Recently 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’.