Patrick T. Brown, a climate scientist, wrote Tuesday in The Free Press that he deliberately omitted the “full truth” from a paper he recently authored in order to increase its chances of publication in a prestigious journal.
Brown explained his decision-making in the piece, asserting that he overlooked truths in his work in order to make it more appealing to the editorial biases of leading journals like Nature and Science. Brown and seven other authors wrote a paper which examined the relationship between climate change and wildfire risks in California, and Nature published the paper in August 2023.
Brown stated that scientists hoping to advance their careers by getting published in leading journals are inclined to tailor their findings to align with the biases of editors and reviewers, a dynamic which “distorts a great deal of climate science research, misinforms the public and most importantly, makes practical solutions more difficult to achieve.”
“I knew not to try to quantify key aspects other than climate change in my research because it would dilute the story that prestigious journals like Nature and its rival, Science, want to tell,” Brown wrote of his paper. He asserted that reviewers and “editors of these journals have made it abundantly clear, both by what they publish and what they reject, that they want climate papers that support certain preapproved narratives—even when those narratives come at the expense of broader knowledge for society.” (RELATED: ‘Shady Deals’: UN Enlisted Google To Push Down Opposing Viewpoints On Climate Science)
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“The only thing in Patrick Brown’s statements about the editorial processes in scholarly journals that we agree on is that science should not work through the efforts by which he published this article,” Dr. Magdalena Skipper, Nature‘s editor-in-chief, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“We are now carefully considering the implications of his stated actions; certainly, they reflect poor research practices and are not in line with the standards we set for our journal,” she continued, adding that “we have an expectation that researchers use the most appropriate data and methods when assessing these data, and that they include all key facts and results that are relevant to the main conclusions of a paper.”
Brown further pointed out that the incentive structure he criticizes induces authors to overlook or downplay practical measures for mitigating climate-related risks, such as reasonable forest management policies. Instead, authors are inclined to highlight the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, which skews scientific analysis and facilitates legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act that takes aim at problems rather than facilitating solutions, Brown asserted in the piece.
“When it comes to science, Nature does not have a preferred narrative,” Skipper said. “Nature editors make decisions about what to publish based solely on whether research meets our criteria for publication: original scientific research (where conclusions are sufficiently supported by the available evidence), of outstanding scientific importance, which reaches a conclusion of interest to a multidisciplinary readership.”
“In my paper, we didn’t bother to study the influence of these other obviously relevant factors. Did I know that including them would make for a more realistic and useful analysis? I did,” Brown wrote in The Free Press. “But I also knew that it would detract from the clean narrative centered on the negative impact of climate change and thus decrease the odds that the paper would pass muster with Nature’s editors and reviewers.”
The media also deserves some blame because reporters often take studies at face value in pursuit of driving traffic, Brown wrote.
“You might be wondering at this point if I’m disowning my own paper. I’m not,” Brown stated in the piece regarding his paper. “On the contrary, I think it advances our understanding of climate change’s role in day-to-day wildfire behavior. It’s just that the process of customizing the research for an eminent journal caused it to be less useful than it could have been.”
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