Americans Support Nuclear Deal With Iran?

The Washington Post reports that a “clear majority” of Americans support President Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran:

By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

As always, we need to know what question was asked. Here it is:

Q: Thinking now about the situation with Iran – would you support or oppose an agreement in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons?

So the question assumes that Iran would, in fact, “restrict its nuclear program” so that it would be “harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.” Heck, I might answer that question Yes, in the abstract. The WaPo poll also shows that most respondents doubt whether an agreement would, in fact, prevent Iran from going nuclear. Presumably, hardly any of those telephoned by the pollsters realized that the objective of the agreement, assuming that Iran abides by it–a laughable assumption–is to extend the time it will take Iran to build a bomb to one year. Even assuming that objective could be achieved, which most experts do not believe, it would be a small payoff for ending sanctions, which will entrench the mullahs’ regime and increase the resources they can devote to nuclear enrichment and ICBM development, which will not be addressed in the prospective deal.

For the Obama administration, this is all about politics (unless Obama really is the Manchurian President, and he wants to empower Islamic extremists). The Hill reminds us how disconnected from reality many observers are:

Obama entered the talks as part of an effort to shift the U.S. posture in the Middle East toward diplomatic engagement — and not military involvement.

Sure, it’s either this or invade a couple of countries. What could be simpler?

“Stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be a major accomplishment for this or any other administration,” said Robert Einhorn, a former non-proliferation adviser at the State Department under Obama.

But of course, “stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program” isn’t even contemplated by the agreement being hammered out in Switzerland.

“There is no getting around Iran’s rise,” said Hillary Mann Leverett, a former Iran adviser at the National Security Council under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. A deal would allow the U.S. to “recover its strategic position in the Middle East, which is now in free fall.”

I agree that our influence is now in free fall, but why, exactly, would a bad deal with Iran, which allows it to continue enriching uranium and building ICBMs, permit us to “recover our strategic position”? This is known as a non sequitur.

There are two principal parties to the negotiations that are now reaching a climax. The Iranian mullahs are determined to build nuclear weapons and ICBMs that will carry those bombs to the United States, the “Great Satan.” The Obama administration is determined to sign a paper agreement that will boost Obama in the polls for a week or two. (This is the most charitable assumption.) For the radical clerics, a year, ten years, twenty years mean little: they can wait. Who do you think is going to come out on top in that negotiation?

If, ten years from now, fifteen or twenty Iranian ICBMs deliver nuclear bombs to Manhattan, and Chicago, and Los Angeles, and elsewhere in the “Great Satan,” no one will remember that by a two to one margin, Americans favored an agreement that would “restrict [Iran's] nuclear program.”

What Can Bristlecone Pines Tell Us About the Gulf Stream? Um, Nothing.

A recent, highly-publicized article by Stefan Rahmstorf and the notorious Michael Mann claimed that the Gulf Stream is slowing down due to global warming, with potentially significant consequences for northern Europe. Rahmstorf describes the article:

Climate models have long predicted such a slowdown – both the current 5th and the previous 4th IPCC report call a slowdown in this century “very likely”, which means at least 90% probability. When emissions continue unabated (RCP8.5 scenario), the IPCC expects 12% to 54% decline by 2100 (see also the current probabilistic projections of Schleussner et al. 2014). But the actual past evolution of the flow is difficult to reconstruct owing to the scarcity of direct measurements.

So they didn’t actually measure the flow of the Gulf Stream. Rather, they confirmed what their models predict through…proxies!

What is new is that we have used proxy reconstructions of large-scale surface temperature (Mann et al, 2009) previously published by one of us (study co-author and RealClimate co-founder Mike Mann) that extend back to 900 AD (see “What we can learn from studying the last millennium (or so)”) to estimate the circulation (AMOC) intensity over the entire last 1100 years (Fig. 3).

It turned out, however, that some people actually have measured Gulf Stream flow for a considerable time:

[N]one of the studies include any direct measurements of the current over an extended period to prove their point.

But this is exactly what has been underway at the University of Rhode Island and Stony Brook University for the last 20 years: measurement of the strength of the Gulf Stream. And according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers find no evidence that the Gulf Stream is slowing down. These new results reinforce earlier findings about the stability of Gulf Stream transport based on observations from as far back as the 1930s. …

“The ADCP measures currents at very high accuracy, and so through the repeat measurements we take year after year, we have a very powerful tool by which to monitor the strength of the current,” said Rossby. “There are variations of the current over time that are natural — and yes, we need to understand these better — but we find absolutely no evidence that suggests that the Gulf Stream is slowing down.”

This is typical: global warming alarmism is based on models, not data, and when the data contradict the models, the alarmists ignore the data. But it gets even worse, as Steve McIntyre explains at Climate Audit:

The new article by Rahmstorf and Mann has been criticized at WUWT for making claims about Atlantic Ocean currents based on proxies, rather than measurements. But it’s worse, much worse than we thought.

Rahmstorf and Mann’s results are not based on proxies for Atlantic current velocity, but on a network consisting of contaminated Tiljander sediments (upside-down or not), Graybill’s stripbark bristlecone chronologies, Briffa MXD series truncated to hide-the-decline and hundreds of nondescript tree ring series statistically indistinguishable from white noise. In other words, they used the same much-criticized proxy network as Mann et al 2008-9. It’s hard to understand why anyone would seriously believe (let alone publish in peer reviewed literature) that Atlantic ocean currents could be reconstructed by such dreck, but Rahmstorf et al 2015 stands as evidence to the contrary.

After so much controversy about Mann’s prior use of contaminated data, it defies credulity that he and Rahmstorf have done so once again.

And when the National Research Council panel recommended in 2006 that stripbark bristlecone chronogies be “avoided” in temperature reconstructions, they can scarcely have contemplated (let alone, endorsed) their use in reconstruction of Atlantic ocean currents.

Seemingly leaving no stone unturned, the Rahmstorf and Mann dataset even truncates the Briffa MXD chronologies in 1960, thereby hiding the decline (see here for a discussion of MXD truncation in Mann et al 2008 in September 2008, long before we learned from Climategate emails that they were using a trick to “hide the decline”).

In 2002, even Keith Briffa [one of the leading global warming alarmists] was frustrated enough by the Mann et al 1998 reconstruction to observe:

I am sick to death of Mann stating his reconstruction represents the tropical area just because it contains a few (poorly temperature representative) tropical series. He is just as capable of regressing these data again[st] any other “target” series, such as the increasing trend of self-opinionated verbage he has produced over the last few years, and … (better say no more)

But at least the network that Briffa complained about contained a “few poorly temperature representative” tropical series. Rahmstorf et al 2015 dispensed with even that meager precaution by purporting to reconstruct Atlantic ocean currents without using any proxies purporting to directly measure Atlantic ocean current.

What is one to say of a climate science field which permits such practices to continue unchecked? …

Only one thing can be surmised from Rahmstorf and Mann’s claim that the Mann et al 2008-9 network can be used to reconstruct not just NH temperature, but also SH temperatures and now Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: using Mannian RegEM with the Mann et al 2008-9 network of 1209 “proxies”, one can probably “reconstruct” almost anything. Are you interested in “reconstructing” the medieval Dow Jones Index? Or medieval NFL attendance?

The blunt truth is that climate alarmism isn’t science at all. It is a combination of politics, religion and–perhaps most of all–financially self-interested hucksterism.

Deal With Iran? It’s In Allah’s Hands!

John Kerry is in Switzerland, negotiating with (or on behalf of) the Islamic Republic of Iran. On Friday, a reporter asked whether a nuclear arms deal can be reached by tomorrow’s deadline. Kerry’s reported reply: “Inshallah!” “Allah willing!”

God help us.

GOOSE, SKY, AND MONSTER MASH — ALL-TIME KENTUCKY BASKETBALL GREATS

Over the weekend, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Duke advanced to what looks like an attractive Final Four in the Men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Once again, I will present all-time all-star teams for these programs.

I have previously done so for Wisconsin and Kentucky, who were in the Final Four last year. Wisconsin’s list will need to be redone.

As for Kentucky, the combination of (1) a phenomenal history, (2) current reliance on “one-and-doners,” and (3) current sharing of playing time, which depresses individual stats, means that Kentucky’s list can stand as is. Here are my selections:

First Team:
Kyle Macy (1977-80)

A transfer from Purdue, he’s sixth on the Wildcats all-time assist list and was a first-team All American as a senior. For his UK career, Macy shot 52 percent from the floor and 89 percent from the line. He was the starting point guard on the 1978 national championship team.

Kevin Grevey (1972-75)

Averaged 21.4 points per game (on 51.7 percent shooting) during his career, and 23.5 as a senior. That year, he led Kentucky to second place in the NCAA tournament. UK lost a close title game to UCLA in John Wooden’s final game. Grevey also averaged 6.5 rebounds per game for his career. He went on to have a solid NBA career, including a championship with Washington in 1978.

Jamal Mashburn (1990-93)

He’s number six on the Wildcats all-time points list with a career shooting percentage of 51.6. As a senior, Monster Mash was SEC player of the year and a first-team All-American. And why not? That season he averaged 21 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game.

Kenny “Sky” Walker (1982-86)

Because he fizzled as a pro, it’s easy for non-Kentucky fans to forget how dominant Walker was in college. A three-time all SEC selection, he’s second in career points, with a 57.2 career shooting percentage, and sixth in rebounds. “Sky” lived up to his name when he won the NBA slam dunk contest in 1989.

Dan Issel (1967-70)

They don’t come much better than Issel. Despite playing only three years for the Wildcats, he’s number one in both career scoring and rebounding. Issel made first-team All American as a senior, when he averaged just under 34 points and just over 13 rebounds per game. As a pro in the ABA and then the NBA, his career averages are 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Second Team:
Dirk Minniefield (1980-83)

He easily tops the UK career assists mark and is tenth is steals. Minniefield lacked a good outside shot and thus was a “pass first” point guard. By picking his spots, he compiled a 52.4 percent shooting percentage for his career.

Tony Delk (1992-96)

Delk starred on the 1996 championship team. That year, he was a first-team All American and the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Delk is fifth in career points at Kentucky; second in career steals; and first in three-pointers made (at a success rate of nearly 40 percent).

Tayshaun Prince (1998-2002)

One of the best defensive forwards ever (with four NBA all-defensive team selections to prove it), Prince ranks number eight on the Wildcats all-time scoring list. Twice, he was first team all SEC and once he was SEC player of the year.

Cliff Hagan (1950-54)

As a senior, Hagan averaged 24 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He was a two-time first team All American. As pro, Hagan made six NBA all-star teams while playing for the St. Louis Hawks alongside another SEC legend, Bob Petit (LSU).

Anthony Davis (2011-12)

Davis played only one season for the Wildcats, but what a season. He was National Player of the Year, National Defensive Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. More importantly, he led his team to a national championship. Not bad for a freshman.

Third Team:
Ed Davender (1984-88)

Eleventh on Kentucky’s career points list, eighth in assists, and fourth in steals.

Louis Dampier (1964-67)

Dampier was the star of the 1966 all-white Kentucky team that lost in the NCAA final to a Texas Western team that started five blacks. He averaged 19.7 points per game for his Kentucky career on .508 shooting. Later, he lit it up in the ABA.

Ron Mercer (1995-97)

Star of the 1997 national runner-up team. That season, Mercer was SEC player of the year and a first team All American. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game.

Jack “Goose” Givens (1974-78)

As a senior, Givens was National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. He led Kentucky to its first national championship in 20 years. Givens’ performance in the championship game against Duke — 41 points — was one of the best in NCAA tournament history.

Alex Groza (1944-49)

The brother of football’s Lou “The Toe” Groza, he led Kentucky to back-to-back national titles in 1948 and 1949, and was Most Outstanding Player in both Final Fours. He also was the leading scorer on the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team that won the gold medal. His point total in 1949 ranks tenth in Kentucky history. Unfortunately, Groza later was implicated in having shaved points that season.

The honorable mention list could go on almost forever. I’ll name just these few:

Rajon Rondo: The game of this smooth point guard is best enjoyed to classical music.

Wayne Turner: The starting point guard on two national championship teams (1996 and 1998).

John Wall: Like Anthony Davis, Wall was National Player of the Year in his freshman season. Unlike Davis, he stumbled in the tournament.

Keith Bogans: The Washington DC area’s own (out of DeMatha), he’s fourth on Kentucky’s career scoring list.

Rex Chapman: One of the premier shooters in Kentucky history, he was all SEC in his sophomore (and final) year at Lexington. Chapman averaged 40 percent from three-point territory.

Cotton Nash: Averaged of 22.7 points per game for his Kentucky career and ranks fifth on the career rebounding list. Played in three professional sports leagues — the ABA, the NBA, and baseball’s major leagues.

Frank Ramsey: Averaged nearly 13 rebounds a game as a sophomore on Kentucky’s 1951 national championship team. Later an outstanding “sixth man” for numerous Boston Celtic championship teams.

Antoine Walker: Led Kentucky to the national title in 1996, averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 boards per game.

Sam Bowie: Had a great sophomore campaign but then sat out two seasons due to injury. Returned as a senior to help propel UK into the 1984 Final Four.

As I said, no one from the current team makes the list. However, if Karl-Anthony Towns plays the way he did on Saturday against Notre Dame and leads Kentucky to the title, he will deserve at least honorable mention even if he goes to the NBA after this, his freshman year.

The Virginia bar continues to disgrace itself

As we reported here, the Virginia State Bar (VSB) cancelled its midyear legal seminar trip to Israel. In response to stinging criticism of this decision, including from the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, VSB president Kevin Martingayle sent this letter trying to justify his decision:

Dear Fellow Members of the Virginia State Bar,

On Friday March 27th, we canceled the Virginia State Bar’s planned Midyear Legal Seminar trip to Israel. The decision was based primarily on a U.S. State Department advisory: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/israel.html, “Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements.” We were forced to conclude there were potential difficulties some of our VSB members might face in obtaining entry to Israel. Additionally, we were well short of the required number of confirmed attendees necessary for the trip to proceed.

President-elect Edward L. Weiner, chair of the Midyear Legal Seminar Committee, communicated with the Israeli Embassy. An embassy official expressed a desire to facilitate the trip but acknowledged that security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

In the face of this information, we felt it necessary and appropriate to forego this trip. This was not a political decision and is not a “boycott.” We are an inclusive organization and do not discriminate against any religion.

Unfortunately, some mischaracterized this decision as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, even going so far as to mislabel it as a “boycott.” Although the message was sent over the president’s signature, we jointly drafted and approved what was sent Friday night. Apparently we could have done a better job of explaining the situation and decision. We are writing now to provide further clarity.

Our decision was not based on any political factors or influences. We understand that Israel is in a difficult position when it comes to security. We are not expressing opinions regarding Israel’s border security measures. We are merely recognizing the reality that our very large and diverse membership, consisting of well over 40,000 members, includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.

You may recall that on March 25, 2015, we sent a message urging VSB members to sign up for both the Israel trip and the Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach. We very much wanted the Israel trip to be a success and were trying to reach the required number of participants for it to be a go. We deeply regret that a combination of circumstances led to the trip’s cancellation, and we also regret that our good faith efforts and decisions may have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

We remain committed to the core objectives of the VSB: public protection, access to justice and improvement of the legal profession. Thank you for reading and thank you for allowing us the privilege of serving.

Kevin E. Martingayle, President

Edward L. Weiner, President-elect & Chair, Midyear Legal Seminar Committee

Note that Martingayle is now claiming that “a combination of circumstances” led to the trip’s cancellation. He cites alleged difficulties in getting enough VSB members to sign up for the seminar.

However, his cancellation letter cited only allegedly discriminatory entry policies and practices by Israel. Thus, Martingayle’s revised rationale, concocted under duress, should not be credited.

Martingayle’s initially-stated rationale — potential entry problems for some members — doesn’t hold up well either. He appears to have based his decision on a petition by anti-Israel members and outsiders, coupled with a statement by someone at the Israeli embassy that Israel’s security protocols are strict and could lead to exclusion or restriction of some VSB members.

It’s hardly a scoop that Israel has strict entry procedures and that it can’t guarantee entry to every member of a large organization. Martingayle surely understood this when the VSB selected Israel.

What changed after the VSB made the selection? The answer is the petition by a small number of anti-Israelis.

As Martingayle said in his initial, more honest letter, he was advised of “some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security” and upon review he concluded that there were enough legitimate concerns to warrant cancellation. However, Martingayle declined to say which of the concerns cited by the anti-Israel petitioners were “legitimate.”

In his follow-up letter, Martingayle doesn’t say anything about “discrimination.” He simply points out that the VSB “includes individuals who may encounter lengthy examination and possible rejection in attempting to navigate the immigration security procedures in Israel.”

But this “may” also happen to people entering the United States. If you get the chance, look into the area at Dulles Airport where people trying to enter the U.S. are being detained for questioning. You won’t see a random cross-section of ethnic groups.

In fact, as William Jacobson points out, CAIR has lodged the same kind of complaint against U.S. entry procedures that the anti-Israel petitioners presented to the VSB.

The key questions regarding Israeli security procedures are those posed by Prof. Jacobson:

How many people are questioned more intensively? How many are barred? In how many cases did Israel have legitimate security concerns such that more extensive questioning was reasonable?

How many of those complaints were real, and how many were used to create a pretext for the Israel boycott movement? Are those rates higher than for people entering the U.S.?

Have people attending other bar association trips to Israel been barred?

How is it that so many groups and so many millions of tourists visit Israel, yet the Virginia State Bar almost alone has decided that a de facto boycott is in order?

These questions become particularly important because Israel-haters commonly present false claims about border security procedures — claims intended to dupe people like Martingayle into steering clear of Israel. Jacobson observes:

At the Modern Language movement in 2014, a resolution was introduced condemning “arbitrary” Israeli denials of visas to academics wanting to visit the West Bank. That language was removed when the accusation was revealed to be false at an open debate at the MLA’s annual meeting, and data were presented showing the Israeli visa denial rate for U.S. academics was a small fraction of the U.S. visa denial rate to Israelis.

In the case of the VSB, there was no open debate. The Israel haters presented a petition full of complaints, the most inflammatory of which came from the Arab American Institute, a virulently anti-Israel group. The other side appears to have had no say, except that the Israeli embassy confirmed what, as noted above, Martingayle surely understood all along.

In reality, Israel welcomes and accommodates tourists, including Arabs. According to Prof. David Bernstein:

The American Bar Association has recently held meetings in Israel, for example here and here [update: along with hundreds of international conferences that are held in Israel every year, including, for example, a conference on Arabic literature with Muslim attendees from abroad.]

Israel strongly encourages tourism from Muslim countries, to the point that Hamas attacked an Israeli efforts to encourage tourism to Jerusalem from Islamic countries. It called this a “dangerous Zionist plot.”

Hamas would have nothing to fear if Israel were persecuting Arabs who want to visit.

It’s unfortunate that Martingayle has made the VSB an instrument of the boycott Israel movement. I doubt that Martingayle and other VSB leaders are anti-Israel in any strong sense. After all, they initially set the seminar in Jerusalem.

Instead, Martingayle appears mindlessly to have subscribed to trumped up grievances cast in the kind of politically correct language that causes a certain type of person to respond like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s through such disgraceful knee-jerk reactions that the leftist, anti-West rot spreads.

“Genderflect” With Pep Boys!

I’m too old to stay up for Saturday Night Live any more, but I wish I had been able to monitor the outrage on social media among the Social Justice Warrior set this last weekend, when SNL took down both Starbucks and the whole swollen transgenderism fetish in one fell swoop. If you missed it too, it is definitely worth two minutes of your time for this: (more…)

The Peerless Pitfalls of Peer Review

Back finally to an old topic leftover from the climate inquisition a few weeks back. One of our lefty commenters thought it important to raise the issue that I don’t publish “peer-reviewed” articles about climate issues in the academic literature, which is true. It’s something I have in common with Al Gore. (Heh.) Besides, I prefer to write in plain English for human beings rather than the 10 people who read most academic journals.

Actually, it is not quite true: I have published a couple of peer-reviewed articles about science and policy a long time ago that I had completely forgotten about, one of them in an otherwise mostly left-wing academic journal, Social Research. (I also once got an article in Mother Jones and wondered whether I should cash the check or frame it when it came in the mail. But I didn’t wonder long: I cashed it before they could figure out their blunder and send a stop payment order to the bank.)

More to the point, I am currently a regular peer reviewer for one of the leading academic journals in the energy and climate policy domain, though I shouldn’t say which one since peer reviews are supposed to be anonymous. And finally, about ten years back I was an invited peer reviewer for the EPA (!!) on one of their larger data analysis projects, though it had nothing to do with climate change. So it turns out that I have infinitely more peer review experience than Al Gore (“infinitely” since his peer review record is precisely Zero).

It is probably generous to paraphrase Churchill’s phrase about democracy to suggest that peer review is the worst form of academic quality control except for all the others that have ever been tried. First of all, how does “peer review” actually work in practice? Journal editors send out queries to academics asking if they’d agree to referee a submitted article. Even journals with lots of editors may not be intimately familiar with everyone working in a specialized subfield of science, so how do they know whom to query? Often the authors of the submitted articles suggest people—their friends and allies—as peer reviewers. (That’s how I got my first peer review assignment from a journal, and now the editors seem to like my reviews sufficiently that they are asking me to referee papers from people I’ve never heard of; right now it is two Chinese authors.) Even though their peer reviews will come in anonymously, helping to select at least some of your peer reviewers will increase the chances of a partially favorable review panel. And even if the articles are sent to you with the author or authors’ names stripped out, you can usually guess who the authors are easily enough from a careful reading of the bibliography.

Second, keep in mind that peer reviewers are not paid for their reviews. They are done strictly on a volunteer basis, though it can look good on an academic CV to say you’ve been a peer reviewer for the Journal of Irreproducible Results or some such. Maybe some referees re-run the regressions in a quantitative article, but do you think any referees actually check the quality or accuracy of the raw data in article submissions? Most of the time an editor merely wants a referee on hand to see that the author is familiar with the main literature on the topic, and that the article at least purports to make an original contribution. Hence a lot of peer reviews are really bibliography reviews (“the author hasn’t included Jones [2009] on this point”), which is why the bibliographies of many articles are longer than the articles themselves, even though few articles ever engage in any sustained discussion of the existing literature. (Those rare articles that actually engage the existing literature in a serious way are called something else. They are called “books.”)

Third, a typical peer review process only asks referees for one of three choices: Accept, Accept with Changes, or Reject. In all three cases, the referee is supposed to attach a short explanation (in the case of “Accept” or “Reject”) or suggestions for revision in the case of “Accept with Changes.” I don’t know whether there are any statistics kept in how peer reviews come in on the first pass, but it seems like nearly every scientific article I read says that the article has been revised before final acceptance. I am guessing very few articles get recommended for acceptance without revision; what peer reviewer isn’t going to split hairs about something? (In my case, I typically flag things for clarification or additional information, but this is chiefly because so many academics are such bad writers, and journal editors are hoping the referees will do some of the heavy lifting to fix the problems of clarity in many submissions. If that’s their hope, the process is failing badly.)

These problems don’t even get to the deeper problem of the extent to which peer review is an insider’s racket. One of the more damaging revelations of the “Climategate” email scandal in 2008 was the admission of Phil Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, that he would seek to keep contrarian or skeptic climate literature out of the IPCC process “even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” Nothing says confidence in science like manipulating the article inclusion process.

Then there’s this, from the Washington Post a few days ago:

Major Publisher Retracts 43 Scientific Papers Amid Wider Fake Peer-Review Scandal

A major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews amid signs of a broader fake peer review racket affecting many more publications.

The publisher is BioMed Central, based in the United Kingdom, which puts out 277 peer-reviewed journals. A partial list of the retracted articles suggests most of them were written by scholars at universities in China, including China Medical University, Sichuan University, Shandong University and Jiaotong University Medical School. But Jigisha Patel, associate editorial director for research integrity at BioMed Central, said it’s not “a China problem. We get a lot of robust research of China. We see this as a broader problem of how scientists are judged.”

Meanwhile, the Committee on Publication Ethics, a multidisciplinary group that includes more than 9,000 journal editors, issued a statement suggesting a much broader potential problem. The committee, it said, “has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review processes of several journals across different publishers.” Those journals are now reviewing manuscripts to determine how many may need to be retracted, it said.

This is not an isolated incident. There’s a whole website, RetractionWatch.com, that follows the increasing number of retractions of bad articles.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

But perhaps the most revealing retraction of recent years was The Lancet finally, in 2010, acknowledging that the 1998 Andrew Wakefield article linking vaccines to autism was phony. This article was the principal justification for anti-vaxxers for several years. Following a long investigation, the British Medical Journal called Wakefield’s findings “an elaborate fraud,” and a British court found that “there is now no respectable body of opinion which supports [Dr. Wakefield's] hypothesis, that MMR vaccine and autism/enterocolitis are causally linked.”

Just how did this article pass peer review? I think the editors of The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals, ought to explain that in detail.

But notice something else about the Wakefield article pictured nearby: The article lists 12 co-authors along with Wakefield. This seems to be the typical mode with scientific articles: casts of thousands sign on as “co-authors” of an article even if they did little work on the actual research. You almost never see a long cast of authors in social science articles (three or four seem to be the outer limit), even when a professor may use a large team of graduate students to conduct field research. In purely scientific publishing it seems to be a way of casting science as a majoritarian enterprise—a means of granting false authority and certainty. (And it’s an easy way of listing another publication on your CV.) I’ve come to adopt a rule of inverse judgment: the more authors listed on a science article, the more skeptical I am. How many co-authors did Einstein have for his breakthrough paper on general relativity?

Meanwhile, as Washington Post reporter Jim Tankersley pointed out last week, the most devastating critique of the Thomas Piketty hypothesis about income inequality, currently setting the entire controversy on its head within the highest reaches of academic economists, has come from an MIT graduate student who published his 459-word critique . . . on a blog. Heh.