In an echo of the infamous “Climategate” scandal at the University of East Anglia, one of the world’s top academic journals rejected the work of five experts after a reviewer privately denounced it as “harmful”.
Lennart Bengtsson, a research fellow at the University of Reading and one of the authors of the study, said he suspected that intolerance of dissenting views on climate science was preventing his paper from being published. “The problem we now have in the climate community is that some scientists are mixing up their scientific role with that of a climate activist,” he added.
Professor Bengtsson’s paper challenged the finding of the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the global average temperature would rise by up to 4.5C if greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were allowed to double.
It suggested that the climate might be much less sensitive to greenhouse gases than had been claimed by the IPCC in its report last September, and recommended that more work be carried out “to reduce the underlying uncertainty”.
The five contributing scientists, from America and Sweden, submitted the paper to Environmental Research Letters, one of the most highly regarded journals, at the end of last year but were told in February that it had been rejected.
A scientist asked by the journal to assess the paper under the peer review process wrote that he strongly advised against publishing it because it was “less than helpful”.
The unnamed scientist concluded: “Actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of ‘errors’ and worse from the climate sceptics media side.”
Professor Bengtsson resigned from the advisory board of Lord Lawson of Blaby’s climate sceptic think-tank this week after being subjected to what he described as McCarthy-style pressure from fellow academics.
Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor, said that the pressure exerted by other climate scientists had been appalling and the comparison with McCarthyism was “fully warranted”.
The claims are a stark reminder of events at the University of East Anglia in 2009. Scientists there were accused of manipulating data and suppressing critics of global warming predictions in the run-up to the crucial Copenhagen climate change conference.
They were later cleared, though the IPCC was found to have misrepresented their research by failing to reflect uncertainties over raw temperature data.
Professor Bengtsson, the former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, said he accepted that emissions would increase the global average temperature but the key question was how quickly.
He added that it was “utterly unacceptable” to advise against publishing a paper on the ground that the findings might be used by climate sceptics to advance their arguments. “It is an indication of how science is gradually being influenced by political views. The reality hasn’t been keeping up with the [computer] models. Therefore, if people are proposing to do major changes to the world’s economic system we must have much more solid information.”
Scientists from around the world sent messages of support to Professor Bengtsson. David Gee, a former geology professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, wrote: “The pressure on you from the climate community simply confirms the worst aspects of politicised science. I have been reprimanded myself for opposing the climate bandwagon, with its blind dedication to political ambitions…..