Today’s post finalizes some notes made earlier this year on appearances in the Climategate dossier by Chris Turney, the leader of the Ship of Fools and an alumnus of the University of East Anglia (an affiliation featured in his Google avatar over his PhD instiution – see left).
Although it attracted no notice at the time, Turney’s efforts to create a “consortium” to obtain government funds was a prominent feature of 2009 Climategate correspondence. Indeed, the second-last email in the original Climategate dossier concerns Turney’s “consortium”. It turns out that Turney even had a role in the quality control that was so severely criticized in the Harry Readme.
The Harry Readme, which attracted considerable derisive commentary during Climategate, contains the acerbic (to say the least) commentary of Ian Harris on the execreable quality control of his predecessors. One of these predecessors turns out to be Chris Turney, who was a junior coauthor with Mike Hulme and Phil Jones on four articles while attending the University of East Anglia in 1993-94 (see UEA list here.)
Although some early discussion on the Harry Readme presumed that it was connected it to the well-known CRUTEM temperature index, it was actually connected to a related (but different) project, CRU’s attempt to attribute absolute temperatures to various gridcells (“CRU TS”), as shown in the heading of the Harry Readme. (At the time, CRU defenders argued that CRU TS was not widely used, but it has been cited in studies cited by AR5 WG2 purporting to show that crop yields are adversely impacted by temperature.)
The development of CRU TS1.1 is described in two academic articles by New, Hulme and Jones in 2000, the first of which was New, M., Hulme, M. and Jones, P.D., 2000: Representing twentieth century space-time climate variability. Part 1: development of 1961-90 mean monthly terrestrial climatology pdf. In its acknowledgements, Hulme and Phil Jones thanked Turney (and five others, including Ian Harris) for their contributions to “data entry and quality control”.
Turney appears to have applied the quality control lessons learned at the University of East Anglia to his planning of the Ship of Fools.
Climategate and the NERC Consortium
In 2009, Turney was still at the University of Exeter, where he had been appointed a couple of years earlier after a stint at the University of Woollongong. His career to that point had been in pre-Holocene paleoclimate.
In late 2008, Turney had developed the belief that he and a consortium of paleoclimateers could get £3.5 million funding from NERC, the UK funding agency, for the contentious paleoclimate of the past millennium. He discussed the idea with Jones and Briffa in late 2008, following up in March 2009. On March 9, Turney, then in Copenhagen to attend a consciousness-raising conference (see report here) sent Jones, Briffa and Osborn (plus Brohan and Allan at the Met Office, cc Peter Cox at Exeter) an “outline bid for the NERC Consortium bid we discussed at the end of last year.” Turney added that “Exeter has suddenly gone mad with appointments of staff and postgrads”, the madness later spreading to other institutions, including the University of Bristol.
Turney’s outline (not in the CLimategate dossier) seems to have grandiosely proposed that they could solve the longstanding conundrum of effective climate sensitivity. Briffa counseled sanity:
[we] need to be clear that this sort of work is incremental -i.e. that not every (or any) proposed data/model project can really produce “comprehensive” data or answer to question of what is effective climate sensitivity.
Undeterred by Briffa’s caution, over the next few months, Turney expanded the potential “consortium” to include Gabi Hegerl, Simon Tett and Sandy Tudhope (Rob Wilson would later get involved.) Jones privately wondered to Gabi Hegerl, now involved, whether the Turney bid could be made “more focussed”:
Maybe we can work the Turney consortium bid into something more focussed?
Turney proposed that the consortium meet for a two-day retreat (to be funded by Exeter) in order to distill his two-pager into something concrete enough for the NERC December 2009 funding round.
However, the proposed retreat doesn’t seem to have materialized. In August 2009, Jones tried to write up a realistic proposal, but confessed that he was “floundering”. Simon Tett, by then also entangled in the proposed consortium, also confessed that he thought that Turney’s concepts were still far too general and grandiose:
I’m not convinced that what you are planning will do what is needed. I think the concept note still feels very general. Where is the focus and how will that focus improve scientific knowledge? How is the project a consortium?
Sandy Tudhope, a coral specialist, like the others, was supportive in general, but couldn’t yet discern realistic goals in Turney’s concept:
I understand Chris’ enthusiasm for moving forward, but like Simon feel we’ve not yet really pinned down the scope and novelty of our approach as much as we need to.
Eventually, Rob Wilson and Phil Jones proposed ideas that had been long advocated at Climate Audit. Wilson suggested that a co-ordinated “update” of key proxies would offer a purpose for the consortium (an idea proposed in the earliest CA posts);
from the proxy point of view, it seems to me that there should be a good rationale for the consortium if we emphasise the importance of a coordinated ‘update’ and ‘new’ sampling of key proxies and regions.
Jones suggested that it would be worthwhile to determine which proxies “do the work” and which are “superfluous” in “reconstructions like MBH” – a longstanding issue at Climate Audit (though there should be no mystery about which proxies “do the work” in MBH – the role of bristlecones has been explained over and over):
Not sure where this is taking us. There are a lot of good scientific issues when considering combining proxies. In reconstructions like MBH, which ones do the work and which are superfluous.
Both Osborn and Eric Wolff (of the British Antarctic Survey) were concerned about Turney’s vagueness and grandiosity. Osborn:
The composition of the consortium is strong, but the need for a consortium project still seems weak, related to the objectives being general and difficult to “measure” whether we have achieved them. In agreement with some others’ comments, it is unconvincing to say that a major aim is to determine climate variations over last 500 years with greatly reduced uncertainties.
(a) Uncertainties of large-scale reconstructions are not fully estimated, so difficult to claim that we will reduce something when we don’t know how big it is to begin with. (b) I don’t think we’ll “greatly” reduce them anyway.
if I was NERC I would want a little more on what I could expect for 3.5 MEuro.
Turney’s inability to set out any focus caused the correspondents to suggest that the proposed submission be pushed back to the July 2010 NERC round- a delay that Turney resisted though he conceded that the proposal “lacks a little focus”.
In late September 2009, the “retreat” finally took place to “to develop the Consortium bid”. Exeter funded all expenses. Turney documented ideas for further expansion of the Consortium:
Phil Brohan to invite Matt Collins ( Met Office) to work with Gabi Hegerl on the methodology/ phenomena WP;
Eric Wolff to invite Louise Sime to participate in the Modelling WP ( Isotopes)
Sandy Tudhope to talk with Simon Tett re leading either the modelling or constraining predictions WPs.
Rob Wilson ? to talk with Tim Melvin re Modelling WP (Trees)
In early October 2009, Exeter sent out Turney’s “overarching rationale” with the following components:
WP-1 Prioritization of globally significant areas and datasets (Hegerl) £500k
WP-2: Extending historical climate records using observational and proxy data (P. Jones) £500k
WP-3: Modelling the climate system and controls on proxies (Cox) £500k
WP-4: Synthesis of data generation and modelling (Turney and Brohan) £750k
WP-5: Using the past to constrain future prediction (Tett) £500k
This leaves £250k in hand for project management/ dissemination/conferences /meetings/travel etc – and small overbudgets if they occur.
The second-last CG1 email documents further developments in the efforts of the Turney consortium to get their hands on the NERC money.
How Times Had Changed
How times had changed since the opening email in the Climategate dossier. As Michael Kelly wittily observed, Climategate began with two minor figures fighting mosquitos in the Siberian wilderness, planning real research and wondering where their next microscopic funding would come from. Kelly:
Like an Aristophanes satire, like Hamlet, it opens with two slaves, spear-carriers, little people. Footsoldiers of history, two researchers in a corrupt and impoverished mid-90s Russia schlep through the tundra to take core samples from trees at the behest of the bigger fish in far-off East Anglia. Stepan and Rashit don’t even have their own e-mail address and like characters in some absurdist comedy must pass jointly under the name of Tatiana M. Dedkova. Conscientious and obliging, they strike a human note all through this drama. Their talk is of mundane material concerns, the smallness of funds, the expense of helicopters, the scramble for grants. They are the ones who get their hands dirty, and their vicissitudes periodically revived my interest during the slower stretches of the tale, those otherwise devoted to abstruse details of committee work and other longueurs. ‘We also collected many wood samples from living and dead larches of various ages. But we were bited by many thousands of mosquitos especially small ones.’
They are perhaps the only likeable characters on the establishment side, apart from the exasperated and appalled IT man Harry in the separate ‘Harry_read_me’ document, and I cheered up whenever they appeared.
At the close of the Climategate dossier, the situation was the opposite. NERC is perceived as awash with funding. The Turney consortium seems more or less certain that they can get £3.5 million from the NERC; their main stumbling block was that their apparent difficulty in figuring out a coherent rationale for the funding.
Closing Kelly’s circle, it seems ironic, to say the least, that Turney, one of the scientists whose quality control was reviled in the Harry readme, should be the leader of the unfocussed consortium of the penultimate CG1 email.
Postscript: I presume that the Consortium proposal foundered, as in July 2010, only six months later, Turney was unveiled as a recipient of a lucrative ($3 million) Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship at the University of New South Wales entitled “Tipping points in Records of Extreme Events in Australasia: Using the Past to Understand and Plan for Abrupt Future Climate Change”. One of Turney’s first endeavours was as joint leader with Joelle Gergis of the Australian contribution to PAGES2K. Its second workshop was held at the University of Western Australia in April 2011. Host Pauline Grierson puffed that climate science was an “emerging strength” at UWA, which was supposedly developing “critical mass”. Grierson cited the importance of contributions from Stephen Lewandowsky and Kevin Judd. A month later, Turney was signatory to a multi-signature climate manifesto modeled on Peter Gleick’s similar U.S. manifesto the previous year. More on these events on another occasion.