Laundering Oxburgh’s Interview

The LA Times laundered Oxburgh’s BBC interview, a laundering which tricked even Pielke Jr.

In the original BBC interview, Oxburgh was asked:

Obviously there has been a lot of concern from climate change sceptics who brought this matter to the public eye. If you look at the wording of the emails, the fact is that Prof Jones talked of a trick to hide the decline.

Oxburgh replied:

Look, our concern was not primarily with the emails, other people are looking at that. Our concern was with the published record of the group. And we went back well over 20 years looking at their publications, right up to the present day. Then we spent something like 15 person-days interviewing and talking to the people um in detail. It’s absolutely and transparently clear that they were… uh, in their published science, they were honest. I think that sometimes all sorts of people say silly things in emails. When these things are looked at afterwards, frequently people don’t have the full story, they don’t know what was said on the telephone or letters or in other ways in between. And I think that some of the sceptical comment was in fact justified, and some of it was just plain nasty and ill-informed.

In a widely disseminated story, the LA Times cherry-picked Oxburgh’s statement, leaving out his observation that “some of the sceptical comment was justified”. The LA Times:

He [Oxburgh] said some of the criticism by skeptics, who pointed to the e-mails as proof of a massive scientific coverup, was “just plain nasty and ill-informed.”

Despite his usual attentiveness in such matters, Roger’s account was even further from the original:

Of the criticisms of CRU raised by climate skeptics?

just plain nasty and ill-informed

No mention of Oxburgh’s original admission that “some of the sceptical comment was justified”.


  1. justbeau
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 7:05 PM | Permalink

    I understand this post is to note a misreporting. This seems fair.

    Be it noted Oxbrough is quoted claiming “Its absolutely and transparently clear they were … in their published science, they were honest….sometimes all sorts of people say silly things in emails.”
    With these words, Oxbrough is putting out a story that the science was transparently honest, though some folks chattered away injudiciously, in emails, as folks may do.
    In reality, however, some emails were relevant to contested scientific issues, wrong-minded, and indefensible. The emails were not just social chatter, but pertinent to questionable papers that Lord O. neglected to include in his inquiry. He does not seem a reliable judge of honesty.

  2. bubbagyro
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 7:26 PM | Permalink

    Silly things in emails?
    That is why govt. agencies like the SEC immediately sequester emails. emails are evidence of wrongdoing, admissions, statements of intent. People are convicted all the time by email revelations. In legal parlance, they are “discoverable admissions”.

    This is what Climategate is all about.

    Exeter NH

    • Andrew Dodds
      Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 8:36 AM | Permalink

      I would like to point out that US law does not actually apply in the UK, at least yet.

      But look at it this way: I’ve been following this for months, and I have not seen, anywhere including on this site, any case build up to prove fraud or wrongdoing. In order to do so I would expect a specific, in-context, full text email chain to be shown to demonstrate a fraud taking place. Taking a few sentences (such as ‘hide the decline’) out of context is hardly building a case.

  3. ad
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Permalink

    I don’t believe RPjnr was tricked. I thought his meaning in the post was crystal clear and he was pretty disgusted.

  4. Alex Harvey
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 8:20 PM | Permalink

    I agree with ad. I think Pielke Jr. was just being facetious.

  5. EdeF
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 8:54 PM | Permalink

    I am really surprised the LA Times has said anything….they have avoided Climategate like it was the bubonic plague. I am rather disappointed in them however in that they could have edited the quote to read “..sceptical comment was just plain nasty and ill-informed.”
    And slept soundly.

  6. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Permalink

    Here is a new silly post from a sceptic.

    Use the donated search engine at

    Enter “money”. You will get about 10 hits. Many are about Russians wanting money from CRU.

    There is enough prima facie evidence for an official look, eg from Tatiana to Keith on 7 March 1996

    “Also, it is important for us if you can transfer
    the ADVANCE money on the personal accounts which we gave you earlier
    and the sum for one occasion transfer (for example, during one day)
    will not be more than 10,000 USD. Only in this case we can avoid
    big taxes and use money for our work as much as possible. ”

    Later, on Nov 18 1998 Keith writes to Stepan

    “I am also sending Stepan’s 5000 dollars to Switzerland now to be carried back by his colleague.”

    Hmmm. Was Mao wrong? Does power come from a Swiss bank account?

    • Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 12:52 AM | Permalink

      It’s OT, but I’ll share my 0.02 €.

      “Also, it is important for us if you can transfer
      the ADVANCE money on the personal accounts which we gave you earlier
      and the sum for one occasion transfer (for example, during one day)
      will not be more than 10,000 USD. Only in this case we can avoid
      big taxes and use money for our work as much as possible. ”

      This might look bad, but it might just be a simple case of “tax planning” to avoid spending a good part of the money that could be used to conduct research towards taxes. Using personal accounts to do this always raises questions of honesty; whether all of the money actually ended up as research funds. Without having access to all pertinent information (and I really doubt there’ll be any chance of getting access to transaction history of a Russian bank account), there’s no way to say anything either way.

      • bubbagyro
        Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 10:16 AM | Permalink

        Tax planning? In the US $10,000 is a magic number, so it cannot be coincidence. Above $10,000 gets flagged under money laundering laws, and doing $10K parcels per diem is what criminals know how to do to avoid scrutiny by the Feds. Interesting development, to see the CRU mindset, in very early going, as a mindset that (clumsily, I admit) thinks like a wrongdoer or perpetrator in many ways, not like innocent buffoons, as they are now portrayed by their whitewashers.

        • Jason Miller
          Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 5:05 PM | Permalink

          Very much on topic. Also, please notice the very first statement “Here is a new silly post from a sceptic.” The use of the word “silly” should have been a big clue. Here’s a hypothetical situation –

          Someone use the following quote from a local newspaper article on a blog: “Eighteen year old highschool senior Jimmy Green slung 10 year old, Mary Blue, to the ground.” Then cries for the prosecution of Mr. Green are heard throughout the blog’s comment section such as – Who could be so heartless, this Jimmy Green must be very bad character and he should be locked up as long as possible for assault. But here is how the newspaper article read: “Eighteen year old highschool senior Jimmy Green slung 10 year old, Mary Blue, to the ground. This quick action by Green saved Mary Blue from flying debris caused by an explosion at …..”

          So is Jimmy Green an uncaring criminal or a hero? I guess to know one has to read more than that one sentence. Which is my suggestion. Check out results at the above website search for money and read the letters. And remember the dire situation in Russia in the mid and late 1990’s (more context not included at all in selected quotes). Letters from the search on money show the frustration about the inability to get needed funds to their Russian colleagues.

          Before one starts throwing out charges of criminal activity, one should read more than the, yes I’m going to write it, cherry picked quotes. I think the original post was an excellent and humorous example of the problem with just reading short quotes and not the original material nor the supplemental material dealing with the subject.

        • Geoff Sherrington
          Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 11:42 PM | Permalink

          The word “silly” was used only to beat others to using it, as in “silly skeptical”. If you were an investigator from the IRS in the USA, I bet you’d think there was enough to have a look. When you read the full correspondence, you can suspect that funding from sources, (which might include DOE), funding approved for specified work, might have been diverted to unspecified recipients. Did the DOE ever get its money back on the investment? IIRC, PJ says they did not ask him for reports in later years and hopes nobosy remebers they are funding him.

          Probity rules, OK?

  7. Posted Apr 18, 2010 at 10:42 PM | Permalink

    Pielke earned his Jr this week.

    • philh
      Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM | Permalink

      I agree with Jeff. I have been surprised at times by what appears to be a somewhat shallow approach taken by Roger to problems raised not just by the CRU e-mails but also to errors of the Team in the papers which Steve and his cohorts have exposed. I realize that these computational errors do not fall within his area of expertise, but he nevertheless seems at times almost cavalier about them. It is as if he wants to stand on the sidelines. Well, maybe he does.

  8. jose
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 12:04 AM | Permalink


    Your entire reading of the CRU emails has exemplified the art of cherry picking. Sorry Steve, but your chickens are coming home to roost.

    • krazykiwi
      Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 3:13 AM | Permalink

      So you’re defending misquotation by the media? As for ‘cherry picking’, sorry, that’s what a few senior climate scientists have done, and science itself is the worse for their misrepresentations. By contrast, Steve has worked tirelessly to point out these errors – the actual and those of omission. His effort does not constitute cherry picking, but rather application of correct scientific method. If that method opens holes in a belief system that you hold dear for reasons other than science, then you have some soul searching to do.

    • Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 5:33 AM | Permalink

      On repeated occasions, SteveM has posted comprehensive and thoroughly researched and referenced context and timelines for the exchanges that others have leapt on in a less cautious manner.

      Do you want to point out any concrete examples where you believe the sort of email cherry-picking you describe here has taken place? Be specific. Being specific is where the meat is.

      • DaveG
        Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 5:58 AM | Permalink

        Well, Steve’s twisting of Overpeck’s comments on the MWP was pretty blatant. Overpeck’s desire to get rid of myths about the MWP in Steve’s hands became a desire to get rid of the MWP itself.

        Steve: Puh-leeze. I quoted Overpeck at length in his own words.

        • Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 6:05 AM | Permalink

          By “be specific” I mean, “be specific”. Your opinion of something as “pretty blatant” on no specific post doesn’t count.

          As an example, which explicit post of Steve Mc’s do you object to and why? Give a link, point out your complaint.

          And if it’s “blatant” and uncorrected, I might end up agreeing with you.

        • Nick Stokes
          Posted Apr 20, 2010 at 6:22 AM | Permalink

          Re: DaveG (Apr 19 05:58),
          Steve did indeed twist Overpeck’s words. The headline said
          ‘“Dealing a Mortal Blow” to the MWP’
          That was a gross misrepresentation of what Overpeck said.

          Steve: Oh puh-leeze. Overpeck’s precise words were quoted at length. Readers who wished to make their own judgement were provided with relevant quotes to enable them to do so. This is in contrast to Team articles which routinely paraphrase without providing exact quotations. Or the Gavin-esque practice, adopted by the Oxburgh inquiry, of talking about “some” comments without providing any citation or reference whatever. It is hypocritical for you to criticize me for an article in which I provided the relevant direct quotations while never criticizing the Team.

  9. BT
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 12:18 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for raising this. I was fooled by the LA Times. Their article’s approach was certainly not a fair reflection of Oxburgh’s actual words and tone.

  10. jerry
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 1:10 AM | Permalink

    From the LA Times site

    If you believe that we have made an error, or you have questions about The Times’ journalistic standards and practices, you may contact Deirdre Edgar, readers’ representative, by e-mail at, by phone at (877) 554-4000, by fax at (213) 237-3535 or by mail at 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. The readers’ representative office is online at

  11. Sleeper
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 5:10 AM | Permalink

    Surely Lord Oxburgh, being concerned with honesty in the published record, will contact the LA Times and straighten this mess out.

  12. Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 5:18 AM | Permalink

    They’ve allowed through my comment as “ingliss” repeating Steve’s point here (I’m building up a large portfolio of disposable registrations). The other comments lead me to believe people aren’t quite so easily fooled.

    I’ll follow up by email anyway.

  13. D. Matteson
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 7:38 AM | Permalink

    Having been involved with labor measurement for 40+ years I find this use of “person-days” for labor to be a cover up for the actual amount of time that was spent interviewing.

    The term person-day is a political correct version of the older term of man-days. In business sectors a person day is one person working for one day which is usually 8 hours or less. Because there may have been travel involved the actual time spent by the interviewer could have been as little as a few minutes.

  14. Banjoman0
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 7:43 AM | Permalink

    Count me as thinking this is a little harsh on Pielke, Jr. When I read his post, with the accompanying graphic, I could almost taste the sarcasm dripping from it. He could be criticized for not delving deeper into it, such as was done here, Bishop Hill, etc. Perhaps he felt that it was adequately covered elsewhere, and he could devote his energy to … something else. He has done his share, I think, promoting the Judith Curry response.

  15. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 8:06 AM | Permalink

    Yes, i agree with readers that Roger was sarcastic – something that I didn’t make clear in my post. I’m only making a small point in this post. My criticism was more at the LA Times for their inaccurate reporting. Roger was sarcastic about the Oxburgh report, but I still think that he missed the context of the Chu selective quotation. As I said, a small point.

  16. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 9:17 AM | Permalink

    Judith Curry’s comment at Pielke Jr’s blog on the need for an independent assessment of the historical temperature data sets hit the nail on the head. These discussions soon fall apart when the details are ignored and the generalities dominated. The silliness and obscuration of a generalization like “nasty and ill-informed” without examples has to be apparent to even the casual observer.

  17. Gord Richens
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 10:27 AM | Permalink

    I note the BBC interviewer did not offer Oxburgh the opportunity to specify examples of nasty and ill-informed comments.

  18. BillyV
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 11:39 AM | Permalink

    Henry Chu’s previous comments on CRU may be found here:

    Along with his co-writer Jim Tankersley, they form a team of science reporting what is typically expressed at the Los Angeles Times with their biases so egregious I could no longer handle it. That was my “Tipping Point” for cancellation on Nov. 23.

    BillyV Los Angeles

  19. Coalsoffire
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

    I read with interest Roger P Jr’s blog on this issue. Roger was all over both sides of the fence, apparently agreeing with no one and everyone at the same time. In the end I wondered if this wasn’t an example of a very important unstated bias that also affected the Ox Inquiry. There is an important and severe professional ethic that members of same profession do not openly criticize others in the same group. This exists in law societies, teachers associations and the like. Certainly among University Professors there must be vestiges of the same ethic. Roger cannot bring himself to openly criticize Phil Jones. He dances around the issue. Judith Curry is bravely getting very close to that line and in a moment of candor Roger will dare to say that he accepts her point of view. But he can’t bring himself to say it himself. Now any sentient being that looks at the emails and the documents and follows Climate Audit etc. is aware that climate science is as rotten as can be. And that Phil Jones is in the middle of it. (By the way did anyone ever find out what publication rating MM gave PJ? With all the inquiries going on why doesn’t somebody pick up that smoking gun and do some forensics on it?) Those who can’t bring themselves to criticize their peers should state that bias out front and refrain from dancing. It makes them look foolish.

    • Curt Fischer
      Posted Apr 20, 2010 at 9:42 PM | Permalink

      I disagree entirely with your conclusions on Roger. My sense from reading his blog is that he prefers to disregard rather than castigate people who may have been bad apples. It all seems consistent with his oft-stated views that the risk global climate change does represent a serious societal threat that merits a coherent policy response. Devoting himself to raining blows upon the work of Mann and Jones would surely subtract from the energies he has available to critique the climate change policies floated by various NGOs, governments, and academics. It is the latter that is his expertise.

  20. Stephan
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 10:50 PM | Permalink

    Looks like a U turn again LOL

    “Thanks to cooling by aerosols starting in the 1940s, however, the planet has only felt a portion of that greenhouse warming. In the 1980s, sulfate pollution dropped as Western nations enhanced pollution controls, and as a result, global warming accelerated,” Kintisch wrote.

    Read more:

  21. djbiggs
    Posted Apr 19, 2010 at 11:40 PM | Permalink

    LA Times “were guilty of sloppy record-keeping but not bad science”

    How is it possible to assert the conclusions based on sloppy records would be accurate?

    Though accuracy isn’t the be all and end all in every instance, it is reprehensible that they publish conclusions based on those records (records would to my mind include data).

    On another note have any papers been published lately that could be looked at? Auditing journalism though dissected very well, seems petty, though if that is all there is keep at it. I can only hope that this site has caused a pause for thought before publishing.

  22. Peter Oneil
    Posted Apr 20, 2010 at 4:11 AM | Permalink

    It seems to me that we are encountering post modern journalism and post modern enquiries. Unfortunately for me, i read all the e-mails without taking anything post modern into account. This has left a very nasty pre-post modern taste in my mouth.
    I look forward at some time in the post post modern era, to reading a fictional story (based on fact) called the Lord of the Tree Rings.

  23. sod
    Posted Apr 20, 2010 at 10:38 AM | Permalink

    well, the LAtimes also didn t quote this part of the interview:

    It’s absolutely and transparently clear that they were… uh, in their published science, they were honest.

    i am sorry, but they did a nice sum up of the findings.

    • Keith Herbert
      Posted Apr 20, 2010 at 1:28 PM | Permalink

      which strikes me as odd. “Honest” in this sense is a value judgement. They did not, in their assessment, find dishonesty. But that is an entirely different thing than finding honesty.

      It does seem they are bending over backward to extend praise, even where none would seem justified within the context of the investigation.

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