Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Gold Standard in Science.



Research that has been peer reviewed is the gold standard in science. Peer review means that the research has been checked by experts in a similar area of expertise before publication. This does not mean that the experts agree with the conclusions of the research, only that it has been check for obvious errors in the methods employed and that the conclusions of the  research are supported by the data. The more scrutiny research receives before publication the more prestigious the publishing journal.

 


What should a true sceptic do if some research is published peer reviewed that appears to contradict much of the previous research in that area?

Firstly it is important not to assume that the paperis more important and more credible than all the research that has gone before. This can be difficult to do if what the research concludes is what you’d want to hear. Examples abound with climate or evolution science deniers when some research seems to cast doubt on some of the research that supports some aspect of the theories. They will herald such research as strong enough to disprove thousands of other pieces of research and even the basics of science it's self.

A true septic
will not dismiss such peer reviewed science but knows that scientific progress moves slowly and  also knows that now it is published it will be scrutinised by other scientists and if its’ conclusions can be
reproduced other supporting paperswill be published and gradually the science will reflect this new understanding.

However once in a while a paper is published that seems to make radical claims, and directly oppose our accepted understanding of the science. Such a paper was the subject of a post on the Watts Up with That blog, (WUWT, abbreviated in scientific circles as WTFUWT).

This paper by Paulo Cesar Soares and published in the International Journal of Geosciences was called ‘Warming Power of CO2 and H2O: Correlations with Temperature Changes’. It seemed to support the idea that there was an absence in correlation between rising temperatures and CO2. Interesting stuff and as a sceptic I would normally follow my own advice and wait to see if such a paper resulted in more supporting science and a change in understanding.

But, something was wrong here and it wasn’t just the fawning of Anthony Watts and his minions. This seems to support what Joe D’Aleo, (not a climate scientists but a retired weatherman who has published nothing through peer review on the subject) has said; ‘the US annual temperatures over the last century have correlated far better with cycles in the sun and oceans than carbon dioxide. The correlation with carbon dioxide seems to have vanished or even reversed in the last decade.

So this paper was definitely worth a look at even for me who is someone who makes no claim to understand the intricate science. I tend to read the Abstract, so I know what the paper is about, then the Conclusion. This initially avoids the hard stuff in the middle. But from the start something set alarm bells ringing. Most research is a combination of several scientists work. It is usually known by the lead author but in this case Paulo Cesar Soares seems to be the sole researcher. The first bombshell was in the Conclusion;

The main conclusion one arrives at the analysis is that CO2 has not a causal relation with global warming and it is not powerful enough to cause the historical changes in temperature that were observed.

Co2 doesn’t cause global warming! All the physics, research and science has been wrong for over a centaury! This does not sound like the reserved understated claims by most scientists about their research. The first real question to ask is; What is up with that? 

Reading the body of this paper, something struck me – the construction of some sentences and the English in general was odd. For example in the introduction a sentence reads;

“The old belief on Chamberlain hypothesis that CO2 could have been the main factor for energy conservation and a driving factor for glacial and interglacial times on Earth history was demonstrated to be a mistake, in agreement with himself later conclusion.”

Shouldn’t that last sentence read ‘in agreement with his latest conclusion’? Of course anyone can make a typo or mistake in translation but it made me wonder who Paulo Cesar Soares was and why peer review didn’t  notice such errors.

Paulo Cesar Soares can’t be a common name and his academic record as a scientist should be easy to track even if this is his first paper on climate. But googling the name to find out anything proved surprisingly difficult. Plenty of references about this paper came up, usually from climate change denier sites claiming this disproved any link between CO2 and global warming but finding anything more about the credentials of the author was more challenging. According to his paper he is at the Federal University of Parana in Brazil. But searching with the university name only brought up one paper in which a  Paulo Cesar Soares Junior is acknowledged, but it is a paper on Dentistry! 

Surely it can’t be the same guy? Perhaps it is this guy’s dad? If anyone can track down the author and his qualifications and other research please let me know.

So how does a relatively unknown, and possibly dental expert, get a peer reviewed article published on climate in the International Journal of Geosciences? This sounds like a very grand and respectable and well established journal, but while trying to track down Soares I found out that his paper is published in only the third issue of this eletronic journal. 

It’s first issue was only in May 2010 and it seems to publish every three months or so and is one of a number of electronic journals by Scientific Research Publishing (Scrip) which has an interesting entry in Wikipedia;
“The company created a controversy when it was found that its journals duplicated papers which had already been published elsewhere, without notification of or permission from the original author. In addition, some of these journals had listed academics on their editorial boards without their permission or even knowledge,
sometimes in fields very different from their own.”

I stated at the start that peer review was the gold standard in science but this is hardly the gold standard in peer review.

UPDATE

My friend Hengist Mcstone has located another Paulo Cesar Soares that could be a possible candidate for author and may even be related to the dentist - I can't imagine it is a very common name even in Brazil.

If it is then what we have is a retired Brazilian geologist who randomly writes a paper he solely authored, (most likely originally written in his own language - Portuguese or possibly Spanish - and translated with the quality that only google can match), getting it published in an unaccredited journal of dubious quality. This paper not only seems well outside his field of expertise but claims to overturn physics that underpins science and is subsequently praised and heralded unsceptically by climate science 'skeptics'.

UPDATE 2 

The Sceptical Science Blog  has also now looked at the science in the Soares paper in detail and it is no surprise that the actual science done and the conclusions reached are poor.


2 comments:

  1. Possibly this guy (6th in the list) retired 2001 http://www.geologia.ufpr.br/departamento/deppredecessores.php

    ReplyDelete
  2. Could be Hengist, I will update my post above.

    ReplyDelete