Thoughts on the Inquiry – Panel One

Currently, the British Parliament House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is considering the issue of the controversy surrounding the CRU Email theft and has held a hearing today, March 1, 2010, to question key players in the matter.

My conclusion on what this does to the skeptics?

I think the image says it all.

Here are the TORs:

The Independent Review will:

1. Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes.

2. Review CRU’s policies and practices for acquiring, assembling, subjecting to peer review and disseminating data and research findings, and their compliance or otherwise with best scientific practice.

3. Review CRU’s compliance or otherwise with the University’s policies and practices regarding requests under the Freedom of Information Act (‘the FOIA’) and the Environmental Information Regulations (‘the EIR’) for the release of data.

4. Review and make recommendations as to the appropriate management, governance and security structures for CRU and the security, integrity and release of the data it holds .

The questions asked of written submissions and witnesses:

—What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?

—Are the terms of reference and scope of the Independent Review announced on 3 December 2009 by UEA adequate (see below)?

—How independent are the other two international data sets?

Here are the witnesses for the oral statements session held today:
  1. Rt Hon Lord Lawson of Blaby, Chairman, and Dr Benny Peiser, Director, Global Warming Policy Foundation
  2. Richard Thomas CBE
  3. Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia, and Professor Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit
  4. Sir Muir Russell KCB, Head of the Independent Climate Change E-Mails Review
  5. Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Julia Slingo OBE, Chief Scientist, Met Office, and Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientist, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Today’s hearing was allotted a shorter time period than was intended, but they managed to get in 3 solid hours of statements and questions.

One of the first things to ask when assessing one of these kinds of hearings is — who is heading the hearing and who sits on the panel? What are their political affiliations? Do they have any known interests in the issue at hand — any stakeholders in their constituencies that may affect their position on the issue?  I know nothing about these players as they are UK and not Canadian, but I do invite any of my UK readers to comment with anything they know about the panel.

My conclusions first — this won’t make much difference, because the entrenched positions are not likely to change. What matters is who has power and what do they think about the matter? The hearing is public relations. It is showmanship. The government must appear to be looking into the issue and must appear to have met with the important principals and must appear to have received information from the public. This gives all the cranks and stakeholders the chance to provide written and oral input.

The government of the day will have to determine its position re the CRU matter and will have advisors on the best strategy to take with respect to any public statements. It will do what it has to do to retain credibility and appease its stakeholders — whichever ones the advisors think matter the most in terms of the political bottom line — retain power.  Hence, it will be a political balancing act to decide what kind of response is required. I am glad I don’t have to be involved in any of that let me tell you! It’s nasty. Can’t you just see The Minister and Sir Humphrey discussing how to proceed?  The withering look of Sir Humphrey as he reminds The Minister of various concerns?

I don’t know enough UK politics to know how this will play out in various parliamentary offices, but believe me, this means interesting times for those involved. 🙂

What will be of interest to the staff behind the scenes is this — will their politician perform well? This group seemed relatively well informed, although there were many instances of confusion, but that is to be expected as there are disconnects between the questions asked and the witness’s ability to understand the question and willingness to respond. The witnesses were aware of the questions they would be asked before hand and so should have had their responses well thought out. So, to that end, let’s look at the first witnesses — Lord Lawson and Dr. Piesner.

Dr. Pieser is of course a co-editor of Energy & Environment — the discredited ‘peer-review’ journal most climate skeptics seem to run to because they can’t get published in reputable climate science or science journals.  I don’t have to mention the shenanigans and statements of 26 Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, but you can read her submission at the link under her name. I won’t deal with her submission in depth except to provide this:

I am interested in the value and misuse of the peer review process. [yuk yuk!] The negative attitudes of the IPCC/CRU people to my often sceptical journal have harmed it. Its impact rating has remained too low for many ambitious young researchers to use it, and even sales may have been affected. However, this is not an interest as my work is voluntary and the publisher has remained supportive. As a member of the Labour Party and deeply politically engaged person, I have not found life as a ‘climate sceptic’ always easy, but have kept my MP and MEP informed. I have been somewhat offended but not surprised by the ‘CRU-hack’ revelations.[my emphasis]

Might I express considerable amusement at her statement bolded above, given her previous statements about her vision of what a journal editor does and publishes?  That her journal has lost prestige is due solely to the junk science it publishes and not anything the scientists at the CRU did, IMO.

Moving right along, Piesner’s submission is interesting. It centres on the fraud allegations against Wang by Douglas Keenan as discussed in the CRU emails. Here is the paper E&E published against the advice of Prof Jones.  As people who have read the background on this will know, the charges of fraud against Wang were cleared by his employer. I do not know enough about the matter to comment on it, but I appreciate comments by those who actually are in the know and have more info. Was Jones protecting Wang and his own record? Are the criticisms of Jones deserved?

The other witness was Lord Lawson, who heads the GWPF — Global Warming Policy Foundation –– which appears to my first glance to be a clearly contrarian / denialist organization set up to provide some astroturf in the effort to help the cause of ‘creating a climate of doubt’ about AGW. All of its stories are tilted to contrarianism and a very interesting section on the language used in the website could be done, but alas, I have but one life. What is interesting is that despite this obvious bias as shown in the website’s articles and policies and publications, Lawson tried really hard to stick to the issue of “open access to data and methods’ mantra rather than debating whether the globe was warming.

Here is their submission to the committee:

We believe that there is compelling evidence both independent of the leaked email exchanges and arising from those emails to suggest that the answers to (ii), (iii) and (iv) above are clearly ‘yes’. As to (i) above, we believe that the jury is still out, although the motive for the improper behaviour involved in (ii), (iii) and (iv) above needs to be investigated, as it may well have a bearing on the answer to this. Moreover, we are disturbed by the CRU scientists’ treatment of the so-called divergence problem. That is the fact that, for that period of time where both a proxy global temperature series and a recorded global temperature series are available, the two series markedly diverge. This clearly suggests either that the proxy series is unreliable or that the recorded series is unreliable (or possibly both: the point is that they cannot both be true). The CRU scientists’ attempt to hide the problem by concealing the divergence demonstrates, we believe, a lack of integrity. [my emphasis]

Of course, this is the old “hide the decline” mantra that deniers and contrarians like to throw about in an effort to flog this dead horse. It sounds so good, you see. Taking words out of context is the easiest way to spin something to your side and this is what has happened in the case of the notorious email, IMO.

The fact that the 1998 Briffa paper discussed divergence, on which the WMO graphic was based, and that it was also mentioned in the TAR WG1 doesn’t count to deniers. The only thing that counts is that email and the WMO graphic — because it’s all they have. They must keep on it, making more of it that it deserves in order to keep the science and scientists in doubt.

Here is the exchange on the issue of divergence: (my transcripts are not verbatim, but I catch the general drift if you listen to the hearing … means I didn’t catch every word)

Lawson:  The paleoclimate record is in question — not the basic science — the hiding of the decline – hiding of the divergence program. The emails brought to attention the existence of divergence to many more people even though it was not unknown. It brought up the reliability of the paleoclimatic record. The emails are important because they raised the issue of how reliable is the paleoclimatic record issue. How unusual is the warming we have seen in the latter part of the 20th century…

The thing that is reprehensible is that when the proxy series based on tree rings departed from the measured temperature series, a normal person would say that maybe the proxy series is not that realiable.  In order to stop people from saying that because they want that…  They rely on on a single pine tree… They wanted the proxy series to show the so called — largely fraudulent hockey stick…
If they had said openly that the proxy series doesn’t fit, … they say in their evidence that it was only after 1950- 60 — if they had said it doesn’t fit and so we’re going to use the proxy series before the temp readings are available, and after that splice on the temperature readings, and after that admit there has been a complete divergence of the two series since 1950. It would be out in the open. But they didn’t  — they hid it.
Except of course that it was out in the open. It wasn’t included in the WMO graph. That’s really it, isn’t it? It was in the original paper, it was in the TAR and AR4, and it was in subsequent papers dealing with that data, but that’s irrelevant to the issue of milking these words “trick” and “hide the decline”.
This is the underlying tactic of the denialists — find small errors that are not critical and inflate their importance in order to cast doubt on the whole. Keep pounding the table with your shoe, insisting that you be heard and keep repeating the mantra. So far, it has been very successful.
What I found interesting was the exchange between the questioner and Lawson in which Lawson is asked if the committee found evidence that the decline had not been hidden, and was in the literature, would Lawson be satisfied. He had already conceded that the term ‘trick’ was not in itself bad, as it was a colloquialism, but he objected to the ‘hide the decline’ matter. So, the questioner was trying to get him to acknowledge that if in fact there was evidence that the divergence matter was covered in the literature, he would have no objections.
Lawson seemed to stumble on this. I think this was strike two — Strike one was Lawson admitting that he had no trouble with the “trick” term — so many blog comments on so many blogs have dealt with this and it is held up as proof of intent to deceive. Look how many times Mosher uses the word trick or a variant of it in his post over at CA. It’s laughable.
It’s denialist code.
I feel pretty good that the explanation for ‘hide the decline’ will be very convincing to the committee. The last question a panel member (sorry I couldn’t keep track of the panel members) asked seems to indicate they already know that the divergence issue was well covered in the literature and was giving Lawson a chance to put it on the line.
The next big strike out was the difference between satellite and surface temperatures, which Lawson repeated. It seems that Lawson hasn’t got the memo that in fact, the differences were due to technical matters not difference in temperature and that now there is good correspondence between the two except for the tropics. So, another strike against Lawson.
That’s three strikes, by my count.

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17 Responses to “Thoughts on the Inquiry – Panel One”

  1. Benny Peiser? What in the world qualifies someone to be a witness here? Can I bring a parrot to the stand? Peiser has a demonstrably poor ability to analyze matters relating to climate science.

  2. It might be the same Peiser that misquoted Houghton, which might be responsible for the Leakegate:

    Since there is a thread for Muir and Boulton somewhere, there should be a thread for Peiser and Lawson somewhere else.

  3. Does Dr. Boehmer-Christiansen know about this? From John Mashey, posted at DC:

    “03/28/02 DeFreitas submits paper, Soon & Boehmer-Christiansen review.
    04/11/02 Soon& Baliunas submit paper (whose first-acked sponsor was the API) to de Freitas
    06/23/02 DeFreitas paper published
    01/31/03 Soon&Baliunas published by de Freitas.

    So, that’s 2.5-month overlap, where Soon&de Fretias are both reviewing each others’ (dodgy) papers.”

    So exactly who is perverting the peer-review process here? Hint, it was not Phil Jones et al.

    I think today went well for science. It would be nice to see the contrarians really cornered and held accountable for disseminating falsehoods. Going by today the contrarians seem to just keep rolling out the same old tired nonsense– they need to be called on each and every falsehood.

  4. Gavin's Pussycat Reply March 2, 2010 at 4:36 am

    I do not know enough about the matter to comment on it, but I appreciate comments by those who actually are in the know and have more info. Was Jones protecting Wang and his own record? Are the criticisms of Jones deserved?

    I know a little more about this — though not nearly as much as some. Enough to say that this is as much nonsense as the rest.

    1. It is not the job of authors to police their co-authors. All Jones could do, when the accusation came up, was to ask Wang, hey, what’s your side of this story. Joint authorship and paranoia don’t go together — you don’t co-author with people you don’t trust. If there is any real suspicion it should be looked into independently, as Albany did with Wang. Co-authors are the last people you want involved then.

    2. Those that understand the science will tell you that the issue is completely irrelevant to the conclusion of the paper: the effect of station moves/changes is random, as often up as down. It becomes part of the noise, and is mostly averaged out when using 42/42 stations. All it requires for the conclusion on UHI to be valid, is that the identification of stations as either rural or urban is mostly reliable.

    3. Character evidence: as Gavin Schmidt reports on RC, Keenan is a classical schoolyard bully:

    As an aside, Keenan has made a cottage industry of accusing people of fraud whenever someone writes a paper of which he disapproves. He has attempted to get the FBI to investigate Mike Mann, pursued a vendetta against a Queen’s University Belfast researcher, and has harassed a French graduate student with fraud accusations based on completely legitimate choices in data handling. More recently Keenan, who contacted Wigley after having seen the email mentioned in the Pearce story, came to realise that Wigley was not in agreement with his unjustified allegations of ‘fraud’. In response, Keenan replied (in an email dated Jan 10, 2010) that:

    .. this has encouraged me to check a few of your publications: some are so incompetent that they seem to be criminally negligent.

    Sincerely, Doug

    scroll to Part 5.

    Do you need more?

    • Thanks — that’s plenty and makes sense. Of course, if there are claims of wrongdoing, it is not up to the co-author to start making public statements about whether it has happened. Leaving the determination up to the official inquiry is the appropriate response. If he was cleared by his university, the matter is settled. I know the denialist crowd would prefer a beheading, but some of us prefer the rule of law.

  5. I thought that the distinction between the so-called skeptics on one side, and the experts on the other, was very telling, as usual.

    On the one hand you had Lawson and Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, claiming not to doubt Global Warming but using words like ‘fudge’, ‘scandal’ and ‘fraudulent’. But why does a think-tank, which started in late 2009, get to have such a high profile here, especially when it is associated with Ian Plimer ? Their website (and its dodgy graph) highlights their right-wing, propagandist nature but I would recommend the WIKIPEDIA article on them before that :

    On the other hand, you have the scientists who actually know what they are talking about. I felt they all acquitted themselves very professionally and with quiet confidence, although Jones was a bit too defensive over the past treatment of data, i.e. that it has always been the case that data wasn’t revealed.
    Even Acton (a Historian !) was lucid and persuasive.

    Generally, I think the Committee could see where the facts lay and who was making a mountain out of a molehill, although one of them was very concerned about how this affair was affecting science as a whole, particularly over open-ness and the availability of information. Fair enough, to a degree, but I have confidence that this Committee will come up with some good recommendations, while dismissing sceptical arguments about ‘hiding declines’ and the general availability of data.

  6. Hearing available to stream and watch here, for those who missed it:

  7. Simon Hoggart of the Guardian gives a sympathetic nod to Phil Jones:

    The sight of another scientist being skewered makes for painful viewing
    “Whatever your view on man-made global warming, you had to feel sorry for Professor Phil Jones, the man behind the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia”

  8. I’m not too sure that I see Hoggart’s sketch in quite the same way, especially when you read at the end about his views on Lawson’s assertions : no making fun of him (as Hoggart is only too keen to do to others in the political arena, past or present) with regard to having to be shown where in his submission his group had queried ALL temperature data (“Where ? Oh yes…”) – let alone his errors to do with the ‘hockey-stick’, ‘single pine trees’, the Yamal data and his confusion over ‘various committees’ investigating all this.

    See this previous Saturday article :

    “Is climate change the new faith?
    Fanatics must stop playing fast and loose with global warming data”

    (He starts off by describing himself as a ‘climate change agnostic’)

  9. Heads up.

    Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry
    Strongly worded submission to the parliamentary inquiry is being used to imply the institute questions the scientific evidence for climate change, statement says”

    “The Institute of Physics has been forced to clarify its strongly worded submission to a parliamentary inquiry into climate change emails released onto the internet.

    The institute’s submission, to the science and technology select committee, said the emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) contained “worrying implications for the integrity of scientific research in this field”.

    The submission has been used by climate sceptics to bolster claims that the email affair, dubbed “climategate”, shows the scientists did not behave properly and that the problem of global warming is exaggerated.

    The committee held its only evidence session yesterday and interviewed witnesses including Phil Jones, the climate scientist at the centre of the media storm.

    In a statement issued today the institute said its written submission to the committee “has been interpreted by some individuals to imply that it does not support the scientific evidence that the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming.”

    It says: “That is not the case. The institute’s position on climate change is clear: the basic science is well enough understood to be sure that our climate is changing, and that we need to take action now to mitigate that change.””

  10. That didn’t take long …

  11. I think John Beddington’s following up pronto on what the committee asked him to do. The IoP hasn’t changed its stance on the implications for the scientific process, per se, but clearly they don’t want it to be used for promoting denialists.

    I expect Lawson and Peiser to come in for a serious dressing down, too. It’s one thing to lie on the internet and in press interviews as if there are no consequences, but it’s a different thing altogether doing it to a Parliamentary committee hearing, especially when it’s not a matter of opinion but of verifiable scientific facts. Slingo and Watson will have probably watched the panels after their turn, and they no doubt have the ear and respect of Beddington.

  12. While the new IOP statement is welcome, the original statement needs to change, if it’s going to accurately represent the view of the majority of members, or reality for that matter. It contains too many assumptions and vague innuendo.

  13. Apparently there’s a bit of a debate at the IoP’s policy forum, which was kindly summed up for me on Guardian comments by an IoP member earlier today:



    – Everyone welcomed the call for open release of data.

    – One participant, to general approval, mentioned that open release of data needs to be accompanied by good quality metadata.

    – I pointed out that for open release of data to become general practice in science, we will need to be clear about who funds the necessary data storage and server infrastructure, and about how we make sure that spending time and effort on providing good quality metadata does not adversely impact any individual scientist’s REF score.

    – I mentioned that one could argue that the UEA folks had already met the standard of open electronic release of data, before the various FoI requests were made.

    – One participant, who generally distrusts the IPCC, primarily on grounds that the field data they use may not be ISO 17025 certified, welcomed the IPCC-bashing.

    – One other participant and I expressed concern that the submission came perilously close to repeating as-yet-unproven allegations of malpractice by people at UEA.

    – I expressed further concern that the submission may have introduced a new, and downright false, allegation that the post-1960 divergence between tree-ring temperatures and instrumental temperatures had been suppressed from IPCC graphs. I pointed out that the divergence was openly shown in figure 2.21 of the WG1 Third Assessment Report and the hypothesized reasons for it reviewed in some detail in section of that report, which would be a strange way of trying to hide something.

    – There was a brief spat about how high the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 concentration was – from the literature, Beck or Jaworowski were cited on one side of the argument, and Meijer and Keeling, Oeschger, or Levin and Heshaimer on the other side.

    – One participant argued that it’s meaningless to try to infer secular trends from any temperature time series that’s not long compared with the periods both of ENSO and of the solar cycle.

  14. J bowers – so basically IOP members contain the same sort of cross section of confused, stupid and denialist people as every other professional body? Not a surprise there.

  15. Here’s an interesting fact about Lawson. Not only chariman of the GWPF but also chairman of CET, whose clients include Texaco, Total Fina Elf, BP Amoco, Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

    • Funny, yes, that a person complains to the inquiry about the scientists’ lack of objectivity, but has so many personal conflicts of interest vis a vis fossil fuel industry…

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