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“The Lancet” on Health and Climate Change: A Tale of Editorial Bias

December 23, 2019

By Paul Homewood




You will recall I critiqued the latest Lancet report on climate change last week. It elicited this comment:



Prof Florin and Dr Allen detailed the full story a couple of weeks ago on the Saltbush Club website:

The public has every right to expect that scientific medical journals should impartially quest after truth. However, even the respected journal, The Lancet, has difficulty with maintaining impartiality when it comes to the subject of climate change. Who would have expected this?

We lay before you a tale of apprehended bias by its Editor-in-Chief, supported by an impotent ombudsman.

The story begins with a 35-page document on health and climate change, The Lancet Commissions (2015), which Dr Allen critiqued and sent to the lead author, Nick Watts. The Lancet has since published annually a Countdown Report on health and climate change.

In response to the November 2018 Countdown Report, Prof Tim Florin and Dr Allen wrote a letter to the Editor in December 2018, arguing that the authors of the Report lacked objectivity and rigour, and failed to properly apply the Precautionary Principle that they so lauded.

Our letter must have had some merit because it was accepted in January after a peer review process.

The fun and skulduggery by The Lancet was about to commence.

It is normal to publish a topical letter and author’s reply in one of the ensuing weekly issues of the journal. However, while the publication proof was approved by The Lancet shortly after acceptance, the letter was not published until 1 June. It apparently took that long for the Countdown Report authors to exercise their right of reply.

Of more concern, the approved proof for publication was altered without consultation by The Lancet: 16 numbers in the text, which pointed to references in the approved appendix, were removed for the eventual publication. This should never occur with ethical publishing.

While our short letter conformed to The Lancet’s required size specification for a topical letter, the Countdown authors’ right of reply was nearly twice the length of our letter, spurious and defensive, quoting Dr Allen’s earlier critique out of context, identifying Prof Florin and Dr Allen as members of Saltbush and quoting that out of context.

That this is a travesty of editorial practice, by what was once possibly a leading journal worthy of its proud name, is hardly contestable. However, there is more.

We raised our issues in a letter to the journal’s ombudsman, 6 June 2019. The final paragraph of the letter stated:

“It is of interest that the main thrust of our letter was to suggest that The Lancet’s high standard of objectivity was being compromised. This suggestion is now amply confirmed by the hatchet handling of our letter and the Report authors’ reply. Incidentally, the authors’ reply did little to address the main thrust of our arguments but focused largely on ad hominem attacks with regard to the related subject of climate change. The authors also quoted out of context (currently unpublished) work from one of us, clearly with a view to besmirch his name. Most of the large wordage of the letter in reply was neither directly relevant to the Report on health and climate or our points about lack of academic balance on that matter.”

22 June, we received: “I am the ombudsman’s liaison at The Lancet, and I’m writing to confirm that we have registered your concerns. In the first instance these are to be addressed with the Correspondence editor, and I understand you are in correspondence with her. Please do be in touch again with the ombudsman if your concerns are not resolved.”

A specialist editor with The Lancet, responded the same day:
“Thank you for your email. Please do submit a reply to the letter by Watts and colleagues, and the Editor in Chief and I shall read it carefully.

This looked like redress. A wrong was to be righted.

We followed instructions and submitted a second letter “Climate change and health: scientific rigour and the precautionary principle”. Then several weeks later, 8 September, we received the following:

“… the Editor in Chief has been on long-term sick leave. Richard Horton is now back, and after discussing your letter yesterday, we have agreed on a plan.

We will be inviting Nick Watts and colleagues (again) to respond formally but briefly to your letter, and we’ll publish the two together as soon as possible. … we are very concerned that your letter ends with a long list of un-referenced claims about the “radioactive pollution from producing neodymium from wind turbines”, and the “psychological damage, especially to young and vulnerable minds, from the use of fear…”. Rather than adding in these references – the existing ten references already exceeds the usual limit by far – I’d strongly recommend you remove these claims and form your final paragraph from the first and last sentence of that paragraph.”

In a spirit of true constructivism, we shortened our letter and kept references to the existing ten. We submitted the following letter –

“We appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Authors’ reply to our earlier letter1 in which we expressed concerns that the Climate Countdown Report 2018 compromised The Lancet’s high standard of objectivity by focusing entirely on the negative impacts of climate change on health.

“Rather than allaying our concerns, the reply reinforced them by ignoring our main points: the well-documented health benefits of a reduced diurnal temperature range due to warmer winter nights and the Gasparrini et al studies in The Lancet showing cold exposure to be far more lethal than heat exposure globally, and likely to remain so in most world regions, even without mitigation, adaptation or demographic changes.

“While advocating “objectivity and scientific rigour”, the reply sadly resorted to quoting unpublished material out of context, appealing to higher authorities such as the Bank of England, and ad hominem argument to impugn motives. It extolled “cheap renewable energy” to solve grievous fuel-poverty, but ignored the expensive infrastructure required to support intermittent sources; countries with the most have the dearest dispatchable electricity.2

“The authors’ “overwhelmingly negative” bias is evident in their statement that “any CO2 fertilisation effect will eventually be outweighed by heat stress, drought, and . . . a negative effect on grain quality.” Many studies show that higher CO2 levels mitigate heat stress3 and drought, 4 and improve some food qualities, 5 with most such studies employing 450-700 ppm. Negative impacts can be offset by varietal selection6 and nitrogen fertilizer.7 The authors seized on stalled wheat yields in Australia, due to drought, but ignored sequential record global yields8 and the IPCC statement that “there is low confidence in attributing changes in drought over global land areas since the mid-20th century to human influence”.9

“We acknowledge a human influence on climate but worry that the Report applies the precautionary principle without carefully weighing all pros and all cons in an objective and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. We believe that we share the authors’ deep concern for the health of the environment, but a narrow focus on CO2 reduction policies has already resulted in air-pollution from the post-Kyoto push for diesel, deforestation for the production of biomass and biofuel, and significant environmental and social costs associated with the manufacture and life-cycle of some resource-intensive renewables and battery storage,10 as well as other negative impacts beyond the scope of this letter.

17 September 2019, we received this reply.

“Thank you for the opportunity to consider your further submission relating to The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change.

After careful consideration, the Editor in Chief is not minded to publish this further exchange, and your letter is therefore declined.

I appreciate that this may be disappointing news; however this decision is final, and no further discussion will be entered into.

Best wishes,.. (signed the specialist correspondence editor)”

What can one say? What homily can this story deliver for the benefit of our society? The tale that we have told appears to demonstrate unethical behaviour by the long-serving Lancet Editor In Chief, Richard Horton. It would seem that the correspondence in this instance supports the aphorism that ‘the fish rots from the head down’. Reading between the lines, one can feel sympathy for the senior corresponding author.

The Lancet, which had a reputation second to none for lancing untruths, has demonstrated what can happen when a scientific journal becomes politicised.

Professor Timothy Florin (University of Queensland) holds an honorary position at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia. Before retirement, he was an NHMRC Practitioner Fellow, Head of the IBD Service, and co-Leader of the Infection Immunology Inflammation Program at the Mater Research Institute, and Senior Staff Specialist at Mater Hospitals in Brisbane, Australia. He remains active in medical research.

Dr Wes Allen is a GP in northern NSW, a member of The Saltbush Club and the CO2 Coalition. He has published papers in the Medical Journal of Australia and Australian Family Physician, letters in The Lancet, and has critiqued publications on both sides of the climate debate, including The Weather Makers and Slaying the Sky Dragon. He produced a White Paper on Climate Change and Health for the CO2 Coalition. He has both PV solar and solar HWS on his home and no vested interests in any energy-related companies. He cycles to work and elsewhere but has no illusions about saving the planet with a low carbon footprint.



The original comment from Florin and Allen was actually pretty innocuous, and can be seen here. 


 So much for the impartiality of scientific journals!



  1. johnbillscott permalink
    December 23, 2019 7:46 pm

    Using fear to condition children of their future uncertainty is morally reprehensible and very unprofessional. The rise in mental issues in immature brains will cause self harm including desperate suicides as the worst result. The medical practitioners, especially psychiatrists and psychologists will be very profitable, but, it will stretch our already stretched resources in all manner of medical interventions.

    It seems the leftie snowballs have taken over a lot of institutions with dire results.

    • December 24, 2019 7:04 am

      I am not aware of any academic institution that has not been taken over and corrupted by proponents of the climate change scam. Even the Nuclear Institute is fully behind the scam, despite the fact that nuclear power is hated by the rest of the Greenblob.

      Several years ago they did publish an article of mine pointing out the failed science behind man-made global warming, but it changed nothing and they continue to promote the climate change scam (presumably they feel the need to fall into line with government climate change policy. Not that it has done them any good since the government still thinks that intermittent offshore wind is better than baseload nuclear at keeping the lights on).

      • December 24, 2019 9:09 am

        The Engineer ( started in 1850s Brunel. Stephenson, Bazalgette, Gresley, all contributed, so you’d think – sensible, practical, based on empirical data…well think again)
        ‘moderates’ ALL comments & many that don’t conform to ‘the consensus’ never see the light of day; but tosh from ‘the green blob’ (Gteta, XR, WWF, BBC ) is quoted as gospel. Sad.

      • Broadlands permalink
        December 24, 2019 5:59 pm

        The AAAS in Washington DC (publisher if SCIENCE) is a heavy promoter of dire climate change forecasts and predictions. Their Community discussions are heavily moderated and any serious fact-based “global warming” skepticism is not let through for very long. Climate alarmism is tolerated along with ad hominem responses.

  2. Harry Passfield permalink
    December 23, 2019 8:27 pm

    How ironic that it was Nobel Prize-winners Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren, two Australian(!) researchers, who discovered the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. One is led to wonder how the present-day Lancet would have handled their discovery all those years ago…. Shame on them for lack of scepticism – and their surfeit of political dogma.

  3. jack broughton permalink
    December 23, 2019 8:34 pm

    I tried writing to the Lancet last year and got no reply from the editors.

    Their biased committee dominates, as in many areas of the meja: it is truly amazing how few technical journals will publish any letter or article that opposes the party line. Censoring all criticisms of the large volume of climate change nonsense that is published without any real checking is the ultimate in anti-science posturing as “proven science”.

    I certainly lack the tenacity of the Florin and Allen and greatly respect their efforts.

    • GeoffB permalink
      December 23, 2019 9:01 pm

      Who is influencing the Lancet to make these false claims? In short who is paying them? Soros, Gore, Grantham? Lots of questions, no answers.

      • jack broughton permalink
        December 24, 2019 1:03 pm

        Many serious scientists and engineers that I come into contact with have been as brainwashed as the general populace and are always astonished when I put forward an anti-PC view. Few have read anything beyond the pop-press to improve their insight, (Goebels was right about big lies). The concept of saving the world from a perceived-evil appeals to most people.

        Analysis of the forcing function rubbish that underpins all climate predictions takes a lot of work as does appreciating the statistical nonsense beloved of our meja, which Paul does so well here.

  4. It doesn't add up... permalink
    December 23, 2019 8:43 pm

    This editorial explains that the Lancet has now become a journal of climate alarmism:

    This bio of the editor explains the approach:

    Richard Horton FRCP FRCPCH FMedSci

    Richard Horton is Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet. He was born in London and is half Norwegian. He qualified in physiology and medicine with honours from the University of Birmingham in 1986. He joined The Lancet in 1990, moving to New York as North American Editor in 1993. Richard was the first President of the World Association of Medical Editors and he is a Past-President of the US Council of Science Editors. He is an honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University College London, and the University of Oslo. He has received honorary doctorates in medicine from the University of Birmingham, UK, and the Universities of Gothenburg and Umea in Sweden. In 2016, he was appointed to the High-Level Working Group for the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children, and Adolescents. In 2016, he also chaired the Expert Group for the High Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, convened by Presidents Hollande of France and Zuma of South Africa. From 2011 to 2015, he was co-chair of the UN’s independent Expert Review Group on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. Richard received the Edinburgh Medal in 2007 and the Dean’s Medal from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 2009. In 2016, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the British Pharmacological Society. He has written two reports for the Royal College of Physicians of London: Doctors in Society (2005) and Innovating for Health (2009). He wrote Health Wars (2003) about contemporary issues in medicine and health, and he has written for The New York Review of Books and the TLS. He has a strong interest in global health and medicine’s contribution to our wider culture. He now works to develop the idea of planetary health – the health of human civilizations and the ecosystems on which they depend. In 2011, he was elected a Foreign Associate of the US Institute of Medicine. In 2015, he received the Friendship Award from the Government of China. In 2016, he received the Andrija Stamper medal from the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European region and in 2017, he was awarded the Edwin Chadwick Medal for outstanding contributions to the advancement of public health.

  5. Coeur de Lion permalink
    December 23, 2019 8:49 pm

    Climategate degraded ‘Nature’ and ‘Scientific American’ did it not? Brought low those towering publications. Now the ‘Lancet’ is wrecked by the climate scam. How sad. How worrying for the intellectual health of the developed nations.

  6. Luc Ozade permalink
    December 23, 2019 9:04 pm

    The takeover of previously respected institutions by leftie, warmist, eco-loon, activists seems to be almost complete. Their ability now to de-platform any dissent is, frankly, frightening – conjuring up historic images of Stalinism, Nazism and all the other failed totalitarian regimes.

    Without the Web we would be lost. Great credit is due to Paul Homewood, Anthony Watts and all the other brave souls who continue to fight the good fight in our name.

    • leitmotif permalink
      December 24, 2019 1:09 am

      “The takeover of previously respected institutions by leftie, warmist, eco-loon, activists seems to be almost complete. Their ability now to de-platform any dissent is, frankly, frightening – conjuring up historic images of Stalinism, Nazism and all the other failed totalitarian regimes.”

      Such is the power of the Leftwaffe.

  7. December 24, 2019 7:24 am

    Here is an interesting extract about consensus medical science from a WUWT article.

    “We’ve often talked about how the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005 was awarded to two obscure Australian physicians who discovered ulcers are caused by a bacterium rather than stress which had thought to be the cause. For decades, the medical journals would not even publish their experimental results because the “consensus” (there’s that terribly un-scientific word) said, “stress.” In desperation, one of them had to prove he didn’t have an ulcer, swallow the bacterium and give himself an ulcer to get heard! In the meantime, millions were suffering and even dying due mis-treatment.

    Medical science also told us for years that eating pasta was a great way to lose weight. Wrong! And, many knew it was wrong.

    Medical science also told us the Sabin polio vaccine was better than the Salk vaccine even though, in rare cases, the Sabin vaccine could give innocent children polio — the disease it was supposed to prevent! The Salk vaccine never gave anyone polio and was 100% effective. Sabin had the better PR.”

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 24, 2019 12:38 pm

      Ideal human diet? Red meat and milk. Article in the the Farmers’ Guardian. Don’t be put off by the word ‘Guardian’ – it is nothing like the leftie liberal rag.

  8. dennisambler permalink
    December 24, 2019 12:27 pm

    Check out this from Donna Laframboise:

    “Last year, Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, admitted that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” In his words, “science has taken a turn toward darkness.”

    • dave permalink
      December 24, 2019 3:38 pm

      “…half, may simply be untrue.”

      Sounds open-minded – but is not. The logical conclusion would be “The Lancet will retract all of its modern papers, apologize for all of its campaigns, and cease publication;” but the actual, forgone and illogical conclusion is, in his conceit, “And me and my mates will TELL you which half, because we are the enlightened.” In other words, banally, it is just a pre-positioning to be able to say, soon, that fully competent scientists who do not toe the line are not really scientists at all.

      In any case, he has misunderstood the criticism, which is that Editors like him publish papers which are statistically and philosophically monstrous. I knew that before the pip-squeak was born.

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