(A poke at a silly claim by a journalist for late on a Friday night, not my usual style. Please see footnotes.)

Journalist “poneke” writes:

The emails reveal that the entire global warming debate and the IPCC process is controlled by a small cabal of climate specialists in England and North America. This cabal, who call themselves ’the Team,’ bully and smear any critics. They control the ’peer review’ process for research in the field and use their power to prevent contrary research being published.

[My emphasis added.]

Y’know one of my very favourite (mis)quotes is “Don’t criticise what you can’t understand”.

“Poneke” clearly doesn’t understand.

The idea that some small cabal is able to control the entire world’s climate science publications is such utter bunk it’s hilarious.

Great joke, Poneke.

It’s like something out of a Dan Brown novel.

You don’t have to be a climate scientist to figure it out. I’m not, it’s not difficult to work out.

The smallest passing knowledge of how scientific publishing works–in any area of science–would more than suffice.

Let’s make that least of efforts.

How many climate journals are there?

Here’s a starter list. There will be more journals, quite likely many more, but it’ll do. I count in excess of 60.

How many scientific journals could a small group of researchers have any real influence on? Enough influence to control what is published.

It’d be impossible for it to be more than a handful as it’s the editors that have the call to accept/reject papers, not the referees, and there is no physical way for any one scientist to have time to be the editor of more than a few journals, at most. (Few would take on more than one.)

Unless these people controlled all the editorial boards of all the climate journals in the world–an obvious nonsense–they couldn’t possibly control the world’s science literature on climate change, even if they wanted to.

Certainly the likes of Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) wouldn’t put up with people telling them what to publish. I can’t imagine John Maddox liking being played for a fool during his stay as editor of Nature, for example.

Note, too, that top journals don’t have just one editor, but an editorial board.

Methinks that Poneke doesn’t understand (properly) that referees’ comments aren’t the final say on what’s published. If true, and it seems to be the case, then he [doesn't] understand the scientific publishing process at all. Editors don’t just fall over backwards because of what a referee says, they expect referees to be critical; they’re supposed to.

Furthermore, this “cabal” would have to referee every paper ever published that was contrary to their views for this conspiracy to work.

In any event, as a practical matter, bullying editors would only put the editors’ backs up. That’s common-sense.

You see, if editors don’t think particular referees are useful, not impartial or just an ordinary pain in the neck, they just stop using them. The referees aren’t in control.

It would behoove those pushing these “conspiracy” ideas to ask themselves honestly what they really know of how the science industry works.

No point in criticising what you don’t understand.

(On the other hand, perhaps they don’t care what’s correct and asking them to understand first is moot? Runs contrary to what you’d want a journalist to be doing though, doesn’t it?)

I didn’t read past the second paragraph of Poneke’s article, the one I cited above as my interest is with the highlighted sentence. Given the the standard Poneke set with the first two paragraphs, I had no inclination to read further. A brief skim suggests strongly that he maintains the conspiracy line.

[Correction added. Surprised no-one pointed it out sooner!]

Footnotes: (added Wednesday 20th January)

The link to the older (or newer) comments is a bit hard to spot. It’s in light blue writing, smallish font, to the bottom left of the comments immediately before where you sign in to comment. At the time of writing there are two pages of comments (fifty on the first).

For all those throwing stuff about climate science at me, this article is not about climate science. It is about the scientific publishing industry. You’re welcome to talk about climate science amongst yourselves. Climate science isn’t addressing what I’ve written, so it’s besides the point in lobbing climate science at me! :-)

I would encourage readers interested in the climate science aspects to read the Hot Topic article, or relevant posts at Open Parachute both of who who cover climate science. I’d be very skeptical that the overall claims of global warming are wrong (there’s simply too much science and too many scientists involved), but I don’t have time to learn the background to comment on it directly. I have a day job, one that goes “all hours” already…

(I am familiar with the scientific publishing industry, of course, that’s essentially unavoidable if you’re a scientist!)

One of the key reasons I picked up on this point is that you don’t need to know climate science in order to check this, you “just” need a knowledge of the scientific publishing industry and a little common-sense. It lets you look at poneke/David’s claim independent of all the hubris about the science.

Despite poneke/David’s making out this to be a personal attack, it is not. I am not attacking him, I am “attacking” the claim he made. The difference is important. As a former journalist, he will know that claims in public are open to criticism.

If you wish to reply to me, as opposed to other commenters, I would encourage you to read my comments below first. It’ll avoid me having to repeat myself! (Search the web page using control-F (or command-F for Apple Mac users) on ‘Grant Jacobs’.) I will be up-front in saying I may not have time to reply. This post is quite a few days old and I have to keep moving forward and in any event I have more important priorities.

One more! (This is getting almost as long as the article!) Read around. There’s over 25 bloggers here, writing on all sorts of subjects. My recent posts have been on a protest against homeopathy (it’s got a great video hosted by Richard Dawkins) and how deleting a single gene can turn ovaries into testes in adult mammals.