An astonishing article by climate scientist, Dr Patrick Brown, gives an extraordinary insight into how researchers might be persuaded to leave out “the full truth” about climate change in order to get their work published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals.
Brown, who is co-director of the climate and energy team at The Breakthrough Institute, Berkeley, published a paper last week in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, on changes in extreme wildfire behavior under the influence of climate change.
As he notes: “Because Nature is one of the world’s most prestigious and visible scientific journals, getting published there is highly competitive, and it can significantly advance a researcher’s career.”
But he reveals that he “left out the full truth to get my climate change paper published” – claiming that his research was published in Nature “because I stuck to a narrative I knew the editors would like”.
“That’s not the way science should work,” he rightly points out.
Brown, who is also a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, says that the press focuses “intently” on climate change being the root cause of wildfires, but he pointed out research that said 80 percent of wildfires are ignited by humans.
However, he says, deviating from the mainstream narrative would likely mean research would not be published – a risk scientists don’t want to take.
“I am very proud of this research overall. But I want to talk about how molding research presentations for high-profile journals can reduce its usefulness & actually mislead the public,” he tweeted.
Brown wrote more about his decision in the Free Press:
The first thing the astute climate researcher knows is that his or her work should support the mainstream narrative—namely, that the effects of climate change are both pervasive and catastrophic and that the primary way to deal with them is not by employing practical adaptation measures like stronger, more resilient infrastructure, better zoning and building codes, more air conditioning—or in the case of wildfires, better forest management or undergrounding power lines—but through policies like the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So in my recent Nature paper, which I authored with seven others, I focused narrowly on the influence of climate change on extreme wildfire behavior. Make no mistake: that influence is very real. But there are also other factors that can be just as or more important, such as poor forest management and the increasing number of people who start wildfires either accidentally or purposely. (A startling fact: over 80 percent of wildfires in the US are ignited by humans.)