2010-10-17 07:01:36Peer Reviewed Skeptical Science Article!
Robert Way

Hey everyone.

Me, John and Doug have been mulling over an idea and we thought we would open it up to general discussion amongst the authors group.

Our idea is that the authors from the skeptical science forum would put together a couple review articles for submission into peer-reviewed journals such as quaternary science reviews. The reason this idea came about is because we feel that we have a very active author group with such wide reaching abilities that we could very efficiently conduct research and summarize it onto paper. When you think of it we have quite a few writers, some scientists and a lot of people with great research skills who together could probably work and contribute effectively.

Ultimately, we would work in groups of say 5-10 authors per paper and hopefully have for each article some scientists who have experience with the peer reviewed literature. Once articles are finished our own internal peer review would be conducted and a couple individuals would be appointed to make thorough reviews of the articles. The final step would be the preparation for specific journals and the submission. By that point through our own internal peer review we should have the articles at a level that makes it likely to not require rigorous changes prior to acceptance.

Some ideas we have thought about doing a review article on include:
(1) The Empirical Evidence for Human Contributions to Climate Change
(2) An Overview of the state of the cryosphere (sea ice, land-ice, and ice sheets)
(3) Paleoclimate (Geologic to Holocene)
(4) Any other ideas people can come up with!

Question: Why do this?

Answer: Some of these subjects lack the most recent developments in the literature, others like the empirical evidence for an enhanced greenhouse effect often are left out and I have yet to even see a review article on the subject. Putting all the empirical evidence in one place and in one article will do a lot to inform the public and to dissuade dissidents who like to ignore real evidence.

Finally, this process will make us better writers and better people. You learn a lot through the preparation of an article and you learn to collaborate and sure who wouldn't want to see their name in the literature!!

Anyways I'm opening this up to discussion. Anyone who feels this is something they're interested in let us know and let us know what areas are those that would interest you!

2010-10-17 07:44:08
Rob Painting

Once articles are finished our own internal peer review would be conducted and a couple individuals would be appointed to make thorough reviews of the articles.

Sounds like a job for Neal. Not much gets by him. I'm quite fascinated by the idea.

2010-10-17 09:17:41interesting idea
Dana Nuccitelli

It's an interesting idea, and I'd like to contribute if I can.  One question I have off the bat is that scientific studies always state the research institution employing the scientists involved - what would those of us who don't work at research institutions put?  SkS?

I presume we would be putting together a summary paper, since we obviously don't have the instrumentation to collect original data.  So then the question is which areas of climate science would be most useful to summarize (and which are most lacking in summary papers), and which we have capability to speak intelligently about.

Climate sensitivity would be a useful one, but was covered not too long ago by Knutti and Hegerl.  Empirical evidence for AGW is always a useful subject for the public, but less so for climate scientists, or climate journals I would imagine.  That's a possibility though - certainly one which we have sufficient knowledge about.  The cryosphere overview is an interesting idea - I don't know if that's been done.  But personally I know more about the empirical evidence for AGW, so that would get my vote :-)

2010-10-17 12:28:37


- As dana1981 points out, SkS is not really in a position to do original research: We have no funds for instrumentation, and if there is original theoretical research, it should be published under the names of the specific individuals who could go toe-to-toe with experts with questions about it.

- If we were to produce a review article for a research journal, it seems unlikely such a journal would accept it unless one of the authors was an acknowledged expert in the specific area: Why else would they take an interest?

- So what makes most sense to me would be an overview article for a journal of popularization, with the target audience similar to Scientific American or Science News, although SciAm probably has high academic standards for their authors.  

2010-10-17 15:36:22Resposne to neal
Robert Way

Hey All,
I certainly welcome all feedback on this topic and I agree that we are in no position to do original research.

I also think that journals of popularization are an excellent example of other things we could do. Frankly I didn't even think of it but it is a good idea. All that aside however, I think that the scientific literature is not confined to well known experts in a subject. Certainly it helps but so does thorough work. I think it might be necessary to have lead authors who are perhaps at research institutions studying in the fields of study to which climatology is relevant but it is not a necessity. And if we do run into this problem, there are plenty of researchers who would probably jump at the opportunity to lead a review paper (scientists do love their publication counts afterall) (I'm sure I could think of a few).

SKS could potentially be listed as the affiliation but I would not suggest it being the affiliation of a lead author. An example of this can be seen where mcintyre has used climate audit as his affiliation in peer reviewed papers but usually as a second author.
2010-10-17 17:13:15
Ari Jokimäki


This is a good idea. Sometimes I have thought about writing a review article on cosmic rays and climate but haven't done anything on it because it would take lot of effort for one person to do it. In a group of people it would be much easier.

By the way, there are some journals that I think would gladly accept a paper or series of papers on denialist claims.

How about genuine research projects?

Edited to add: So, yes, I'm interested generally. The subject number 1 in the opening post is close to my heart and I will be all over it.

2010-10-17 17:26:20
Ari Jokimäki


Dana: "One question I have off the bat is that scientific studies always state the research institution employing the scientists involved - what would those of us who don't work at research institutions put?"

Well, I once co-authored a paper and put in simply: Ari Jokimäki, Espoo, Finland (Espoo being the city where I live) and it got published like that.

Dana: "I presume we would be putting together a summary paper, since we obviously don't have the instrumentation to collect original data."

One can always do research on already collected data. Many researchers do that also. We do have computers - that's a most powerful instrument in today's science. Some other people may have used measuring equipment to measure some raw data, but we can use computers to extract more meaningful information from that raw data.

In my research efforts, so far the worst hurdle for me has been the fact that I don't have the access to scientific journals, so sometimes I can't read what some research article says about the subject I'm studying (or would have to pay a lot to buy the article).

2010-10-17 17:59:55If we go ahead with a peer-reviewed collaboration...
John Cook


... then it would be worthwhile creating a new forum specifically for that paper. There would be much discussion and a number of papers would need to be discussed and dissected in detail - we wouldn't want to hijack the Authors Forum with all that talk.

My vote is for a paper on the empirical evidence for human influence on climate change. It would be powerful stuff and I would love to be involved in such a project. There's lots of issues to be hammered out though - if this discussion gets to the point that it looks likely that we'll embark on it, I'll create a new forum.

One of the points to work out early in the piece, there does need to be a lead author who would direct the project, presumably someone with current academic links and experience with the peer review process (which rules me out).

2010-10-17 20:00:28


I see two crucial steps, the choice of the argument and of the journal.

We should look hard at the litterature to see what else has been already published and check if there's something new to add with respect to the IPCC AR4 (the most comprehensive overview I can think of). We should find an argument that is missing or not updated since 2007. A paper on the empirical evidence would have the advantage of being general and interdisciplinary, more suited for a collective work. But we may think of others. For example, I've never seen a review on the role of and the impacts on the oceans. The risk is we may get lost in such wide topics and unable to focus on the more important aspects.

The choice of the journal can be done later. It would be nice to have it published in one of the open access EGU journals; we'd be charged but not too much.

I do not see SkepticalScience as an affiliation though its role could (and should) be aknowledged.

Overall, I think that it will take time and won't be easy, we may not be able to get it published. But it's a good idea and worth to try. I'll be happy to help in my spare time, even thuogh it's not that much.



the revolution at skeptical science had been really fruitful and I'm very proud of my small contribution to it. The idea of a collective paper  is good but keep in mind that it will eventually keep us a bit away from the "normal life" of the blog, it might not be in the interest of SkS. You may want to give it a second (third? :)) thought.

2010-10-17 20:52:56
Rob Painting

For example, I've never seen a review on the role of and the impacts on the oceans.

Riccardo, I'm reading through a whole bunch of papers at the moment, the impacts of ocean acidification (working on the advanced rebuttal), ocean carbonate depletion, chemistry changes in the sea (speciation), stratification and ocean deoxygenation. It's very,very worrying stuff, especially for an avid life long diver like myself. Planning on doing some blog posts once I get the advanced rebuttals, I committed to, out of the way. I figured doing these because the ocean is something near and dear to me, and I see very little discussion of these subjects on climate blogs.

I agree it going to be a very time consuming task getting something published. Be good if we could get a few more experienced people on board, to share the load and broaden the skill set. Definitely worth consideration though, would only enhance the reputation of Sks.

2010-10-17 20:55:15
Mark Richardson

I'm not sure we have anything that useful for a peer reviewed journal, although occasional summaries do get in (Oreskes study of paper positions springs to mind).


A SciAm article might be good though; IMO SkS stuff has generally been better than the SciAm stuff I've read. Probably because we're climate geeks whilst SciAm authors tend to be science geeks.



I like the sound of "(2) An Overview of the state of the cryosphere (sea ice, land-ice, and ice sheets)". I'm starting research on remote sensing & physical modelling of snow mass. A lot of my background research could come in useful for cryosphere stuff. I'll start knocking together some stuff when I get in on Monday.

2010-10-17 21:06:15The question of whether we should do a paper
John Cook


It's a good question, whether doing a peer-reviewed paper is a good use of our time. Would it be better just to stick to doing what we do best - writing online rebuttals of skeptic arguments and publishing blog posts?

The one thing I've learnt since embarking on Skeptical Science is that you really never know what's going to happen next. Back in May, I gave a talk at the Uni of W.A. where I talked to a room of academics about what I'd done with the website and future plans. In the 5 or so months since then, I couldn't have possibly predicted what actually happened - the one-liners by Jan Dash, the idea of the 3-level rebuttal getting suggested, the Authors Forum which has been a revelation and IMHO the most exciting thing that has happened to SkS, the Firefox plugin (coming next week), the Climate Scientists Explain series (which has already spawned a spin-off series based on a suggestion by Steve Sherwood). Being involved in such a social media experiment is madness. I tend to make general plans and then get thrown this way or that by day-to-day events.

So in this case, I think it's worth just pushing the boat in a certain direction and see where it takes us. I'm always of the mind that I hate wasting stuff - maybe it's an environmentalist thing :-) But even if the peer-reviewed angle doesn't pan out, what we will be producing is a lot of material and doing a lot of research that will be of much use on the website. In fact, and this is one of the things to discuss as we get into discussion of process, but we can always use blog posts as a way of test driving arguments - run it through the blog-review process before we submit it to peer-review :-)

On that note, I should also mention something else I'm working on which has a bit of overlap with this idea. I'm in the process of getting a book published. The title is 'Climate Change Denial - Heads in the Sand' (a title which should have Anthony Watts frothing at the mouth, I expect). The manuscript has been completed and handed over to the publisher who is now doing whatever publishers do to get it to release. I don't know what it is that they do but apparently it takes a while because the book isn't to be published until April 2011. Now when I was writing the blog post 10 Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change, I actually came up with 19 different 'human fingerprints' and narrowed it down to 10 for the blog post. This made me think a possible idea for another book might be something like "Human Fingerprints on Climate Change". The 'Denial' book is somewhat academic in tone (I cowrote it with an environmental scientist) but 'Fingerprints' would be more for a lay audience, laying out the evidence for human influence in plain English. So I'm pitching this idea to the publisher to see if they're interested in the concept. I'm also writing a series of blog posts on 'Human Fingerprints' as a way of test-driving some of the arguments - the recent coral one was an example although even that is a simplified version - I'm planning two more coral posts based on other papers a coral researcher sent me.

Maybe the 'Fingerprints' book won't get published. But worst case scenario is I will have published a series of blog posts continually reinforcing the human influence on climate through various different lines of evidence. Sometimes I feel I get repetitive with my blog posts hitting similar points but over time, I've learnt you can't be too repetitive. You have to beat people over the head with the truth. At its heart, climate skepticism is cognitive dissonance - people using whatever they can to distract themselves from the uncomfortable truth. I find when you repeatedly hit them over the head with the truth, told in slightly different ways or from different angles, it gradually seeps through their thick skulls.

Getting back on topic, the worst case scenario if we explore the peer-review process is we dig deep into the scientific literature, improve our own understanding, publish blog posts about it and it doesn't get into any journal. Perhaps a useful exercise is we write a series of blog posts that each look at an individual paper. Not just new papers, seminal papers from a few years ago that have great results and tell a good story. I'm sure lots of interesting ideas will come forth just by beginning the process - and it might take us in a completely unexpected direction. It's all part of the chaos that makes social media and online collaboration so exciting.

2010-10-17 22:55:04


Interesting discussion.  Some disordered thoughts:

I wonder what the payback for a peer-reviewed review paper or the like would be for the SkS mission in terms of effort expended versus impact? An article for Scientific American would probably be worth it but for academic journals how would such an article improve reach into the SkS target audience?

It's not uncommon to see newspaper columnists publish books that are anthologies of what they consider their best work. Such a tome aimed at a popular audience would probably garner more notoriety for SkS through book reviews and the like than an article in a SciAm-style magazine, definitely versus an academic journal.

One approach to a book might be to link together articles republished in an anthology with editorial content describing the context of their publication on SkS, the buffeting influence of the public square on scientific activities.

In terms of PR utility, it seems to me that notoriety for SkS would be a key objective for effort expended on material not published via the site. 

A lot of work is going into SkS; marketing and promoting SkS makes that work more useful. External activities might reasonably be concentrated on direct or indirect marketing of SkS.


2010-10-18 08:05:54
Dana Nuccitelli

SkS, the book, would be an interesting idea too.

If we pursue the peer-reviewed paper, are any SkS authors are research institutions who could be the lead author?  Or would we have to pursue scientists outside of SkS?

2010-10-18 09:18:33
Robert Way

Hey Dana,
To answer your question I looked at the getting to know skeptical science authors portion.

I myself am at the department of geography at memorial university of Newfoundland so that makes one person. I also noticed that we have 8 Ph.d's on our writing team and 1 Ph.d student. Of those I think 3 or 4 said they are still active at a research institution. So I imagine it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
2010-10-18 19:47:39
Ari Jokimäki


Lead author doesn't have to be from research institution.

2010-10-19 01:29:40I agree
Robert Way

There really isn't a necessity for the lead author to be from a research institution. I'm now kinda hoping to open up to ideas as to some other potential papers and/or who wants to be involved in the empirical paper/how we will delegate work
2010-10-19 05:03:16
Ari Jokimäki

I think a new forum should be the first step. There we could have a thread on paper ideas and then development threads for each idea.
2010-10-19 16:52:13Seems like a worthy idea
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

In medicine, meta-analysis' are published all the time (usually in Lancet, heh), so summary articles should be well-received if well-done.

The Yooper

2010-10-19 17:15:00New forum started
John Cook


Okay, all discussion of peer-reviewed review articles can now be discussed in the new forum:


To close off this discussion thread, I'd like to note for the record that Doug spoke against the idea. It will be good to remind him of that if we ever do get a peer-reviewed paper published :-)

2010-10-20 00:59:39


Not so much a condemnation, John, just musing about where time and effort is best devoted in reaching "The Masses." We have a rich peer-reviewed literature in place now, yet we've got Tony Leiserowitz et al showing us that peer-reviewed literature has little reach into the minds of the general (voting) public.

2010-10-20 03:13:08Comment
Robert Way

If we win the war here then we win the war at home. The more times we catch the skeptics with our logic the more people convert to our side. An article would serve the purposes of having something to refer to that is concise and put together. If there was a general review on the empirical evidence I would love to refer to it but we have none at this point. But what we do have is an enthusiastic author group that has research potential and the power to be able to move quickly whereas other researchers have so many other things to contend to. just a thought
2010-10-20 04:04:08

I ought to mention that I'm a bit neurotic about focus and efficiency when it comes to finding and serving an audience but my concerns about distraction as I expressed them in this thread are likely moot. There's time and talent at SkS to do more than one thing.

In any case, I'm really strictly a bystander to this article process; SkS is amply provided w/lettered authors capable of turning out such a work.
2010-10-20 06:39:51Doug jibe
John Cook

Sorry Doug, I just couldn't resist a little teasing. They're good questions to ask. I raised them in my initial comment. As I say to my wife (usually after getting put into the doghouse for taking a joke too far), teasing is a sign of affection :-)