Sunday, 23 February 2014

Global Warming Solved in Open Peer Review Journal

Roger Pielke Sr. pointed our attention to a new game-changer article.

If you click on the link, you come to an unknown scientific journal and a manuscript open for peer review.

Everything looks very professional and it could have been the homepage of a real scientific journal. The article looks good, lay-outed perfectly with LaTex and it surely looks like a real scientific article. Maybe almost a bit too good. The article cites the main studies on the topic. Well made.

However, if you look a little further, there are some disappointments. If you look at the list of articles, you notice that the journal is very new. They have not published any articles yet and eight manuscripts are under review. All manuscripts have been uploaded in January 2014, and all are written by Ronan Connolly & Michael Connolly or by Michael Connolly & Ronan Connolly. Father Michael and son Ronan.

Open Peer Review Journal

The journal is called "Open Peer Review Journal", subtitle: "for rigorous open peer review". Being an unknown journal, I was curious who was behind this journal, but the homepage does not mention an editorial board. Fortunately, there is also a blog by the Connolly family called Global Warming Solved. At this blog they state that they themselves have started the journal.

The idea of peer review is to give a paper more credibility, that can only be achieved by sending the manuscripts to an independent journal. Getting published in your own journal will not lead to much credibility, I am afraid scientists will not see this as different from publishing your ideas here on your blog. This will thus not create much incentive to read the eight long articles. I would advice the authors: If your ideas are strong, you should have nothing to fear with going to a real scientific journal. There is also an open review journal: Climate of the Past. If I had a controversial paper, that is where I would go.

I just wrote a blog post about peer review and credibility, that explains why peer review is especially helpful to give fringe ideas credibility, because they are the ones that need the external credibility bonus most. However, to get such a bonus, the journal and reviews do need to be independent. Thus it makes no sense whatsoever to submit a controversial study to your own journal. In case of the “journal” Pattern Recognition in Physics, even Anthony Watts, Steven Mosher and PopTech recognized that publishing controversial papers in your own journal is not done.

The information that the authors are also the editors should really be provided on the journal homepage itself. Now, it gives a strange impression that there is no editorial board. And if people notice later that the editors are not independent, they might feel conned.

This information is especially important for potential reviewers. Imagine a reviewer would recommend the editors to reject the manuscript, the reviewer would expect that the editors would make an impartial decision on the merits of the manuscript. The idea that the editor and the authors are one of and the same is the worst possible nightmare. As long as that is the case, I cannot imagine a serious scientist would write a review.


The findings range from CO2 not being a greenhouse gas and greenhouse gasses not being able to warm the atmosphere to claims that most of the global warming seen up to now is due to urbanization. Reading eight papers, ranging from 18 to 49 pages, takes some time. I already notice some problems with the review article on the importance of urbanization. Hopefully more on that later.

And our anonymous coward at And Then There's Physics had a look at one of the papers on the greenhouse effect.

On their homepage they are very clear about the results and its implications and write (their emphasis):
“Our results show that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations does not cause global warming. So, the scientific argument for “carbon taxes” is no longer valid.” ... “Global warming is not man-made.”
[UPDATE: The anonymous coward from the blog "The Hockey Schtick", has an even more adventurous theory and states in the comments: "...therefore addition of greenhouse gases actually causes surface cooling". And in a next comment: "[W]ould you agree Earth’s surface temperature would be about: ... 304K with an atmosphere of the same mass, without any greenhouse gases".

Without any greenhouse gasses The Hockey Schtick thinks the temperature would be 49K warmer as the temperature the Earth would have without atmosphere, which is determined by the radiative balance with the sun and the cold universe. The problem is: without greenhouse gasses this hot surface would be in direct contact with the cold universe and rapidly cool 49K to regain its radiative balance. Interesting how science free that The Hockey Schtick is, a well-read climate ostrich blog, often cited by WUWT.]

Unscientific overconfidence

In their "Frequently Asked Questions", Connolly & Connolly answer the question, Can CO2 cause global warming? with strong conclusions: Models wrong, no man-made global warming.
[W]hen we actually looked at the experimental data, we discovered that atmospheric temperatures are independent of the concentration of “greenhouse gases”. In other words, the models were wrong. CO2 doesn’t cause global warming.
I am afraid that this is a typical idea among climate ostriches, but that is not the way science works.

If you find a problem, you shout EUREKA and are happy to have found something interesting. This is, however, only the beginning. Then you start investigating why there is a discrepancy. Before you can claim that greenhouse gases do not warm the climate, you will first have to have find the reason for the discrepancy. And find that it is in the radiative transfer equations or in the laboratory measurements of the infra-red spectrum of CO2.

Unfortunately for the Connolly family the most likely explanation is that their empirical analysis is not able to find the relationship because it is not designed in a way that it could find the relationship. I did not read the paper yet, but on And Then There's Physics it was claimed that the analysis is based on radiosonde data, even single radiosondes. This will not reveal the relationship between temperature and greenhouse gasses.

Let me explain. Lets take a simple example with a step change in CO2, and let's assume that the greenhouse effect is right, then this would create an energy imbalance in the atmosphere and the atmosphere (and especially the ocean) would start heating. In the beginning, however, the temperature is still almost the same because it takes decades for the climate system to heat up. One might be tempered to conclude that CO2 does not influence temperature. This would clearly be a contradiction, the method is thus wrong.

The problem is thus that, as K.a.r.S.t.e.N mentions on And Then There's Physics, time and spatial scales are very important, only for a CO2 change on global scales and on decadal time scales, can you see the relationship between temperature and greenhouse gas concentrations. Also spatial scales are important. If only CO2 concentration would only be doubled above Australia, their government makes an effort, but stays the same elsewhere, there would be almost no warming above Australia.

After some questions, Ronan Connolly started soften his position and wrote:
However, when we looked at the results of our studies, we found that the conventional understanding seems to be incomplete and inadequate. Notice that I said “incomplete”, not wrong!
I hope they will update their homepage accordingly. Also when I asked a question on one of the urbanization papers, Ronan Connolly made a correction.

The overconfident conclusions based on limited problems gives the impression of standard anything-but-carbon climate ostriches. On the other hand, the discussions have been friendly and actually resulted in changes, which is rare and gives a good impression. Thus for now it looks as if a discussion could be fruitful. I hope I will be able to find time to read some of the papers near to my expertise.

Related posts

Peer review helps fringe ideas gain credibility

The value of peer review for science and the press


Rachel said...

I like the mention of the anonymous coward at AndThenTheresPhysics :-)

And just in case Pekka turns up here to make comments about your blog post, I'll step in first with, great post!

William Connolley said...

> Farther

Father :-)

Also, let me take this opportunity to say that there is no connection between me and them, despite faint similarity of surname.

I think your point about authors-being-editors as a problem for reviewers is a good one; its pretty hard to see them being unbiased in assessing their own work. It would still be nice to see someone put in a decent review comment and see what happened.

And Then Theres Physics said...

Anonymous coward? You wanting me to tell you who I am :-)

Given how my exchanges with Ronan Connolly, both on my site and his, are going, I'm not convinced a lengthy review would do much good. Currently it seems that he has a Stephen Goddard-like view that the surface temperature is what it is because of the atmospheric pressure.

Apparently, according to Ronan, the Earth is warming than as asteroid at the same distance from the Sun, because it has an atmosphere. He's yet to explain how the atmosphere does this without it being the greenhouse effect.

I have a sneaky suspicion that if this discussion goes further he will end up describing the greenhouse effect but then claim that somehow it's different.

Victor Venema said...

Rachel, bring them on.

William Connolley, I had seen the additional "e". That complete disconnect between spoken English and written English makes the language so hard.

Even if that is no excuse for my "farther" (corrected, thanks). That is just my normal dyslexia; in the time before the spellchecker, I would not have been a writer.

Anonymous, it would not help to tell me your name. The only way to get rid of the label anonymous coward is to tell Anthony Watts your name and social security number. There are anonymous people blogging at WUWT, but that is okay because AW knows their names. You also know your name, I presume, but that is apparently not sufficient.

I had the feeling that Ronan Connolly was going into that direction. That there is a greenhouse effect, but that it is caused by his newly discovered "multimerization of oxygen and nitrogen".

If that is right, there is no reason for their claim that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas. That would be an unsupportable and huge over-interpretation of their results. That would just be a reason to investigate where his multimerization actually exists and how strong its global warming potential is.

It would be an addition factor.

Being additional I would not expect it to be too important, if it exists at all, because otherwise the global mean temperature would be a lot higher as it is now. Let's see how the discussion evolves.

EliRabett said...

As usual the folk who invoke the adiabatic lapse rate are quite uncurious about what sets the temperature at the surface boundary of the calculation.

The joke of it is that the lapse rate is crucial to the greenhouse effect, because as the concentration of GHGs increases, the height at which the Earth radiates to space increases, and because the lapse rate insures it is colder there, that means that the entire system has to warm.

Victor Venema said...

Eli Rabett, exactly. If someone would claim there is no greenhouse effect, which Rabett surely would not, you will have to find another reason why it is so nicely warm at the surface. And if someone proclaims to have found a new greenhouse gas, which Rabett surely would not, you have to explain why it is not much warmer at the surface.

Finding a deviation is only the beginning of a story and the frustrating thing of science is that it is most likely that the deviation is due to a problem with your new idea because the old stuff has already been woven into a dense network of ideas and data. The more of this network you would need to replace, the less likely your new idea is right. The climate ostriches seem to assume that everyone else is stupid. Not a good assumption.

And Then Theres Physics said...

Eli, I've been trying - without success - to explain that to certain people (in case it wasn't obvious, that was the motivation behind my recent post :-) ). I've been through this so many times over the last couple of days, I think I've started confusing myself.