The APS should have known better

Those reading Deltoid’s coverage of the APS fiasco are probably up to date on this issue, but I feel like we need to discuss the APS failure in more detail. For those unaware of the latest in global warming denialist nonsense, the American Physical Society made the foolish mistake of entertaining global warming denialists by giving Christopher Monckton space in their newsletter to “challenge” global warming. As Lambert demonstrates in his post, the factual and calculation errors are a joke, but the strategy error is demonstrated by the fact that every global warming crank from tobacco apologist Steven Milloy to creationist William Dembski at UD is now celebrating the supposed end of a consensus on climate.

Milloy leads with a story that “APS ENDS CONSENSUS MYTH!” and all the other cranks with no regard for disreputable sources have happily followed suit. Creationists like Dembski, happy to promote any conspiracy theory about “mainstream” science that they think oppresses cranks like him cheerfully joins in. This is despite the fact that the APS has not changed it’s position on global warming, the article itself is a joke, and it is not even in the peer-reviewed literature. Monckton is crying foul because he thinks that a piece in a newsletter represents peer review. How embarrassing is it for them that because the piece was subjected by a review by an editor that he thinks this is peer review? Do we really have to explain what peer-review actually is to these people? Are they so ignorant? Clearly the answer is yes.

Peer review means that your paper is shared with experts in the field and they are allowed to challenge statements made in the paper and the author has to rebut or provide more data to address their concerns. Peer review is not having a single editor look over the paper for egregious errors; if this were actually a peer-reviewed publication, such a review would represent a massive failure of the review system to have a publication with only an editor reading over the paper. For those that haven’t been through the process, peer-review is usually grueling, must involve more than just an editor looking over the paper – often several leading researchers in a field – and usually requires an author to address substantive challenges to their argument. Monckton’s stunning ignorance of the process is telling.

That being said the bigger failure here is that of the APS not realizing they were dealing with a den of snakes when they opened up any publication to the likes of Monckton. Never mind that Monckton’s paper is about as big a challenge to the theory of anthropomorphic climate change as a poodle wearing boxing gloves is to Mike Tyson; as has been said before, denialists aren’t interested in debate, they are only interested in the appearance of debate. This non-peer-reviewed publication in a newsletter is being touted by cranks all over the internet as proof that global warming is being debated in the halls of academia because it is under the auspices of the APS. When the APS clarifies, correctly, that this is not an example of peer-reviewed publication, they get attacked by Milloy and others as stifling debate and caving to the global warming conspiracy.

To sum up. Monckton has published tripe that is clearly nonsense, is not peer-reviewed, and in no way has APS changed it’s position on global warming. The lesson is that when dealing with crooks, the truth doesn’t matter, and they will twist the truth to serve their purposes if you give them an opening. The APS has failed to realize that these people are not honest brokers in a debate. There are few clearer examples of this phenomenon than this blatant prevarication by the likes of Monckton, Milloy and others promoting this “end to consensus” or cover-up by the APS. This is not debate, this is denialism, and APS has learned the difference the hard way.