Berkeley scientist publishes research without peer review, sparks controversy


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When UC Berkeley researcher and physics professor Richard Muller published the results of a climate change study in a New York Times Op-Ed piece on July 28 before submitting them to journal review, he incited a controversy in the science community.

The results — which were published by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project which Muller and his daughter, Elizabeth, founded — show that the Earth’s temperature has risen 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 250 years, with 1.5 of those degrees rising in the most recent 50 years. The study matched this increase with the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.

Together, according to Muller, these two sets of data point conclusively to human release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as the reason for climate change.

Muller also stated in his article that Berkeley Earth’s findings were “stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” which is the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming, and added that he expects the temperature to continue to rise.

“Because we were able to get the temperature all the way back to (the year) 1753, we could look for the fingerprints of the various causes,” Muller said.  “We could look at volcanoes, ocean currents, solar variation and greenhouse gasses, and the match to the greenhouse gasses was so close that I had to conclude that they were essentially responsible for all of the global warming.”

What has caught the attention of the greater climate change science community is not Muller’s findings, which are consistent with research that has been accumulating for nearly half a century, but that Muller chose to release the results of the study in The New York Times, rather than through the traditional process of submitting the information to a science journal for peer review.

Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was one of the first to speak out against Muller’s article and told the Los Angeles Times that he “found it troubling that Muller claimed such definitive results without his work undergoing peer review.” Santer is out of the state and could not be reached for comment, but Santer’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison Director Karl Taylor agreed with this view.

“The research in this area has been going on for a long time, and scientists have looked at it very carefully and came to very careful conclusions before,” Taylor said. “It’s a little troubling that supposedly some evidence has come to light that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.”

Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and executive director of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, responded to these claims and said the information published in the New York Times article was worthy of immediate publication.

“The journal system takes a long time, and we felt that these findings were too important to keep from the public for another year,” she said. “We’re all talking about policy changes about global warming, and we were somewhat skeptical, so we felt that our simplicity of our new model made it much more convincing.”

Richard Muller’s research is also a marked departure from his previous opinions on climate change, as he was formerly among the skeptics who doubted its existence. The Charles Koch Foundation, responsible for funding a portion of the project, has likewise been linked to groups that have contested climate change in the past.

“They only accounted for one-sixth of our funding, and they wanted us to do good science,” Muller said. “They never gave us any indication of what they wanted us to find because they understand that science doesn’t work that way.”

The findings were released online in an effort to practice “traditional peer review,” according to Richard Muller, who asserts that all information was distributed to scientists both publicly and privately.

“We are the most transparent group,” he said. “The peer review system is (that) you present public talks, publish your work, and you solicit criticism. We’ve gone through all of those, and we’re getting much better information from other people who’ve read the paper than through the preprint approach.”

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  • Mark Talmont

    I was in 6th grade in 1967. Our science book showed a graph of the preceding Ice Ages, (note the plural) and simply stated that we are coming out the most recent ice age and if the previous pattern repeats itself, it’s going to keep getting warmer, until at some point it will stop, and then start getting colder again (repeating the previous cycles).

    I hope you all understand there used to be glaciers in where Sacramento is now (about 20,000 years ago). Meanwhile “Greenland” once was actually green. It’s not quite as simple as you might like.

    I am for doing all kinds of things to reduce CO2 emissions whether or not it’s such an “all or nothing” case for man-made global warming. But I really object to the “warmers” plan to strangle us here in the U.S. while literally ignoring the biggest and fastest-growing emitters (India and China). “We have to show leadership” bleats Obama’s climate-change Czar, in response to this criticism. O.K. here’s leadership: how many of you would be willing to tax Chinese product 10% to reflect the damage the production is doing to the environment? Or does that mess up the demented “free trade” state religion they teach in the economics department?

  • berkeleyprotest

    The IPCC reports include graphs that clearly show atmospheric carbon dioxide as the causation of global warming

    • Calipenguin

      Allow me to explain what you see in the IPCC graphs. You are correct there is a strong correlation between carbon dioxide levels and temperatures. However, what the IPCC does not tell you is that there’s “…a lag of temperature behind CO2 of 1,000 to 5000 years between 17,000 and 13,000 years ago”. Does it make sense for something to cause something else yet lag that event by up to 800 to 5000 years?

      UCSD paper:

      Another article:

      Since I love football analogies, it’s like saying there’s a strong correlation between the number of yards gained and the number of touchdowns in a game. Fine. But if a high number of yards are gained on a Sunday morning, then the two stats for the week would still be highly correlated but clearly the Sunday yards gained did not contribute at all to the previous day’s touchdowns.

      I’m not dismissing the IPCC theories. They could be right. But it’s important to maintain an open mind and dig a little deeper into what the graphs really say.

  • AmusedAlum

    Perhaps he is a graduate of Marcus Bachmann’s ‘How Not to Be a Koch-Sucker; Do as I Say, Not as I Do’ course.

  • Guest

    My favorite part of this is that the Koch brothers ended up funding more evidence for human-caused global warming. Keep the money coming!

    • Calipenguin

      I’m not trying to defend the Koch brothers, but Muller did say that his sponsors did not pressure him to arrive at any conclusions so at least the Koch brothers were being honest in this instance.

  • Calipenguin

    I can already spot a problem with Muller’s report. He uses simple statistical models to correlate greenhouse gasses with warming temperatures. However, as any Stat 135 TA can tell you, correlation does not mean causation. He should have had his report peer-reviewed.

    • Guest

      Did you even read the NY Times article? What he’s saying is that warming correlates with anthropomorphic CO2 more than with anything other variable they looked at. So if there’s some other hidden cause, people haven’t found it yet. Anyone claiming another cause would have to show that it correlates with the temperature record at least as well as CO2.

      And by the way, you can never prove causation in any reasonably complex system. People have only shown smoking strongly correlates with lung cancer. But honestly, that’s good enough for me to not smoke.

      • Calipenguin

        I’ve read it and re-read it and with all due respect your explanation sounds the same as his. He never said “anthropomorphic CO2” though, just plain CO2. And that’s the part which sounds weak. It’s quite possible for warming oceans to release more CO2, which means CO2 did not cause the warming, but is the result of ocean warming which would have occurred anyways due to natural factors (the same factors that give us El Niño and La Niña). However, in the NYT he says “As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise.” That sounds like causation to me, but nothing in his report indicates that he conducted any experiment to see if artificially increasing CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere can cause temperatures to rise by the amount he observed in historical data.

        Let me give a simple example of what I mean. I may observe a high correlation of Stanfurd t-shirts during Big Game week with increased numbers of Stanfurd students around Cal. I could make the conclusion that creating more Stanfurd t-shirts would result in more Stanfurd students. No other variable shows such high correlation, but I’d be wrong.

        Even if CO2 is the cause of the temperature rise in the last 250 years of human activity, Muller’s data does not prove that further increases in CO2 would cause a linear increase in temperature. For example, if you draw the shade in a room to block out sunlight, would a second shade block out twice as much sunlight or just a little bit more? Yet he is confident that an increase in CO2 would cause the temperature to rise. I hardly consider myself to be Muller’s peer but maybe someone on the faculty other than his team members should have reviewed his conclusions.

        • Hot Under the Collar

          Show me ONE credible scientific name that disputes his ultimate conclusion. The friggin’ world is facing global calamity while Big Money Republicans stick their fingers in corrupt legislative ears and pretend that it ain’t hot in here as they continue to rake in billions from their deceit?

          EXACTLY what part of this con job do you NOT get??

          • Calipenguin

            You’ve obviously already made up your mind about global warming but since you issued a challenge, I’ll try to answer you. There are two credible scientific names that dispute his conclusion. One of them is Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who is mentioned in this very Daily Cal article that you hopefully read in its entirety. The other one is Professor Judith Curry, a member of Muller’s own team and chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech who last year publicly accused Muller of hiding data showing global COOLING and who still disagrees with him today using Muller’s own data:


            I can’t fault you for not knowing this since you’ve already made up your mind. Dr. Curry’s opinions may also be wrong. But we here at Cal like to keep an open mind and at least try to investigate all the facts. Would it have been too inconvenient for Muller to at least get a second opinion before releasing his conclusions to the New York Times?

          • Stan De San Diego

            “Show me ONE credible scientific name that disputes his ultimate conclusion. The friggin’ world is facing global calamity”

            No, it is not, but thanks for sharing your ignorance and eco-hysteria with us. Fact of the matter is that mean surface temperatures in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere (where most industrial and CO2-producing activity is located) were warmer 1000 years ago than today, and that there have been a number of events (“Mini Ice-Age” of the 17th and 18th centuries, massive volcanic explosions releasing particulate matter into the upper atmosphere) that have depressed temperatures during that period. If you still deny this, why don’t you explain to us how Greenland got its name? Once again, correlation is NOT causation – get a clue.

          • I_h8_disqus

            The part of the con job I don’t get is that people like you still think this is just associated with big money Republicans. Republicans are not in charge, but nothing is changing.

        • libsrclowns

          I would like to welcome Dr. Muller, a well known warmer, to the noble fellowship of lukewarmers.

          In a recent op-ed, he forecast that land surface temperatures will rise 1.5°F over the next 50 years. That’s about the same amount that they rose since 1900 — and in the intervening period, life expectancy doubled and per-capita income in constant dollars rose tenfold in the United States.

          Muller wrote an important caveat, which is that warming would be much greater if atmospheric carbon dioxide rocketed upwards. Rapidly declining emissions in the U.S., resulting in large part from the exponential substitution of natural gas (sourced from shale), instead of coal for electrical generation, suggest this is not likely. Shale is ubiquitous worldwide, and what began here is likely to spread around the planet.

          Note that Dr. Muller is talking about land temperatures, which applies to about 30% of the earth’s surface. Given that the remaining 70% that is water tends to warm at about 60% of the land rate, his global warming forecast is 1.1°F by 2060, which is precisely lukewarm.

      • I_h8_disqus

        Your point shows why the peer review is necessary. Muller published something similar last year, and other scientists in the global warming community didn’t like that report either, because it didn’t provide any useful information. It is not the best science to say two things link up just because one scientist hasn’t found anything else that could also be a cause. The peer review could point out the weakness of what Muller is presenting, and keep him from looking like someone people should ignore. He already has enough hits against his reputation with his previous work and associations. Right now neither side really wants him included as an ally.

  • Cal77

    Smart people do stupid things. He has harmed his own study doing this and it gives the global warming deniers a strong argument that the research was not even strong enough to stand up to peer review.

    • libsrclowns

      The lure of the failing Lib biased NYTimes must have been too much for the Prof. to resist.

      • Guest

        He probably figured that he wanted to publicize his results to the mass populace and not have to wait for peer reviews so that it could get published in some obscure journal. It’s not like peer reviews will change the data, just the conclusions. And honestly, the only non-biased news source…is no news source lol. Everyone has at least one news source that they think is “pretty good”, but that just means that it agrees with their own political views. I guess if you want facts you have to pick up a scientific journal. Too bad they don’t have that for reporting.

      • NotYourClown

        Take a look at the Greenland glacier melts — or the temperatures outside — and TRY to say that with a straight-face. Who CARES where this was published?

        If you’d get off your knees, remove your mouth from the Kochs and start paying attention, maybe you’d understand that.

        • Calipenguin

          I took a look at the temperature outside as you requested. And you know what? This
          is the second Berkeley summer in a row that seems more like spring than summer. It just goes to show you can’t make global generalizations from a few select geographic locations. No climate change scientists has claimed temperatures around
          the world are climbing uniformly. In fact, that’s why they changed their name
          from “global WARMING” to “climate CHANGE” scientists.

          We also know the ice in Antarctica is growing, and not shrinking as some climate change scientists want you to believe. I’ll leave it up to you to find the news articles.

          What’s hard to believe though is that even the Arctic ice pack is bigger than last year, which would imply global warming really isn’t doing its job. The Arctic ice is still near historic lows, of course, but why would it grow rather than shrink from one winter to the next if global warming were accelerating?

          Once again, we ought to examine data and form our own opinions rather than rely on others to do our thinking for us. I’ve never claimed global warming isn’t real, but I do think Professor Muller should have asked someone to review his conclusions.

        • Stan De San Diego

          Can you offer an argument that stands on its own merits without blathering hysterically about the Koch brothers in every post? It’s as bad as someone obsessing over Al Gore – give it a rest.

        • libsrclowns

          How do you explain the ice melting prior to idustrialization? Followed by cooling?

          • berkeleyprotest

            are you paid to troll this board?

          • libsrclowns

            Another non substantive post by an uneducated clown. FAIL