Of Schemes and Memes Blog

NPG journal club: How has Earth’s climate changed in the past 2,000 years? #NPGjclub

The first ever NPG Journal Club

On May 9th, the worlds of Geoscience and Google+ will meet as we present our inaugural NPG journal club. The focus of discussion: How has Earth’s climate changed in the past 2,000 years? This big climate question was recently brought to the forefront with the publication of a progress article in Nature Geoscience. In this paper, 78 members of the PAGES 2k Consortium reanalysed more than 400 records of continental temperature.

Trawling through all these records, the authors found that the late 20th century was probably the warmest period in the past 1,400 years. This result certainly made the news. But the paper’s wealth of data and analysis, and the finer details of each continent’s temperature ups and downs over the 2,000 years, are ripe for further discussion.

Nat geo climate

PAGES reconstruction of past climate by region. Credit: Nature Geoscience

The panel

We’ve therefore invited two authors of the paper, #PAGES executive director Thorsten Kiefer and postdoctoral researcher Nick McKay to discuss their work. They will be joined by Nerilie Abram, who is working on the marine side of the PAGES 2k project and is an author of a paper looking at 1,000 years of ice melt in Antarctica, and Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller and blogger at RealClimate, as well as editors from Nature Geoscience

How to watch 

To get involved, RSVP to the event on Google+.  The video’s URL will be available on the event page and will also be embedded at the bottom of this blog post. So make sure you add these links too your bookmarks.

How to ask a question

The panel is waiting to hear your questions, too! You can post your questions on the event page now, and throughout the live discussion. You can also tweet questions using #NPGjclub hashtag. Or you can post questions at the bottom of this blog post in the lead up to the event, but we won’t be monitoring the blog during the actual discussion.

Finally, don’t forget to read up: you can download the paper free of charge until the end of 9 May.

Join us there!


  1. Report this comment

    Stephen McIntyre said:

    Can you explain the decision to label the article as only a “Progress Article”, rather than a Research Article?

    Nature’s definition of Progress Articles http://www.nature.com/ngeo/authors/content_types.html says that such articles are “commissioned by the editors” and associates them with “fields that might not yet be mature enough for review”. It also states that such articles do not include received and accepted dates and places more restrictive word and display limits than full Research Articles:

    <blockquote>“When the discussion is focused on a developing field that might not yet be mature enough for review, a Progress article is more appropriate. Progress articles are up to 2,000 words in length, with up to 4 display items (figures, tables or boxes). References are limited to 50. Reviews and Progress articles are commissioned by the editors, but proposals including a short synopsis are welcome. Reviews and Progress articles are always peer-reviewed to ensure factual accuracy, appropriate citations and scholarly balance. They do not include received/accepted dates.”</blockquote>

    Thousand-year paleoclimate reconstructions clearly do not qualify as a “developing field… not mature enough for review”. So why was this article classified as only a Progress Article?

    Did Nature editors either commission the PAGES2K article or receive a short synopsis from the authors?

    Given the above policy against received and accepted dates, why did Nature you include received and accepted such dates for the PAGES article?

    Here is my surmise on the matter. The PAGES2K article presents eight different reconstructions using a variety of methods. Each individual reconstruction warranted separate peer review in specialist literature and it was impossible within the required time frame for peer reviewers to provide the peer review expected of a Research Article. As a way out of the review dilemma, one or more reviewers suggested that PAGES2K be published as a Progress Article, a recommendation that you adopted, even though the article did not fit within the definition. Can you comment on this surmise?

    1. Report this comment

      heike langenberg said:

      Thanks for the comment. Our Progress articles present a summary of a research field in progress, and in our view the PAGES 2k paper fits that description very well. We are not sure why you feel that millennial paleoclimate reconstructions do not qualify as a developing field; for example, the noted absence of a reconstruction for Africa suggests to us that the global climate record of the past 2,000 years, at a continental scale, is not settled yet.

      Progress articles are usually commissioned by the editors, but as stated on our website, we welcome suggestions from potential authors. These come ideally in the form of a brief synopsis, but of course we also consider full submissions.

      Thank you for pointing us to the received/accepted dates, and our apologies. We have changed our policy in this regard in 2012, and now include received/accepted dates in Progress and Review articles (see, e.g., http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v5/n9/full/ngeo1536.html for an earlier example). Unfortunately, we had omitted to update our Guide to Authors. We will do that as soon as possible.

      We (the editors) decide which format suits each article best, and in the present case, given that the article is a synthesis of much published work, we decided on the Progress Article format. Our Progress Articles are rigorously peer reviewed, just like our research articles.

      Heike Langenberg, Chief Editor, Nature Geoscience

      1. Report this comment

        Stephen McIntyre said:

        The term of your policy is “a developing field that might not yet be mature enough for review”. All fields are, in a trivial sense, “developing”. This issue, which you chose to misconstrue, was whether the field was “mature enough for review”. I submitted that it was “mature enough for review” and therefore ought to have been subject to the standards of review of a Research Article, rather then the lesser standards of a Progress Article.

        Otherwise, why would reviewers suggest (as seems evident) that it be published as a Progress Article, rather than a Research Article?

        1. Report this comment

          heike langenberg said:

          There seem to be some points of misunderstanding. To clarify:

          The maturity of a field is something we consider when deciding between the formats of the “Progress” or the “Review” article. In deciding between “Research” versus “Progress” article, we consider whether the contribution falls more in the category of a synthesis or in the category of entirely new research. Decisions regarding the most suitable format are made by the editors.

          All our Progress, Review and Research articles are rigorously peer reviewed. There are no “lesser standards”.

    2. Report this comment

      Darrell Kaufman said:

      To avoid any misperception about the review process for the PAGES 2k Consortium paper, the following has now been added to the project webpage (http://www.pages-igbp.org/component/content/article/126/653-2k-network-faq).

      How extensively was the manuscript reviewed prior to publication?

      The manuscript was reviewed carefully by anonymous peer reviewers and it was revised extensively to address their concerns. Specifically, the first round of reviews by three referees included 12 pages (6200 words) of comments, to which the authors’ point-by-point replies spanned 6 pages (3500 words). A fourth referee was added for the second round of reviews, which amounted to 6 pages (3500 words) of comments, with 3 pages of author replies (1400 words). For perspective, the text of the entire primary article is about 3600 words. This is an extensive review by any standard, not to mention the vetting of the manuscript among 78 co-authors during both the writing and review/comment phase.

      Moreover, the Nature Geoscience reviews followed the rejection of a previous version of the manuscript by another journal. Rejection is a common and healthy practice in the scientific peer-review processes — it provides opportunities for improvements. In the case of the PAGES 2k Consortium paper, reviewers of the earlier version were concerned that the study did not sufficiently address the extent to which the different reconstruction procedures used by different PAGES 2k regional groups influenced the overall conclusions involving inter-regional comparisons. In response, the revised version submitted to Nature Geoscience included three additional temperature reconstructions for each region. They were based on uniform mathematical procedures applied evenly across the regions. In addition, the revised manuscript included a site-level analysis in which each of the records that were used in the temperature reconstructions was analyzed separately, and without assumptions about the relation with regional temperatures (see FAQ: What are the ‘alternative reconstructions’ and ‘site-level analyses’ and why were these included?).

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