouring of bile at Lennart Bengtsson [here and here] , and of the University of Queensland threats of legal action to suppress further analysis of Peter Cook’s (“97% consensus”) paper.
The decision was also disappointing in that it was based on the Editor’s “discussion with colleagues and staff” (no reviewer was ever assigned). The decision was however in keeping with past AGU actions such as that of refusing to publish the dissenting view from within its own expert committee which prepared its recently updated position statement on climate change (the dissenting view was by AGU Fellow Roger Pielke Sr, and was published at Climate Etc. here)
Unlike the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, AGU does not see value in publishing diverse or dissenting views.
The central point of my article argued for a forum of ideas designed to stimulate use of data and independent thought among students, and to encourage recognition of the complexity of the topic. However apparently our student population is composed of fragile folk who should not be exposed to controversy – a pity, because presenting science as an unarguable “consensus” is quite counter-productive to inspiring young scientists’ curiosity.
It is also sad that the AGU has adopted the closed-mind approach, while in comparison the American Physical Society has sponsored a day of frank presentation [link to previous Climate Etc. post on this], argument and discussion on the same topic, calling on three scientists from the anthropogenic global warming consensus, and another three who in various ways question some of the assumptions or conclusions of that consensus (one being AGU Fellow Judith Curry). The proceedings of this meeting are [here]. They contain verbatim the six presentations, plus 106 pages of following discussion. It seems strange that the APS Committee of Experts could find room to debate data and interpretation, calmly and objectively, while AGUs editorial circle of colleagues and staff cannot countenance our graduate students doing the same.
Below is the text of the letter that I received from an editor at Eos:
Dear Dr. Asten:
Thank you for approaching Eos as a possible outlet for a Forum piece entitled “Ideas and diversity in climate science – and a challenge to students” (manuscript 2014ES004601). I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.
After thoughtful and lengthy consultation with colleagues and AGU staff, I have decided to reject the submission based on the significant scientific consensus regarding the question of human-induced climate change. While discussion of this topic continues, it is no longer a topic of scientific controversy.
There is an extensive body of scientific literature that supports the view highlighted in AGU’s position statement that “humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the last fifty years.” The latest IPCC and NCA reports, which are based primarily on peer-reviewed research, (much of it published in AGU journals), echo these findings.
The core of your Forum proposal is that the opposing arguments about climate change “rarely appear in AGU commentaries.” I understand that you have a perspective that does not align with the consensus presented in AGU’s position statement, or the findings of the IPCC and NCA reports. While open debate is essential to success of scientific research, I respectfully recommend that peer-reviewed journals or scientific meetings are the best places to explore these differences, not the Eos Forum pages.
Again, I apologize for the delay in responding to your proposal.
JC comments: Without making a personal judgment regarding the merits of Asten’s proposal or the suitability of his article for Eos, there are two things here that greatly concern me.
The first is that the AGU Policy Statement on Climate Change is being used as a rationale for editorial decisions in AGU publications. My displeasure about the AGU policy statement on climate change is discussed in these two previous posts:
The letter from the Editor to Asten realizes my worst fear about the AGU statement on climate change: that it will be used as a basis for making editorial decisions to reject papers or to not even send them out for review.
The second is this statement: “I understand that you have a perspective that does not align with the consensus presented in AGU’s position statement.” There is nothing in Asten’s submitted essay that is overtly ‘skeptical’; rather he is arguing that AGU needs to facilitate a broader spectrum of scholarship and dialogue on this topic. However, if you google ‘Michael Asten’, he clearly shows up as a scientist that is skeptical of climate change. It seems that the Editor of Eos also did the same googling, identified Asten as a skeptic, which motivated the content of the Editor’s letter. So this was as much about the ‘person’ as about the content of Asten’s essay.
And finally, this isn’t just some naive, rogue editor. After all, the editor engaged in “thoughtful and lengthy consultation with colleagues and AGU staff”
I received the initial email from Michael Asten about this on May 16. With Asten’s permission, I forwarded his email to Peter Webster, who is President of the AGU Atmospheric Sciences Section and a member of the AGU Council. He asked me to hold off on a blog post, while he tried to get the AGU to deal with this issue internally. He sent emails to the AGU leadership, voicing his concerns about using the AGU policy statement as a basis for rejecting an article, and requesting permission to send an email to the Council voicing his concerns about AGU’s editorial policies in this regard. He was denied permission to communicate with the Council regarding this issue, and was told that he had no standing to communicate with the Eos editor over this matter since he was not an author on the paper in question. (note Peter Webster gave me permission to report on this interaction with the AGU leadership).
Apart from the extremely disturbing editorial process, the concerns raised in Asten’s essay are important ones – he is concerned that the scientific dialogue on climate change at the AGU is too narrow, and about the impact of this on graduate students and young scientists.
I am a member of the AGU, and am currently a member of the Fellows Committee that selects Fellows for the Atmospheric Sciences Section. In the near term, I will remain a member of the AGU and I am highly supportive of Peter Webster’s efforts to work within the organization to effect change. But I am increasingly conflicted about my membership in the AGU, with its irresponsible advocacy that is compromising its own core values.