McKitrick Preliminary Response

Here is Ross McKitrick’s first quick response. Readers need to remember that the Muir Russell report has been months in the preparation and that we’ve seen it for only a few hours (while fielding some media requests as well). It will take a little while to assimilate.

In comparison to previous inquiries by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, the Oxburgh Inquiry, and Penn State University, the Report of the ICCER under the direction of Sir Muir Russell has gone further in making a detailed review of the concerns arising out of the CRU emails.

Some, but certainly not all, of the concerns, have been brought to resolution.

• For example, with regard to the famous “trick” to “hide the decline”, whereas earlier investigations (including Penn State) claimed it was a valid procedure, the ICCER found otherwise, concluding (p. 60 paragraph 26) that the figure published in the WMO Report “was misleading in not describing that one of the series was truncated post 1960 for the figure, and in not being clear on the fact that proxy and instrumental data were spliced together.” It is good to finally have agreement that Jones’ graph was misleading, and the attempts to explain this away as an innocent turn of phrase are invalid.

• Likewise, the ICCER agrees that the CRU should have disclosed “an unambiguous list of the stations used in each of the versions” of their global temperature products, and their refusal to do so was “unhelpful and defensive” (p. 51 para. 32). This adds to the Science and Technology Committee’s criticism of the CRU for their secrecy and failure to attain good scientific practice.

• Moreover the ICCER correctly noted that the build-up to the flood of requests for confidentiality agreements in the summer of 2009 was the fault of the CRU: “The Review believes that CRU helped create the conditions for this campaign by being unhelpful in its earlier response” (p. 95 para. 34). In these cases, however, the ICCER seems unduly concerned to downplay the problems they found and to offer justifications. For instance, with regard to the WMO Report they state that “It does not have the status or importance of the IPCC reports” and it is an annual document, as if this in any way mitigates the publication of a misleading graph in a government report.

There are a number of disappointing weaknesses in the report, however.

• In their dismissal of the “divergence” problem the ICCER made the same error as the Oxburgh panel, by noting (p. 59 para. 23) that divergence has been “openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRU papers” while overlooking the fact that the real issue has been how the matter was presented in the IPCC Reports, in particular the deletion of the post-1960 Briffa data. In this regard, their claims in paragraph 21 on page 59, in support of the finding that the IPCC graph was not misleading, are simply untrue. They claim that “the depiction of uncertainty is quite apparent to any reader” and “It presents all relevant published reconstructions we are aware of”. But it is not apparent to the reader that the post-1960 Briffa data has been deleted (which is why it took many years after the publication of the TAR for the deletion to be discovered), and the graph does not present “all” the published reconstructions, since one of them was deleted after 1960. The issue here was whether the CRU staff suppressed information.

Unfortunately the ICCER switched its attention to defending the suppression of information, without first acknowledging the troubling facts of the matter.

• In Section 9.3 the ICCER presented a detailed discussion of the issues surrounding the use of my 2004 paper with Patrick Michaels in the preparation of the IPCC Report. Unfortunately the ICCER seemed to lose its way on this issue, making a superficial attempt to pronounce on the scientific controversy (despite acknowledging on p. 76 para 22 that it is not their place to do so) while overlooking the procedural issues that were actually in their remit.

o In paragraph 21 on page 75 they ask whether the decision to exclude the information from the IPCC drafts was “reasonable.” But they seemed to take the view that any decision would be reasonable since the IPCC had the job of making a decision. The ICCER ignored the problem of conflict of interest, and took at face value claims by Professor Jones (page 73, paragraph 15) that were either untrue (i.e. our results are compatible with satellite data, contrary to his assertion) or were unsubstantiated (i.e. his claim that our results are artifacts of ocean circulation patterns, which is the whole point under controversy). Consequently their finding on this point is baseless.

o On page 76 paragraph 23, they asked whether the published IPCC claim was “invented”. In my submission of evidence I asked the ICCER to obtain from Professor Jones the evidence supporting the IPCC claim. Even though they acknowledge that the supporting evidence would consist of a p-value (p. 72 fn. 7) they did not receive any such evidence from Professor Jones. The ICCER provides no evidence to support the IPCC text except for reference to unnamed studies showing “that the large scale organisation of atmospheric circulation produces a spatially integrated response to forcing” (p. 76 para. 23), which is completely irrelevant to the discussion and is in any case a specific scientific claim well outside their remit. Despite presenting no evidence to support the claim in question, they write “we see no justification of the view that that this response as invented.” This finding is totally unsupported. The conspicuous failure of the
ICCER to prove otherwise only reinforces the view that the IPCC claim was invented for the purpose.

o The ICCER also concluded that Professor Jones did not actually write the paragraph, which I accept. They point out, however, that he supported its inclusion p. 74, first bullet point) and they do not state who it was that inserted the paragraph.
o In light of the discussion in Section 9.3, the claim by the ICCER (p. 77 para 25) that Jones was not biased in his handling of this issue is simply implausible. It does not enhance the credibility of the report for the ICCER to make such a claim.

• The material in Chapter 6 in which the Review team produced a global temperature series from GHCN archives is largely beside the point, apparently aimed at a straw man claim that GHCN data is inaccessible or fabricated. The ICCER has shown, in effect, that the CRU products are very similar to unadjusted averages from public archives.

The Report covers a lot of ground and no doubt there will be detailed discussions in the days to follow.

7 Comments

  1. bobdenton
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 1:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Voluntary credulity (the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy fairy tales) is the hallmark of this report.

    A consistent pattern of misbehaviour involving abuse and bullying of critics and those who would give them a hearing stretching over a decade is outlined and evidenced by the words of the CRU staff themselves. For each isolated incident the panel has sought only to elicit some minimally plausible innocent explanation to exculpate the miscreants and neglected to place the behaviour in the context of an ethos shared between the staff at CRU, and beyond, which gives a true and far more reprehensible interpretation of the conduct of the staff at CRU. They even accept “we all had our hands on the dagger” as a defence, though it’s never been used as anything other than a fig-leaf to evade personal political responsibility.

    One can now readily appreciate the importance the panel placed on not taking oral evidence from critics of CRU and not permitting any response by them to the smokescreens blown out by CRU.

    Well, we’ve seen the case for the defence, ably marshalled by the Muir Panel. Now we await the case for the prosecution.

  2. Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 3:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I once had the dubious pleasure of installing a quality system in a 300 person company. The biggest barrier I found was a culture of denial of problems. Their failure to admit their problems was the largest obstacle that had to be overcome in order to allow them to start tackling those problems and improving quality.

    Once you have a culture of denial, it tends to be self fulfilling, because no one will accept responsibility, so problems multiply, a culture of mistrust and hiding data then develops making it all but impossible to find the root cause of the problems, and without honesty about the root cause it is never possible to tackle problems.

    This is very clearly the problem in the CRU. They have a culture of denial, and having read what they laughingly call a press release some people in the UEA are clearly living in cloud cookoo land when it comes to tackling the many serious problems which are clear to those who are willing to see.

    And, when this culture of denial comes right from the top, the only way forward is to remove the problem.

    I’m sure the CRU is not intrinsically “bad”, but it clearly has severe problems with basic things like admitting where there are problems so that they can then resolve those problems. Unfortunately, the high profile of the CRU in the last decade has not done them any favours. And, moreover the abysmal management has clearly failed to secure sufficient resources for this rather dilapidated department which clearly hasn’t been up to the job.

    And Sir Muir Russell has not done them any favours. He has simply written the report the (problem) management wanted and vindicated the unit giving management further ammunition to deny they have any problems and further ingrain the culture of bad quality.

    This is a vicious circle. The bods on the ground will know they have problems. They will try to tell management, who will see anyone criticising the unit as being “on the side of the sceptics” and not deserving to be listened to. Slowly the problems will multiply, the hostility between individuals will grow and the management will try harder and harder to squash dissent to try to portray a public face of a well run unit without problems. Obviously anyone with any sense will get out of the unit ASAP, leaving the dullards and yes men behind, making it even more likely that there are problems, and giving them even less ability to tackle the problems so forcing them to sweep them under the carpet.

  3. bobdenton
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 3:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The panel split up to do interviews and enquiries.

    So who interviewed Jones and Briffa? Why – their old friend and departmental colleague Goeff Bolton.

    Who interviewed Hoskins and Mitchell about IPCC procedures ? Why Jones and Briffa’s old friend and departmental colleague Goeff Bolton.

    Maybe this explains much of the apparent gullibility.

  4. Craig Loehle
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 4:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Ross and Steve and others involved in this debate are detail people who will catch you making inconsistent or false statements. Handwaving is not a good defence against this. Handwaving just makes the bull mad. Surely they must have known this.

    • Tony Hansen
      Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 4:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I sometimes have trouble picking the difference between a handwave and a digital response.

  5. bobdenton
    Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 3:26 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Muir explaning what he did:

    “We have not sought to explore what some of the
    widely quoted phrases mean, either in substance or intent. Instead we used
    our reading of the e-mails and our understanding of the issues they raised
    for those engaged in the climate debate to try to get at the key allegations
    about the behaviour of the CRU scientists.”

    “And we sought to test those allegations with objective evidence so far as
    possible. So we didn’t go for a courtroom style of inquiry, with oral
    testimony and cross examination. Instead we gave critics the chance to
    make detailed submissions setting out their challenge to the CRU
    scientists, and we gave CRU the chance to answer by pointing to objective
    evidence that wanted to bring forward. Because ultimately this has to be
    about what they did, not what they said.”

    So, just as the Science Enquiry wasn’t about the science, the E-mail Enquiry wasn’t about the e-mails, it was about the objective evidence CRU wanted to bring forward.

    This process – “Instead we gave critics the chance to
    make detailed submissions setting out their challenge to the CRU
    scientists, and we gave CRU the chance to answer by pointing to objective
    evidence that wanted to bring forward.” – exactly parallels the pre-trial procedure for developing a defence in a criminal trial. It generates the best possible case for the defence.

    Since the panel “didn’t go for a courtroom style of inquiry, with oral
    testimony and cross examination” which is the truth seeking process that follows developing the case for the defence, all they were left with was the case for the defence.

  6. bobdenton
    Posted Jul 10, 2010 at 2:29 PM | Permalink | Reply

    It’s now possible to analyse how the absence of any formal “truth seeking” process in the Muir Panel procedure permitted it to finesse the damning evidence of the e-mails and meander into inconclusiveness.

    The first stage was for the Panel to determine that the e-mail enquiry was not really about the e-mails – it was about what the accused, in the event, achieved. The e-mails evidenced the “guilty mind” and prospective conduct of the conspirators. By moving away from the content of the emails they then suggest that the intent of the conspirators became irrelevant. This is a well recognised and rarely successful ploy. If you shoot at a man with malice and miss the consequence of your malice is mitigated, but not its criminality. The Panel, in the absence of any permitted challenge, have equated absence of success to absence of malice.

    By focusing on what they actually achieved the accused are given credit for what others have done to thwart their conspiracy. There are checks and balances within the IPCC and Academic Editing processes which prevented the conspirators to a greater or lesser extent from succeeding. Matters which they excluded from the first draft, as a result of the diligence of others, appear in the second or third draft. Papers which they effectively blackball at one journal are published by another where they hold less sway. Thus the Panel give the credit due to the “have a go heroes” who prevent the crime to the criminals themselves.

    The degree of their success in blackballing or devaluing competing views then becomes a matter of judgement. The Panel members give them every benefit of the doubt. Their efforts are diluted by other contributors who lack their animus, to the point where the Panel can opine that they achieved none of their objectives.

    The accuseds’ degree of success can easily be read differently – there’s a fear of non-conformity with modal thought which pervades climate science, created as a result of their endeavours, which the panel doesn’t acknowledge, but which many others see as the major damage inflicted by them in the field of climate research.

    It could be thought that this aberration of procedure was simply a result of a sloppy approach by panel inexperienced in conducting enquiries. However, there are strong pointers to the contrary.

    By adding a lawyer to the panel they would have instantly have added a thousand years of experience to the conduct of its proceedings – Muir, perversely, eschewed this advantage from the start.

    From the outset the basic rules of impartiality were abandoned. Geoffrey Bolton, who had a close personal connection with the accused, the department they worked for and the University under scrutiny was chosen as the principal inquisitor. He had no reason to seek to impeach his former colleagues and former university.

    In the event, Boulton failed to ask even the most basic questions, such as: “Prof Jones, did you delete any e-mails”. It’s the sort of embarrassing question you can rely on a friend not to ask.

    The Panel first failed even to attempt to obtain access to the complete email correspondence until after the originally anticipated publication date for the report. When , at last, they did make an attempt , it was perfunctory. Presumably, in the expectation that things could only get worse if they were inspected, they abandoned the attempt, citing “standard form” spurious reasons. What was initially trumpeted as being one of the main parts of the review – reading the released e-mails in their full context – did not take place., notwithstanding that the complete set of emails were available on a memory stick and could be very quickly made searchable, and searched, as was done with the original release. The panel had simply to start from the emails they had and follow the trail backward and forward. Neither a major task, nor an expensive one, nor would it take that long.

    Finally, where the Panel was compelled to a conclusion, as in the case of the WMO graphic, – they found it was deceptive, no ifs, no buts, no maybes – they make no finding about Jones culpability:in a meally mouthed way they merely note that Prof Jones continues to maintain his innocence.

    Given all the above I am of the view that the Panel resiled from its remit by intent rather than inadvertence, seeking nothing more from the accused than accounts which would be plausible if unchallenged.

    The UEA bought in an Ad-Hoc review panel in much the same way as a lawyer buys in an expert opinion. You buy in the opinion you want.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] use `tricks' to `hide' inconvenient data, [...]

  2. [...] Hide data requested by climate skeptics. Phil Jones to Mike Mann: The two MMs [probably Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a [...]

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