New report from the UK Sci Tech Committee. (I’m traveling – see Bishop Hill for link.) My take is that the Committee was annoyed with the University of East Anglia, being quite critical of the inquiries in the running text, but have decided that there are other more pressing priorities and that it’s time to “move on”.
In some cases, they seem to have gritted their teeth and accepted untrue statements at face value. Graham Stringer, by far the most knowledgeable member of the Committee on matters UEA, moved a critical amendment to the conclusions that is an honest appraisal of the situation.
Stringer proposed the following final paragraph for the report:
98. The disclosure of data from the Climatic Research Unit has been a traumatic and challenging experience for all involved and to the wider world of science. There are proposals to increase worldwide taxation by up to a trillion dollars on the basis of climate science predictions. This is an area where strong and opposing views are held. The release of the e-mails from CRU at the University of East Anglia and the accusations that followed demanded independent and objective scrutiny by independent panels. This has not happened. The composition of the two panels has been criticised for having members who were over identified with the views of CRU. Lord Oxburgh as President of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and Chairman of Falck Renewable appeared to have a conflict of interest. Lord Oxburgh himself was aware that this might lead to criticism. Similarly Professor Boulton as an ex colleague of CRU seemed wholly inappropriate to be a member of the Russell panel. No reputable scientist who was critical of CRU’s work was on the panel, and prominent and distinguished critics were not interviewed. The Oxburgh panel did not do as our predecessor committee had been promised, investigate the science, but only looked at the integrity of the researchers. With the exception of Professor Kelly’s notes other notes taken by members of the panel have not been published. This leaves a question mark against whether CRU science is reliable. The Oxburgh panel also did not look at CRU’s controversial work on the IPPC which is what has attracted most series allegations. Russell did not investigate the deletion of e-mails. We are now left after three investigations without a clear understanding of whether or not the CRU science is compromised.”
Instead, the Committee adopted the following:
98. The disclosure of data from the Climatic Research Unit has been a traumatic and challenging experience for all involved and to the wider world of science. Much rests on the accuracy and integrity of climate science. This is an area where strong and opposing views are held. It is, however, important to bear in mind the considered view of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, that “the general issues on overall global temperature, on sea level and so on, are all pretty unequivocal”.132 While we do have some reservations about the way in which UEA operated, the SAP review and the ICCER set out clear and sensible recommendations.In our view it is time to make the changes and improvements recommended and with greater openness and transparency move on.
The Committee noted the following criticisms of the Muir Russell report:
As with the SAP, there has been criticism in the press of the ICCER that:
• it did not adequately test the science;
• it only examined three instances of possible abuse of peer review, and just two cases when CRU researchers may have abused their roles as authors of Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports;
• it did not study hundreds of thousands more unpublished e-mails from the CRU;
• it failed to investigate whether e-mails were deleted to prevent their release under freedom of information laws;
• none of CRU’s critics were interviewed by the two enquiries; and
• the membership of the Panel had excluded reputable critics of climate science.25
They didn’t refute any of these criticisms. After noting the criticisms, they didn’t specifically address them, but, to the extent that they did, the validity of the criticisms is conceded.
As has been discussed previously, despite an explicit request from the Sci Tech Committee, Muir Russell did not investigate deletion of emails as that would have been actually investigating potential malfeasance. Muir Russell admitted this at the hearing in October. They expressed dissatisfaction that all that they got was a “verbal reassurance” from VC Acton that the emails still exist and can be produced.
We find it unsatisfactory that we are left with a verbal reassurance from the Vice-Chancellor that the e-mails still exist.
He told us “Can those e-mails be produced? Yes, they can. Did those who might have deleted them say they deleted them? No. They say they did not”.116
Unfortunately, out of the other side of their mouth, the University of East Anglia says that it can’t produce the Wahl-Briffa emails (with attachments) that were the epicenter of Jones’ deletion request. I sent an FOI to UEA, which was refused on the grounds that the UEA no longer had the documents.
We were unable to provide the following four documents as we had determined that these were no longer held by the University and cited Reg. 12(4)(a):
One of these statements by the University is untrue. Either they have the documents and the claim in their FOI refusal is untrue or Acton’s statement to the Parliamentary Committee was untrue. I guess the Committee was too polite to call Acton out on the contradiction.
Some Other Comments
There was much commentary last spring on the inconsistency between Acton’s press releases and evidence to the Committee on the scope of the Oxburgh inquiry and what Oxburgh perceived as the scope. The Committee didn’t call Acton a liar, but commented a little sourly:
23. It is our view that the most reasonable interpretation of the UEA press notice of 11 February 2010 and the Vice-Chancellor’s statement on 1 March 2010 was that the Scientific Assessment Panel would examine the quality of the science as well as the integrity. In the event, Lord Oxburgh and his colleagues on the Panel carried out a narrower inquiry that focussed on the Climatic Research Unit’s methodologies and the integrity of the research. Had the scope and purpose of the SAP been made clear from the beginning of February it would have avoided much confusion and the inevitable allegation of manipulation.
32. Lord Oxburgh’s explanation for the brisk timetable would be understandable if there was a pressing deadline. In this case, as Lord Oxburgh explained, the urgency came from UEA, the report “had to be done rapidly [...] they [UEA] really wanted something within a month”.48 Lord Oxburgh’s statement could also be construed as indicating that the review was not operating wholly independently. Had the SAP been in less of a rush, they could have investigated the integrity of the science with more rigour, particular with regard to CRU scientists’ ability to repeat their own experimental work, an issue we discuss in paragraph 60.
33. The disparity in length between the SAP and ICCER reports is striking. When
compared to the ICCER, the SAP report—a mere five pages—reads like an executive
summary, with none of the detail of the ICCER. From Lord Oxburgh’s evidence to us,
the report does not appear to explain the detailed work carried out by the SAP. That in itself does not invalidate the SAP report but it does foster an impression that it was not as thorough as the ICCER and was produced quickly in an attempt to be helpful to UEA.
They stated that working papers of the Oxburgh panel should have been made public. They drew attention to the Oxburgh finding of dangers of “selection bias” (cherrypicking) – one of the longstanding concerns of CA;
39. In the interest of openness and transparency, supporting documents including the working documents of Professor Kelly and others on the Panel should have been made publicly available alongside the report and should now be made available. Unfortunately, Professor Kelly’s comments—which have been published in isolation online—can now be read out of context. Had these been published alongside the comments of the other Panel members with an outline of roundtable discussions we consider that this would not have been a problem. The importance of Professor Kelly’s work is that it clears CRU of deliberately falsifying their figures but, as the SAP report put it, “the potential for misleading results arising from selection bias is very great in this area”.
They ruminate briefly at the 11 papers selected by Trevor Davies – where Davies had simply used the papers selected by CRU to put themselves in a good light – in particular, the early papers in which the divergence problem was discussed, rather than the later papers and IPCC where it was disguised. The Sci Tech Committee uncritically got taken by Oxburgh’s statement:
CRU publications repeatedly emphasize the discrepancy between instrumental and tree-based proxy reconstructions of temperature during the late 20th century, but presentations of this work by the IPCC and others have sometimes neglected to highlight this issue.66
We’ve discussed the absurdity of the above statement attributing blame for hide-the-decline on “IPCC and others”, given that post-1960 hide-the-decline data was deleted in CRU publications not included in the Eleven and given that CRU authors were active in the IPCC texts for both the 2001 and 2007 reports – with Briffa specifically refusing the request of one IPCC reviewer to show the decline.
They comment on replication:
61. Lord Oxburgh said that CRU was not able to make accurate reconstructions in every case, particularly of old material. Professor Davies from UEA confirmed this but said CRU scientists would be able to do this given a number of weeks. This is precisely the sort of work we would have expected the Scientific Assessment Panel to conduct—had it been less concerned about rushing to publish its report—during its inquiry into methodologies and the integrity of research at CRU.
They re-iterate their insistence that data and code be archived. However, as CA readers are aware, in paleoclimate, nothing has changed e.g. the recent PAGES compilation co-authored by Jones, where the data hasn’t been archived other than in a password-protected site for friends of the authors.
The discussion of peer review is pathetic. They asked Muir Russell about the three case studies and uncritically accepted Muir Russell’s untrue statement that these three were at the top of the headlines when the story broke. This was discussed previously at CA. Other instances were more at issue e.g. Jones’ going to town:
75. On questioning Sir Muir Russell about the choice of the three examples, he informed us that “they were the three that had been at the top of the head [...] in the comments that were made when the whole story broke […] We couldn’t do everything but we looked at three very solid accusations”.102 He explained that the ICCER team were advised by their peer review adviser, Richard Horton, that it was “entirely natural that people should take a robust view about their own work” when peer reviewing the work of others with a different disposition.103
Horton’s article was totally fatuous for this sort of inquiry. He said that the issue was whether the CRU guys had crossed the line – which Muir Russell didn’t do. Nor did they investigate pal review.
They accepted Muir Russell’s false statement that they had seen “no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made.”
85. The ICCER also stated “there seems clear incitement to delete emails, although we have seen no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made.”113 We questioned Sir Muir Russell about what this statement meant. He explained that the e-mails “do still exist”;114
Rather than grasping this nettle, the Sci Tech Committee pronounced itself content with recommendations that the university do better in the future. Not that the University has shown itself more willing to respond positively to FOI requests.
All in all, another very “British” inquiry. None of the famous Cambridge spies were ever arrested. Indeed Anthony Blunt’s complicity was concealed for over a decade.
The Committee did seem to be exasperated at the execrable “inquiries” and the exasperation showed through here and there. But in the end, it was a stiff upper lip and “move on”.