It has been a strange few days for Richard Tol and the ESRI. A working paper co-written by Richard and released by the ESRI was later withdrawn, because there were “serious concerns about the methodologies used in the paper“.
Brian Lucey has a useful summary of all of the back and forth on his blog, including some rebuttals of Tol’s paper.
This episode is unfortunate for everybody, but in a lot of the coverage it is clear the ‘working paper’ status of the document is not well understood. Working papers exist to facilitate discussion and dissemination of ideas. Just about every working paper series carries a disclaimer to the effect that any paper within the series has not been peer reviewed and so the conclusions are not to be taken as read. In fact a disclaimer is at the bottom of the first page of the working paper.
Really what the author is saying to their colleagues in the scientific community when they publish a working paper is “here, have a look, tell me what you think.” The working paper status of the document is overlooked in several pieces I’ve read, with many calling it an ‘ESRI Report’, as if Tol et al’s working paper was like the Quarterly Reports which do, in fact, speak for the ESRI.
In my opinion, the correct thing to do now is to organize a half day talk around these issues with contributions invited from interested participants. Rather than stifling the debate around what is obviously an important topic, explore the idea properly and with the minimum of drama.