The UK government has provided an incomplete response to Andrew Montford’s FOI request for copies of “correspondence or documentation” related to “the appointment of the [Oxburgh} panel or its deliberations”. However, even the incomplete information so far shows that UK government Chief Scientist John Beddington played a critical role. In addition, it contains the remarkable information that US National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone was charged with contacting (“warming up”) the American panelists and UK National Academy of Sciences President Martin Rees with contacting(“warming up”) the UK panelists. Here is the correspondence obtained so far (attachments are mentioned and not provided and the existence of other correspondence is certainly implied). Original documents are here.
Here is Andrew Montford’s request of 20 April 2010:
Dear Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,
I am interested in the appointment of Lord Oxburgh’s panel, which
inquired into the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
Did the government chief scientist, Professor Beddington, play any part in the appointment of the panel or its deliberations?
If so please provide copies of related correspondence or documentation.
Here is covering letter to their response (which contained two attachments):
Ref: FOI 10/0744
Dear Mr Montford
Thank you for your email of 20 April regarding the appointment of Lord
Oxburgh’s panel, which considered key science publications from the
University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.
The appointment process and selection conducted by UEA was informed by advice from the Royal Society, to ensure appropriate rigour, expertise and objectivity.
As part of proper practice, in putting together a high quality panel the
UEA leadership also took soundings on potential members, including
candidates for the role of chair, from senior figures in the scientific
community. As the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor
Beddington was one of those consulted. Professor Beddington offered two names of possible candidates to lead the Review, one of which was Lord Oxburgh.
He also proposed the inclusion of Prof David Hands, President of the Royal Statistical Society, as someone well qualified to contribute.
In addition, at UEA’s subsequent request, Prof Beddington provided his
good offices to encourage these candidates to give positive consideration
to an approach by UEA.
Copies of two email exchanges are enclosed, related to these points.
Professor Beddington had no further involvement in the review, its
decisions or its outcomes. Indeed, he first read about the outcome of the
review when it was reported in the press.
Information Rights Unit
On March 1, 2010, leaving the hearings of the Parliamentary Committee, UEA Vice Chancellor made the following statement:
I shall be announcing later this week the chair of scientific appraisal panel to take a look at the key work of CRU and reaffirm the surefire [?] quality of the science.
The language in the release was somewhat different stating as follows:
“I hope to announce the name of the chair of the scientific appraisal panel, about which we have been consulting with the Royal Society, later this week.
The first email provided in the FOI response was an email from Trevor Davies of UEA to John Beddington, UK Chief Scientist dated three days later (March 4, 2010 transcribed from photo pdf):
From Trevor Davies
Re CRU Science Assessment Panel
As you know Ron Oxburgh has agreed to do this. Thank you for the intial suggestion! He has cleared April 6/7/8 in his diary for a 2-day session at UEA, and anticipates writing the report on the last day.
We have a list of 12/13 names, approved by the Royal Soc, covering a range of interests and “attitudes” toward global warming. Ron has decided the first we should approach for his panel of 6-7 are (xxxxxx- expurgated- xxxxx
Michael Kelly; Herbert Huppert mathematician Cambridge, David Hand FBA Imperial; Kerry Emanual meteorologist MIT, Huw Davies ETH Zurich; Lisa Graumluich, tre ring analyst Univ Arizona
Ron is keen that they are “warmed up” by influential people rather than us inviting them cold. Martin Rees is asking Ralph Cicerone (President NAS) to approach the Americans, Brian Hoskins will approach Huw Davies, Ron himself is talking to Kelly and Huppert.
I wonder if you would be prepared to “warm up” David Hand – on the basis that you know him and you suggested him!
We are most keen, if at all possible, that we can hit the April 6/7/8 window and I’m sure you will be very persuasive in convincing him that this is an important job for science, etc.
For background I attach 1) a draft letter which will be sent to David by Ron 2) a list of the papers we anticipate will be examined
David’s contact details are :xxxx
If you are able to help, I will be very grateful.
There was one more email in the tranche that I hadn’t noticed previously – it sheds light on the meaning of “warmed up” – which is to be in “agreement” with the suggestions of the UK Government Chief Scientist.
[Update- May 26, 2010] I just noticed this email that I had not previously noted:
March 9, 2010
To – Trevor Davies; John Beddington
Cc: Nick Grout BIS GO – Science
Following your phone conversation last night, John wanted to let you know that he has spoken to David Hand, who was in agreement with John’s suggestions (and therefore has been “warmed up”)
Private Secretary to John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser
The Oxburgh panel was announced on March 22, 2010 by CRU here here, in which they stated:
“We are grateful to the Royal Society for helping us to identify such a strong panel and to the members for dedicating their time to this important matter.”
The second email included in the FOI response was from Beddington to Davies on March 23, 2010, the day after this announcement.
Trevor, thanks for the information on the announcements, which all looks to be going well. As it happens, I met Ron Oxburgh last night and he duly moaned at me putting his name into the frame, but my distinct impression was that he was rather pleased. Knowing him, he will certainly make it work.
You may know that I also talked to Michael Kelly who was very positive and understood the absolute need for objectivity particularly given his known stance.
I hope this is going to work out, but we have the right team so it should have every opportunity,
Best wishes, John
The report of the Oxburgh panel was dated April 12, 2010 and stated:
The Panel was set up by the University in consultation with the Royal Society to assess the integrity of the research published by the Climatic Research Unit in the light of various external assertions.
The papers cover a period of more than twenty years and were selected on the advice of the Royal Society. All had been published in international scientific journals and had been through a process of peer review. CRU agreed that they were a fair sample of the work of the Unit.
Obviously, these emails raise a number of issues.
The emails obviously contain an amusing malapropism. (Surely Kerry Emanuel didn’t need any “warming up” 🙂 ). However, I find the procedures disquieting.
The Oxburgh report did not disclose the role of the UK government in nominating and contacting Oxburgh or other panelists. If this was “proper practice”, as the government now claims, then why didn’t the university and the Oxburgh panel disclose this information in the first place, instead of having to glean the information through the FOI process.
To the extent that the Oxburgh panel was supposed to be providing an independent appraisal, the idea that panel members were contacted (“warmed up”) by presidents of their respective National Academies is, to say the least, disquieting. In most walks of life, expressions of concern by influential people to judges, jurors and commissioners is viewed very adversely.
Second, the FOI response appears to have omitted key parts of the correspondence. The covering email stated “Professor Beddington offered two names of possible candidates to lead the Review, one of which was Lord Oxburgh.” Presumably there was an email or other document in which this was done, but this was not provided. There are other indications of omitted correspondence.
Third, the flimsiness of the cursory Oxburgh inquiry has been obvious to readers. The emails show that this was built-in. Oxburgh planned to spend two days at UEA and write the report in one day. The report shows no evidence of its writing extending into a second day. Has there ever been a flimsier inquiry report?
I have an outstanding FOI request to the university of East Anglia for their correspondence with the Royal Society on the selection of papers. The Oxburgh report said that the papers were selected on the “advice of the Royal Society”, but the Royal Society has refused to disclose the name of the person at the Royal Society who provided the advice or what criteria the Royal Society used to select the papers. The claim in the Oxburgh report seems to be untrue, but neither the Royal Society nor the Oxburgh panel have taken any steps to correct the seemingly false statement. Yesterday, the UEA acknowledged that they were overdue on responding to my FOI request and indicated their intent to respond by the end of the week.