Something for the weekend

Lazy blogging. Just links to a few things I think you might find interesting to read (and a performance to enjoy) while I get some work done. First up: Swiss Re, the giant reinsurance company, has published a handy new report called Climate sceptic arguments and their scientific background (pdf), written by Swiss scientist Urs Neu for ProClim. It deals with common sceptic arguments under three headings — global warming, forcing factors and carbon dioxide. Everything’s referenced back to the literature, the graphics are good, and if you thought my recent thoughts on rainfall extremes were mere speculation, you might find section A6 interesting.. 😉 (Hat tip to Mr Rabett).

Continue reading “Something for the weekend”

Dogged Pearce still hounding Jones

Fred Pearce is a fine one to speak of a rush to judgment. Many of his Guardian articles on the UEA emails did just that. (See Pearced to the Heart and Defending the Indefensible on Hot Topic) Yet that is the accusation he levels at yesterday’s report of the parliamentary committee’s investigation into the matter.  Essentially because, he claims, they avoided investigating the more complex charges such as those raised by him in the Guardianseries.

What he seems most concerned with is that Jones got off lightly.

“The MPs are clear that there are serious issues to address both in climate science and in the operation of freedom of information law in British universities. But in their desire not to single out Jones, they end up bending over backwards to support a man who is the pillar of the establishment they are criticising.”

Here is what the report concluded:

“The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.”

Not enough for Pearce.  It lets Jones off too lightly:

“… whatever standard practice may be, surely as one of climate science’s senior figures, Jones should take some responsibility for its misdemeanours? Jones has worked for the CRU for more than 20 years and been its director for six. The MPs found there a “culture of withholding information” in which “information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure.” It found this “unacceptable”. Doesn’t its director take responsibility?”

What does Pearce want?  Resignation?  Dismissal?  The parliamentary committee received submissions, examined Jones, affirmed that it had seen nothing which suggests the science from the CRU is faulty, said Jones should be reinstated and made recommendations for changed practices in  future in the interests of the science being irreproachable.  There are further investigations to come.  Meanwhile the globe continues to warm.  It seems to me that Pearce as an environmental journalist ought to be able to find more useful occupation for his talents than arguing with the verdict of the committee. Jones might have earned a period of respite. The Guardian should call off its dogs.

Defending the indefensible: Guardian responds to RC critics

RealClimate has given James Randerson, editor of the Guardian’s environmental website, the opportunity to respond to two RealClimate posts on the Guardian’s “investigation” into the hacked CRU emails.  I found his response disappointing. He points to the Guardian’s climate change credentials. They are certainly for the most part good, though in view of the overwhelming scientific evidence that ought not to be remarkable in a newspaper pitched to an educated readership. However in this time of intellectual chaos in the media’s relationship to science we have to be thankful for what we ought to be able to take for granted.

But Randerson doesn’t seem to comprehend that the series of Fred Pearce’s articles on the emails frequently fell far short of the journalistic standards the Guardian normally sets. He speaks of the strong public demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what the emails tell us about how climate scientists operate, and paints the Guardian’s response as unparalleled.

“No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair.”

I wrote about one of those “carefully researched” articles here on Hot Topic. On the sketchiest of evidence, and a prejudiced reading at that, it managed to imply that Phil Jones and Michael Mann were guilty of improper behaviour, damaging to the publication of scientific papers.

Randerson goes on to provide a justification for the exercise:

“…only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed…”

Thank you Fred, but we knew that already.  Why, along the way to this conclusion, did you feel the need to throw doubt on the integrity of some of the scientists doing the work?  Well, says Randerson, there were “troubling issues” in the emails, and if you can’t see that there’s something wrong with you:

“… but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.”

Randerson then claims four significant results from the Guardian investigation. One is the matter of the siting of Chinese rural weather stations that figured in a paper Jones wrote in 1990 (twenty years ago!). It’s a complicated story, which I won’t try to retell here, but Jones has since said that he now realises that some of the stations had moved their sites and that he would think about the possibility of submitting a correction.

Randerson claims credit:

“To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.”

Randerson’s second claim also relates to the same highly damaging article on the China temperature data, in which Pearce wrote:

“It also further calls into question the integrity of the scientist at the centre of the scandal over hacked climate emails, the director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), Dr Phil Jones. The emails suggest that he helped to cover up flaws in temperature data from China that underpinned his research on the strength of recent global warming.”

Randerson doesn’t reassert this, but denies that they were supporting the climate sceptic Douglas Keenan in their pursuit of the question.  They weren’t in as many words, but in terms of the general tone of the article most readers could have been forgiven for thinking they were.

His third claim is that in spite of having made three corrections to their original article on the hockey stick graph this did not change the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists. When I first read the article it seemed a good deal more slanted than that.  The sub-heading reads: “Pioneering graph used by IPCC to illustrate a compelling story of man-made climate change raises questions about transparency.”

Randerson’s final claim related to the Freedom of Information Act, which he describes as a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.  So it is, provided the discussion includes the fact that the requests for information were clearly orchestrated and overwhelming in their demands.  That deniers’ tactic has obviously spread to the US.   In a recent email James Hansen writes:

“We are continually burdened by sweeping FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, which reduce our ability to do science and write it up (perhaps this is their main objective), a waste of tax-payer money.  Our analyses are freely available on the GISS web site as is the computer program used to carry out the analysis and the data sets that go into the program…

“The material that we supplied to some recent FOIA requests was promptly posted on a website, and within minutes after that posting someone found that one of the e-mails included information about how to access Makiko Sato’s password-protected research directory on the GISS website…Within 90 minutes, and before anyone else who saw this password information thought it worth reporting to GISS staff, most if not all of the material in Makiko’s directory was purloined by someone using automated “web harvesting” software and re-posted elsewhere on the web. The primary material consisted of numerous drafts of webpage graphics and article figures made in recent years.

“It seems that a primary objective of the FOIA requestors and the “harvesters” is discussions that they can snip and quote out of context.”

Back to Randerson on RealClimate. He considers that by inviting comment from qualified people on the email articles the Guardian has succeeded in creating a definitive account of the emails and the intention is to expand it into a book.

“This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read “this is absolutely false” and “this is really bad”?

The best thing the Guardian could now do is to reflect that those annotations may well be the correct verdict and let the idea of a book quietly die.

CRU’s Jones on the stand: Pearce offers opinion as news

Fred Pearce is obviously unrepentant over the unjust treatment he meted out to Phil Jones in his unfortunate series of artices on the UEA emails, one of which I commented on here. He has just produced an extraordinarily slanted accountof Jones’ questioning from the Parliamentary committee set up to look into the affair. How’s this for openers?

“Jones did his best to persuade the Commons science and technology committee that all was well in the house of climate science. If they didn’t quite believe him, they didn’t have the heart to press the point. The man has had three months of hell, after all.”

Then Pearce offers two highly prejudicial descriptions of Jones’ actions, each linked to one of his own articles:

“Jones’s general defence was that anything people didn’t like – the strong-arm tactics to silence critics, the cold-shouldering of freedom of information requests, the economy with data sharing – were all “standard practice” among climate scientists.”

Pearce expresses disappointment that one of his own pet projects was not pursued by the committee:

“Nobody asked if, as claimed by British climate sceptic Doug Keenan, he had for two decades suppressed evidence of the unreliability of key temperature data from China.”

Gavin Schmidt has comprehensively dealt with this claim on Real Climate (see his comments on part 5). If Pearce is aware of what Schmidt wrote he is undeterred by it and again links to his own article as demonstrating the topic worthy of the attention of a parliamentary committee.

Then Pearce apparently leaves the scene of the parliamentary committee and offers his own account of what he claims Jones has conceded publicly about the 1990 China study, translating Jones’ ‘slightly different conclusion’ into his own ‘radically different findings’.

There are other important Pearce conclusions which the committee failed to investigate, again expressed in prejudicial terms:

“Nor did the MPs probe how conflicts of interest have become routine in Jones’s world of analysing and reconstructing past temperatures. How, as the emails reveal, Jones found himself intemperately reviewing papers that sought to criticise his own work. And then, should the papers somehow get into print, judging what place they should have in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he and his fellow emails held senior positions.”

Pearce takes comfort from his feeling that the committee will have to pay closer attention to the issue in the light of the written submission from the Institute of Physics which is highly critical of the emailers.  He doesn’t mention that John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told the committee the institute’s view was “premature” and that they should wait until the Russell inquiry publishes its findings in the spring.

Pearce’s Guardian report is clearly an opinion piece but not presented as such. It is an extraordinary example of the authority some journalists have taken upon themselves to declare judgment on matters of which they have shown very little knowledge. Pearce is not a climate change sceptic, but he is hounding a group of climate scientists and seems fired up by the thrill of the chase. It’s a sad spectacle in a leading newspaper.

[GR adds: The Guardian’s David Adam provides a more balanced overview here, and the paper’s live blog of the session is worth a look.]
[GR update: Simon Hoggart’s take: “Whatever your view on man-made global warming, you had to feel sorry for Professor Phil Jones..”]

Pearced to the heart: Fred gets it wrong

I have been a reader of the Guardian newspaper for 55 years and was more than a little astonished when they ran a series of articles by prominent environmental journalist Fred Pearce on the stolen University of East Anglia emails. For that matter I was surprised that Fred Pearce wrote them. He is no climate change denialist, and makes it perfectly clear that the emails in no way alter the case that humans are warming the planet. But he seems to have taken them at the face value the hackers presumably hoped for, and drawn some unjustified and unfair conclusions. The Guardianobviously thought he was on to something significant. A “major investigation” they proclaimed, getting at the “real story”. Revelations and exposures abound.


Let’s take a closer look at one of the revelations. It’s an article claiming that the emails reveal “strenuous efforts by the mainstream climate scientists to do what outside observers would regard as censoring their critics”.  It was the one chosen for inclusion in the latest Guardian Weekly. As a reader of that paper I’d been quietly hoping we’d be spared the sight of any of the articles, but there it was, on the science page, with the lurid headline “Research red in tooth and claw.”

Pearce claims that there have been obvious cracks in the peer-review system for years, mentioning an open letter from 14 stem cell researchers to journal editors to highlight their dissatisfaction with the process, alleging a small scientific clique is using peer review to block papers from other researchers.

From there he jumps to the emails, where he claims “many will see a similar pattern.”  Phil Jones, as a top expert in his field, was regularly asked to review papers “and he sometimes wrote critical reviews that may have had the effect of blackballing papers criticising his work.”

Pearce quotes from a 2004 email in which Jones mentions that he had recently rejected two papers from people saying CRU (his climate research unit) has it wrong over Siberia.  “If either appears I will be very surprised.”   Pearce acknowledges that Jones doesn’t say why he rejected the papers (might it have been that they were poor science?).  Pearce also doesn’t know what the papers were, but announces that the Guardian has established that one of them was probably from Lars Kamel, a Swedish astrophysicist who analysed temperature records from parts of southern Siberia and claimed to find much less warming than Jones.

Pearce admits that Kamel’s paper could be criticised as being slight and lacking in detail about its methods of analysis.  However, he surmises, Jones would have known that Kamel called mainstream climate research “pseudo-science” and that publication of the article in a serious journal would have attracted the attention of professional climate sceptics. (Presumably suggesting that this would prejudice Jones in his estimation of the paper?) In spite of the paper’s inadequacy Pearce says that because it was a rare example of someone trying to replicate Jones’ analysis “some would have recommended its publication.”

So is Pearce suggesting that if a scientist of Jones’ stature considers papers to be lacking scientific rigour he shouldn’t say so, lest he might be instrumental in persuading an editor not to publish them?  Or is he suggesting that Jones deliberately sets out to prevent publication of anything which questions his own position?  He hardly makes himself clear, but succeeds, on the basis of much conjecture, in casting a slur on Jones’ integrity.

He later makes a good deal of Jones’ “harsh criticism” of the journal Climate Research for publishing papers he “disagreed with”.  It seems to me that Jones and others had every reason for their criticism. Chris de Freitas, the editor responsible for publishing the Soon and Baliunas paper, is our well known crusading climate change denier. He constantly seeks and gains publicity for standard denialist claims (one might not unreasonably say lies) that increases in carbon dioxide don’t dangerously change the climate, that there is no acceleration in sea level rise, that climate scientists exaggerate for the sake of money, and so on. If he accepted the paper against the advice of four reviewers there is every reason to suspect the quality of the journal’s editorship.  But no, Pearce manages to imply that Jones and Mann did something improper and damaging to the publication of scientific papers.

It’s one thing for Pearce to discuss the general question of the mechanics of peer review, but quite another to use Jones as an example of the abuse of the system. That’s a rush to judgment which I find hard to believe the Guardian allowed.

I was pleased to discover that the Guardian at least invited climate scientist Gavin Schmidt of NASA to comment on Pearce’s article.  If you click on the highlighted yellow sections of the article (linked to above) you can see his annotations.  He roundly rejects much of what Pearce has to say. I’m no scientist, but it seemed apparent to me as a general reader that Pearce was pushing the email material way beyond anything it justified.  It was good to have that view confirmed by a working scientist.

I’m left wondering why this sort of “investigation” was ever supported by the Guardian.  It pre-empts the independent review the University has arranged.  It treats stolen and possibly selected emails as evidence, though to do so it has to make all sorts of assumptions about what the authors might have meant. It is manifestly unjust to the scientists concerned and trivialises their work.

Note:  Jones has recently been interviewed by Nature and although there are aspects of the Climategate allegations that he is not able to comment on he defends himself against some of the accusations made against his work.