“University ‘tried to mislead MPs on climate change e-mails’”

A savage article in the Times today by Ben Webster about the UEA submission to the UK Parliamentary Inquiry – the letter in which they tried to “trick” the Committee about the contents of the letter from the Information Commissioner. (A “trick”, according to Gavin Schmidt and the Penn State Inquiry, is a “good way” to solve a problem.)

The article – worth reading in full – re-caps correspondence discussed in yesterday’s post on the topic.

The UEA has now posted up all its correspondence.

Webster provides an interesting new statement from Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat member of the Science and Technology Committee:

“It seems unwise, at best, for the University of East Anglia to attempt to portray a letter from the Information Commissioner’s Office in a good light, in evidence to the select committee, because it is inevitable that the Committee will find that letter, and notice any discrepancy.

“It would be a wiser course for the university not to provide any suspicion that they might be seeking to enable the wrong impression to be gained.”

Yup.

33 Comments

  1. mpaul
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 11:38 AM | Permalink

    After the Tylenol poisoning was discovered, Jim Burke, the then CEO of Johnson and Johnson took responsibility and aggressively dealt with the issue. It has been the model for crisis management ever since. Burke’s actions likely saved Johnson and Johnson.

    In contrast Acton’s actions have been childish and have demonstrated a complete lack of capacity. He has damaged UEA to an almost unimaginable extent. Acton must resign.

    • JCM
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 12:13 PM | Permalink

      Crisis !? What crisis ? They don’t have a clue what to do. The faculty association would be wise to rattle the chains. Acton versus ICO is a losing proposition because ICO is on a campaign to improve FOI in the UK and reduce the opportunities for refusing access to information.

      • AJC
        Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 4:36 PM | Permalink

        Well one strategy for Acton would have been to deal with the issue within UEA/CRU robustly and hope to spread the blame to as many of the “bigger boys” (Met Office etc.) as possible.

        Oh and employ Max Clifford to handle the PR.

        • Dave
          Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 7:14 PM | Permalink

          What really gets me about this little incident is not just the mindset that led to the stupid lie, but that the lie doesn’t even refute the allegation. All it does is hide an admission in jargon so that laymen won’t understand it.

          In admitting that “the evidence the ICO had in mind about whether there was a breach was no more than prima facie”, Acton admitted that Jones at least appears to be guilty. He didn’t offer any alternative explanation.

  2. curious
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 11:50 AM | Permalink

    As this shakes out several others should be stepping down from positions of responsibility.

  3. Dominic
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

    Acton is a historian (with a speciality in Soviet Russia). Need I say more…

  4. curious
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    From the Times article:

    A spokeswoman for the university said: “The point Professor Acton was making is that there has been no investigation so no decision, as was widely reported. The ICO read e-mails and came to assumptions but has not investigated or demonstrated any evidence that what may have been said in emails was actually carried out.”

    Roll on Monday!

    • JCM
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 9:37 PM | Permalink

      The spokeswoman for UEA is in the difficult position of trying to sound competent when it appears to me that Acton is either not seeking professional advice or ignoring it when given. He is freelancing, something not allowed in crisis management. He needs to be told to pay attention to professionals and take note that his main job is to preserve and enhance the reputation of UEA. Engaging in a pissing contest with ICO is a foolish enterprise.

  5. Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    i find it just as damning to replace ‘trick’ with ‘method’, the excuse holds no water however it is phrased.

  6. Richard Nixon . . . .
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

    what’s that old line about the crime vs the cover up ?

  7. Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

    It’s hard to know but the statement from UEA is so inept in the light of the release of the real letter that it makes you wonder if there weren’t some nods and winks given by someone in the ICO or higher up that ‘it won’t be a problem anymore’. That certain people came under pressure and didn’t buckle, but bit back.

    Like Dominic I also read about Acton’s specialty on Russia, particularly the 1917 revolution. Any expert in that period must have the story of Lysenko firmly in mind as they consider possible scientific malfeasance? Talk about not using the gifts you’ve been given, or of learning history for no reason.

    Above all, there was a contempt for Parliament and the basic intelligence of committee members exhibited by Acton and the University. They’d put all their eggs in the Muir Russell/Geoffrey Boulton basket and didn’t care for these pesky little jumped-up MPs. All one can hope is that not only do they receive a deserved roasting in the FOI area but the much deeper matter underlying it – disregard for reproducibility and the scientific method itself – will be as crystal clear once Lawson and Peiser have testified.

    After which, it could be an interesting experience for those remaining.

    • kmye
      Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 4:34 AM | Permalink

      It’s hard to know but the statement from UEA is so inept in the light of the release of the real letter that it makes you wonder if there weren’t some nods and winks given by someone in the ICO or higher up that ‘it won’t be a problem anymore’. That certain people came under pressure and didn’t buckle, but bit back.

      This is exactly what occurred to me when I read the article. It can be tempting to just assume people (especially people you happen to opposed to at the moment) are just utter, hubristic fools, but in the end, that’s not often the case, is it?

      • Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 2:17 PM | Permalink

        It’s seldom the case, I agree. Something went wrong in the higher echelons. Very wrong. How everyone concerned must be looking forward to tomorrow!

  8. Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:01 PM | Permalink

    Nice job again. When the sky is falling, the consensus resorts to the same sophistry that got them to the prominence they used to hold. It’s a natural state for them. IMHO, this was a calculated political decision that the biased investigatory committee could use to fall back on in the face of public pressure. Exposed again, another avenue is dead. Does anyone here think there might be another out attempt that we haven’t caught?

    Too many behind the scenes machinations.

  9. Pat
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:20 PM | Permalink

    My first thought about the spokewoman’s response is that she is apparently saying that the submission reflected UEA’s interpretation of events. The problem with that is that the submission was written to imply ICO’s opinon. Clearly the submission was intentionally misleading. A very stupid thing to do unless Professor Acton prefers for the commmitte to spend their time questioning him on this side issue rather than more substantive issues.

    • Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:29 PM | Permalink

      Yep, side issue as distraction went through my mind too. But one doesn’t normally choose a side issue where possible criminal behaviour of one’s staff becomes the focus! No, the balance of the evidence is that the whole story is falling apart. Let it fall and hard.

  10. Poly
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:28 PM | Permalink

    statements of proescutors to the press like this are inappropriate. It does not matter if it is Scooter Libby, or the Duke rape case or this issue. It does not matter if there was a violation or not. that the statute of limitations expired is just something people have to deal with. But it is wrong to try someone via the press like this. It is an inapporpriate use of the prosecutor’s office.

    • Tom Ganley
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 3:36 PM | Permalink

      I agree 100%. I’m the last person to defend the UEA or any of the CAGW crowd, but I think the statements were more than inapropriate, they were unethical.

      If the prosecutor has a case he should make it, in a courtroom. If he can’t because he’s restrained by a legal technicality, he should he should say he has no juristiction, state the technical reason, and then shut up.

      To say, ‘they’re guilty, I just can’t do anything about it’, subverts the entire concept of justice. It’s Mcarthyism, nothing less.

      • David S
        Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 4:49 PM | Permalink

        I think you may both be being a little naive here. Given the extraordinary level of conflicts of interest among the Muir Russell committee, and a clear attempt by Acton to mislead the press and the parliamentary committee, the Commissioner is entitled to set the record straight. If you are saying he should not have announced his findings to the press in the first place, then you are supporting the kind of secrecy that got the UEA where they are today.

        And Tom, I imagine you are from the US, and may have missed some nuances of UK law. The commissioner is not a prosecutor, he is effectively a regulator. He has uncovered what he says is (I paraphrase) extremely strong prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed, but is prevented from taking action by a time bar that he believes is a drafting oversight in the law. It would be dereliction of duty for him to seek to conceal or obfuscate this conclusion.
        It is also a criminal offence to mislead Parliament, so Acton is skating on very thin ice (unlike the Polar bears)

    • Dave
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 7:06 PM | Permalink

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I can’t agree completely. Without drawing a general principle, it’s common for police to announce the facts of a crime, and the reasons for someone’s arrest. This is no different. The ICO has made a statement of fact: that the emails, as written, and in the absence of any alternate explanation, seem to constitute evidence of a breach of the FOIA.

      In fact, in saying that you don’t think the ICO should announce that they would prosecute were it not for the time-bar, you imply that you don’t believe prosecutions should ever be announced until after the case has been proven.

  11. Jimchip
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:33 PM | Permalink

    The webpage trailer to their correspondance includes “We will cooperate fully with any investigation by the ICO”

    That’s typical and appropriate but given prior claims and some recent ICO statements it looks like they are begging for trouble in their ‘nondenial denial’ of any wrongdoing. Somebody at UEA needs some lessons on how not to throw fuel on the fire. I can’t help but mention Mosher’s comment at the Times, “transparent attempts to put lipstick on a pig.”

  12. Duke C.
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 1:52 PM | Permalink

    Jeff Id (Feb 27 13:01),

    “Too many behind the scenes machinations.”

    Very well stated.

    Does the six month statute of limitations have relevance WRT the Nov 12th 2009 letter of denial sent to Steve Mc.?

    SOL does not expire until May 12, 2010. Seeing how Jones was all too willing to delete emails, it seems plausible that he may have engaged in some “behind the scenes machinations” regarding that appeal denial. ICO would be interested in that.

    Steve: Different issues.

  13. PaulM
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 2:15 PM | Permalink

    Almost as astonishing as the misrepresentation of the ICO finding is the statement on p 5 of the UEA submission, that CRU never sought to disguise the decline. What does “hide” mean?

  14. UK John
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM | Permalink

    Guilty people always challenge the evidence, they never say they didn’t do the illegal act.

    • curious
      Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 4:12 PM | Permalink

      This seems a bit of a stretch to me UK John. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of cases where guilty parties, even high ranking ones, have denied the act itself:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8504308.stm

    • Dan
      Posted Mar 1, 2010 at 5:40 PM | Permalink

      UK John – that’s not a very strong basis to stand on. Saying that in court is one thing, but saying ‘i didn’t do it’ happens all the time.

  15. James Evans
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 4:13 PM | Permalink

    Incredible. Absolutely incredible. We have now reached the point (at least in the UK) where every scientist has to make a choice.

    Do you believe that it is OK to fudge the truth in order to get what you want?

    Or do you believe in the Feynman description of reality, in which scientists look for the truth, no matter what the implications.

    Shame on you, UEA. Utter shame on you.

  16. Margaret
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 5:06 PM | Permalink

    In New Zealand it is a serious matter to mislead Parliament. MPs lose their seat if they do, and public servants have lost their job. I wonder if it is the same in the UK before a select committee (here it would be regarded as the same.)

    I also wonder how all of this relates to the mantra that there is no such thing as absolute Truth – just your perception, and mine and each is equally valid. I always thought this type of post-modern tosh would lead to great damage to science, but are we finally seeing that this is indeed so.

  17. Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 7:21 PM | Permalink

    On the UEA’s page, it says: “The existence or otherwise of prima facie evidence is insufficient to reach any conclusions about this matter.”

    Why does it say “or otherwise”?

    Is they suggesting that there some doubt that the prima facie evidence exists?

    I thought that there is no question that the prima facie evidence exists. I thought that the only question was whether it the prima facie evidence is sufficient to prove the case of a breach of 77.

  18. David Smith
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 7:44 PM | Permalink

    UEA’s behavior reinforces my view that there is little hope that climate science establishment will reform itself. Change will come in five to fifteen years, when the young turks in graduate school filter into the academic ranks as their seniors retire. No sooner.

    There is a hopeful sign, however, that the Northern Hemisphere’s bad winter will soon wind down. Here is a photo taken today of the flowers on a small tree in my yard:

    These flowers are appearing four to six weeks later than normal.

    I’m still looking for a first sign of hope for climate science. So far, nothing. Judith Curry’s article (I admire her courage and her thought process on this) has, as best as I can tell, fallen on sterile soil. I’ll keeping looking for that first flower.

  19. Graham
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 8:47 PM | Permalink

    I’m no legal expert, but surely the mere discussion of the commission of an illegal act is known as conspiracy, and is equally illegal. Enough people have been sent to jail for discussing terrorist acts just recently, on that basis.

    Irespective of that, it seems totally amoral for a supposedly reputable institue to use semantics, legal tricks and duplicity as evidence at an inquiry intended to restore their reputation.

    It seems clear that they hold their reputations in low esteem and are more interested in saving their necks and salaries above all else, and if they need to deploy more ‘tricks’ then they have the necessary expertise in that field.

  20. ianl8888
    Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    With a tight general election due shortly, none of this will matter

    The only inquiry with any longevity will be the Russell Muir one

  21. DCC
    Posted Mar 1, 2010 at 9:35 AM | Permalink

    More fame for McIntyre. Andrew Montford is quoted on Britain’s Channel 4 as saying:

    By not calling Steve McIntyre, the man outside CRU who knows most about the content and context of the emails, the [Parliamentary] committee risks appearing negligent or even worse, of refusing to hear the truth.

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