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Climate row pits academic publisher against The Times

The Institute of Physics, a respected academic publisher, has hit back at claims in a newspaper that one of its journals declined to publish a paper because the results in it contradicted the scientific consensus on climate change.

A story on the front page of The Times in London today described how a study that “heaped doubt” on the rate of global warming was “deliberately suppressed by scientists because it was ‘less than helpful’ to their cause”. The article, which appeared under the headline ‘Scientists in cover-up of “damaging” climate view’, went on to quote an unnamed peer reviewer of the paper as saying it would be “harmful” if it were published.

The paper was written by meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson of the University of Reading, UK, and was submitted to the Institute of Physics (IoP) journal Environmental Research Letters in February. It was rejected in early March.

In response to the story in The Times, the IoP, based in Bristol, UK, released the full comments from the review. Nicola Gulley, the editorial director at the IoP, said in a statement that the rejection of the paper was based on “the content of the paper not meeting the journal’s high editorial standards”. A passage from the newspaper article has been reproduced below, alongside the section of the peer review from which it is based.

“With current debate around the dangers of providing a false sense of ‘balance’ on a topic as societally important as climate change, we’re quite astonished that The Times has taken the decision to put such a non-story on its front page,” said Gulley.

In a statement put out through the London-based Science Media Centre, Bengtsson said he did not believe that there had been a “cover up” of scientific evidence on climate change. But he added: “I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer’s comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewer’s comments in full.”

Earlier this month, Bengtsson was announced as having joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) think tank, which describes itself as “open-minded on the contested science of global warming” and is often accused of being a climate-sceptic group. However on 14 May the GWPF announced that the researcher had resigned. Bengtsson said he had been placed under “enormous world-wide pressure” from academic colleagues who objected to his link to the GWPF. He compared the situation to the McCarthy-era communist witch-hunts in the United States in the 1950s.

Benny Peiser, director of the GWPF, said his group had nothing to do with The Times story. But he added that the reviewer’s comments showed that there was a clear political dimension to the rejection.

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