You may have seen the headlines last week: “Former Top NASA Scientist Predicts Catastrophic Rise In Sea Levels,” “Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning,” “Climate Seer James Hansen Issues His Direst Forecast Yet." Facebook even told me it was trending. The problem is, all those headlines describe a study, and that study doesn’t predict anything. It certainly doesn’t predict 10 feet of sea level rise by 2100 (or even 2050) as a number of stories have claimed.
So what happened here? A few things. The circumstances surrounding the paper are unusual. First, the paper has not yet been peer-reviewed. (Many stories did make that clear.) It is currently undergoing a transparent review process for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Rather than the traditional, behind-closed-doors review where nothing is revealed until the final paper is accepted and published, the journal posts manuscripts immediately as “discussion papers.” As peer reviews are submitted, those will also be posted, as will the authors’ responses and their revisions.
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics isn’t the only journal doing this, but these papers aren’t normally publicized until the process runs its course. In this case, a press release initiated by the authors went out immediately. In fact, due to a delay getting the manuscript proofread and posted, news stories began running several days before the manuscript was available on the journal’s website. Only those journalists to whom a draft had been circulated knew what was in it.