The Peer Review System:

Is Climate Science Politically Corrupt?


John L. Daly

(Written during January, 2004, published February 22, 2004.)

The Greenhouse Industry

On this website, frequent reference has been made to the so-called `Greenhouse Industry'. The term itself implies that scientists and policy-makers involved in climate change gain an economic benefit from over-emphasising the theorised effects of man-made `global warming'. That such a benefit exists is undeniable - consider the explosive growth of climate-related research institutions and academics in the last 25 years, with all the opportunities for travel to exotic locations for conferences and the improved prospects for promotion which exists. This is one of the few sciences where a kind of Hollywood `star' system applies, where fame and applause greets those scientists who tell the industry exactly what it wants to hear. This star system is the very antithesis of science, yet is encouraged quite blatantly by the industry and its leading body - the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN-IPCC).

Stephen Schneider, Ann Henderson-Sellers, Phil Jones, Ben Santer, Tom Wigley, and most recently Michael Mann, are the most notable examples of this star celebrity system operating in climate science.

The New Censorship

But what makes this distortion of science possible in the climate sciences? The key reason appears to be the censorship of ideas which has taken place via the traditional scientific `peer review' system. The system of `peer review’ was established during the nineteenth century as a means to uphold quality control in science and to exclude patently flawed science from the publications of the scientific community, known as `journals'. This of course involves something of a trade-off between the wider social values of free speech and the narrower values of preserving the integrity of science itself.

The ideas and papers excluded from the journals in this way could always be published in non-scientific publications so that the censorship only really applies within the journal community. Since the emergence of the internet, it is now possible for anyone to publish material without editorial interference - something seen as a dangerous curse by some, and an opportunity for genuine free flow of ideas by others. In this new environment, science has taken a backward step in defence of its privileges vis-a-vis publication of papers and ideas. Scientists are increasingly refusing point blank to entertain any new knowledge or ideas as being in any way valid *unless* they are published in one of their own journals. Since scientists and their institutions have privileged access to policy makers in government and industry, it amounts to an arrogant assertion of a monopoly over knowledge itself.

Once any monopoly is established, abuse and corruption soon follows, and it is the climate sciences which have led the way down that dangerous path.

The climate sciences are the most politicised of all the sciences, with intense public debates raging about both the existence of, and extent of, `global warming', with over $4 billion spent in the US annually on research into this real or imagined phenomenon. It is in this politically charged atmosphere that `peer review' has exposed its dark ugly side, the use of a system of quality control which works passably in other sciences, but which has become in the climate sciences a ruthless instrument of censorship by one partisan school of ideas against any dissent to its supremacy.

Here is how the system of censorship works -

A scientist or group of scientists (or lay persons) may author a paper intended for scientific publication and submit it to one or more of the recognised journals for publication. This is done in the sure knowledge that unless it appears in a journal, it will be summarily dismissed without further thought by the scientific establishment. In other words, it is journal publication or oblivion for whatever ideas or knowledge the author is intending to impart.

The journal editor (or sub-editor in the case of the larger journals) consider the paper and make a quick and ready judgement about whether the paper might be suitable for publication at first glance. This is the first censorship hurdle as the prejudices of the editor can influence the decision. If the editor is satisfied the paper might be acceptable, he or she sends it out to `referees', usually two or three reviewers known to be expert in the same field as the subject matter of the submitted paper, these reviewers being selected by the editor. The choice of reviewers itself may also be open to editorial bias.

The reviewers have enormous power. They act in complete anonymity and can recommend for or against the paper, and few editors will go against their judgement. They will provide comments and reasons for their decisions, but there is no appeal. In other words, the paper's prospects for publication rest entirely with two or three possibly prejudiced individuals acting in complete anonymity and safe from any criticism of their decision. The author has no idea who these referees are - they could be rivals, or they could be ideologically hostile to the subject matter of the submitted paper. The referrees by contrast know full well who the author(s) is and are easily swayed if the authorship originates with a prestigous institution.

In a politically charged environment like climate science, the scope for abuse of this system is obvious. Both the editors and reviewers are quite liable to act as upholders of a partisan orthodoxy and reject any paper which questions the basis for that orthodoxy. It is a profoundly subjective process, vulnerable to abuse and all done with no transparency behind the veil of anonymity. The system is an impregnable coward's castle.

It is little wonder that `climate skeptics' have little confidence they would receive fair treatment under such a system when there is a vast global self-interested industry ranged against them.

In my 2002 trip to the USA, I gave several talks to university groups. I was challenged several times to submit my critical views in the form of papers or `comments' on papers to the peer-reviewed journals. My response was usually that (a) the process would take months, meaning that I would be unable to give an immediate reaction to a contemporary event, (b) there was no guarantee that it would get past the industry's own reviewers, and (c) opinions expressed in my comments and papers would be met with censorship by reason of their position, not because of quality considerations. But while I put that view, I had never really tested the system to see if my low opinion of it would be borne out in practice.

To test it properly, it was necessary to wait until I had an `open-and-shut' case to present, something which could not possibly be objected to on credible scientific grounds. Such an opportunity presented itself in April 2003 when the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters published a paper on the Isle of the Dead sea level benchmark, an issue with which I had intimate familiarity.

Peer Review and Censorship - A Case Study

Further discussion about the scientific and historical issues relating to the `Isle of the Dead’ can be read via Sea Levels:Isle of the Dead

Very briefly, the Isle of the Dead is a small 2-acre island inside Port Arthur harbour in southeastern Tasmania. In 1841, the Antarctic explorer Captain Sir James Clark Ross was responsible for establishing a survey mark on a cliff on the island, which he said (several times) marked `zero point, or the mean level of the sea’.

The sea level benchmark is still there in full view, but now lies not at mean sea level (MSL) as Ross said, but at a point 31 cm above MSL. The documentary evidence surrounding the establishment and later position of this mark is both contradictory and inconclusive. However, a paper by Hunter et al appeared in GRL purporting to demonstrate that the mark really shows that sea level rose at the Isle of the Dead by around 9.8 mm/yr, which just happens to match the IPCC lower estimate of 10 mm/yr global sea level rise during the 20th century.

My own study of the benchmark reached a very different conclusion to that of Hunter et al, and demonstrated very little sea level rise at all at the Isle of the Dead. The details of that controversy can be seen here, but that controversy is not in itself the issue under discussion now.

In the course of their paper, Hunter et al sought to reinforce their pro-IPCC scenario by comparing sea level data at the Isle of the Dead with Hobart, Tasmania, some 50 km away. It was in making this comparison that Hunter et al made fundamental academic errors, at one point invoking the support of data which did not actually exist. They made three key errors -

1) They cited a reference for Hobart sea levels which I checked and found to be irrelevant to what they were claiming. A dud reference is not what academics of any discipline should knowingly do. 2) They presented graphical sea level data for the period 1875 - 1889 which on further examination was found to be non-existent. 3) They presented error estimates for this non-existent data.

It was exactly the `open-and-shut’ issue which provided an opportunity to test out the bone fides of the peer review system, so I decided to submit a 2-page `comment’ to GRL. `Comments’ are not full research papers but criticisms or supplementary information to published papers. Comments face exactly the same editorial and peer review hurdles that normal papers do, but are generally much shorter. A comment provided the means to test the system without committing excessive resources to what would likely to be a fruitless exercise anyway.

There ensued an exchange of emails with the editors of GRL, which was followed two weeks later with a formal submission of my comment (hyperlinks in the comment are active)

My `Comment’ to GRL

Comment on "Hunter, J., Coleman, R., Pugh, D., The Sea Level at Port Arthur, Tasmania, from 1841 to the Present, GRL, v.30, no.7, 1401, Apr. 2003"

Submitted to Geophysical Research Letters by Mr. John L. Daly, Launceston, Tasmania

Proprietor of "Still Waiting for Greenhouse" website
< >


A recent paper in this journal by Hunter et al presents results of a study into historic sea levels in southern Tasmania. It suggests a rise in mean sea level (MSL) since 1905 at Hobart, Tasmania, based on a comparison between modern MSL and an old `state datum’ based on tide data taken in Hobart prior to 1905. The only reference they cite as their source of information about the `state datum’ is a 1941 report by a Standing Committee for the Tasmanian Government that gives no information about the height, accuracy, or the time line used in its determination. Hunter et al also present MSL data from 1875 but provide no evidence to support the existence of Hobart tide data prior to 1889.

The Tasmanian State Datum

Hunter et al [2003] show a Tasmanian `state datum’ in their Fig.2 from 1875 to 1905 and its estimated uncertainty range for this 30-year period. They twice cited a Tasmanian Government report dated 1941 [DPIWE, 1941] as the only reference to support the existence and status of that `state datum'. However, that report contains no technical information about this datum (not its height, not the years of data involved in its calculation, not the method of determination, not even the existence of a `state datum’ at the time the document was written (1941)). The only information it contained was that a local MSL datum from the Hobart Marine Board existed.

The cited document says that in 1940 the Australian Defence Department asked the then Tasmanian Government to establish a unified network of land-based benchmarks for the purpose of surveying landmarks, etc. The State Government responded by setting up a `Standing Committee' of representatives from key government departments. No marine or port authorities were represented.

The Standing Committee proposed that all survey benchmarks in Tasmania be referenced against one master benchmark (B.M. No.1), and that other survey benchmarks be established all across Tasmania, height referenced to BM No.1. One sub-committee recommended that BM No.1 should not be height referenced to the old Hobart Marine Board MSL datum, but instead referenced to MSL at Derwent Bridge Head [p.15], where a tide gauge already existed with readings kept `over a period of years' [p.8]. No other details were given about either MSL datum.

The full Standing Committee later rejected the Derwent Bridge proposal and instead opted for the older Hobart Marine Board datum, mainly because it was already in widespread use by the Hobart City Council for its survey maps and other property survey documents [p.18].

The Minutes of that Standing Committee’s meeting on August 20th 1940 explain that the proposal to use the Hobart Marine Board MSL datum for statewide use was a recommendation for a future survey policy, not something that then existed. (The pertinent extract from those minutes is attached as Appendix A). The committee appeared indifferent to the actual height of MSL, in that they opted for convenience over exactness. Prior to these meetings in the 1940s, there was no `state datum' as such.

Since the 1941 document cited by Hunter et al, did not give any details about the `state datum’, or provide any follow-on references, information was sought from the Surveyor-General's office of the Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment (DPIWE) in Hobart [N. Bowden, DPIWE, pers. comm. 2003].

Following the 1941 report, the Government of Tasmania incorporated the committee's recommendations in the `Survey Co-Ordination Act 1944'. This led to the establishment of BM No.1 and it was defined as being 35.45 feet above MSL, based on the Hobart Marine Board datum. The new scheme was summarized in this 1946 `station diagram’ from the Surveyor-General’s Office in Hobart [DPIWE, 1946].

Fig.1 The station diagram defining the Tasmanian State Datum

BM No.1 (on the left of Fig.1) was defined as 35.43 feet above MSL (the thick connecting line), MSL being determined from a `reference mark' (top center) that is stated as being 12.43 feet above the `state standard level’ (representing MSL). However, it is not now known how these heights above MSL were calculated, or by whom.

The information relevant to Hobart sea levels is the height datum given by the `reference mark' and - more importantly - the small note at the bottom right of the document titled `Reference Mark 'that says:

"Cut on Stone Foundation of Tide Gauge Office, Hobart Marine Board, outside of Gauge Office Door. Value = 12.43 ft above mean sea level determined over a period of 30 years previous to A.D. 1905."

This note is consistent with the `state datum’ line and the 30-year time span as shown by Hunter et al. However, the authorship and methodology of this station diagram is unknown and was not separately cited by Hunter et al. The diagram is the only known original reference to the height of the `state datum’. This level was declared the `State Datum' in 1946, not 1905 as suggested by Hunter et al, and remained that way until the Australian Height Datum was adopted in 1972 [Hunter et al, 2003].

The 12.43 ft height of the `reference mark’ above MSL at the Hobart tide gauge pre-1905 cannot be authenticated today. The old tide gauge hut from which that datum was determined still exists, but the tide gauge mechanism has gone and there is no surviving information about the type of gauge used [Bowden, DPIWE, and Ridgeway, CSIRO, pers. comm. 2003]. Only a stilling well for the water remains. Numerical data from it exists but the height of the tide gauge zero is unknown. In other words, the measurements themselves are not referenced to anything, and the absence of the mechanism in the hut means the original zero reference cannot now be determined.

Hunter et al say (abridged) -

"In 1905, the Tasmanian State Datum was defined, based on observations of mean sea level at Hobart, Tasmania … for the previous 30 years [Government of Tasmania, 1941]…we have estimated the mean sea level … for 1875-1905." [Hunter, 2003]

The document they cite [DPIWE, 1941] shows that a `Tasmanian State Datum' did not exist as such in 1905. Instead, there was only a local Marine Board of Hobart datum. Therefore the phrase "In 1905, the Tasmanian State Datum was defined..." is not correct as the definition and adoption of a `state datum' was not introduced until 1946.

The 30 years of data from 1875 to1905 presented by Hunter et al. in their Fig.2 and the 1946 station diagram are inconsistent with other information regarding tide data from Hobart. Mault [1889] reported in the Royal Society of Tasmania journal that due to a lack of previous tide information about Hobart at that time, he borrowed a tide gauge from a visiting ship and mounted it on New Wharf, Hobart, to collect tide data during February 1889. According to Mault -

"Please note that these observations are only for one month, and that, as probably the mean tide level varies at different seasons, to get satisfactory results, a year's observations should be obtained - this could easily be done with an automatic gauge. I am glad to say that this will be done, as the Hobart Marine Board is taking the necessary steps to procure and fix such a gauge.

It was from 1889, not 1875, that the Hobart Marine Board began systematic tide measurements, largely prompted by Mault’s study. The Surveyor-General's office [Bowden, pers. comm. 2003] and the CSIRO [Ridgeway, pers. comm. 2003] confirmed that to their knowledge, the pre-1905 data from the Marine Board tide gauge began in December 1889, not 1875, consistent with Mault’s statements in his 1889 paper.

This key point about the start date for Hobart tide data is also affirmed by the websites of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission [ ] and the NOAA 
[ ]
, both of whom say - "Previous gauges have operated in Hobart since 1889." The National Tidal Facility website 
[ ]
at Flinders University, South Australia, says -
"Observations between 1889 and December 1994 exist. The observations may not be continuous over this time period."

However, Hunter et al stated they "have estimated the mean sea level relative to the benchmark for 1875-1905" and charted this on their diagram with an uncertainty range estimated by them back to 1875.

This statement, and their charting of the results, is inconsistent with the information from these other sources which establish 1889, not 1875, as the start date for tide data in Hobart. The only known reference to the years 1875-1889 comes from the anonymous note on the 1946 station diagram [DPIWE, 1946] which says MSL was `determined over a period of 30 years previous to AD 1905', with no further details given. This apparently incorrect information in the note must then raise questions about the credibility of other information contained in the station diagram, including the accuracy of the `state datum’ itself.

Fig.2 of Hunter et al includes an uncertainty range estimate for 1875-1889. This presupposes the existence of sea level data for that period from which an uncertainty range could be calculated. However, they provide no reference to or source for that data. (During a Royal Society of Tasmania discussion on Mault’s paper [Mault, 1889], one society member recalled that a local school headmaster had previously kept a register of tides around 1853, but that details of this had been lost by 1889. Another member said he too had registered the tides `at one time’. There is no record of either data set today).


The paper by Hunter et al does not provide any referencing support about historic sea levels in Hobart, or the years involved, nor the 1875 start date they indicated. Since no other references were offered to clarify the issue, the claims about the Tasmanian `state datum’ in that paper cannot be viewed as meeting scientific criteria.

Appendix A

"Recommendation No.1 - Establishment of State Government B.M. No.1

Mr. Foster (Engineer, Hobart City Council) considered that it would be preferable to adopt the M.S.L. datum as established by the Hobart Marine Board, and to which all the City of Hobart Corporation levels were already referred, rather than adopt the M.S.L. at Derwent Bridge, which had only lately been determined.

Col. lane (Forestry Department) agreed that, as the City Council's system of levels already covered a considerable area, Mr. Foster's proposals should receive consideration. The Chairman (Mr. Pitt, Secretary for Lands) stated that it would not be of great importance which plane of approximate M.S.L. was adopted as zero so long as its position was clearly defined and a zero value permanently assigned to it for all State levels."

Acknowledgements: My thanks to N. Bowden of the Surveyor-General’s Office, Hobart, Tasmania, K. Ridgeway of the CSIRO Division of Oceanography, Hobart, and to Richard Courtney, London, for their valuable assistance in providing information and documentary material on the history of tide measurement in Hobart.


Dept. Primary Industries Water and Environment (DPIWE), Office of the Surveyor-General, Government of Tasmania, Report and Proceedings of the Standing Committee of the Coordination and Correlation of Levels and Surveys in Tasmania, Government of Tasmania, January 1941, Hobart, Tasmania
(Online copy available here)

DPIWE, Land Services Division, SPM1371 Survey Control Mark Station File, Hobart, 1946

Hunter, J., Coleman, R., Pugh, D., The Sea Level at Port Arthur, Tasmania, from 1841 to the Present, GRL, v.30, no.7, 1401, Apr. 2003

Mault, A., On Some Tide Observations at Hobart During February and March, 1889,

Royal Society of Tasmania, p.8, 1889

The above `comment' was declined for publication by Geophysical Research Letters,
publishers of the original Hunter et al paper to which it refers.

Supporting documents were provided with the comment for the assistance of the reviewers, in particular the document which Hunter et al made a reference to, but which was both irrelevant and provided none of the information about the subject matter being referred. One of these was a government report and the other was a copy of Hunter et al’s graphic.

The Peer Review

After a 6-week wait, I finally received the following email from GRL declining my comment for publication. It was no surprise as it was much what I expected. Of more interest were the twisted reasonings offered by the editor and reviewers for rejecting the comment, in effect upholding the flawed science they had themselves published months earlier.

Following are the editor's concluding comment, and the two reviewer's evaluations.
We have had your manuscript, 2003GL018288, "Comment on Hunter, J., Coleman, R., Pugh, D., The Sea Level at Port Arthur, Tasmania, from 1841 to the Present, GRL, v.30, no.7, 1401, Apr. 2003," reviewed for both scientific content and GRL-specific criteria. Based on this evaluation, unfortunately I cannot accept your manuscript for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. Both reviewers feel (and I agree) that there is insufficient substance in your comment as it stands to warrant publication. In order for a comment to be published, it needs to clearly indicate a mistake or misinterpretation in the original paper. It also needs to do so in a concise and terse manner as space in GRL is tightly constrained. In the current case, a non-critical element was, for understandable reasons, not cited as completely as it might have been in the published GRL paper. Attached below are the review comments, which you may find helpful if you decide to revise your document and submit it as a new comment to GRL or elsewhere. I am sorry I cannot be more encouraging at this time.
Reviewer #1 Evaluations:
Science Category: Science Category 4
Presentation Category: Presentation Category C
Annotated Manuscript: No
Anonymous: Yes
Referrals: No
Highlight: No Preference

Reviewer #1(Formal Review):

The author criticizes the manner in which the State Datum for Tasmania is referred to in the analysis of Port Arthur sea level by Hunter et al. (2003)(henceforth HCP). Apparently, the datum was not officially referred to as the "State Datum" until the 1940s, and not in 1905 as implied in HCP. There is also concern expressed regarding the source (anonymous) and length (30 years or 16 years?) of data used to specify the datum. The author concludes that ". . .the claims about the Tasmanian 'state datum' in that paper cannot be viewed as meeting scientific criteria."

The whole issue of when the datum in question was referred to as the "State Datum" may be of historical interest, but it has little impact on the results presented in HCP. I also do not share the author's concern about the validity of the datum itself. It seems hard to imagine that the datum would be accepted as the "State Datum" without some faith at the time that sufficient care was taken in establishing the original height above mean sea level. Likewise, if the datum were grossly in error, it seems unlikely that this error would not have been detected and corrected after almosta century of development.

I do not recommend publication of this comment unless the editor feels that the discussion of historical details, here and in the reply by Hunter and his colleagues, provides an interesting supplement to the HCP paper. I don't find that the scientific issues raised are particularly important.
Reviewer #2 Evaluations:
Science Category: Science Category 4
Presentation Category: Presentation Category B
Annotated Manuscript: No
Anonymous: Yes
Referrals: No
Highlight: No

Reviewer #2(Formal Review):

Review of Daly Comment:

The comment submitted by Daly to GRL is very weak.

If it was printed (but it is far too long as it stands), Hunter et al. would have no problem refuting it. It is trivial. However, it may be desirable to publish a short version (maybe one paragraph) and let Hunter refute it in another short paragraph.

As to detailed comments on the submission, the whole thing is too long. It boils down to:

(1) Daly asserting that the Tasmanian State Datum, referred to at the bottom of column 1 of page 2 or the Hunter et al. paper, was referenced incorrectly to the Government of Tasmania report of 1941 and not to a one-page datum diagram drawn in 1946.

(2) The statement in that one-page that the datum was based on MSL data for 30 years ending in 1905 could not have been correct as no decent gauge existed for all of that period at Hobart.

In the case of (1), I guess Daly is strictly correct, although I suspect I might have done what Hunter et al. did and just reference that report (which is referenceable document) and not the one-page (which isn't or at least would have to be referenced in a very grey way), especially given the space restrictions in GRL. In principle though, I agree that Hunter could have referenced the one page also.

However, none of this matters a hoot as it has no impact on the main theme of the paper which is the Port Arthur 1841-2 data. Also there is no disgreement that this is the same datum everyone is referring to, even if the referencing could have been more complete.

In the case of (2), even if one takes Daly's story at face value that there was no decent gauge there before 1889 (although no one knows for sure), Hunter was making a reference to the claimed origin of the datum which implied that indeed there was, which just leads us back to point (1).

Incidentally, the quotes from 3 websites on page 5 of Daly's Comment are all in effect from the same source (the Australian National Tidal Facility) who provide the information to the GLOSS Handbook web page, of which the NODC page is a copy.

And that was it. GRL and its chosen reviewers had rejected the comment for no valid scientific or academic reason, giving purely spurious reasons for rejection. In doing so, they were effectively saying it was ok to publish papers with dud references, non-existent data, and even calculations surrounding that non-existent data.

It meant the Hunter et al paper was deemed `scientific’, while the comment which exposed its real faults was effectively censored by the very same system which approved the Hunter et al paper to begin with.

Since I am not a professional scientist, there were no career, economic, or status implications if my comment was accepted or rejected by GRL. Besides, there was already an expanded version of it published on my website here. The purpose of the comment was therefore to test the impartiality of the peer review system itself when confronted with a clear and unambigouous complaint against one of its own papers, a test it failed.

In other words, it was a useful exercise in its own right to determine if peer review had really become a vehicle for censorship as suggested by the experience of others. If effective quality control had been applied by GRL’s peer review process, the Hunter et al paper would have been rejected for publication, not the comment which exposed its faults.

FastCounter by bCentral