A Window on Climate Peer Review

I have written before that peer review is not a guarantee of correctness.  Most academics would laugh at that portrayal, yet that is exactly how climate peer review is treated in the media.

A number of years ago, Charles Monnett, flying over the Arctic to do some sort of whale study, saw 3-4 polar bears floating dead in the water.  Without either a) retrieving the bear carcasses or b) even getting a picture of them, he wrote up a paper that discussed the siting and hypothesized the bears drowned in a storm and further that more bears would likely drown in the future if global warming melts more Arctic ice in the summer.  The findings were the basis for a lot of worry about polar bears, and played a key role in Al Gore's movie.   Panic over the dead bears and Monnett's wild hypotheses about them helped fuel calls for declaring the bears endangered, despite all evidence that their populations have actually been increasing over the last few years.  Monnett did quite well from the work, parlaying his fame into management of a $50 million study budget, the dream of all academics.

Monnett's study has come back into the news because there has been some kind of investigation of him and his work by the Feds.  There has been a lot of speculation among skeptics that the investigation focuses on academic fraud, but I thought that a stretch.  As I wrote here

  1. If you read between the lines in the news articles, we really have no idea what is going on.  The guy could have falsified his travel expense reports
  2. The likelihood that an Obama Administration agency would be trying to root out academic fraud at all, or that if they did so they would start here, seems absurd to me.
  3. There is no room for fraud because the study was, on its face, facile and useless.  The authors basically extrapolated from a single data point.  As I tell folks all the time, if you have only one data point, you can draw virtually any trend line you want through it.  They had no evidence of what caused the bear deaths or if they were in any way typical or part of a trend — it was all pure speculation and crazy extrapolation.  How could there be fraud when there was not any data here in the first place?  The fraud was in the media, Al Gore, and ultimately the EPA treating this with any sort of gravitas.

Seriously, you see four floating bear bodies from 1500 feet, once.  You don't have any facts about how they died.  You only have one data point in time.  Where is there room for fraud?  It's one freaking useless data point.    Here is just a taste of what a joke this study was:

The actual survey Monnett was conducting when he observed the dead bears in 2004 was the migration of bowhead whales.  Investigators questioned how he later obtained data for a table listing live and dead polar bear sightings from 1987 to 2004.

“So how could you make the statement that no dead polar bears were observed” during that time period? May asked.

“Because we talked to the people that had flown the flights, and they would remember whether they had seen any dead polar bears,” Monnett said.

They only mystery is how this unbelievably trivial piece of work was published.

Well, now we have a better idea.  The reviewers for the article were Lisa Rotterman and Andrew Derocher.   Incredibly, it turns out Ms. Rotterman is his wife - yes, some people are more peers than others - and Derocher was awarded a large research contract by Monnett just before he reviewed the article.  Wow.

By the way, I think I will be both right and wrong.  I was pretty sure any government investigation would be about misuse of funds, and that does seem to be the main thrust here, though I was wrong in that it does seem to touch on academic fraud as well, in particular the idea of giving out grant money as a quid pro quo for a positive review  (a practice that skeptics have long sustpected in the climate community).

By the way, both Monnett and his partner Gleason now are claiming that everyone blew their study out of proportion and it wasn't really about global warming.  If this is true, they were sure silent about this when they were basking in all kinds of attention and press and grant money.  Either of them could have stepped forward and stopped the momentum that built from this article and they did not.

By the way, for those who still want to believe that the EPA is drive by science,

Gleason concedes that the study had a major impact on the controversial listing of the bear as an endangered species because of global warming.

“As a side note, talking about my former supervisor, he actually sent me an e-mail at one point saying, ‘You’re the reason polar bears got listed,’” Gleason said.

One sighting in history of four floating dead polar bears and suddenly our whole fossil fuel economy has to be shut down.

 

  • Mesa Econoguy

    And get this:

    "Biologist Charles Monnett, the lead scientist on the paper, was placed on administrative leave July 18. Fellow biologist Jeffrey Gleason, who also contributed to the study, is being questioned, but has not been suspended.
    ...
    Monnett now manages $50 million in studies as part of his duties as a wildlife biologist with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement."

    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=45447&s=rcme

    To paraphrase the Goracle:

    Bullshit these people aren't motivated by money.

    Some of these folks need to enjoy some quiet time in a cell with a view partially obscured by vertical bars.

  • steve

    "One sighting in history of four floating dead polar bears and suddenly our whole fossil fuel economy has to be shut down."

    The cause and effect here is backwards. It had been decided long ago by the enviornmental left that the fossil fuel economy has to be shut down. Everything since related to climate science is just bias selection.

  • gofer

    It baffles me why they hate the oil industry. They have given us everything we see in the modern world. It's all either made from or transported by oil, including medicine and hopital equipment. Everything we touch is connected to oil. Oil is life and apparently they hate life. OR, it's just a ruse to rake in money.

  • Kevin

    So, I saw a dead raccoon on the side of the road the other day. I haven’t seen one before, and I’m pretty sure nobody else saw one either or they would have told me, so it must be caused by climate change RIGHT ? After all climate change reduces the snowdrifts that they shelter under during the winter. We must list raccoons as threatened by climate change post haste…..

    What a joke….

  • Black

    "...for those who still want to believe that the EPA is drive by science..."

    I think you meant to write "driven by science," but calling it "drive-by science" pretty much sums up the way politicians and govt. agencies twist and torture anything that even looks like real science to suit their ends.

    I swear, just reading "A Brief History Of Time" gives me more scientific cred than anything Al Gore has ever said...

  • ettubloge

    People are reporting that Monnett's wife should not serve as a peer due to the likelihood she would support his work uncritically. Hello? I think one's wife should be part of any peer review.

  • caseyboy

    Does this mean we won't see anymore of those cute car commercials with Polar Bears traveling the continents to hug a hybrid car owner?

    Nothing surprises on this front anymore. I'm just glad that most people are starting to question the viability of the GW theory.

  • Sotosoroto

    "You only have one data point in time. Where is there room for fraud?"

    Well, that one data point could be a fabrication...

  • tomw

    Okay, I'll bite what does:

    "Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.”

    this bureau do exactly? How do you manage ocean energy? Wave suppressors? Heat sinks and sources? Floating blankets to keep it warm? {or cold?}

    Just like the California Board of Redundancy, no?

    tom

  • Tom

    If you want to understand the main problem with Monett's paper its quite simple. He extrapolated from a single data point. Let us ignore that the never confirmed that the with blobs in the water were polar bears. Or if they were how they died. Lets just take 3 or 4 dead polar bears as a given. Dr. Monett then flew over about 11% of the total area and found no more dead polar bears. He then concluded though extrapolation that the unsurveyed area would also have about 3-4 dead polar bears bringing the total deaths to about 36. This is extrapolation from a single data point which childish beyond belief and a scientific no no. There have never been any reports of drowned polar bears before that moment and there haven't been any since. If they were in fact drowned polar bears it was a truly rare event.

    Now lets say you are walking down the street in New York City. You find a $100 bill lying on the ground. Now this is a truly rare event. The first thing you will do is pick up the bill. The second thing you will do is survey the immediate area to see if there are any more. Now lets say that your field of vision allows you to survey about 10,000sqft and you see no more $100 bills. Now would it be accurate to say that since you found a $100 bill in a 10,000sqft survey that there is a $100 bill lying on the ground in every 10,000sqft of New York City? That would mean that there is approximately $85,000,000 in $100 bills lying on the ground in New York City. If your field of vision was limited to only 1000sqft that would mean that there is $850,000,000 lying on the ground.

    So we can clearly see how preposterous Dr. Monett's extrapolation from a single data point is. So the question is how did such trash make it through peer review. The answer is simple. He was married to one reviewer and the had used his control of public funds to influence another.

  • Goober

    If I were to have seen a cluster of dead predators like this in one place, being an avid outdoorsman with experience in these types of things, my conclusion would have been that humans most likely caused the deaths, but not for the reason you're thinking.

    Four dead predators this close to one another suggests that they were poisoned by a poisoned bait carcass left out by some human (eskimo?) who had it in for the bears for whatever reason. Alternatively, they might have just been shot by some dude on a polar bear killing spree. I would say that one of those two explanations are most likely to explain a cluster of dead polar bears.

    I base this on experience, having found clusters of dead animals like this before, and finding that they almost always have bullet holes in them.

  • steve

    That sounds about right Goober.

  • harbinger

    For more info on the EPA and how they employ ex-employees as consultants and how they fund the IPCC, read this paper from SPPI:
    "The United (Nations) States Environmental Protection Agency
    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/originals/the_un_states_epa.html

  • Fred from Canuckistan

    $50 million . . . now that's a Global Warming Gravy Train.

    Must have on the high speed rail tracks.

  • Dr. T

    gofer said: "It baffles me why they hate the oil industry. They have given us everything we see in the modern world."

    If you read the "literature" of the major environmental groups, it is plain that most of them have two driving forces unrelated to conserving the environment:

    1. Neo-luddism: Many environmentalists cannot cope with our high technology and relatively rapid rate of change. They want a simpler world of hunter-gatherers with Bronze Age (or even Stone Age) technology.

    2. Nihilists: Some environmentalists just hate mankind and believe that the universe would be better off without us.

    The neo-luddites oppose everything that supports our modern technological society: cheap energy, efficient agriculture (due to pesticides, herbicides, and genetic engineering), factory-produced medicines, mining, and computers. The nihilists support them, because anything that hurts modern society will result in more deaths from famine and disease.

  • http://www.convenientmyths.com Klaus Kaiser

    Bearish News!

  • Val

    Tom:

    "If you want to understand the main problem with Monett’s paper its quite simple."

    True Tom, but you left out how much more thorough Monnett was than just a single data point: In your hypothetical NY NY example, Mr. Monnett called several individuals, each of whom had traveled through different boroughs once or twice in order to count the number cabs hailed in a one hour period (or some other totally unrelated activity), and asked each of them if they had ever seen a $100 bill laying on the ground. After writing down their answers he has more data points, making his results much more robust!

  • Peter

    From what I have read, he spotted the bears floating in the water from 1500 feet on a fly by, how the hell did he know 1. if it was a polar bear, and 2 if they were dead, this guy should be in jail, and his cell mates should be Mann, Hansen and a few other activist scientist

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    >>> “Because we talked to the people that had flown the flights, and they would remember whether they had seen any dead polar bears,” Monnett said.

    Wow. That's one hell of a lot of lipstick on that pig.

    I've heard of pancake makeup, but pancake lipstick?

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    >>> Bearish News!

    Naw, any way you slice this, it's still nothing but Bullsh** News.

    Bearsh**, if you insist.

    100% Ursine Excreta.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    >>> 2. Nihilists: Some environmentalists just hate mankind and believe that the universe would be better off without us.

    Doc, this kind of "nihilism" is almost always projection. It's really self-hatred at its core. They look inside themselves, see the most vile and reprehensible things, and push it off on all humanity: "People are sh**."

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    >>> I swear, just reading “A Brief History Of Time” gives me more scientific cred than anything Al Gore has ever said…

    It almost certainly means you're more technically literate, to say nothing of much more patient.

  • http://www.stefanmitich.com.au Stefan Mitich

    Peer review by the Warmist is well known. Unfortunately, the Skeptics react the same, when presented with real proofs / facts that: the phony GLOBAL warming and the real climatic changes are not related. H2O changes the climate, not CO2! Warming of the whole planet’s atmosphere is not possible. By the laws of physics, when one part gets warmer – another instantly gets colder. I have all the scientific proofs; but leading Skeptics prefer the propaganda to continue. All the proofs that both camps are not just wrong, but back to front as well: http://www.stefanmitich.com.au get all the real proofs

  • Marco

    OK, I have to react to some falsehoods in this blogpost and the people reacting based on this false information they are being fed. I think our host here should tell us where he got this information, I don't think he made up these falsehoods himself but has to get some better sources:

    Monnett's study was *internally* peer reviewed at the agency, and *externally* by the journal itself. This is made quite clear in the interviews, but even clearer in the article itself. Monnett's wife was *one* of the *internal* reviewers. Derocher 'reviewed' the paper beyond both the internal and external reviews, i.e., Monnett asked him to take a look at it. But they were not the reviewers for the journal!

    To quote from the papers acknowledgements:
    "This paper benefited greatly from reviews by, and discussion with, Andrew Derocher, Lisa Rotterman, Richard Shideler, Ian Stirling, and Cleveland Cowles. This paper was improved by useful comments from Rolf Gradinger and three anonymous reviewers." (Note: Lisa Rotterman is Monnett's wife)
    http://www.alaskaconservationsolutions.com/acs/images/stories/docs/Polar%20Bears-ExtendedOpenWaterSwimmingMortality.pdf

    The rebuttal of the falsehoods perpetuated here are thus already present in the paper itself!

    Let's see if the "climate skeptics" here are willing to get all upset about the falsehoods they have been fed by others (and think about the wider impact of having fallen for falsehoods that were essentially already rebutted before they were even uttered...).

    Regarding the contract/funding, see this article:
    http://www.npr.org/2011/08/17/139714742/fresh-allegations-leveled-against-polar-bear-scientist

  • Turboblocke

    Nice one Marco: seems like you've outed another "climate sceptic" hoax: SNAMU Situation normal: all made up.

  • http://bybrisbanewaters.blogspot.com/ Tom Curtis

    May I intrude on these fact free tirades to point out that in acknowledgments at the end of the paper, Monnet and Gleason write:

    "This paper benefited greatly from reviews by, and discussions with, Andrew Derocher, Lisa Rotterman, Richard Shideler, Ian Stirling and Cleveland Cowles. This paper was improved by useful comments from Rolf Gradinger and three anonymous reviewers."

    Rolf Gradinger is on the Editorial Board of Polar Biology, and is presumably the editor who handled Monnet and Gleason's paper. The official peer reviewers are the three anonymous reviewers mentioned, whose names are known to Gradinger, but presumably not to Monnet or Gleason.

    Clearly Monnet and Gleason have discussed their paper with their colleagues and with Monnet's wife before submission, and possibly in response to criticisms from the anonymous reviewers, and have considered those discussions helpful. What beggars belief is that such discussions should be considered as some how underhanded or a corruption of the peer review process.

    The only disturbing thing here is that it took about 15 minutes on google to establish these facts. Evidently neither you have taken that 15 minutes to fact check your claims before launching scurrilous accusations. So much for actual skepticism.

  • nick

    Central to your take on Monnett and Gleason is the claim that they speculated and extrapolated from 'one data point'. Meanwhile,your one data point,and your mistaken account of it, is apparently sufficient to provide a meaningful 'window into climate peer-review'.

    Tell me more about the 'all kinds of attention,press and grant money' that Monnett and Gleason were 'basking in' because of this brief note of theirs in 2006...

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett