Extraordinary Hansen et al Paper

The blogosphere seems not yet to have taken note of the extraordinary new paper by Hansen, Sato and Reddy entitled, somewhat misleadingly, I think, “Public Perception of Climate Change and the New Climate Dice”.

Before getting into the meat of the matter I wanted to fire off a quick note about Hansen’s method of publication is. Getting a paper into arxiv is simply a matter of uploading it. Why not submit this to peer review? Well, having Hansen as first author confers a credibility comparable to publishing in a top flight journal. I think we can already consider this paper part of the scientific literature.

But this raises the question of what the journals are for. If I were to upload a paper to arxiv, it would not have comparable credibility. But if I got a few of my better-known climatologist acquaintances to read it and they appended favorable reviews, wouldn’t that suffice? After all, it’s not as if bad papers don’t get into even the best journals. This method would mean that papers were reviewed by those most interested.

Science would, in that way, work better. The reason it doesn’t happen is because it is harder to measure. The journals are not gatekeepers of science at all. They are gatekeepers of careers. One consequence is that someone as established as Hansen simply doesn’t need them anymore. Why should the rest of us?


  1. Pingback: What I’m Reading, Saturday, April 7, 2012 | Rationally Thinking Out Loud

  2. I'm on Hansen's mailing list. He just sent out a mailer stating this paper has been submitted to Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. with two favorable reviews. He uploaded to arxiv because people have wanted to cite it. he believes it will be the final version but is unsure.

  3. What he's doing here might not be common in climate science but is quite normal in other branches of science. In my field, astronomy, people almost always put their papers on the arxiv as soon as they are accepted for publication in a journal, and in some cases even when they are submitted for publication. The idea is not to bypass peer review but to make results available more quickly than journal publishing schedules allow. By posting papers to the arxiv at the same time as submitting them for peer review, people also expose themselves to the possibility of getting informal reviews or comments from more people than just the reviewer (typically there is only one referee for astronomy papers).

  4. Well, sure, all, but "the possibility of informal reviews" just has to be formalized somehow. The journal-as-gatekeeper idea serves a fine purpose when distributing paper in small quantities is expensive.

    Now that it is immeasurably cheap, there is no real reason for the whole tradition, except in that it is how we keep score. It's somewhat clumsy, and favors silos and overspecialization.

    Of course, in our field there is an awful lot of noise to cope with. We really constitute the test case. One thing we can see is that enough of the noise gets published that the gatekeeping can be seen not to work reliably.

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