BYU professor's critique of climate change model contributes to journal editor's resignation
A BYU professor's criticism, along with other critiques of a climate change model published in a scientific journal, sparked a national controversy that led the journal's editor-in-chief to resign.
The paper published in the journal "Remote Sensing" initially led some mainstream media outlets to trumpet the model as proof climate change is overstated. Forbes published an op-ed based on the paper titled "New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism." But then a couple of reviews of an earlier book using the same model surfaced, including one by BYU geological sciences professor Barry Bickmore.
Bickmore's review of the book argued that author Roy Spencer failed to report all the outcomes of his tests and left out results that challenged his conclusions.
Scientists John Fasullo, Kevin Trenberth and Chris O'Dell referred to Bickmore's review when they, too, challenged Spencer's model in a published paper.
Both book reviews challenged the Spencer's model, but those criticisms apparently were ignored or overlooked by peer reviewers when Spencer and co-author Danny Braswell submitted their paper to "Remote Sensing."
After the paper appeared in "Remote Sensing" and attracted media attention, Bickmore's and Realclimate.org's questions resurfaced and other statistical fallacies in the paper were exposed.
The media blasted the journal's credibility, and editor-in-chief Wolfgang Wagner resigned.
"After having become aware of the situation, and studying the various pro and contra arguments," Wagner wrote in a farewell editorial for Remote Sensing. "I agree with the critics of the paper. Therefore, I would like to take the responsibility for this editorial decision and, as a result, step down as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing.
Wagner said the review process was sound, but the selection of the three peer reviewers wasn't.
"It got through the cracks," Bickmore said. "It happens sometimes. Normally, an editor wouldn't resign over mistakes like that, but in this case, it had such a huge media bubble that the editor, I think to protect the journal from the perception that they would just publish anything, he resigned."
The Forbes piece and others exaggerated what Spencer's paper claimed and sent climate change activists and skeptics alike into a frenzy, said John Timmer, a science editor at Ars Technica.
"If a person was exposed only to the claims being made in these outlets, it would be easy to conclude that Spencer had struck a blow, perhaps a fatal one, against the mainstream view of the climate," Timmer wrote.
Bickmore said he'd become skeptical of Spencer's methods since hearing him speak at a seminar. When Bickmore heard about Spencer's book, "Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies That Hurt the Poor," he put it on his wish list and received the book as a gift.
Once Bickmore read the book, he found one huge problem with it — Spencer was only using data that helped with his conclusion and excluded any information that refuted it.
"He was using a statistical technique that he made up," Bickmore said. "You can't find that in any statistics textbook."
Once the paper was published in "Remote Sensing," other scientists, like the ones from Realclimate.org, took notice of the oversimplified models of climate change.
"They just keep using the same simple climate model, which is fine, but you can't use a model like that for every purpose," Bickmore said. "And (Spencer and Braswell) just abused statistics left and right to get the results they want."
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