Posts Tagged ‘climategate’

This afternoon the Muir Russell led Independent Climate Change Email Review delivered it’s report. This is the last and most extensive of the investigations set up in the wake of the Climactic Research Unit email hack/leak which occurred last November (to conveniently become an international news scandal casting doubt on the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change just before world leaders held the COP15 conference to negotiate – or rather fail to negotiate – a successor to the Kyoto Protocol).

The other investigations, by the House of Commons select committee, the Oxburgh Report, and the  inquiry by Penn State University into the conduct of Michael Mann, one of the scientists prominently featured in the emails, had all previously  found that Phil Jones and the CRU had not falsified data, engaged in research misconduct, or corrupted the peer review process as had been claimed by climate sceptics and mainstream media outlets (ranging from the Daily Mail to the Guardian in terms of political affiliation).

So what has the Muir Russell investigation concluded? Well…

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. 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.
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.
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.
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.

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). 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 AssessmentReport (TAR).

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 CRUpapers.

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.

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.

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.

So in line with the other three reports, the Muir Russell inquiry’s main findings are that 1) The CRU scientists are honest researchers 2) The various allegations of data manipulation and/or fraud are entirely baseless 3) The HadCRU temp record has not been tampered with, and that any competent researcher could reproduce the CRU’s results. Essentially this is another through vindication of the work undertaken by Jones and the CRU.

However, despite entirely clearing Jones and the CRU of the major accusations leveled at them by bloggers and journalists over the past nine months, it did make some criticisms of the way the CRU and UEA had acted with regards to complying with FoI requests, reporting that

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.

and that

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.

It must be remembered when contemplating what the findings of the report mean, that the allegations against Jones and the CRU which had been widely disseminated across both the Internet and print media, were that they had falsified data to make their results concur with a preconceived position, that they had corrupted the peer review process preventing scientists with alternative views from having their work published in prestigious journals, that they had infiltrated and distorted the IPCC so that the IPCC’s major reports reflected their alarmist position (based on their falsified data) and that the CRU email leak was a smoking gun which laid bare the fraudulent work of these dishonest scientists. The Muir Russell report’s findings on all of these charges are that these claims are entirely baseless. That is (or ought to be) the story here.

The international ‘scandal’ surrounding the CRU leak was most certainly not based around the notion that honest, credible scientists who otherwise worked within best practices were based at an institution which didn’t deal entirely correctly with freedom of information requests made by bloggers they didn’t like (due to a history of the bloggers making inaccurate claims about their work). The headlines were based around the notion that the scandal cast doubt upon whether the planet was in fact warming as a result of human activity, not around how senior management at a university dealt with FoI requests.

As Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst states with regard to the scandal and the subsequent inquiries

The report by Sir Muir Russell et al confirms what everybody who has worked with Phil Jones and Keith Briffa knew all along – they are honest, hard-working scientists whose reputations have been unjustifiably smeared by allegations of unscrupulous behaviour. These allegations are soundly rejected by the report. If there is a scandal to be reported at all, it is this: the media stoked a controversy without properly investigating the issues, choosing to inflate trivialities to the level of an international scandal, without regard for the facts or individuals affected. This was a shameful chapter in the history of news reporting, and a lesson for those who are concerned about fair and honest communication with the public.

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Yesterday I wrote about the Penn State University investigation into Michael Mann’s research conduct which stemmed from the Climate Research Unit email hack widely known as Climategate, and criticising media outlets such as the Guardian, which gave a huge amount of coverage to the ‘scandal’ whilst then failing to give anything like equal attention to the three subsequent investigations which have found that there was no research misconduct on the part of climate scientists, and absolutely no evidence of fraud, data manipulation or inventing climate change to receive funding money.

Today, Fred Pearce, who wrote an utterly abysmal 10 part special on Climategate for the Guardian, and has now written a book on the subject, has a new piece linked off the front page of the paper. Shockingly, this latest piece on Climategate repeats the claims that

Critics say the emails reveal evasion of freedom of information law, secret deals done during the writing of reports for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a cover-up of uncertainties in key research findings and the misuse of scientific peer review to silence critics.

However Pearce decides to entirely omit from his report that three independent investigations have found every one of these claims not to be true. One would have thought that mentioning that the scientists have now been vindicated by three separate investigations into the accusations Pearce restates would be an important part of the story, but apparently this is not the case. He does mention the Muir Russell investigation, the fourth inquiry which is due to report its findings on Wednesday, and then says that

whatever Sir Muir Russell, the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, concludes on these charges, senior climate scientists say their world has been dramatically changed by the affair.

Unbelievably it would seem that Fred Pearce thinks that it doesn’t matter whether climate scientists are guilty of research misconduct, fraudulently manipulating data or any of the other charges of which they have been accused. In the surreal world of the mainstream media, what matters is not the facts surrounding the issue, and certainly not the results of independent investigations into these matters, but the number of bogus accusations already made by journalists and bloggers.

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So the second part of the Penn State University (PSU) inquiry into the conduct of Dr Michael Mann has now concluded… The inquiry, which was set up after the university received a large volume of angry correspondence from members of the public who believed that emails contained in the CRU email hack showed that Dr Mann had committed serious misconduct while based at PSU.

The four charges leveled at Dr Mann by the inquiry were

  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to [him] in [his] capacity as an academic scholar?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities?

Back in February PSU administrators ruled that there existed ‘no credible evidence’ that there was any merit to the first three allegations, however they decided that the fourth allegation required further investigation by academic staff. The results of that investigation have now been published, and they state that

A panel of leading scholars has cleared a well-known Penn State climate scientist of research misconduct, following a four-month internal investigation by the University.

Penn State Professor Michael Mann has been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to a report of the investigation that was released today (July 1). Mann was under investigation for allegations of research impropriety that surfaced last year after thousands of stolen e-mails were published online. The e-mails were obtained from computer servers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England, one of the main repositories of information about climate change.

The panel of leading scholars from various research fields, all tenured professors at Penn State, began its work on March 4 to look at whether Mann had “engaged in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.” Mann is one of the leading researchers studying climate change.

A full report on the findings of the committee can be viewed at “Final Investigation Report Involving Dr. Michael E. Mann.”

So how widely published will it be that one of the scientists who had to withstand a vast volume of entirely false accusations with regards to his honesty and academic integrity has been completely and utterly vindicated by an investigation? My guess is barely. Yes places like Realclimate and Deltoid will cover it, but the mainstream media outlets which published a huge amount of critical material when ‘Climategate’ was considered a scandal are completely silent. The BBC Science and  Environment section has nothing on this story, likewise the Guardian Environment section has no mention of the latest findings. Sadly it just goes to show once again that while the possibility of a scandal based on hearsay and blog based rumour can be a major story, the far more mundane truth that actually Mann is a diligent, honest and well respected scientist isn’t considered newsworthy. Consequently the millions of people who rely on mainstream media for their news will be left with the impression that Mann and other honest scientists may well be in the process of attempting to manufacture a perceived crisis called global warming.

Equally, those who frequent climate sceptic blogs may be left with the impression that although this later round of investigation chose to interview Richard Lindzen, a well known sceptical scientist (with obligatory links to the oil industry and right wing think tanks, and who has been proved wrong on numerous occasions), it was simply a whitewash, a case of the university acting to protect its own reputation in the face of public criticism. Indeed this was the claim made after the initial three charges were rejected by sources such as Fox News and well know climate sceptic blog site Climate Audit. As Scholars and Rogues aptly demonstrated though, these claims of further wrongdoing by a university inquiry in order to cover up research misconduct are extremely unlikely. It was alleged that this whitewash was done in order to preserve the funding which Mann’s work brought in, however S&R’s research into the matter shows that

According to a list of grants at The Free Republic, Mann has brought in a total of $4.2 million since he joined PSU in 2006, with a significant portion of that money to be spent over the next several years. From 2006 to 2009, Mann’s grants totaled about $1.8 million. In that same period, PSU’s total research income was $2.8 billion ($2,804 million). As a percentage, Mann’s grants represented 0.06% of the total research money that PSU was granted between 2006 and 2009.

The chances of a University risking its reputation as a centre of international excellence by whitewashing an inquiry into one researcher’s conduct is highly unlikely. As of course were the claims that Mann and many other scientists were colluding and conspiring to invent climate change in order to frighten the world into taxing people or bring about a UN based world government, however that didn’t stop these allegations becoming a major news story conveniently timed to coincide with the COP15 conference where world leaders came together attempting to negotiate a follow up to the Kyoto treaty.

With COP15 having been and failed, allied with increased public perception that climate change is not an important issue (and may even be a fraudulent invention of Dr Mann and other scientists) it should be vital that the news outlets who provided so much coverage when they saw a scandal now present a similar amount of coverage that it turns out that their claims turn out to be entirely baseless. However sadly that isn’t how the media works; scandal and allegations sells, carefully researched science and academic inquiries which find no wrongdoing don’t.

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During the time that I’ve not been writing, the so-called Climategate ‘scandal’ has been one of the major talking points regarding climate change and the media. In a fairly sickening way it’s a really interesting example of how communication can be distorted by a combination of willing idiots and paid PR people who have an agenda to push – in this case right wing think tanks linked to fossil fuel industries who are hell bent on opposing any kind of binding international agreement or national laws which will curb the emissions of their industries. It’s an issue I’ll probably spend some more time analysing here sometime soon, but today I briefly wanted to look at the latest developments and how the BBC in particular chose to cover them.

So firstly, what was the conclusion of this report… well

We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.

Given the hysterical claims made by the global warming denial lobby over the CRU email hack that is pretty unequivocal. The data was not fudged, made up, or invented and the CRU was not involved in a duplicitous process of scientific malpractice and fraud aimed at deceiving the public and the world’s politicians into taking action on a non-existent problem.

This is the second report into the CRU hack which has now reached the same conclusion following the publication of the UK Parliament’s Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the affair. So after months of mainstream media and right wing blog speculation and hearsay about how anthropogenic climate was a fantasy concocted by conspiring climate scientists, which just happened to coincide with the UN COP15 confere4nce on climate change, it turns out that all of these claims were absolute rubbish.

So how does the BBC website cover this story? Well they start well with a headline of ‘No Malpractice by Climate Unit’ and briefly cover the actual report and it’s contents with a quote from Lord Oxburgh stating that

We found absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever. That doesn’t mean that we agreed with all of their conclusions, but these people were doing their jobs honestly.

The article then goes on to to state that sceptics have criticised Oxburgh’s appointment as the panel’s chair as he ‘is currently president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and chairman of wind energy firm Falck Renewables. Critics say clean energy companies would benefit from policies to tackle climate change.’ Which is fair enough – revealing the economic interests of interviewees which may impinge on their judgements ought to be a part of journalism. They don’t however mention that Oxburgh was only one of a seven man team of experts who oversaw the inquiry.

What really irked me about the BBC piece however is its concluding section in which we find

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, criticised the panel for producing a report that was “not even-handed” and appeared to be the product of a “rushed job”.

He said: “This has produced a very superficial report. The panel should have taken more time to come to more balanced and trustworthy conclusions.

“They should have heard evidence from critical researchers who have been working in the same field for many years.”

First of all, for those who aren’t familiar with Benny Peiser while he is indeed an academic, simply describing him as a Dr within an article concentrating on science and scientists is somewhat misleading. Peiser is a senior lecturer in social anthropology and sports sociology. Yup that’s right, instead of getting information about climate science from climate scientists, or maybe physicists or atmospheric chemists the Beeb turns to a sports sociologist. Right… Well he has published peer reviewed papers. Three in fact, in the following journals: Sports Medicine, 2006; Journal of Sports Sciences (2004); and, Bioastronomy 2002: life among the stars (2004).

Peiser’s main claim to fame, is that in 2005 he tried to publish a response to a paper published by Naomi Oreskes in the journal Science which carried out a survey of 928 abstracts of peer reviewed papers on the ISI database which contained the keywords ‘global climate change.’ Oreskes found that of these 928 papers, none of the abstracts contradicted the IPCC position, which was used as evidence corroborating the strength of the scientific consensus on climate change. Peiser couldn’t get his response published in Science, but did publish in the Daily Telegraph and online. He claimed that Oreskes had lied about the number of abstracts that her search should have turned up, and claimed that he found 34 abstracts among these which directly contradicted the IPCC position.

Firstly it turned out that Peiser had a different number of abstracts because he had entered different search terms, Oreskes had excluded journals which were not peer reviewed whereas Peiser had not, leading to one of his 34 abstracts being an un-reviewed industry publication by the American Society of Petroleum Geologists. Thats right, the oil industry.

Following his online publication of the 34 abstracts he claimed contradicted the consensus position, Tim Lambert who writes the Deltoid blog published the list and dissected whether or not they turned out to support Peiser’s claims. By October 2006 Peiser’s initial 34 abstracts had shrunk to one, making him a mere 97% wrong.

So not only do the BBC decide that they should be getting opinions on climate science from sports sociologists, but that they should get them from from sports sociologists who can’t use a search engine or comprehend the abstract of a scientific paper.

What about the official sounding Global Warming Policy Foundation which the BBC states Peiser is a director of? It’s an anti-global warming group launched by that scientific colossus Lord Nigel Lawson of Blaby, the former Tory chancellor who prior to becoming a politician had been a financial journalist.

If the Beeb really feel the need to include the views of sports sociologists and retired Tories on scientific issues it would seem professional courtesy to at least state what these sources really are rather than simply presenting them as a rival group of experts who disagree with the both the scientists at the CRU and the scientists who carried out the Oxburgh report.

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