Highly respected genetics journal reveals its political ideology
By Dan Nebert |September 3rd, 2019
This story—and email chain—is an excellent example of what we (in “honest science”) are facing these days. The “story” began with a 1-page editorial that appeared in Nature Genetics [Aug 2019; 51: p. 1195], titled “Genetics for a warming world”:
“Record high temperatures are being seen worldwide, thus placing strains on human health and disrupting the availability of essential resources such as food and water. Aberrant weather patterns in the form of intense storms or prolonged drought have put pressure on our agricultural systems and underscored the need for adaptation to a changing climate across many sectors. Complex problems require complex solutions, and genetic approaches could be a powerful tool for helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.
“Currently, scarcely a day goes by without a new report of increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, or anomalous weather phenomena affecting areas worldwide. From the wildfires of California to the record-breaking heat experienced in France this summer; and from the accelerated warming of the Arctic to the increasing intensity of life-threatening storms forming in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it is clear that we are living in a new reality. The fact that 18 out of the 19 warmest years on record have been since 2001 —cannot be ignored. Such an all-encompassing issue as the warming of the planet requires big and bold responses from potentially many different disciplines, and there will be no simple solutions. Even so, genetic approaches are poised to positively contribute to the adaptation and resilience of the environment, both natural and human-made, to dampen or control the effects of a changing global climate.” [The other five paragraphs described genetic technology being developed to help plants thrive under heat and dought conditions.]
As someone knowledgeable in climatology, I felt compelled to submit to Nature Genetics the following:
Reply to “Genetics for a warming world”
Letter-to-the-Editor: I have subscribed to Nature Genetics ever since its inception and have always admired your journal, because it had never capitulated to the political, nonscientific journalistic pressure associated with “global warming” alarmism. Until now—when I saw your opening editorial page of the August 2019 issue. Please allow me to offer a rebuttal to some of the most flagrant misinformation statements among the early sentences:
—“Currently, scarcely a day goes by without a new report of increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, or anomalous weather phenomena affecting areas worldwide.” —These news media reports are written by journalists who wish to get the Reader’s or TV-viewer’s attention. This deceitfulness is intended to increase sales of newspapers/magazines and higher ratings of TV news programs. H. L. Mencken suggested: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
—“From the wildfires of California…” —These wildfires are principally caused by poor forest management; environmentalists have chosen to preserve dangerously dry underbrush, which makes these tinder-box areas highly vulnerable to fire — whether it be initiated by lightning, careless cigarette or campfire, or spark from any machine.
—“… to the record-breaking heat experienced in France this summer…” —This observation in France is off-set by the record-breaking cold, experienced in eastern Europe at the same time. Every meteorologist knows that extreme weather events occur somewhere, virtually every day; to ascribe these extreme events to “climate change” is patently dishonest.
—“…and from the accelerated warming of the Arctic…” —The Arctic has gotten warmer, and then cooler, for many thousands of years. On the other hand, the Antarctic has shown negligible changes in temperature trend since satellite measurements began in 1979. Any “observation this year” represents “changes in weather” (measured in weeks, months, a year) — which must be distinguished from “climate change” (occurring over decades, centuries). As one region of the Northern (or Southern) Hemisphere gets warmer for a year, or several years, other regions invariably exhibit cooler temperatures.
—“…to the increasing intensity of life-threatening storms forming in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, …” —There is no statistically significant change in intensity or frequency of destructive storms in recent decades, compared with that of 50 or 200 years ago1.
—“…it is clear that we are living in a new reality.” —We are living in an era in which hype, hysteria, and imaginary “facts” have become rampant in all areas of science, as well as nonscientific fields. In my opinion, much of this can be attributed to the internet and instantaneous “fake news” via social media outlets.
—“The fact that 18 out of the 19 warmest years on record have been since 2001, cannot be ignored.” —This statement is meaningless — because of the large degree of variation in satellite-measured global atmospheric temperatures. The fact is there has been insignificant further warming since 1998. In fact, even among climatology scientists, “mean global atmospheric temperature” continues to be debated2.
Meteorological facts: [a] a warming period (from ~1978 to 1998) did occur, but the global temperature trend since then — has been insignificant2; [b] because of a strong El Niño, 1998 had the “warmest months” since satellite-measured global atmospheric temperatures began in 1979); [c] NASA UAH measurements show 2016 to be the “warmest year” of the satellite record, but this is not statistically significant due to the great amount of variability in measurements3; [d] from 1750 to the present, several years between 1933 and 1942 in the Northern Hemisphere were probably “warmer” than any other year, before or since.
The sun is believed to play an important role in weather and climate change — but to what extent, remains to be quantified. Solar cycles occur roughly every 11 years. Solar activity in 1980 (peak of solar cycle #21) represented 200-400 sunspots per month; so far, in 2019 (end of SC #24), solar activity has ranged from <1 to 10 per month; the sun has been without sunspots 62% of the time in 20194,5,6. This current solar minimum is predicted to be the deepest since 1906. There are now forecasts that the end of SC #25 (predicted to occur in ~2031-32) will be the weakest in more than 200 years and might even reach the depths of the Maunder Minimum (~1645-1715) — when sunspots were very infrequent; this occurred in the Little Ice Age (~1300-1870) during which time Europe and North America experienced much colder winters than those since. Shouldn’t we be more concerned today about “global cooling” than “global warming?”
The German physicist Daniel G. Fahrenheit invented the mercury thermometer in 1714. Before thermometers, we know that our planet experienced the Minoan Warm Period (~1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C.), the Roman Warm Period (~250 B.C. to 400 A.D.), and the Medieval Warm Period (~950 A.D. to 1250 A.D.). Without thermometer documentation (and therefore only hearsay), all three of these eras are believed to have experienced substantially higher global temperatures than those during the past three centuries. In fact, there is evidence of grape-growing and wine-making during the Medieval Warm Period near Stockholm.
—Daniel W. Nebert, Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Competing interests statement: The author declares no competing financial interests.
I thank William Happer (Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Princeton University, New Jersey 08544, USA); Richard S. Lindzen (Professor Emeritus, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA); and Gordon Fulks (Ph.D. from Department of Physics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA, now retired in Corbett, Oregon 97060, USA) — for valuable conversations and helpful suggestions.
1Pielke Jr R.A., The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (Charleston SC; Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes), 2014
2Lindzen R., Straight talk about climate change. Acad. Quest. (Natl Assn of Scholars) doi 10.1007/s12129-017-9669-x (Springer Science+Business Media), 2017
[And, in my accompanying Cover Letter (as requested), I had listed six climatologists from around the world as “suggested Reviewers” of my Letter-to-the-Editor.]
Within one day, I received this “internal review” by the Nature Genetics Chief Editor:
Dear Prof NEBERT,
Thank you for submitting your manuscript entitled “Reply to ‘Genetics for a warming world’,” for consideration. I regret that we are unable to publish it in Nature Genetics.
We appreciate your points; however, the main thrust of the editorial was on genetic solutions for crop improvement, stemming from our “Plants of the Future” meeting. At this meeting, researchers presented their current work on engineering heat- and drought-tolerant crops. Thus, the topic of climate change is indeed relevant to our readership, as our authors and readers are actively working on developing genetic approaches to meet the needs of changing environments.
I am sorry that we cannot respond more positively on this occasion.
Sincerely, Catherine Potenski, PhD, Chief Editor; Nature Genetics, New York, NY 10004 firstname.lastname@example.org
To which I answered with a brief note, clarifying her concerns:
Dear Dr. POTENSKI,
Western civilization today lives in “the age of narratives,” where propagandized story lines — rather than facts — matter. When will this end? Or, because of the expanding power of the internet, … will it ever end?
There is a world of difference between “a warming world” (which is not happening) and “climate change” (which has been occurring since Earth first formed). Nobody is opposed to breeding plants and animals adapted to various conditions (extreme wet, extreme cold, droughts, etc.). Norman Borlaug was rightly honored for his work in this area with classical methods of breeding. Obviously, modern genetic engineering can help with breeding plants and animals.
The problem with your Nature Genetics editorial was the highly misleading title (‘warming world’), and the hysterical tone of the introductory heading and the first paragraph. These “sentiments” — reflecting political opinions of dishonest “climate scientists” — continue to be promoted, principally to ensure that copious amounts of federal money will keep paying for their salaries and grants.
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In conclusion, “Nature.com” is a vast organization comprising 148 journals [https://www.nature.com/siteindex] that includes about 80 with “Nature” in the title. The original, Nature, was founded in 1869. Nature Genetics began in 1992 and is currently on volume 51; as a geneticist/genomicist, I have carefully read each month’s issue since this journal began. Moreover, I have boasted to colleagues about the “purely scientific pursuit” of Nature Genetics — compared with the political agenda of Nature and many of its associated journals that I have observed over the past 2-3 decades.
The intention of my Letter-to-the-Editor was to correct and clarify their mistaken opinions about global warming, because most genetics people know little about climate science. However, given the disingenuous, dodgy (and such a quick) response by Chief Editor Potenski — oozing with political correctness and ignoring scientific facts — I have now become extremely disillusioned by all aspects of the “Nature.com” organization. Sadly, my conclusion is that “fake news” and “fake science” continue to expand, in our world of the internet, with increasingly alarming swiftness. My fear is that this trend will destroy future generations of scientists, because they will no longer be able to distinguish between fact and fiction. And I’m beginning to fear that this trend might be irreversible.
Daniel (“Dan”) Walter Nebert is an American physician-scientist, molecular biologist, and geneticist. He has authored/coauthored publications in fields of biochemistry, molecular biology, pediatrics, developmental biology, pharmacology, drug metabolism, toxicology, mouse genetics, human genetics, evolutionary genomics, gene nomenclature, and cancer.