Monthly Archives: September 2011

An “off-topic” exploit against a peer-reviewed journal?

Wolfgang Wagner of the Vienna University of Technology recently resigned as editor-in-chief of the online, open access peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing. Wagner explains his decision here,

In July, the journal had published a paper by Roy W. Spencer and William D. Braswell of the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Compared with many others who study the question of climate change or “global warming,” Spencer and Braswell doubt the extent to which the Earth is heating up because of human activity.

One factor in the controversy was the accusation that Spencer and Braswell had snookered Remote Sensing into publishing a paper that they could describe as a peer-reviewed, scientifically respectable published work supporting their view about global warming. Remote Sensing is not a climate journal, and much of Spencer and Braswell’s paper wasn’t directly about climate change.

What was suspected is sometimes called “off-topic publishing.” Authors with controversial views about some subject like climate change might avoid journals with experience in that subject. They would write about other technical subjects instead, get published in journals which are interested in those other things, and then the authors might characterize the published paper as actually being about climate change. The idea, then, is to make an end run around peer review.

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