The title alone of the scientific paper could have suggested one of two things — either the author deserved a Nobel prize in science, or something very odd was going on.
Professor Steve Sherwood knew it was not the former.
The paper’s title was grandiose but sincere — “The Refutation of the Climate Greenhouse Theory and a Proposal for a Hopeful Alternative” — and appeared in a publication with a name that sounded like a legitimate scientific journal. But appearances don't always stack up, and neither did this paper.
“The paper is laughable,” Sherwood told DeSmog.
“It is so riddled with unsupported, fantastic and … or … unintelligible claims, arranged in a disorderly fashion and sprinkled liberally with innuendo,” said the director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
DeSmog has found the journal which that paper appeared in, “Environment Pollution and Climate Change,” is being led by a climate science denier who is advising notorious think tank the Heartland Institute.
The journal's editor-in-chief, Arthur Viterito, has signed several open letters dismissing the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to dangerous climate change.
Climate scientists have told DeSmog that anyone considering publishing in the “pseudo journal” should steer clear or risk damaging their reputation.
After just two issues, the journal has published six papers claiming to refute the science linking human activity to dangerous climate change — claims that run counter to the conclusions of all the world’s major science academies.
Climate scientists have described the papers as “garbage” and “ridiculous.”
Since being contacted by DeSmog, two academics have asked for their names to be removed from the journal’s “editorial board.”
OMICS defended its journal and choice of editor, saying: “For critics grapes will always be sour.”
The journal’s owner, OMICS International, says it publishes more than 700 “leading edge, peer reviewed” journals.
But OMICS is currently facing deception charges in the United States in a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC alleges the company has been engaging in deceptive marketing practices by claiming their journals were following rigorous peer review standards and had high “impact factors” — a measure of how often published papers are cited by other scientists.
OMICS also organizes hundreds of “conferences.” DeSmog has revealed that its so-called “4th World Conference on Climate Change” scheduled for Rome this coming October was being hijacked by a group of climate science deniers who claim to be investigating climate scientists for “fraud.”
After being contacted by DeSmog, both the World Meteorological Organization and the European Environment Agency said they were not involved in the meeting, despite the names of staff members being used on the conference website.
OMICS journals operate on an “open access” system where articles are publicly available but academics have to pay for their work to appear in them.
Acceptance Letter a 'Complete Fraud'
Two scientists listed as editorial board members at Environment Pollution and Climate Change told DeSmog they had not been aware of the nature of the climate articles being published at the journal.
One scientist, Manolis Tyllianakis, an environmental economist working at a UK government agency, had accepted an email invitation to be on the editorial board before the first issue had been published. He told DeSmog he had not read, written, or reviewed any articles.
He said he was “very sorry I was included in such a journal” and said his own research showed he was “completely against” the views being expressed.
OMICS had also published on the journal’s website what appeared to be an auto-generated “acceptance letter,” purporting to be from Tyllianakis saying he accepted the offer to be on the editorial board of the “prestigious journal.”
The letter, which Tyllianakis was unaware of but described as a “complete fraud,” claimed he was “happy to render my continuous support and suggestion(s) for the betterment of journal [sic] in favoring the dissemination of scientific knowledge for the respective research community.”
Tyllianakis has asked the journal to remove his name from its website. Another academic, who asked not to be identified, made the same request after being contacted for comment by DeSmog.
Viterito, a geography professor at the College of Southern Maryland, has published his research in another OMICS journal suggesting that global warming might not be caused by increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but rather by heat from undersea volcanoes changing ocean circulation patterns.
Sherwood said while “in science we do not try to stifle views that contradict prevailing expectations,” if he had been sent that paper for review, he would have recommended any journal reject it.
He said: “The peer-review process is meant to ensure that contributions to the literature explain clearly, do not violate known physical laws, and only make claims that are proportionate with the evidence presented.”
“The paper does not explain how a tiny heat flux at the bottom of the ocean could drive global warming while CO2, which traps hundreds of times more energy in the system, cannot.”
“Even worse, the overturning time of the deep ocean is over a thousand years, so it would take a thousand years for the heat to arrive at the surface making the alleged detailed relationship over the last few decades impossible.”
Professor Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University and a vocal opponent of climate science denial, told DeSmog: “This isn’t science. It’s politically motivated denialist garbage.”
He added: “Such sham journals make a mockery of the scientific process and must be exposed for what they are. Associating in any way with this pseudo-journal would endanger one’s scientific reputation. Keep your distance from this toxic mess.”
Skeptics Taking Advantage
Climate scientist Professor Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University explained that in traditional scientific publishing, “journals made money by subscriptions and the incentive for the journal was to publish really good papers because nobody would subscribe to crappy journals.”
He said while there were several good open-access publishers, the incentive for some was to “publish a lot of papers, since you make money from each paper you publish regardless of whether anyone actually reads the paper.”
He added: “From this market failure arose the predatory open-access publication, where marginal academics can get stuff published that would never get published in legitimate journals.
“Climate skeptics have simply taken advantage of this to get their particular brand of bullshit published. Ultimately, though, most people know a fourth-rate journal when they see it and I don't think these faux peer-reviewed papers are taken seriously by anyone. At least I hope not.”
Viterito took the role as editor-in-chief three months after the FTC announced its court action against India-based OMICS International.
Viterito said he was “concerned” about the FTC case, but said the “main claim made against OMICS is that they do not disclose publication fees with prospective authors” — an issue he said did not apply to his journal, which clearly stated the US$519 publication fee in its “instructions for authors.”
A lawyer at FTC dealing with the case has told DeSmog the allegations center on the way OMICS journals and conferences are marketed, and claims made about academic rigor.
OMICS has dismissed the allegations and has filed a court motion to dismiss the charges.
Viterito Defends Journal
Viterito is listed as an “expert” on the website of the Heartland Institute — a “think tank” which is among the most enthusiastic pushers of climate science denial and which has received funding from ExxonMobil, the Koch family foundations, and the Mercer Family Foundation (a major financer of Trump's campaign).
Viterito said he was not paid by Heartland. He said his affiliation with the organization was “limited to attending a few of their conferences, presenting some of my research findings for their podcast, and corresponding with their editors and analysts.”
He added: “I have also been invited [by Heartland] to comment on questions of concern in the areas of climate research, and have been quoted in their newsletter.”
Viterito said all papers sent to his journal had “three reviewers” and the peer review process was “fair and straightforward.”
But commenting on a paper in Viterito's journal — the one claiming to refute the greenhouse gas theory — Professor Sherwood said: “Among its claims is that the ‘greenhouse theory’ cannot be correct because real greenhouses have glass roofs and the atmosphere does not. Enough said. The fact that this paper was accepted demonstrates a total lack of any meaningful review procedure at the journal.”
Viterito added: “As for those who are critical of papers we have published, again, I say, that this is how science works. It is a marketplace of ideas, and some of those ideas will not be popular and many will ultimately prove to be false. Others, however, will stand up to their critics and become accepted.
“So, if some readers think that certain ideas questioning the nature of the greenhouse effect are wrong, then by all means they should debunk those ideas using the best science possible. At that point, those ideas will become part of the immense dustbin of discredited science. This, in turn, represents new knowledge in the sense that we now know what is not true.”
Many climate scientists argue the claims made by deniers have been explored and debunked many times over in the scientific literature, to the point where some scientists call them “zombie myths” because of their refusal to die.
Viterito is also a member of a group known as “Clexit” which claims that “global warming has occurred naturally many times in the past and is not to be feared — it is not controlled by carbon dioxide or humans.”
The group's statement adds: “This vicious and relentless war on carbon dioxide will be seen by future generations as the most misguided mass delusion that the world has ever seen.”
Viterito also signed an open letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to withdraw from the United Nation’s Paris climate agreement. The letter claimed that carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant but a major benefit to agriculture and other life on Earth” and that any warming from increased CO2 would be “benign.”
The FTC has published a guide for academics and scientists, warning them to “beware of predatory journal publishers.”
In response to questions, DeSmog was sent a long and idiosyncratic email from “OMICS Journal of Environment Pollution and Climate Change co-ordinator Rachel Martin” which said: “With our journal we are acting like a bridge between the science and the world. Please don’t create havoc/fake publicity by defaming our publisher or journal. Now last but not the least, raising question is very easy but acknowledging the hard work behind the publication is never considered by critics. For critics grapes will always be sour.”
The email added: “All the articles published in our journal have gone through a thorough peer review process. All assigned editors and reviewers thoroughly study the manuscripts and they provide their views/comments, which are forwarded to handling editor/editor in chief for final decision. We have even rejected several manuscripts which were not worthy to get published.”
Only one academic had requested their name be removed from the journal's editorial board, the email said.
The email also sought to confirm Viterito's suitability for the role, stating: “We would like to clearly verify that our esteemed Editor-in-Chief Dr. Arthur Viterito was invited from our side on basis of his research and contributions towards environment science.”
The journal co-ordinator provided DeSmog a list of Viterito's affiliations to scientific associations and also a list of 14 articles written or co-written by Viterito — 13 of which were at least 24 years old. The exception was Viterito's research published in a different OMICS journal.
Main image: A banner at the 2017 Science March in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Credit: Mark Dixon, CC BY 2.0