It’s in the literature

Climate deniers are a funny mob. Mention to them that the peer-reviewed literature overwhelmingly demonstrates a consensus that AGW is real and they will launch into a diatribe about how the peer review system is corrupt and climategate proves it blah blah blah, but as soon as they see a peer-reviewed paper that allegedly supports their position, the blog headlines will highlight the fact that said paper is peer-reviewed. Apparently peer review is only legitimate when it’s on their side. I’m not going into how stupidly hypocritical that position is. What I would like to do is extend just little on a post at desmogblog by guest poster James Lawrence Powell.

Long story short James, along with some help from John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli, undertook a similar study to that of Naomi Oreskas where he searched Web of Science for papers with the key terms “global warming” or “global climate change”. He then sorted them into those accepting the consensus position and those rejecting it. I won’t repeat the criteria he used. You can check it out for yourself at the link I provided. Here, however, is the graph of his results





That is pretty striking and devastating for denial. What I am interested in though is the citation side of things. Powell thankfully checked this out and reports…

The 24 articles have been cited a total of 113 times over the nearly 21-year period, for an average of close to 5 citations each. That compares to an average of about 19 citations for articles answering to “global warming,” for example. Four of the rejecting articles have never been cited; four have citations in the double-digits. The most-cited has 17.

I decided to look into these 113 citations to see what sort of papers were citing these 20 papers. I employed a similar methodology to Powell by just searching the citation list for each article using Google Scholar. Of the results I examined, only the citations that were from journals were counted. This was because occasionally Anthony crybaby Watts’ blog would appear. Just between you and me, that’s not a great place to get factual information let alone peer-reviewed factual information. I then sorted these citing papers into three categories. Those that endorse the consensus position, those that reject it and those that are neutral. So, what did I find?

For a start, I found that there were 119 citations. This may be due to several new articles appearing in the short time since James produced his results or differences between Google Scholar and Web of Science. Some of the papers had more citations and some had fewer. Now, I’m not a big fan of producing Excel graphs for anything more than simple counts so that’s all I’ve done. Here is what I found.

Proportion of 119 papers cited by James Powell's list of 24 peer reviewed AGW denial papers that either accept, reject or hold no position on the consensus that humans are resposible for recent climate change.

Proportion of 119 papers citing by James Powell’s list of 24 peer-reviewed AGW denial papers, that either accept, reject or hold no position on the consensus that humans are responsible for recent climate change.

This is interesting in itself in that there are more papers accepting or having a neutral position on AGW than rejecting.  Where it gets even more interesting though is when you look at whom is citing who in the denier side as well as the quality of journals represented. In the list provided by Powell here, Scafetta’s two papers are cited 18 times between them. I found 21 citations. Of those 21 citations, 3 papers accept AGW, 8 are neutral, leaving 10 rejecting the AGW consensus. Of those 10 papers, Scafetta was an author on 8, leaving just 2 papers written by anyone other than himself. Similarly, Khilyuk, for whom I could find 25 citation across his 3 papers, 5 papers accept, 2 are neutral and 18 reject AGW. Of those 18 though, only 6 are not written by himself and many of those 12 are doubling and even tripling up (sometimes the same paper will be published in multiple journals with a slightly different title and the author order changed) just in case anyone reading this gets the idea that he is a prolific author. So what does the pie chart look like if we take out self-citations?

The same as the other graph with the self-citations removed.

The same as the other graph with the self-citations removed.

That red area is looking a lot smaller. Finally, what is interesting is that every single paper cited that rejects the AGW consensus comes from questionable journals like Energy & Environment or obscure journals in languages other than English or journals associated with polluting industries. There certainly aren’t any from Science or Nature. The good news to come out of this also is the age of many of the papers. There are very few from recent years and some citations are more than twenty years old. Denial is dying and a good thing too.




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22 responses to “It’s in the literature

  1. Sou

    An excellent bit of sleuthing.

    You may have come across this before – I recall reading about it a little while ago. More about self-citation in journals than by the authors themselves but still relevant here – for example for E&E. From a Thomson Reuters article on the journal selection process for Web of Science:

    Among all journals listed in the 2010 JCR Science Edition, for example, 85% have self-citation rates of less than 15%. This shows that self-citation is quite normal for most journals. Significant deviation from this normal rate, however, prompts an examination by Thomson Reuters to determine if excessive self-citations are being used to artificially inflate the impact factor. If we determine that self-citations are being used improperly, the journal’s impact factor will be suppressed for at least two years and the journal may be considered for deselection from Web of Science.

    • Hey Sou
      Self-citation is always an interesting issue. I don’t see a problem with it in most cases. For example, I wrote a paper a couple of years ago about a plant pathogen that was a new record for Australia, and worldwide there were only a few papers on it. If i were to undertake further research into that pathogen, it would be inevitable that I would be forced to cite my previous work. Similarly, I see a lot of climate papers with self-citation but its usually because the author needs ot refer to work that only he/she has undertaken previously or were the first to undertake and there are no alternatives. Where it gets dodgy is when people self-cite because all the work done by people before them have found the opposite to what they want to say. It’s in the same box as quote-mining, cherrypicking etc.

  2. Sou

    I agree that it’s expected you’ll cite your previous publications in earlier similar work. The article from Thomson Reuter says as much. The thing is, when the only citations your paper gets are the ones you make yourself and especially if all your papers are in some unknown or less reputable journal then it doesn’t rate quite the same as if there are lots of cites by other authors (unless you are the only person working in the field, which could happen). That’s why they query higher than normal self-cites.

    Another tactic I’ve come across is ‘papers’ (not real papers – SPPI style nonsense) where the authors cite lots of reputable papers but then misrepresent them in the ‘paper’. Presumably the bibliography was meant to invoke an air of authenticity.

    • mmm that stuff never makes it through peer review in decent jourals….E&E though…….


      • john byatt

        Was quoted a paper from a denier that supposedly backed his position.
        His position was that Mann was a fraud
        reading the paper, it had two citations of Mann papers.
        The deniers paper was only credible because of relying on the Mann paper graphs

        go figure

  3. Matt Skaggs

    There was once a paradigm that our brains were concentric with a generic mammalian brain at the core, an ape brain ourside of that, and a human brain surrounding it all. Empowered by this new paradigm, cognitive science grads produced hundreds of peer-reviewed papers locating the physical origin point of human traits in the brain, and then declaring them “primitive” or “advanced.” Skeptics faced a situation exactly as you describe above. Later the entire concentric brain hypothesis was brushed aside by far more sophisticated empirical evidence, leaving all those papers in a scientific dead end.
    This has happened over and over, most notably in the 20th century when geological uniformitarianism was overturned in stages first by continental drift and then finally and decisively by the “biblical” Missoula floods. In fact, take a look at a high school geology text from the 1950s if you want to gain some pespective on the importance of consensus. While a consensus is more likely to be right than wrong, it only has merit to the extent to which its predictions have been independently validated.

    • john byatt

      Point is well made Matt, my interest is the human tastes,
      remember years ago at school we learnt of the tongue map with sugar at the tip, we dipped our tongues into salt, sour sweet and bitter and the map was obviously wrong even to a small child, yet the map persisted for many years, today we have a lot of papers, peer reviewed that will also most likely be proved wrong in the future,
      now lets look at climate change, the range of diverse specialist fields of science is overwhelming and are all recording the same validations.
      eg range shift, SLR, Artic increased methane release, acidification,
      projections of temperature made thirty years ago are being validated.
      all fields of science are in strong agreement.

    • Hi Matt

      Good points. The thing about science on the whole is that while we have made an astounding amount of progress over the centuries in terms of knowledge and capabilities, science itself as a process has also changed. The checks and balances with QA/QC of data for example that weren’t in place 50 years ago makes it more and more likely that consensual positions are likely correct. With climate science, those on the denial side of things are always asking for that silver bullet and quoting Einstein or Feynmann that if one thing is incorrect thaen everything is etc blah blah blah and seem to fail to recognise that the evidence for climate change comes from many different disciplines and on the weight of probabilites………..


    • john byatt

      This is a perfect example of current theories being brought into question, this is why science works

  4. john byatt

    Sunshine Coast daily today,
    on first read i thought that it was someone taking the piss,
    but no, the letter writer is a well known denier and has at least one absurd claim in the paer each week.

    this one takes the cake, HEADVICES on

    Just a word of comfort concerning the astonishing 3mm sea-level rise recorded this year.
    Compared with 100 years ago, we now have thousands of aircraft carriers, warships,oil tankers and cargo ships worldwide. that’s a lot of water displacement which may explain it.
    let’s not be too alarmed by these scaremongering scientists.

  5. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, December 30, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered