Unsound climate research are being published: experts

A misleading study that casts doubt on climate change is finally published in a peer-reviewed journal, scientists warn, citing a recent article from a German court case in which the authors denied a conflict of interest.

Observers have long questioned the proliferation of research journals that charge enthusiastic scholars but often publish their work without rigorous peer review. They say the neutral authors are using an exaggerated rating system to dismiss the scientific evidence that justifies climate action.

“The recent explosion of so-called ‘predatory journals’ raises questions that climate skeptics are actively exploring,” said Carl Schleissner, a scientist at the research group Climate Analytics. “It opens the door for people who want to do questionable research.”

“The recent explosion of so-called’predatory journals’ is causing problems that climate skeptics are actively investigating,”

Carl Schleussner, a scientist at research group Climate Analytics.

Exploring Glaciers in Peru
The study ruled out that human-induced warming is causing Peru’s glaciers to melt and the resulting flood risk.

Two of the authors are former executives of RWE, the German energy company that filed the glacier lawsuit, and both are prominent opponents of climate change. Their research was published in November 2022 in the South American Journal of Earth Sciences, owned by leading Dutch publisher Elsevier.

Like many other journals, this one charges authors for papers that must be peer-reviewed before publication. Activists say melting glaciers like Mount Palcazaru are at risk of flooding.

Campaigners say melting glaciers such as Mount Palcajaru pose a flood threat. Credit: AFP.

The paper attacked an earlier study by Oxford University scientists who cited local farmers as evidence that the plaintiff in the Peru case, RWE’s carbon emissions, contributed to global warming. Paleoclimatologist Nathan Stansell of Northern Illinois University is one of the scientists cited in the German-led paper.

“The coverage was full of misinformation, mischaracterization, and bias,” he told AFP. “It was warm in the Middle Ages, so there’s no surprise about the recent warming,” he said.

“Most of the paleoclimate community recognizes that groups trying to spread these misconceptions cannot compete with solid scientific data.”

Two other scientists cited in the study, Ben Marzion of the University of Bremen and Jorge Strelin of the University of Cordoba in Argentina, also told AFP that their work was being misused. Strelin said the images he builds on top of the ones he used in the study show no evidence that a single glacier has retreated dramatically in recent decades.

Two former RWE figures, lead author and geologist Sebastian Lüning and chemist and politician Fritz Warenholt, did not respond to AFP’s request for comment. Rupert Stewart-Smith, the author of the Oxford study, published a formal scientific rebuttal of Luning’s work, disputing the use of certain data and detailing “inaccurate or misleading claims”.

Andrew Davies, Elsevier’s director of communications, told AFP editors that “we found no misconduct and the two research groups simply disagreed.”

However, the publisher acknowledged that information about the authors’ references to RWE was not disclosed in the study.

German energy giant RWE denied funding two scientific studies about a glacier in Peru. Credit: AFP.

The German energy giant RWE has refused funding for two scientific studies on Peru’s glaciers. This revelation appeared in the original “preliminary evidence” of the article but was lost in the version published in November 2022.

“The publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause,” Elsevier told AFP by email. It was stated that this disclosure would be re-included in the study after approval by the authors.

The company refuses to bear the educational expenses.
Another paper on Peruvian glaciers will be published in MDPI’s Remote Sensing in 2021. The study analyzed three years worth of ice flow data, assessed avalanche and flood risk, and concluded that there was no evidence of imminent flooding.

Stansell said the finding should be considered in a separate study because it “doesn’t seem relevant and doesn’t seem to be directly related to the main finding.” According to a 2022 article by research media group SourceMaterial (archived here), this study was funded by RWE. I quote the author, who denies this. The author did not respond to AFP.

RWE spokesman Guido Steffen told AFP the investigation “was conducted independently of RWE and the courts and was not funded or paid for by RWE.”

Regarding the Luning study, he said, “We did not commission this study and have nothing to do with it.”

In 2022, there was a flood in Pakistan. Emergency weather survey fails. Credit: AFP
In September 2022, climate scientists called for an article to be retracted, saying there was no scientific evidence of the climate crisis.

A peer-reviewed paper by four Italian scientists was published in the European Physical Journal Plus, published by renowned science publisher Springer Nature. The four scientists told AFP that the study manipulated data on extreme weather events and selected real facts.

In response, Springer Nature issued an alert to the paper and said it was investigating. At the end of March 2023, Christian Caron, editor of Springer Nature, told AFP that the research was “ongoing but still ongoing”.

“Additional materials received as part of the investigation are currently undergoing the usual procedure for an extensive review process that may take longer than expected.”

Payment for publication is a long-standing part of the business model of peer-reviewed journals. Their reputation is based on being the gold standard for academic publishing, with external reviewers required to rule out bogus articles and avoid using approximate or biased data.

But the cheap benefits of Internet publishing have led to an explosion of peer-reviewed journals, and some say standards have fallen. Ivan Oransky, the founder of a blog that tracks thousands of academic paper retractions each year, told AFP that some authors try to publish flawed papers in peer-reviewed journals that use unqualified reviewers.

“A lot of stupidity comes from reasoning,” he said. “It’s time for everyone to recognize that we’re trying to do better.”

More information: AFP Fact Check’s full investigation is published at

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