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MYTH #99: Peer review was corrupted


East Anglia scientists blocked articles from publication if they conflicted with their worldview.


Several impartial reviews found the East Anglia scientists did nothing wrong.

When a scientist submits a study to a journal, other experts review the study for quality, clarity and credibility. The peer review process and the high standards it helps maintain is part of what makes science unique. But when scientists’ stolen emails were published online in 2009, climate deniers took them out of context. Using a few select quotes from the emails, deniers accused some climate scientists of pressuring journals to reject papers that didn’t mesh with their worldviews. But these out-of-context quotes don't mesh with the facts. Multiple independent investigations have cleared the scientists of wrongdoing. One investigation in particular found the “rigour and honesty” of the scientists was “not in doubt.”

Additional info from the Union of Concerned Scientists

The manufactured controversy over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit has generated a lot more heat than light. The email content being quoted does not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised. Most importantly, nothing in the content of these stolen emails has any impact on our overall understanding that human activities are driving dangerous levels of global warming. Media reports and contrarian claims that they do are inaccurate.

Investigations Clear Scientists of Wrongdoing

At least six official investigations have cleared scientists of accusations of wrongdoing.

  • A three-part Penn State University investigation cleared scientist Michael Mann (PDF) of wrongdoing.
  • Two reviews commissioned by the University of East Anglia "supported the honesty and integrity of scientists in the Climatic Research Unit."
  • A UK Parliament report concluded that the emails have no bearing on our understanding of climate science and that claims against UEA scientists are misleading.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Inspector General's office concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of their employees.
  • The National Science Foundation Inspector General's (PDF) office concluded, "Lacking any direct evidence of research misconduct ... we are closing this investigation with no further action." 

Other agencies and media outlets have investigated the substance of the emails.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency, in response to petitions against action to curb heat-trapping emissions, dismissed attacks on the science rooted in the stolen emails.
  • debunked claims that the emails put the conclusions of climate science into question.
  • rated claims that the emails falsify climate science as "false."
  • An Associated Press review of the emails found that they "don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of manmade greenhouse gas emissions."

There is no clear evidence to date that scientists violated important principles of scientific integrity. And the emails do not undermine the science.

Much has been made about emails regarding a certain paper that some scientists did not think should have been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. These emails focus on a paper on solar variability in the climate over time. It was published in a peer-reviewed journal called Climate Research, but under unusual circumstances. Half of the editorial board of Climate Research resigned in protest against what they felt was a failure of the peer review process. The paper, which argued that current warming was unexceptional, was disputed by scientists whose work was cited in the paper. Many subsequent publications set the record straight, which demonstrates how the peer review process over time tends to correct such lapses. Scientists later discovered that the paper was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

In a later e-mail, Phil Jones references two other papers (here [PDF] and here) he didn't hold in high esteem. "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

Yet, the papers in question made it into the IPCC report, indicating that no restrictions on their incorporation were made. The IPCC process contains hundreds of authors and reviewers, with an exacting and transparent review process.

Adapted from © Union of Concerned Scientists