Climategate’s final fizzle

by Gareth on July 8, 2010

Phil Jones and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit have been exonerated (again). The final instalment in the trilogy of reports into the stolen emails affair, the Independent Climate Change Email Review chaired by Sir Muir Russell (pdf), finds that “their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt” and could find no “evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments“. The report does suggest that “there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA“, which is pretty much in line with earlier findings.

As usual, the Guardian is providing exemplary coverage, and their live blog of the day includes reactions from some of the key players. Here’s Phil Jones, who has just been given his job back:

I am, of course, extremely relieved that this review has now been completed. We have maintained all along that our science is honest and sound and this has been vindicated now by three different independent external bodies.

Mike Mann:

It is my hope that we can now put this bogus, manufactured scandal behind us, and move on to a more constructive conversation about climate change. It seems particularly ironic that climate change deniers continue to harp over their now discredited claims regarding decade-old emails while we’re experiencing almost daily reminders of the reality of global warming and climate change.

Slim chance of that, it would seem. Mark Morano’s Climate Depot has dubbed it the “Shameful Sham Climategate report”, Steve McIntyre is flooding his blog with attempts to paint the report as fatally flawed, and Benny Peiser, director of Lord Lawson’s secretly-funded Global Warming Policy Foundation is promising to set up an enquiry into the enquiries. No prizes for guessing the conclusion of that Climategate blackwash…

Oxford physicist Myles Allen’s comment is worth highlighting:

What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective. Again and again, stories are sexed up with arch hints that these “revelations” might somehow impact on the evidence for human impact on climate. Yet the only error in the actual data used for climate change detection to have emerged from this whole affair amounted to a few hundredths of a degree in the estimated global temperature of a couple of years in the late 1870s.

Amen to that. Plenty more to read at the Guardian page and much more reaction to come, no doubt, but it’s worth noting George Monbiot apologising for calling for Jones’ resignation, and RealClimate welcoming the report’s findings.

Below the fold: the report’s key findings and recommendations:

 

From the executive summary:

1.3 Findings

13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

15. But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science.

1.3.1 Land Station Temperatures

16. On the allegation of withholding temperature data, we find that CRU was not in a position to withhold access to such data or tamper with it. We demonstrated that any independent researcher can download station data directly from primary sources and undertake their own temperature trend analysis.

17. On the allegation of biased station selection and analysis, we find no evidence of bias. Our work indicates that analysis of global land temperature trends is robust to a range of station selections and to the use of adjusted or unadjusted data. The level of agreement between independent analyses is such that it is highly unlikely that CRU could have acted improperly to reach a predetermined outcome. Such action would have required collusion with multiple scientists in various independent organisations which we consider highly improbable.

18. On the allegation of withholding station identifiers we find that CRU should have made available an unambiguous list of the stations used in each of the versions of the Climatic Research Unit Land Temperature Record (CRUTEM) at the time of publication. We find that CRU‟s responses to reasonable requests for information were unhelpful and defensive.

19. The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU‟s work in this area could be trusted and should be relied upon and we find no evidence to support that implication.

1.3.2 Temperature Reconstructions from Tree Ring Analysis

20. The central implication of the allegations here is that in carrying out their work, both in the choices they made of data and the way in which it was handled, CRU scientists intended to bias the scientific conclusions towards a specific result and to set aside inconvenient evidence. More specifically, it was implied in the allegations that this should reduce the confidence ascribed to the conclusions in Chapter 6 of the IPCC 4th Report, Working Group 1 (WG1).

21. We do not find that the way that data derived from tree rings is described and presented in IPCC AR4 and shown in its Figure 6.10 is misleading. In particular, on the question of the composition of temperature reconstructions, we found no evidence of exclusion of other published temperature reconstructions that would show a very different picture. The general discussion of sources of uncertainty in the text is extensive, including reference to divergence. In this respect it represented a significant advance on the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR).

22. On the allegation that the phenomenon of “divergence” may not have been properly taken into account when expressing the uncertainty associated with reconstructions, we are satisfied that it is not hidden and that the subject is openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRU papers.

23. On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a „trick‟ and to „hide the decline‟ in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.

24. On the allegations in relation to withholding data, in particular concerning the small sample size of the tree ring data from the Yamal peninsula, CRU did not withhold the underlying raw data (having correctly directed the single request to the owners). But it is evidently true that access to the raw data was not simple until it was archived in 2009 and that this delay can rightly be criticized on general principles. In the interests of transparency, we believe that CRU should have ensured that the data they did not own, but on which their publications relied, was archived in a more timely way.

1.3.3 Peer Review and Editorial Policy

25. On the allegations that there was subversion of the peer review or editorial process we find no evidence to substantiate this in the three instances examined in detail. On the basis of the independent work we commissioned (see Appendix 5) on the nature of peer review, we conclude that it is not uncommon for strongly opposed and robustly expressed positions to be taken up in heavily contested areas of science. We take the view that such behaviour does not in general threaten the integrity of peer review or publication.

1.3.4 Misuse of IPCC Process

26. On the allegations that in two specific cases there had been a misuse by CRU scientists of the IPCC process, in presenting AR4 to the public and policy makers, we find that the allegations cannot be upheld. In addition to taking evidence from them and checking the relevant records of the IPCC process, we have consulted the relevant IPCC review Editors. Both the CRU scientists were part of large groups of scientists taking joint responsibility for the relevant IPCC Working Group texts, and were not in a position to determine individually the final wording and content.

1.3.5 Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)

27. On the allegation that CRU does not appear to have acted in a way consistent with the spirit and intent of the FoIA or EIR, we find that there was unhelpfulness in responding to requests and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them. University senior management should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FoIA and EIR compliance.

1.3.6 Other Findings on Governance

28. Given the significance of the work of CRU, UEA management failed to recognise in their risk management the potential for damage to the University‟s reputation fuelled by the controversy over data access.

1.4 Recommendations

29. Our main recommendations for UEA are as follows:
Risk management processes should be directed to ensuring top management engagement in areas which have the potential to impact the reputation of the university. Compliance with FoIA/EIR is the responsibility of UEA faculty leadership and ultimately the Vice-Chancellor. Where there is an organisation and documented system in place to handle information requests, this needs to be owned, supported and reinforced by University leadership.

CRU should make available sufficient information, concurrent with any publications, to enable others to replicate their results.

1.5 Broader Issues

30. Our work in conducting the Review has led us to identify a number of issues relevant not only to the climate science debate but also possibly more widely, on which we wish to comment briefly.

31. The nature of scientific challenge. We note that much of the challenge to CRU‘s work has not always followed the conventional scientific method of checking and seeking to falsify conclusions or offering alternative hypotheses for peer review and publication. We believe this is necessary if science is to move on, and we hope that all those involved on all sides of the climate science debate will adopt this approach.

32. Handling Uncertainty – where policy meets science. Climate science is an area that exemplifies the importance of ensuring that policy makers –
particularly Governments and their advisers, Non-Governmental Organisations and other lobbyists – understand the limits on what scientists can say and with what degree of confidence. Statistical and other techniques for explaining uncertainty have developed greatly in recent years, and it is essential that they are properly deployed. But equally important is the need for alternative viewpoints to be recognized in policy presentations, with a robust assessment of their validity, and for the challenges to be rooted in science rather than rhetoric.

33. Peer review – what it can/cannot deliver. We believe that peer review is an essential part of the process of judging scientific work, but it should not be over- rated as a guarantee of the validity of individual pieces of research, and the significance of challenge to individual publication decisions should be not exaggerated.

34. Openness and FoIA. We support the spirit of openness enshrined in the FoIA and the EIR. It is unfortunate that this was not embraced by UEA, and we make recommendations about that. A well thought through publication scheme would remove much potential for disruption by the submission of multiple requests for information. But at the level of public policy there is need for further thinking about the competing arguments for the timing of full disclosure of research data and associated computer codes etc, as against considerations of confidentiality during the conduct of research. There is much scope for unintended consequences that could hamper research: US experience is instructive. We recommend that the ICO should initiate a debate on these wider issues.

35. Handling the blogosphere and non traditional scientific dialogue. One of the most obvious features of the climate change debate is the influence of the blogosphere. This provides an opportunity for unmoderated comment to stand alongside peer reviewed publications; for presentations or lectures at learned conferences to be challenged without inhibition; and for highly personalized critiques of individuals and their work to be promulgated without hindrance. This is a fact of life, and it would be foolish to challenge its existence. The Review team would simply urge all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand. That said, a key issue is how scientists should be supported to explain their position, and how a public space can be created where these debates can be conducted on appropriate terms, where what is and is not uncertain can be recognised.

36. Openness and Reputation. An important feature of the blogosphere is the extent to which it demands openness and access to data. A failure to recognise this and to act appropriately, can lead to immense reputational damage by feeding allegations of cover up. Being part of a like minded group may provide no defence. Like it or not, this indicates a transformation in the way science has to be conducted in this century.

37. Role of Research Sponsors. One of the issues facing the Review was the release of data. At various points in the report we have commented on the formal requirements for this. We consider that it would make for clarity for researchers if funders were to be completely clear upfront in their requirements for the release of data (as well as its archiving, curation etc).

38. The IPCC. We welcome the IPCC‘s decision to review its processes, and can only stress the importance of capturing the range of viewpoints and reflecting appropriately the statistical uncertainties surrounding the data it assesses. Our conclusions do not make a judgement on the work of IPCC, though we acknowledge the importance of its advice to policy makers.

There’s much to work through in the detail of the report, but I think the points of real interest, well worthy of further consideration, are the “broader issues” the report raises. As far as Climategate itself is concerned, the only real point of interest left is discovering who was behind the theft of the emails, and that investigation seems to be grinding along very slowly indeed.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

AGW-Denier July 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Exonerated? Yeah right. There’s a Tui billboard right there!

Yet another whitewash by the True Believers.

But “let’s just pause for a moment to consider what’s at stake here. According to the IPCC’s projections – not even predictions, mark you, just projections based on deeply unreliable, garbage-in-garbage-out computer models – the world is on course for a period of catastrophic, unprecedented, man-made global warming which can only be prevented by drastically cutting carbon emissions and destroying the global economy. This will cost us all at least $45 trillion and prolong the recession indefinitely. And an official Dutch investigation now finds that this is all fair and proper and right, even though none of these “projections” is remotely grounded in empirical observation, though the link between the trace gas CO2 and catastrophic global warming remains no more than theoretical, and though the Climategate emails revealed that those scientists most close to the heart of the IPCC process are at best unreliable and incompetent, at worst corrupt, fraudulent and more interested in political activism than in honest science.”

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100046150/how-come-we-now-have-to-go-to-the-chinese-for-the-truth-about-global-warming/

bill July 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm

And so the defensive avalanche of ‘It isn’t Trooooooeeeeeee’ (‘Leave Britney alone!’) style nonsense begins…

Tell it to the Hard of Thinking – oh, I see, it’s the Telegraph, so you are!…

Gareth July 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Delingpole is a potty-mouth propagandist reduced to spitting venom because reality is refusing to follow his preferred storyline. Irrelevant, in other words.

Doug July 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

“by drastically cutting carbon emissions and destroying the global economy.”
Now who is being alarmist?

“This will cost us all at least $45 trillion and prolong the recession indefinitely.”

That would be from an economic model and all I can say GIGO.

Just a note on an apparent contradiction

In one breath it is stated by the free marketeers that humans are infinitely innovative and free markets allow for this innovation to be expressed so resource constraints are never an issue (re: Julian Simon)

In the next breath it is stated that we are too stupid to think of ways to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels without destroying the economy.

So AGW Denier which is it?

AGW-Denier July 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Gareth Renowden: “Delingpole is a potty-mouth propagandist…”

LOL!! Gee that’s a powerful argument. Well done.

AGW-Denier July 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Doug: “That would be from an economic model and all I can say GIGO”

Now why doesn’t that statement apply to climate models?

Answer: because if it did, the IPCC wouldn’t have a case! And we can’t have that now can we?

Gareth July 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm

LOL!! Gee that’s a powerful argument. Well done.

Not an argument. A statement of fact. I have read his Telegraph blog, and it’s a mystery to me how a newspaper that’s supposed to belong to Britain’s quality press allows the stupid invective he delivers to appear on its web site.

AGW-Denier July 8, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Gareth : “Not an argument. A statement of fact.”

Is it now? And of course it’s a “fact” because Gareth said so. Nice.

You obviously don’t know the difference between a fact and an opinion.

Gareth July 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I do. Delingpole appears not to. He makes my point in virtually every column he writes.

AGW-Denier July 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm

I do! I do!

And Gareth again expresses another opinion and calls it a fact.

Whatever Gareth.

Gareth July 8, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I can’t be arsed (not to put too fine a point on it) to go through Delingpole’s oeuvre to demonstrate his paucity of understanding and puerile invective, but your own quote does it quite nicely:

the Climategate emails revealed that those scientists most close to the heart of the IPCC process are at best unreliable and incompetent, at worst corrupt, fraudulent and more interested in political activism than in honest science

I hope he gets sued for libel.

bill July 8, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Ah yes, delightful James Delingpole.

He’d also be the guy who loved feeling ‘like a Rock Star’ at Heartland’s 4th International Conference on Climate Change (AKA Crankfest 2010). Little does he know he’s actually in Spinal Tap!…

30 seconds with Delingpole:

“How certain are you that mankind is warming the climate?”

“How certain are you that C02 and the other things are greenhouse gases?”

“How certain are you that we are emitting more CO2 which is one of the greenhouse gases?”

These, we’re told, are classic ‘Straw Man’ arguments. What do you say, AGW-D?

Doug July 9, 2010 at 7:36 am

Because AGW there is a big difference between models based on physical relationships (e.g. Newtonian theories of motion) such as GCM, and models built on dodgy theories of human behaviour (e.g. the rational economic man)

StephenR July 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

“Not to ask Professor Jones if he had deliberately deleted emails so they could not be requested is a pretty extraordinary omission.”
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news/article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=10657479

I don’t recall what he’s talking about but curious none the less.

Gareth July 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Stephen: Montford appears to basing his comment on a remark at the press conference, not on anything in the report. Context: Montford is best known as blogger “Bishop Hill” — one of Stephen McIntyre’s loudest cheerleaders, and author of a book called The Hockeystick Delusion Illusion. His comment is just part of a wider attempt by all the people who promoted “climategate” to discredit the reports into the emails. You can consider it part of the blizzard of nitpicking that I confidently predict will obsess the inactivists over the next few weeks and months. Given previous form (McIntyre et al are still obsessing over a 1999 paper), there’s a good chance they’ll be blogging about Muir-Russell in 2020.

Gosman July 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I disagree that this was much a do about nothing, as implied in your thread title.

The final report highlighted a huge number of lessons that those involved in Climate Science need to learn otherwise they will be at risk of repeating this sort of thing sooner rather than later.

The main thing is that it is not got scientific practice to keep research data hidden and obstruct those who you feel may criticise your work from gaining access to them. If you do then you are not adhering to the high standards that scientific investigation should be carried out in.

This has always been my position and it was good to see the report on the leaked e-mails reflect this view.

By the way did they get to the bottom of how and who leaked the e-mails and will anyone be charged over them?

thesailer99 July 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm

The only positive thing that has come out of this extremely damaging and sorry mess is that I have noticed that the scientific community are much more forceful and positive about the soundness of their work and are more prepared to be clearer about their findings. Having spent years honestly researching the climate they are annoyed that a few journalists and TV commentators can routinely discount their work as fraudulent rubbish.
Those who understand the problem need to get politicians and other public figures to get behind the problem and get it accepted. Saying this in Hot Topic is speaking to the converted but getting the public to understand that we have to make changes is a major issue.

Doug July 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Now that the data is going to be freely available (which I thought was already widely available) I look forward to the rigorous and robust analysis that will be published in the journals by those peerless critics of the CRU, and which will provide wonderful new insights into our understanding of the global climate.
>
>
Crickets chirping

bill July 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I understand the case of who filched the e-mails is still in the hands of the Police in the UK. I guess we’ll find out eventually what that means and who was responsible.

I recently heard Julian Assange of Wikileaks – who I believe is more-or-less still in hiding after the US helicopter gunship (‘Light -em all up!’) video release – pointing out that they were the first to publish them. Interesting, as I doubt this was a whistleblower rather than an outright hacking.

The final report highlighted a huge number of lessons that those involved in Climate Science need to learn otherwise they will be at risk of repeating this sort of thing sooner rather than later.

Subtract the word ‘huge’ and I’d agree with you!

The ‘Spirit of FOI’ thing is rather the Counsel of Perfection – if I was subjected to the kind of systematic bad-faith harrassment that these guys were I reckon I’d dig the heels in, too. Sure, that doesn’t make it right, but let’s not go throwing stones at those who are merely as mortal as ourselves.

Let’s speculate on the hypocritical cries of outrage and violation if someone hacks Heartland and the CEI, shall we?

Gosman July 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Science should have nothing to fear from being open and honest and also from robust and agressive criticism.

In science there is simply no excuses for any sort of behaviour which seeks to restrict access to information of those who disagree with your point of view.

That is the main lesson that the boys, (and presumably some girls), of the CRU should have gotten from all of this.

Gosman July 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

The more I read the findings and recommendations in that report the more it backs up my stance on this topic.

I especially like this section:

“36. Openness and Reputation. An important feature of the blogosphere is the extent to which it demands openness and access to data. A failure to recognise this and to act appropriately, can lead to immense reputational damage by feeding allegations of cover up. Being part of a like minded group may provide no defence. Like it or not, this indicates a transformation in the way science has to be conducted in this century.”

In short, get with the programme and stop acting like arrogant know alls who try and control all the information.

Again none of this detracts for the underlying Science but this should give Climate Scientists a kick up the backside.

Gareth July 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Gosman/bill: Follow the link in the last par of the post – it’s to a Revkin item about the theft, and includes a comment from the police:

this is a major investigation which involves detailed enquiries which are still being followed up. It would be inappropriate for us to comment any further at this stage.

Gareth July 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Gosman: you are overstating the findings and their import, to my mind. But it is certainly true that the arrival of the blogosphere and the explosive growth of the internet means that all science must adapt its practises.

Gosman July 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Well of course YOU would think that wouldn’t you Gareth ;-)

Anyway, the Police seem to be about as competent as you would normally expect in this sort of thing i.e. not at all.

It should be relatively straight forward to determine if the CRU servers were hacked or not. Even the most careful of hacker would have had to leave some sort of digital trail. Unless they somehow magnetically erased the servers after they did the deed, which they plainly did not.

I very much doubt anybody will hear anything useful from the Police on the matter at any stage in the future. This will be like the Don Brash stolen/released e-mail’s.

Gareth July 9, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I wouldn’t write off the Norfolk Constabulary so quickly — they sought help from the UK’s central police cybercrime specialists. There are basically two options. Either someone inside the CRU/UEA provided password info to aid hackers (or did the hack themselves), or outside hackers did the whole thing. Given that RealClimate’s web site was hacked when the mails were being distributed (not necessarily difficult, but requiring some knowledge and skill), I would think the latter explanation is the most likely. And then you have to ask who might have orchestrated that…

Doug July 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Why just pick on climate scientists for being arrogant. What about other scientists such as physicists, chemists, medical researchers? Don’t get me started on engineers, many of whom seem to think that they are experts in every scientific and technical field (you know who I am talking about).

Then there are economists (nope I better stop there)

thesailer99 July 10, 2010 at 11:49 am

We all know that the Climategate affair was nothing to do with science or scientists. It was orchestrated by people who wanted to hinder the Global warming debate and to disrupt the Copenhagen meeting. Presumably by people who have a vested interest. The world is still warming and the reasons are still the same.
If you have grandchildren, look at them and wonder about their future.

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