He specifically engages with Andrew Montford’s allegation (in his book The Hockey Stick Illusion) that ‘as many as four different journals may have had their normal procedures interfered with.’ Horton poses the rhetorical question ‘Despite peer review, are authors able to get away with dishonest or dubious research?’ to which he answers: ‘Yes, they are. Peer review does not replicate and so validate research. Peer review does not prove that a piece of research is true. The best it can do is say that, on the basis of a written account of what was done and some interrogation of the authors, the research seems on the face of it to be acceptable for publication. This claim for peer review is much softer than often portrayed to the general public. Experience shows, for example, that peer review is an extremely unreliable way to detect research misconduct. (Horton, in Muir Russell 2010: 129). But what about the allegation that outside interference took place in the review process of papers critical of AGW theories? It is worth to quote Horton at length:
‘If a research paper is especially controversial and word of it is circulating in a particular scientific community, third-party scientists or critics with an interest in the work may get to hear of it and decide to contact the journal. They might wish to warn or encourage editors. This kind of intervention is entirely normal. It is the task of editors to weigh up the passionate opinions of authors and reviewers, and to reflect on the comments (and motivations) of third parties. To an onlooker, these debates may appear as if improper pressure is being exerted on an editor. In fact, this is the ordinary to and fro of scientific debate going on behind the public screen of science. Occasionally, a line might be crossed. We experienced such a border crossing recently, where several reviewers and third parties encouraged us to delay publication of a paper for non-scientific reasons […]. Defining that line is the crucial task when judging the role of CRU scientists.’ (Horton in Muir-Russell 2010: 133).Neither Horton nor Muir-Russell provide us with a definition of such a line. It is noteworthy that Horton in the above passage says that external pressure is brought to bear on journal editors and that this is entirely normal. On the other hand he speaks of a line being crossed occasionally without making clear what this might be. He refers to a recent case at the Lancet but does not develop criteria for distinguishing ‘normal’ from ‘improper’ interference (when 'a line is crossed'). We can only guess that it might be when ‘non-scientific reasons’ are at play. This begs the question of how to deal with situations where scientists try to block papers from colleagues for reasons of politics, career advancement, or prestige--and how the controversial behaviour around CRU relates to it.