Written evidence submitted by John McLean,
Professor Chris de Freitas, and Emeritus Professor Robert Carter
This submission describes salient events pertaining
to a paper of ours that was published in peer-reviewed journal,
a subsequent Comment published by that journal and our Response
that Comment, which the journal refused to publish. Not only
was our original paper subject to peer review but thanks to "Climategate"
emails we have information about the review of a subsequent Comment
and of course we have information about the review of our Response.
We beg the inquiry's indulgence with a submission
that is about 500 words longer than the requested maximum length.
We have tried to be brief but we are in the unusual position
of being able to discuss three closely related peer reviews -
two of our work, one of our critics - and we note numerous failings
of those reviews. These failings include misunderstanding about
what the task involves and requires, manipulation when authors
suggest reviewers, reviewers failing to report inconsistencies
or erroneous statements in articles, an editor failing to comply
with his journal's review procedures and ultimately ambiguities
about recommendations about publishing.
We conclude with a recommendation that we believe
has merit and unlike other recommendations that might be made
will likely find acceptance among journals.
1. In December 2008 we submitted a paper, with
the title titled "Influence of the Southern Oscillation on
tropospheric temperature", to the Journal of Geophysical
Research (JGR). The paper was reviewed, as is the practice of
that journal, and in February we received an email from the editor
containing his cover note and a copy of the reviewers' comments
(see Appendix). The reviewers hinted but made no explicit statement
that they against the publication of our paper if changes were
not made but the editor stated in his cover note "make the
necessary changes in your manuscript and respond to me, explaining
how you have addressed these comments", which indicates his
interpretation of the situation.
2. We subsequently made the revisions that, for
the most part, had been requested in general terms and subsequently
the paper was published in July 2009.
3. Our paper showed that average global tropospheric
temperatures closely followed the El Nino-Southern Oscillation
of seven months earlier. It implied that man-made emissions of
carbon dioxide had negligible impact on average global temperature,
which of course is contrary to the view of the IPCC and numerous
4. Within days of the publication of our paper,
a document criticising it appeared on the Internet, formatted
in the journal's template. This document was ultimately published
as Comment (ie formal criticism) by the journal but it refused
to publish our Response to the Comment.
5. We believe that several aspects of this affair
are germane to this inquiry.
6. To set the scene for what follows please note
the following extracts from comments from two reviewers of our
paper (extracted from an email from JGR, available in the Appendix):
"I found the paper to be well-organized,
well-written, and clear on the importance of the research. The
abstract is informative, reference section is excellent, and the
graphics are of high quality. The findings are likely to be of
interest to a wide variety of readers, but I suspect their final
sentence will not sit well in some circles."
"This very clear and well-written manuscript
is an analysis of the relationship between MSU-derived and rawinsonde-based
[sic] tropospheric temperature variability and the Southern Oscillation,
as modified by major tropical volcanic eruptions. I find few faults
with this analysis from a scientific standpoint; my primary concern
is the lack of novelty. Climatologists have known about the
strong linkage between the SOI (and its cousins) and tropospheric
temperature for some time now. The authors acknowledge as much
and they include most of the key references on the subject."
8. Both reviewers are endorsing the paper, expressing
no major reservations and the second reviewer notes that we have
included the key references. These points are relevant to subsequent
3. THE SUBMISSION
9. As noted above, criticism of our paper appeared
almost immediately on an Internet one web site operated by Grant
Foster (under the pseudonym "Tamino") and shortly afterwards
on the website of Kevin Trenberth, formatted as if it was already
a published JGR Comment. These two plus seven others were listed
as authors of the JGR Comment when it was eventually published
(see footnote  for
10. The "Climategate" files, which
in November 2009 appeared in the public domain (hacker, whistle-blower,
accidental?), contain several emails about the writing, submission
and review of the Comment.
11. On the subject of reviewers one email
quotes the journal's instructions to authors:
3) Suggested Reviewers to Include
Please list the names of five experts who are
knowledgeable in your area and could give an unbiased review of
your work. Please do not list colleagues who are close associates,
collaborators, or family members. (this requires name, email,
12. but it also says
Agree with Kevin that Tom Karl has too much to
do. Tom Wigley is semi retired and like Mike Wallace may not be
responsive to requests from JGR. We have Ben Santer in common!
Dave Thompson is a good suggestion. I'd go for one of Tom Peterson
or Dave Easterling. To get a spread, I'd go with three US, One
Australian and one in Europe. So Neville Nicholls and David Parker.
All of them know the sorts of things to say - about our
comment and the awful original, without any prompting.
13. Contrary to the journal's request for reviewers
who "could give an unbiased review of your work", these
potential reviewers are being considered precisely because they
will "know the sorts of things to say".
14. After submitting the Comment, substantially
the same as that which appeared on the Internet, its authors received
copies of the reviewers' comments and these appear in another
15. Reviewer one says (in part):
This paper does an excellent job of showing the
errors in the analytical methods used by McLean et al. and why
their conclusions about the influence of ENSO on global air temperature
is incorrect. I have only a couple of suggestions to help clarify
their analysis of the methods.
16. And reviewer two says (in part):
I think this comment on McLean et al can be published
more or less as is.
I have two comments
First, in the abstract (page 3, line 15), I'm
not sure that "inflating" is quite the right verb -
the paper itself does not make the point that the filter constructed
by McLean et al inflates power in the two-six year window. Perhaps
"isolating" would be a better verb.
Secondly, I think the points that are being made
with Figures four and five could be strengthened by adding to
the right of each plot of a pair of time series, a scatter plot
of the pairs of values available at each time. Such a scatter
plot would help to clearly illustrate the absence (upper panels)
or presence (lower panels) of correlation between red and black
17. Reviewer three says in part:
The real mystery here, of course, is how the McLean
et al. paper ever made it into JGR. How that happened, I have
no idea. I can't see it ever getting published through J Climate.
The analyses in McLean et al. are among the worst I have seen
in the climate literature. The paper is also a poorly guised attack
on the integrity of the climate community, and I guess that is
why Foster et al. have taken the energy to contradict its findings.
So the current paper (Foster et al.) should certainly
be accepted. Someone needs to address the science in the McLean
et al paper in the peer-reviewed literature. But the current paper
could be - and should be - done better. That's why I am suggesting
major changes before the paper is accepted. All of my suggestions
have to do more with the tone and framing of the current paper,
rather than its content.
18. The first two reviewers seem anxious to help
the authors of the Comment even though their role as reviewers
is essentially to advise the journal as to the merit of publishing
19. Reviewer three starts out by criticising
our paper, which is outside the scope of his/her task and makes
comments that contrast sharply with the reviewers of our Paper
even though both sets of reviewers are supposedly experts. This
third reviewer then makes the very partisan comment "The
paper is also a poorly guised attack on the integrity of the climate
community...", and proceeds, like those before him (or her)
to offer advice to the authors of the Comment.
4. MISTAKES IN
20. For all their advice to Foster et al the
reviewers failed to identify several flaws in the Comment.
21. Firstly, the abstract of the Comment says:
McLean et al.  (henceforth MFC09) claim
that the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), as represented
by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), accounts for as much
as 72% of the global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA) and
an even higher 81% of this anomaly in the tropics.
22. But the introduction states:
They argued that more than two thirds of the interseasonal
and longer-term variability in global tropospheric
temperature anomaly (GTTA) (72% using the 29-year-long MSU satellite
record and 68% using the longer 50-year RATPAC-A record), and
an even larger 81% of the variation in tropical (20?S-20?N)
tropospheric temperatures, can be explained by the long-term variations
in the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). (emphasis
23. The first indicates a direct link between
ENSO and temperature while the second refers to variability. These
are inconsistent in the same way that velocity is not acceleration.
24. In fact in our abstract we said,
"Change in SOI accounts for 72% of the variance
in GTTA for the 29-year-long MSU record and 68% of the variance
in GTTA for the longer 50-year RATPAC record. ... The results
showed that SOI accounted for 81% of the variance in tropospheric
temperature anomalies in the tropics." (emphasis
25. These were the only two sentence in our paper
in which these figures are mentioned in this manner; in the text
we show them as R squared values (ie statistical constructs) in
the context of a discussion about derivatives based on the change
in temperature and the change in SOI. At all points we refer to
change in values rather than absolute values, which
is not what the Comment's abstract states. So why did the reviewers
fail to note the inconsistency?
26. Secondly, our comments appeared in our Abstract
and in the statistical form in our Analysis, but not mentioned
in the Discussion or Conclusions. The journal's documentation,
readily available on the Internet, says that Comments should be
directed at the main substance of a paper, but neither the reviewers
nor the journal editor noted the failure of Comment to address
27. Thirdly, the Conclusion of the Comment states
It has been well known for many years that ENSO
is associated with signi?cant variability in global mean temperatures
on interannual timescales. However, this relationship (which,
contrary to the claim of MFC09, is simulated by global climate
models, eg Santer et al. )
28. In fact we said:
We also note that Figure 1 of Lean and Rind ,
based on a different temperature data set to that used here, indicates
that their model underestimated temperatures during and immediately
following the predominantly El Niño conditions from September
1939 to January 1942, and overestimated temperatures during and
immediately following the La Niña dominated period from
August 1906 to December 1910. This suggests that their model poorly
replicated ENSO effects.
29. And shortly afterwards we said ...
Chapter 3 of the Working Group I contribution
to the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC)  notes the strong relationship
between the ENSO and various climate phenomena, including surface
temperature. Chapter 8 reports "considerable model skill
out to 12 months for ENSO prediction."
30. Claims that we said that the ENSO temperature
relationship was not modelled are therefore false, and the reviewers
should have identified this fact.
31. It appears to us that the peer-review process
has serious problems when reviewers cannot identify clear errors
of fact. It can also be argued that a competent editor would have
identified these problems for himself, but the publication of
the false information indicates that this was not the case.
5. OUR RESPONSE
32. In November 2009 we were advised that the
JGR had accepted the comment for publication and we were invited
33. This invitation came from a new editor at
JGR. The Climategate emails show that on 3 Aug 2009, less than
a week after our paper was published, one of the Comment authors
emailed the JGR to request that the editor be replaced
and less than three days they were advised that this had been
done. (The usual
practice is that the same editor that dealt with the paper then
deals with any subsequent Comment and the author's Response to
34. We inadvertently copied the editor on an
email between we three authors of the original paper shortly after
being invited to respond. In that email we noted that substance
of the response had been posted to the Internet, in the format
of a JGR paper, almost four months earlier and therefore was in
breach of the journal's regulations.
35. The editor's responded saying:
The Foster comments were subjected to the same
rigorous peer review that your manuscript passed. The fact
that similar comments were posted on the web is irrelevant. I
have not seen the Hadley emails, which are also irrelevant. The
comments will be published whether you submit a reply or not.
36. His first sentence is doubtful for reasons
given above and he is prejudging the contents of unseen emails.
37. During a subsequent rapid exchange of about
eight emails the new editor tried to claim that posting to the
Internet was not publishing, then he said that the posting had
used the journal's boilerplate (ie formatting template) before
quoting a journal regulation that said authors may post their
unformatted [sic] papers or their abstracts to their own Web sites
or their departmental Web sites according to certain guidelines.
38. In short the JGR editor refused to acknowledge
that the Foster et al Comment had in essence been published on
the Internet in JGR format.
39. In another of his responses during this series
of exchanges he said
I repeat, I will NOT reject a manuscript that
has passed peer review. I did not reject your manuscript although
it was clear after it was accepted that there were serious problems
with it. I am not going to hold a double standard.
40. The second half of his comment is in contrast
to those of the reviewers of our Paper (see earlier) and despite
another editor of the same journal accepting our Paper for publication.
The "double standard" that exists is the reverse because
our Paper complied with the regulations for publishing, was reviewed
and was duly published. The Comment failed to comply with regulations
about prepublication, Climategate emails show that the authors
nominated certain reviewers on the expectation of their bias and,
as noted above, the Comment contained obvious flaws.
41. None of the comments above about the editor
have a direct bearing on the peer-review process but they do show
the attitude of the person who selected the reviewers and subsequently
made decisions based on their comments.
42. We wrote a Response and duly submitted it
in January 2010. We said that the Comment focussed on a matter
in our Analysis and failed to address the substance of our Discussion
or Conclusions. (We did not mention it in our response but this
failure put the Comment in breach of documented procedures and
policies.) We also
pointed out that our finding of a seven-month time lag was not
inconsistent with the findings of others, including one of the
authors of the Comment. (For more information about our Response
see the document given in footnote 
43. We submitted our Response confident that
we had addressed the issues of substance. A few weeks later received
an email containing the reviewers' comments and editor's decision,
and again we found breaches of the journal's documented procedures
and a very flawed peer-review.
44. The journal's procedures say that a Response
is sent to one reviewer and the purpose of the review is to confirm
that the respondents have addressed the points raised in the Comment.
In an abuse of the journal's documented procedures our Response
was sent to three reviewers, not one.
45. Reviewer 1 said (in part) ...
The essence of this response to the comment by
Foster is that McLean et al claim that they did clearly characterize
their findings as pertaining to the relationship between the derivatives
of the Southern Oscillation Index and those of global mean temperature
anomalies, rather than to the original unfiltered time series.
Unfortunately, I find their defence to be rather disingenuous
- they certainly did not go out of their way to make it clear
to the reader that their conclusions and interpretations applied
only to these derivatives and not to the unfiltered SOI and temperature
series, and by omission of these reminders, they implicitly and
inappropriately invited the reader to interpret their results
as applying to these unfiltered series.
46. This statement is an opinion about clarity
rather than any question of the scientific validity of our response.
47. Reviewer two said that the correlation between
time-lagged SOI and temperature was weak, but we had said in our
Response that other minor forces (often characterized incorrectly
as "noise") influence both the SOI and temperature and
that a precise match cannot be expected. This reviewer made four
other minor points were made and asked for changes to the text.
48. Reviewer three starts with the comment:
REJECT! The reply by McLean et al to Fea10 (their
notation) is not worth publishing. The techniques they use and
conclusion drawn from them are largely bogus. How in the heck
did the original dog of a paper ever get through the review process.
Please check it out and reprimand the appropriate editor.
49. According to the journal's procedures the
review of our Response should only focus on whether it addresses
the Comment but this reviewer has decided to criticise our original
paper and only peripherally refers to our response to the Comment.
50. So three reviewers, not one, and two make
minor observations that might warrant some changes to the text
and the third concentrates instead on the original paper. Despite
these relatively minor criticisms from the reviewers, the editor's
cover note to the email (16 March 2010) said (in part)
"All of the Reviewers raise very serious
objections and recommend against publication. I therefore regret
to inform you that based on the Reviewers' recommendations, I
am unable to accept your paper for publication in JGR-Atmospheres.
Please note that the reviewers are highly respected members of
the scientific community. I consider their reviews to be unbiased
assessments of the the [sic] scientific validity of your response."
51. With this extraordinary statement, based
on a very flawed peer-review, and dishonestly saying that all
three recommend against publication, we were denied the right
of reply, which is an extremely rare situation for scientific
52. Our experience with our Paper shows many
faults with the current peer-review process.
53. Some reviewers seem confused about which
document they are to comment on (Paper, Comment or Response?),
what issues they should address in regard to the document, what
the document itself should be addressing, and the nature of their
role (advising authors or advising editors?).
54. Reviewers are also fallible. We saw here
their inability to identify inconsistencies, factual errors and
the fact that a Comment did not address the substance of a paper.
55. Because the process is not transparent we
cannot be sure that reviewers who were nominated "because
they know what to say" were not in fact those who reviewed
the Comment. Strictly speaking that would be a failing of the
journal but the fact that it may have occurred highlights a failing
that authors can exploit.
56. It is our view that while radical changes
to the peer review process are possibly justified, the various
scientific journals may be very reluctant to accept those changes.
Bypassing the journals via some new mechanism may not be the
answer either because the new system is likely to be considered
as somehow inferior.
57. Likewise disclosure of intended reviewers'
names to paper authors (and arguably the wider community) and
allowing objection on certain defined grounds would be an onerous
burden on journals. (In court the defence does not reject potential
jury members because they might favour the accused but this favouritism
can arise in peer review, as Wegman et al mentioned in relation
to the Hockey Stick temperature graph.)
58. It is our recommendation that journals introduce
a "checklist" approach to review. The checklist would
be tailored to match the nature of the article being reviewed
- Paper, Comment, Response. It would describe the reviewer's
task and list a series of items where each had a simple evaluation
scale (eg Yes/No, 1 to 5 scale, 1 to 10 scale) and space for relevant
comments. The final item on each checklist would be an assessment
of whether the article was fit for publication as it was, whether
minor changes or major changes were required, or whether the article
was entirely unsuitable.
59. In our opinion this approach is simple, comprehensive
and flexible enough to meet the requirements of different journals,
moreover its clarity should be of benefit to the journals as well
as to the reviewers and the authors.
EDITOR'S COVER LETTER AND REVIEWERS' COMMENTS
RE OUR PAPER
Manuscript Number: 2008JD011637
Manuscript Title: The influence of the Southern Oscillation
on tropospheric temperature
Dear Dr. de Freitas:
Attached below please find three reviews on your
above-referenced paper. At least one of the Reviewers has raised
questions and made suggestions for important revisions. Please
consider the Reviewer reports carefully, make the necessary changes
in your manuscript and respond to me, explaining how you have
addressed these comments. In your Response to Reviewer letter,
please include a statement confirming that all authors listed
on the manuscript concur with submission in its revised form.
The Reviews were mixed, but I am prepared to consider
publication providing certain doubts are resolved. Reviewer one
has mainly minor comments. Reviewer two points out that much of
what you present has been shown before. Therefore you need to
emphasise what is new about your work, as pointed out by Reviewer
This is a very brief paper and the lack of connection
with the previous literature on the subject is of concern to me.
This lack of connection even with the conclusions of IPCC concerns
me, as it has resulted in the throwaway last sentence which has
not been demonstrated in the paper. At the very least this needs
to be removed. If I have understood your paper correctly, it does
indicate a certain naivety that the variations you see in the
SOI are all natural. In the end, your work is unable to demonstrate
cause and effect, as you have only used regression. You have shown
a relationship between global temperature and SOI, but that is
in itself not new, yet the IPCC conclusions remain in contradiction
to your last sentence.
(Instructions for resubmission removed by submitters
to this inquiry)
XXXX XXXXXX (redacted by submitters to this
Editor, Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres
Reviewer #1 (Highlight):
Suggesting that the planetary temperature has not
been appreciably influenced by humans could be a headline throughout
Reviewer #1 (Comments):
Thank you for providing me the opportunity to review
the paper by McLean et al. on SOI and global and tropical tropospheric
temperatures. I found the paper to be well-organized, well-written,
and clear on the importance of the research. The abstract is informative,
reference section is excellent, and the graphics are of high quality.
The findings are likely to be of interest to a wide variety of
readers, but I suspect their final sentence will not sit well
in some circles.
Actually, claiming that SOI accounts for variation
is different from the issue of trend in the temperature data.
If the authors could expand this discussion a bit, the paper would
be strengthened. The key question in the eyes of many deals with
explaining any trend in the data, not just variation in the temperature
I would suggest some editing, particularly treating
"data" and the plural form of "datum". I am
also concerned that the authors appear to have made little or
no effort to conform to the style of AGU journals. Along these
lines, we find things like "Lacis et al; Sato et al"
on page nine (line 21) ... very odd to not see dates of the publications.
Reviewer #2 (Highlight):
Reviewer #2 (Comments):
1. The warming of the entire troposphere to ENSO
is well established, if not well understood. (for example, see:
Journal of Climate; Sep2002, Vol. 15 Issue 18, p2702, 5p)
2. The current manuscript documents the influence
of ENSO on global tropospheric temperatures with additional observed
3. It is very clear that the authors have spent
considerable amount of time in preparing the relevant datasets,
to reconfirm the previously well established results. I am not
sure if this is enough to deserve publication in JGR.
4. The manuscript would be more acceptable if
it leads to an increase in the current understanding of the mechanisms
behind the influence of ENSO on global tropospheric temperatures.
Review of "The Influence of the Southern Oscillation
on Tropospheric Temperature" for JGR-Atmospheres.
This very clear and well-written manuscript is an
analysis of the relationship between MSU-derived and rawinsonde-based
tropospheric temperature variability and the Southern Oscillation,
as modified by major tropical volcanic eruptions. I find few
faults with this analysis from a scientific standpoint; my primary
concern is the lack of novelty. Climatologists have known about
the strong linkage between the SOI (and its cousins) and tropospheric
temperature for some time now. The authors acknowledge as much
and they include most of the key references on the subject. The
only novelty that I see here is the use of differenced smoothers
rather than raw data in identifying the strongest lag correlations,
but this method is commonly employed in ARIMA modeling, which
is essentially what the authors are doing here. They do make the
case that these relationships have not been updated in some time,
and that is a valid point, particularly given the lack of recent
warming and the lack of a reasonably strong El Niño event
since the late 1990s. To convince me that this work is publishable,
they need to make a better case for either the novelty of their
analysis or the importance of the update, and preferably both.
I would not be concerned about where volcanoes are
located within the tropics. The key importance of tropical volcanoes
is that their ejecta is more easily transported into the lower
stratosphere via strong tropical convection. Thus, all volcanoes,
but particularly tropical ones, might have global impacts for
many months or years depending on the weather conditions at the
time of the eruption and the total mass of ejecta. Given this
variability, I think your assumption that the influence of volcanoes
is 12 months is an oversimplification (you admit as much). I
think you can address this by assuming different "influence
periods" for each volcano, then reproduce your fitting procedure
until you find an optimal fit. This may allow you to identify
the range of influence of volcanic eruptions (on temperature)
and help you to settle on an optimal fit by using a more objective
Please include a new figure showing the autocorrelation
functions for each of your best fit lines. These would be useful
to the readers to help understand the properties of the lagged
I think it would also be useful to see how well your
best model works in a predictive mode. You could do this a variety
of ways, including withholding some data or jackknifing.
Page 1, line 22. "SOI index" is redundant.
Page 5, lines 18-20. This sentence is unclear (to
your credit, it's the only unclear sentence in the manuscript)
Page 11, line 19. Change "is" to "are"
Page 12, line 5. Change "global temperatures"
to "global temperature anomalies."
Page 12, line 7. Add a comma after GTTA
Page 12, lines 24-25. The reader could mistakenly
infer that you are suggesting that greenhouse gases have not influenced
global temperatures since 1960. Although you say "temperature
variation," I think you could make this more clear. Throughout
the paper, you have not dealt with temperature trends, only the
short-term variability of temperatures about some mean value.
Given that this work on the role of El Niño is not new,
a statement noting that these results confirm earlier work that
most of the variations in tropospheric temperatures can be accounted
for by the SOI seems more appropriate.
You may find the following paper to be relevant:
Lean, J L, and D H Rind (2008), How natural and anthropogenic
influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889
to 2006, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L18701, doi:10.1029/2008GL034864.
PhD candidate James Cook University
Professor Chris de Freitas
University of Auckland
Emeritus Professor Robert (Bob) Carter
7 March 2011
10 Foster, G, J D Annan, P D Jones, M E Mann, B Mullan,
J Renwick, J Salinger, G A Schmidt, K E Trenberth (2010). Comment
on "Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric
temperature" by J D McLean, C R de Freitas, and R M Carter,
See http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=1003&filename=1249503274.txt Back
"Censorship at AGU: Scientists denied right of reply",
online at http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/agu_censorship.pdf