“I just got published in Nature because I stuck to a narrative I knew the editors would like. That’s not the way science should work,” a PhD climate scientist and adjunct faculty member at John Hopkins University’s Energy and Climate Policy Program says in a commentary excoriating the nation’s media for putting their political agenda ahead of scientific integrity.
Brown holds a PhD from Duke University in Earth and Climate Sciences, a Master’s degree from San Jose State University in Meteorology & Climate Science, and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
In his commentary, “I Left Out the Full Truth to Get My Climate Change Paper Published,” Brown explains that the editors’ selection of materials to publish is driven by agenda-driven bias - and not by academic rigor:
“[T]he biases of the editors (and the reviewers they call upon to evaluate submissions) exert a major influence on the collective output of entire fields.”
Rather than publish scientific papers that present the full picture regarding topics like climate change, editors refuse to publish those that don’t paint climate change as the virtually the only cause of any catastrophe – and that don’t tout greenhouse gas reduction initiatives like those in Democrats’ deceptively-named “Inflation Reduction Act.”
The exclusion of relevant information in news is what, in the media industry, is known as “Bias By Omission.”
Brown says he omitted, among other things, the “startling fact” that over eighty percent of wildfires in the US are ignited by humans, in order to get his paper “Climate warming increases extreme daily wildfire growth risk in California” published in “Nature,” a prestigious science journal.
“To put it bluntly, climate science has become less about understanding the complexities of the world and more about serving as a kind of Cassandra, urgently warning the public about the dangers of climate change,” Brown says.
Sardonically, Brown then suggests four “tricks” researchers can use to get their papers published in today’s biased, high-profile media.
Number one, researchers should strictly adhere to the climate-doom/greenhouse gas reduction narrative, Brown advises:
“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…but through policies like the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Second, “The authors should ignore—or at least downplay—practical actions that can counter the impact of climate change,” because the media’s goal is to shun any solutions, other than greenhouse gas reduction, Brown says.
“Here’s a third trick: be sure to focus on metrics that will generate the most eye-popping numbers,” Brown says, suggesting that researchers make extreme, dire predictions of the horrors that may potentially, someday, be caused by climate change.
A fourth trick Brown says researchers can use to impress editors, reviewers and media is to “always assess the magnitude of climate change over centuries, even if that timescale is irrelevant to the impact you are studying.”
Brown calls on media to stop focusing exclusively on greenhouse gas emissions and to amend their review process in order to publish papers that present all the facts, not just those that advance their climate agenda.
Researchers also need to do their part to ensure scientific integrity, by either starting to stand up to editors “or find other places to publish,” Brown says.
“I left academia over a year ago, partially because I felt the pressures put on academic scientists caused too much of the research to be distorted,” Brown explains, noting that he is now a member of The Breakthrough Institute, a private nonprofit research center.
Brown’s paper was received by “Nature” on July 22, 2022, accepted on July 17, 2023 and published last month, on August 30.