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January 22nd 2016 print

Peter O'Brien

Climategate’s Enduring Stink

The standard defence of the University of East Anglia's climate cabal is that its fiddling scientists were "cleared" by two allegedly independent panels. What warmists won't admit is that those probes were hobbled by their terms of reference and stacked with fellow catastropharians

climategateRecently Quadrant Online republished an essay by Professor Bob Carter, a tribute following his untimely death.  The article included a passing reference to the Climategate scandal and prompted a number of comments, this among them:

Apparently they have nary a thought for the deep scientific malaise and malfeasance that has now been exposed for the whole lay world to see – part of which is being investigated currently in a British parliamentary committee investigation.  (extract from Carter’s article)

It might have been a bit more honest if the Quadrant editor had then briefed readers on the results of that parliamentary investigation, just in order to ensure that there could be no misunderstanding on the matter. The Committee reported:

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails-‘trick’ and ‘hiding the decline’-the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

That Quadrant Online comment reflects a very weak understanding of what transpired post-Climategate and prompted me to set the record straight.  Because of the length of my response and what I believe is the significance of Climategate in illustrating the shoddy science that so often characterises warmism and its advocates, I chose to do it here rather than respond in the original comments thread. Following an initial Parliamentary enquiry conducted by the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, two allegedly independent  investigations were commissioned: the Oxburgh enquiry and the Muir Russell enquiry. The former was charged with evaluating the robustness of the science,  the second directed to examine the probity of the CRU scientists’ conduct.

Let us start with Oxburgh, specifically tasked to ‘look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.’ That seems to me a very wide ambit that would call for an exhaustive investigation.  In the event, however, the Oxburgh panel of seven scientists, only some of whom were climatologists, produced a five-page report often cited as completely vindicating the CRU. The document does not include the panel’s terms of reference; it does not include any minutes of meetings; it does not include any records of interview; and it does not include any detailed assessment of the eleven CRU publications it reviewed to show how they support the consensus view.  As Lord Oxburgh explained it to prominent sceptic Steve McIntyre, his terms of reference were verbal and no written records were kept, other than the final report.

The report claimed that the panel reviewed eleven CRU publications selected on the advice of the Royal Society and that CRU agreed these represented a fair sample of output.  Subsequent FOI requests have revealed that the publications were actually selected by the CRU’s Phil Jones, a principal target of the enquiry, with the Royal Society’s imprimatur coming later — a rubber stamp, in effect. It is not surprising that the documents Jones selected and tendered did not include any that were the subject of the controversy or disputes detailed in the emails.

The report acknowledges that the panel spent fifteen person days of actual attendance at the CRU, either reviewing additional material or interviewing staff. The whole enquiry took three weeks, with each panelist spending roughly two days on site.

The Oxburgh panel interviewed only Phil Jones and Keith Briffa, two CRU scientists prominent in the Climategate emails.  They did not interview anyone critical of the duo’s conduct — the other side of the Climategate debate, in other words. As an example of the paucity of this investigation, the report noted that the two  ‘CRU scientists were able to give convincing answers to our detailed questions about data choice, data handling and statistical methodology.’

Nowhere in the report are these detailed questions and ‘convincing’ answers described. The report then goes on:

‘We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the CRU work but it seems that some of these criticisms show a rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by CRU’.

That poses these questions: What external criticisms did they examine? How can they have concluded the science is sound without considering the inpurt of those who think otherwise?

The enquiry chaired by Sir Alastair Muir Russell was rather more voluminous, but  it also gave a clean bill of health to the CRU.

Nonetheless,  Mr Graham Stringer, both a Labour member of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee and an analytical chemist by profession, has stated that the Muir Russell report is worse than inadequate. Not only did Muir Russell fail to deal with the issues of malpractice raised in the emails, he pointed out, it also confirmed his impression that the University of East Anglia had deceived his fellow MPs. Stringer said the university had led MPs to believe it would commission a detailed investigation of the science itself, with a separate and independent examination of the climate scientists’ behaviour.

The Oxburgh enquiry, in his estimation, was ‘ a whitewash’, while Muir Russell failed in several significant areas, most notably in neglecting to examine the deletion of emails by CRU staff and the deliberate withholding of data in order to prevent other researchers attempting to replicate and verify CRU’s  results. But his most serious charge concerned that independence of the panel, which he noted had been  stacked.  It included a well-known proponent of the theory of anthropogenic global warming and an academic on the staff of the university for eighteen years.  As with Muir Russell, he noted the panel’s failure to take any evidence from those of the opposing viewpoint.

Which leads me to my final point: why would a parliamentary committee absolve the CRU scientists of wrongdoing if its members were not convinced of their innocence? Call me a cynic, but it just might be because in 2008, rthe year before Climategate became a public scandal, the UK Parliament voted into law, based largely on the advice of the CRU’s secretive brains trust, the most ambitious (some might say punitive) climate change program on the planet.  The law passed with only five Commons MPs voting against it.

I am always reluctant to employ  the term ‘vested interest ’ because that objection is all too often the last refuge of someone on the losing side of any argument. But in this case it seems to me that the desire to avoid being made to look like utter fools might qualify as a ‘vested interest’.

Comments [12]

  1. [email protected] says:

    How disappointing is the Royal Society’s compliance in this whitewash. The society’s motto, Nullius in verba, indeed!
    From Newton and Darwin, to Dawkins and Hawking, they are all tarnished by their association.

  2. gardner.peter.d says:

    Sometimes one just wishes Dr Who were real. We could whisk him into the future by a hundred years to come back and tell us what it’s gong to be like outside. Perhaps these so-called scientists would be better employed finding a way to make this possible.

  3. Ian MacDougall says:

    Oh dear.
    This poor miserable ‘climategate’ chook has been picked over once again for any of the last precious few irrelevant morsels it might yield to the community of AGW ‘sceptics’.

    “…the Oxburgh panel of seven scientists, only some of whom were climatologists, produced a five-page report…”

    Good thing only some of them were. As is well known to Quad readers, when they are not hiding ‘declines’ or pulling the odd ‘Nature trick’, that despicable breed known as climatologists have got their hands into the taxpayers’ pockets for research grants and no end of public funding.
    But what does it matter anyway? No matter how many such stunts they pull, nature continues on heedless of human politics and business-as-usual ideology. Glaciers keep on melting, oceans thermally expanding, the Earth warming, ‘sceptics’ scepticising…

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Oh dear.

      That’s your response???

      Of all the alarmist sites you could have picked to bolster your case, you could hardly have picked one less rigorous than ‘skepticalscience’, run by John Cook, collaborator with Stefan Lewandowsky on the laughable, completely discredited and withdrawn ‘Recursive Fury’ paper, and lead author of the equally discredited ‘Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature’ paper which purported to prove the putative 97% consensus on CAGW.

    • Lawrie Ayres says:

      I see you forgot about the increasing sea ice at both poles but particularly the South pole. I also note the reliance on the homogenised extrapolated and continually adjusted surface temperature record rather than the far more global satellite record for the earth is still warming bit. I also note that none of your heroes have actually shown what part, if any, of warming is irrefutably man made. It really is a pity that science will be tainted for at least a generation and that the great unwashed will have little faith in those scientists who are government funded doing the governments bidding no matter how justified. The CSIRO and BoM spring to mind.

  4. Jody says:

    I read a comment somewhere (I forget where, but I hope it wasn’t here!!!) about “climate change”. The comment went this way; “people believed scientists as a group when they told us cigarette smoking was bad for our health and that asbestos killed us. Why are they unwilling to believe this same professional group who tells us that the climate is changing because of man-made interventions”?

    I haven’t found the answer.

    • en passant says:

      That is a simple question to answer: Einstein tells you that Relativity controls the Universe. Darwin tells you that evolution changes species. Ian MacDougall and Phil Jones tell you the world is catastrophically warming when it is not and John Cook tells us that 97% of 3% of scientists agree. It is a matter of credibility and quality.
      You just charge ahead with you wild assertions without ever stopping to answer the questions raised by your last wild and unsubstantiated assertion. Try to answer the points raised by your comments at https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2016/01/fishy-science-ocean-acidification/ before raising new ‘Chicken Little catastrophic fantasies.
      Lawrie begins a very good point with: ‘I see you forgot about the increasing sea ice at both poles but particularly the South Pole.’ Frankly, anyone who believes anything Canon Cook of the Church of the Climate Cult says needs his head read by the phrenologist from Bristol, Lewandowsky.
      I do not want to see Ian banned or censored, but until he answers all the previous questions asked of him I think the answer for all of us regular commentators when we see his name at the beginning of a comment to just move to the next point leaving it unread and ignored. The alternative is frustration and wasted time.

      • Ian MacDougall says:

        en passant:
        “I do not want to see Ian banned or censored, but…”
        Too late. I have been censored (sorry placed in an eternal ‘awaiting moderation’ gulag) on this site more times than I can remember: mostly to stay there indefinitely. So Q’s open-minded readers had no chance to read me, or even consider the comment I was making. Granted, those with closed minds would not have been interested anyway. But rather ironic, is it not, on a site claiming to be within the Western liberal tradition? As per http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2015/12/liberating-church/
        “…but until he answers all the previous questions asked of him…” eg presumably: “Finally, will you list ten benefits of +4C in temperature globally?”
        Mr Inquisitor, I have already answered that. But this planet is not a controlled-environment greenhouse, like those run by the CSIRO in Canberra. I put it to you that nobody knows the answer to that. Not even Him Upstairs.

      • Peter OBrien says:

        Yes En Passant, I have found, in crossing swords, with a CAGW adherent in the comments thread in my local paper, that, in the end, you’re just wasting time because he either evades the issue by throwing in some red herring or just cuts and pastes from some alarmist website. I now generally ignore him unless I’m particularly bored.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      Its exactly that which gives me pause to reflect if there is not some basis of truth in the claims. We accept science every day when we post our thoughts on the web, we vaccinate our children it goes on and on and on.

      There is wealth and fame for someone who can put a hole in AGW theory that passes peer review process, they will go down in history.

      The suggestion that there is some conspiracy to delude us make me reach for the tinfoil but it is human nature to do what one can to keep the wheels turning on whatever bandwagon one finds themselves.

      Skeptical belief forces me to question the statements, so I take what is said with a pinch of salt that which is claimed without empirical evidence. The evidence seems from my perspective to be in doubt but I am no scientist, I lack the mathematical – statistical – geophysics knowledge to hold a authoritative view one way or the other. So for now I am left with what appears to me to be the only honest view I can hold within my belief structures and that is I don’t know.

  5. Ian MacDougall says:

    Lawrie Ayres and Jody: comments noted.
    Peter O’Brien:
    You have issued me with an invitation to go tripping down some primrose path of debate as to whether or not Cook and Lewandowsky are as ‘laughable’ and ‘completely discredited’ as you say they are. Meanwhile, it does not escape my notice that you avoid the substance of my response re the ‘climategate’ beat-up.
    Nor have I any idea as to the number of people in dispute with Cook and Lewandowsky, and over whatever. (Just as relevant: Cook’s dog might also have so many fleas as to be a case for the RSPCA.) The fact remains that nature does not give a damn one way or the other.
    Whatever exchanges may be taking place in the scientific media, in the corridors and high offices of the industries that base themselves on fossil carbon, and their cheer squads in outfits like The Heartland Institute and Quadrant Online, the Earth’s glaciers keep retreating and running their meltwaters into the planet’s one ocean, which keeps rising. (The rate of rise cannot extend very far back into historical time, otherwise every coastal city and field in the world would have been very noticeably involved: although admittedly it is still possible that King Neptune and Almighty God are either or both parties to The Great Global Warming Conspiracy.)
    This in my view is the clearest indication we have that the planet is presently in a warming phase, when going by the climate history record, it probably should be in an early stage of cooling rundown which would probably bottom out in a new glaciation like that of the Pleistocene. And whether that would be good or bad overall for humanity is an open question.
    But the top priority for AGW ‘sceptics’ like yourself appears to be keeping the path clear for business-as-usual: as it was for both John Howard and Tony Abbott.

    GMSL Rates
    CU: 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr
    AVISO: 3.3 ± 0.6 mm/yr
    CSIRO: 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr
    NASA GSFC: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr
    NOAA: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr (w/ GIA)


  6. en passant says:

    We should get in direct contact again. Roger has my email address.