Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Consensus

This short comment is about a personal foray into publishing in ‘Science’. Before getting into detail of the submission and rejection of the comment, I would like to look at the financial model of Science, as it is somewhat unique (there other similar models but they are not the subject of this commentary). Unlike truly academic journals, Science is based on a profit making market model. You can view their advertising rates and policies at: http://www.sciencemag.org/help/advertisers/2010_FullMediaKitnorates.pdf

Now on with the story. In 2004 Oreskes published her now infamous paper ‘BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change’ in Science (Science 3 December 2004: Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686). In the article she made the claim ‘The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).’ and this ‘states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities...’. Of the 928 abstracts/papers she analyzed ‘Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.’

The article resulted in many criticisms, concerning both the sample selection and research methods - post publication.

At the same time as Oreskes was conducting her research I was collecting data for a second survey of climate scientists (results available at http://coast.gkss.de/staff/bray/surveyintro.html. My results were a little different. Differnt conclusions were reached. In the results of a survey of climate scientists conducted in 2003 one question on the survey asked ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes?’ A value of 1 indicates strongly agree and a value of 7 indicates strongly disagree. The results were:

1 strongly agree -  50 (9.4% of valid responses)
2 - 134 (25.3% of valid responses)
3 - 112 (21.1% of valid responses)
4 - 75 (14.2% of valid responses)
5 - 45 (8.5% of valid responses)
6 - 60 (10.8% valid responses)
7 strongly disagree - 54 (9.7% of valid responses)

Furthermore, ‘In fact, the results of the two surveys {1996, 2003) even question the Oreskes claim that the majority of climate scientists agree with the IPCC, although this has improved somewhat between 1996 and 2003. In the 1996 survey only 8.2% of the valid responses strongly agreed with the statement that the IPCC reports accurately reflect the consensus of thought within the scientific community while in 2003 the number rose to 22.8%.’ The full letter to Science titled ‘THE NOT SO CLEAR CONSENSUS ON CLIMATE CHANGE can be found here: http://www.sepp.org/Archive/NewSEPP/Bray.htm or on many other blogs on the net.

Anyway, the point is the comment was not published. Like Orekes’ published comment, this too met with many criticisms concerning sample selection and research methods - pre-publication.

The reason given for the rejection was that the comment did not match current publishing needs.

The point is, why was one comment published and the other not?

Anyone with their wits about them are well aware of the phenomenon that has come to be called ‘green washing’. But just in case, according to http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Greenwashing “Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.”.

Now this - greenwashing - does not of course refer to ‘Science’ per se, but it may refer to some of its advertising clients, and to gain and maintain those clients and to sell advertising space, perhaps it is necessary that Science maintains a ‘green’ image.. These clients, to achieve the desired image, would only want to be associated with things ‘green’ or those professing to support green images. No longer are corporate PR managers satisfied with the mere offering of 40% less fat (less than what?) but have grander images of global environmental and humanitarian design. And of course, the desired message must be incorporated in the appropriate means, there is no advantage to advertising cheese in a vegan magazine.

Who are some of the main advertisers in Science: GE. for one, claiming on the corporate website (http://www.ge.com/company/index.html) to put ‘into practice GE's belief that financial and environmental performance can work together to drive company growth while taking on some of the world's toughest challenges’; AB Applied Biosystems, who claim to be ‘dedicated to protecting the environment [and to] strives to create products with lifecycles that tread lightly on the environment.’ (http://www.lifetechnologies.com/global-citizenship/environmental-health-safety.html); Pew Environmental Org who state ‘The Pew Campaign on Global Warming is aimed at adoption of a national policy to reduce emissions throughout the economy, and the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency seeks more stringent fuel efficiency standards for the nation’s cars and trucks.’ (http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_category.aspx?id=112).

Then there is Exxon (not in Science): ‘Our goal is to achieve excellent environmental performance in each of our businesses to Protect Tomorrow. Today.’ (http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/energy.aspx).

So how do these companies differ? One, Exxon, purportedly sponsors the message, the others tend to sponsor the means (Science). The question is, does Science’s quest for appropriate image come at a cost to content? Can the charges leveled against ‘industry’ funded research be applied to ‘we want to have a green image’ commercial (Science is a commercial enterprise) journal? Does advertising have a place in academic journals?


Anonymous said...

The advertisers highlighted all demonstrate the "correct" orthodoxy. If they had a different message, would Science accept them? I expect not, as they would not be in keeping with the editorial line.

Does advertising have a place in an academic journal? Yes, provided it is honest and does not influence the articles and editorial.

The real question is, is Science still an academic journal? Is not it's content selection heavily biased by editorial prejudice (not just in environmental matters)?

It seems to me that Journals such as Nature or Science should not be read without awareness of political bias, anymore than one would newspapers such as The Guardian or The Telegraph in the UK.

Georg said...

If everyone who didnt get published an article in Science starts whining like you the world becomes a graveyard. As a first orientation if your hypotheses on the big conspiration in Science and Nature really takes place have a look on this list
GE (whatever that is) does not exist and for just 0.05% of BPs or Exxons turnover they buy Nature and Science and you, if needed.

TCO said...

1. There are (for sure) a lot of people who complaing of not getting into Science/Nature.

2. I hope in your case, you published elsewhere. If it is a worthwhile contribution to the peer-reviewed lit, it is still worthwhile even if not published in comment form within Science. If you have not done so, you are delinquent.

3. Science and Nature have earned a rep for ego science and for some frauds (Bell Labs, stem cells, even one that I know of that is not public but in "sexy electronics"). I think for people doing serious work, fine if they want to occasionaly get a feather in the cap with a Science/Nature posting. But they should not let the seduction of that eliteness lure them from writing good stuff in PRL or more specialized journals.

4. I can beleive that Science/Nature are greenwashing. For instance, I would "Bayesian bet" that if the first Science article had been yours and Oreskes had a counter-comment to the "green side", that they would have made sure to get it in. But c'est la vie.

5. But also, really, they have a tendancy to limit real discussions of methodology. Both in papers themselves and in comments. Again...if you have a valid point, it should be put into the archived literature. And there are a bazillion places to put it.

Anonymous said...

GE : http://www.ge.com/

Nº 1 on Forbes list:


And I wouldn't say you need a big conspiracy (as with "The Team") for each business to know their best economic interest. Even for each individual.

P Gosselin said...

I wasn't going to read this, but I'm glad I did. Mr Bray presents a structure I was not aware of. Too bad the coal industry doesn't advertise in Science. At least we'd get some balance in the science. "Whose bread one eats, whose words one speaks".

Ryan said...

Dr. Bray, this is a very interesting post, but I think you have misread the dynamics here. I have commented in more depth on my own page.

Science may have corporate advertisers, but it is technically a non-profit entity. Science's advocacy role in promoting science explains the relationship a little better, I feel.

Whether tracking government funds, supplying the government with employees, representing the interests of government funded scientists, or educating the public about the importance of science, the involvement of AAAS in science is heavily, heavily political.

Dennis Bray said...

Re: Georg

This isn't a case of sour grapes, just an observation. As for you being unaware of what GE is, I can't be blamed for that: General Electric (GE), is, I would say, a fairly significant global corporate player. I don't understand your comment that 'GE does not exist'. But as another reader commented'C'est la vie.'

richardtol said...

I do believe that Nature and Science are biased, but I doubt it is because they want to please their advertisers. Their brand is too strong, and the risk to their reputation is too great.

Should journals advertise? Of course! It keeps down the costs of subscriptions.

I edit a journal, Energy Economics, that runs adverts. The people who advertise with us try and sell books or software -- the sort of thing the reader of an academic journal may want to buy.

The fact that Science and Nature run ads of a more generic kind suggests that their readership is no longer purely academic. Therefore, Science and Nature are no longer purely academic journals.

I thus agree with Dennis' verdict, but I think that ads are a symptom rather than a cause.

TCO said...

I also see more symptom than cause.

Of interest, GE has made a major push to get all its businesses aligned to getting federal $$ advantages. They have been public about it. Immelt even said, "we are all Democrats, now".

Chris D. said...

I have to wonder what these results would look like were they to be conducted today.

Dennis Bray said...

It may indeed be a matter of a symptom rather than a cause. I would not dispute this statement as I don't know. But as someone who wants to advertise would I not seek out a journal (in this case) that is congruent with the corporate image I wish to maintain? I would not advertise a peace concert in Soldier of Fortune. And as a journal with an establised image would I not refrain from jeopardizing this image, thus risking losing established clients who are attracted by the image portrayed by the journal. For example, it is doubtful that the Vatican Times (should it exist) would advertise condoms.

As for Chris D's pondering, all results for the 2008 survey, which includes the questions in question, can be found at http://coast.gkss.de/staff/storch/pdf/CliSci2008.pdf

Werner Krauss said...

to Georg 2:
Georg, for sure you are a tough guy, but this is not a schoolyard. You call Dennis 'whiny', and recently you called one of my contributions simply 'dumb'. If you want to be a bit of a bully, just go out on the streets and have a fight there. Here in this blog we use other kind of arguments. So please follow the basic rules of politeness, or else shut up.

TCO said...

I am also guilty of often being pugnacious. I have actually restrained myself from several provacative postings, because I knew they would drag down the character of the blog. That said...I've let some get through as well...and was wrong to do so.

P.s. I lost 70 pounds in last 6 months...and also lifted 6 days a week for same period, getting 40% strength increase. I am pretty ripped although not a ginormous height. High school wrestling and boxing was a while ago, but if you need a champion for the streets..;)

Anonymous said...

Talking about consensus, this could be an interesting question for the next survey:

- How convinced are you that a scientific consensus on the reality of dangerous AGW is a positive factor for climate science financing?

richardtol said...

Sure. Advertisers first select a magazine that matches their demographic, and then they pay extra to have their ad appear next to an article that reinforces their message or their image.

Kim Dabelstein Petersen said...

I'm not actually surprised by the difference in Oreskes results and your survey, since you are measuring two different things.

Oreskes measured what published papers said.
While the survey measured feelings.

The agregate of published science is not by necessity the same as the agregate of feelings. Isn't this the reason that we do assessment reports to see what the sum of published literature says? Instead of relying on the personal opinions of (for instance) a panel of experts.

Kim Dabelstein Petersen said...

To be more clear: Any given individual will have a limited overview of a situation, and thus his or her feeling on a specific topic, may not be correspond to the sum of knowledge. Imho this is an inherent aspect of multi-disciplinary studies.

TCO said...

They say different things, but would not always put an average of papers over an average of guesses. For instance, I would rather bet on an election using the market-generated Tradesports odds, than based on published journalists analyses.

Note: This in no way says that literature is not useful. It absolutely is. And I flay McIntyre for his cowardly and lazy reluctance to fight fair by recording his objections in easy to read and archived literature papers. It's just that contributions to the opus of science are not really the same thing as overall assessments.

Dennis Bray said...

To Kim D P (16, 17)

I believe the papers used in Oreskes' analysis had authors. Authors tend to be human too. Humans have feelings. Feeling shape what they write (or don't write) - at least on some occassions. Anyway, I used the list of authors used for the Oreskes analysis as a partial list of respondents for the survey and pretty much asked them directly the same question that focused Oreskes' work. Incidently, some of these authors contacted me directly saying they did not feel qualified to respond as they were not climate scientists.

Anonymous said...

The link to your results appears broken at this time, would love to read it.

Kim Dabelstein Petersen said...

@Dennis Bray,

I do not doubt it. What i was trying to say was that when you are writing a paper, you will (to an extent) put away your personal feelings and concentrate purely on your results/research Within the narrow focus of your expertise. So the two agregates are not comparable...

When you ask for the scientists opinion on the broad field, you will get another result than when you examine the agregate of narrow focused views.

This is also reflected in the answer to you that they didn't feel qualified (which to me says in the broad aspects)

Hope that makes i clearer. I btw. find the surveys both interesting and enlightening.

Hans von Storch said...

@20 - the link to the survey has been corrected. Should be "klickable" now. Thanks for pointing out.