Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to publish a scientific comment in 1 2 3 easy steps...the climate science edition

Usually it goes like this, but not always. Here is the alternative version:

1. Receive invitation from Editor to write a commentary on a paper they have recently accepted for publication.
2. Write commentary.
3. Oh, there isn't a number 3.

Jules says I have been cryptic enough about our Climatic Change paper. One or two commenters came very close, but the answer is not merely that it's waiting for some accompanying commentary, but that this commentary is being provided by none other than...Dave Frame. Those who have followed the saga of this manuscript through various previous incarnations - primarily as an intended (critical) comment on Dave Frame's earlier paper - may raise an eyebrow at this state of affairs. After Dave had (successfully) argued that our argument should not be presented as a direct criticism of his work, but as a stand-alone paper, there is substantial irony that he has been handed the opportunity to comment as he sees fit, without us having any right of reply at all. Of course I don't hold him responsible for this situation at all - an editor (one S Schneider) made the decision, as is his right.

I first heard about this from Dave himself, shortly after the paper had been accepted. Then our paper was formally published on-line and I think both he and I assumed this idea had fallen by the wayside. But apparently not, and the journal is still waiting for the commentary before a simultaneous publication in the dead tree format.

Such commentaries are not common in the scientific literature, but a few journals seem to use them. Science and Nature papers are sometimes accompanied by a review pointing out the wider implications, and Dave wrote one himself for the controversial Roe and Baker paper. Here's another in Climatic Change. Of course in these cases the commentary is basically complimentary. I think most people would think it rather strange and more than a little unfair if someone was invited to bypass the traditional comment-and-reply process by providing an unanswered critical comment in this way.

Of course a lot of time has passed since the original debate. If Dave can make it clear that uniform priors are dead, at least as far as decision-theoretic and policy relevant research goes (even if he disagrees on some other details of our work), then we would find ourselves in violent agreement. This would represent a significant improvement compared to the alternative of a solo publication from a couple of relative outsiders, which might otherwise be ignored by the IPCC clique or brushed aside as a minority viewpoint that need not unduly influence what the real experts do. Since Dave is (rightly or wrongly) strongly linked to the other side of the argument, the possibility of us coming to some agreement could I think represent a valuable clarification of the situation. But I have no idea what he is planning to say...


EliRabett said...

It's your basic editor's ploy of let's you and him fight

James Annan said...

And finally, news from the journal that they will publish our paper in Jan even if the commentary is not ready by then...