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Andrew Follett: Scientist Admits to Altering Research to Fit the Preferred Climate-Change Narrative

That certain researchers feel they must misrepresent facts so that their research can see the light of day should caution us against embracing consensus narratives. A recent widely cited study on how global warming is driving wildfires intentionally skewed its findings to fit the narrative on climate change with the goal of getting published in a prestigious journal. Don't take my word for it: Listen to the scientist who authored it. I just got published in Nature because I stuck to a narrative I knew the editors would like, Patrick Brown, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute, wrote in the Free Press. That's not the way science should work.

When published, Brown's research received blockbuster coverage from the Associated Press, PBS, the New York Times, and Bloomberg. These outlets often used the research to link the devastating Maui wildfires to global warming. There's a problem with that narrative, however, the scientist behind the research admits.

The paper I just published–'Climate warming increases extreme daily wildfire growth risk in California'–focuses exclusively on how climate change has affected extreme wildfire behavior, Brown wrote in the Free Press. 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.

That certain researchers admit they must misrepresent the facts so that their research can see the light of day should caution us against embracing consensus narratives.

Brown's decision almost certainly helped him get published in Nature, which bills itself as the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal and has published continually since 1869. It is certainly among the most high-impact and prestigious academic journals. However, that makes the journal's decision to focus on politicized gatekeeping by demanding that science adhere to an ideologically fashionable worldview created by confirmation bias yet more distressing. It also makes science itself less useful.

This research looked at the effect of warming in isolation but that warming is just one of many important influences on wildfires with others being changes in human ignition patterns and changes in vegetation/fuels, Brown wrote on Twitter. So why didn't I include these obviously relevant factors in my research from the outset? Why did I focus exclusively on the impact of climate change? Well, I wanted the researche [sic] to get as widely disseminated as possible, and thus I wanted it to be published in a high-impact journal.

Brown openly states that many climate scientists bow to the pressure from left-wing journal editors and intentionally skew their research to turn up results compatible with a preexisting worldview or political agenda. Since scientists must be cited in prestigious journals to land increasingly rare academic jobs, they fall into a feedback loop of catering to journal editors' desires. As there's roughly six times the competition for academic jobs today as in the 1960s, the only way to stand out from the competition is, ironically, to parrot the group-think.

I knew that considering these factors would make for a more realistic (and thus useful) analysis, but I also knew that it would muddy the waters of an otherwise clean story and thus make the research more difficult to publish, Brown continued on Twitter. Put simply, I've found that there is a formula for success for publishing climate change research in the most prestigious and widely-read scientific journals and unfortunately this formula also makes the research less useful.

Brown is commendably open about why he published the research suggesting that global warming is by far the most important factor affecting wildfires, because his previous attempts to publish less catastrophic but more factually accurate summaries of climate science were promptly rejected out of hand. He openly admits he needed to flatter the sensibilities of Nature's editors in order to publish, lest he perish in the harsh world of academia.

To put it bluntly, I sacrificed value added for society in order to mold the presentation of the research to be compatible with the preferred narratives of the editors and reviewers of high-profile journals, Brown writes. I did it because I began this research as a new assistant professor facing pressure to establish myself in a new field and to maximize my prospects of securing respect from my peers, future funding, tenure, and ultimately a successful career.

Brown also continued by noting that scientists regularly assume that humans and animals are incapable of even modest adaptation to changing temperatures or weather conditions, citing studies claiming that a mild increase in temperature will trigger numerous deaths from heat and social ills. In reality, they're much more likely to just cause modest changes in behavior. There's a reason, after all, that the warmest cities in developed nations have the lowest rates of heat deaths.

People are good at adapting, but this inconveniently weakens left-wing political narratives of impending doom. There is a taboo against studying or even mentioning successes since they are thought to undermine the motivation for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, Brown noted. The sacrifice of clarity for the sake of more impressive numbers was probably necessary for it to get into Nature.

But overt politicization hasn't affected just Nature. It has spread throughout academia and the scientific community to undermine academic rigor and the public's trust in science. For example, Holden Thorp, the editor in chief of Science magazine, another once well-respected publication, wrote on Twitter that The NRA [National Rifle Association] and everyone who supports them should burn in hell before deleting the tweet.

Thorp was hired by Science after resigning in disgrace from his position as chancellor of the University of North Carolina, following verified allegations that he masterminded systemic academic fraud at the school by creating a series of fake no-show classes in African and Afro-American Studies meant to boost the grades of student-athletes.

As standards fall, studies that turn up exciting results that editors want to hear often get published while studies that don't advance left-wing narratives in a clear-cut manner fail to be published — either because the scientist never submits it to the journals, or because the journal refuses publication.

This is happening quite openly in Nature. Science has for too long been complicit in perpetuating structural inequalities and discrimination in society, Nature announced in its ethical guidelines in August 2022. Potential harms to the populations studied may outweigh the benefit of publication. Academic content that undermines the dignity or rights of specific groups; assumes that a human group is superior or inferior over another simply because of a social characteristic; includes hate speech or denigrating images; or promotes privileged, exclusionary perspectives raises ethics concerns that may require revisions or supersede the value of publication.

As social psychologist Bo Winegard pointed out in Quillette, These new guidelines have been designed to reject any article deemed to pose a threat to disadvantaged groups, irrespective of whether or not its central claims are true, or at least well-supported.

Nature's publication guidelines state that it will reject, retract, and repudiate any research that promotes privileged, exclusionary perspectives – which apparently means any perspective or fact that might challenge progressive dogmas or, worse yet, lend ammunition to their political adversaries.

Andrew Follett conducts research analysis for a nonprofit in the Washington, D.C., area. He previously worked as a space and science reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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Posted: September 9, 2023 Saturday 06:30 AM