House of Commons Science and Technology Committee CRU Inquiry

Posted 13th April 2010

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report into “The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia” on 31st March 2010.

It is difficult to reconcile the conclusions of the Inquiry with the evidence presented to it.   Clearly the Inquiry was conducted with undue haste in order to publish its findings before the election was announced and parliament suspended.  It could be further argued that contentious findings would have had the potential to disrupt the election.

The oral sessions were woefully inadequate and failed to probe witnesses on the substance of the written submissions.  The balance of the oral sessions was heavily weighted in favour of the man-made global warming lobby and had no representation from those who’ve studied the science of climate change in depth across the many scientific disciplines, such as Peter Taylor who made a comprehensive written submission.

Climate change science has played a major role in formulating public policy with many ramifications: economic, social and political.  The Inquiry, as constituted, could never have hoped to achieve what is required, a full independent assessment, of the current state of climate science, independent of the IPCC.  The scope of the Inquiry was drawn sufficiently narrowly so as to avoid many important issues and the Committee seemed to accept the notion that the “science is settled” without probing inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence.

A full dissection of the Inquiry Report, in the context of the evidence provided, is warranted.  However, for now we will focus on the Summary:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 had the potential to damage the reputation of the climate science and the scientists involved.

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

This second paragraph demonstrates a misunderstanding of the scientific method fundamental to all science but vital in the context of science on which so much reliance is placed to formulate public policy.  As the Institute of Physics stated in their evidence: “The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law. The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital. The lack of compliance has been confirmed by the findings of the Information Commissioner. This extends well beyond the CRU itself—most of the e-mails were exchanged with researchers in a number of other international institutions who are also involved in the formulation of the IPCC’s conclusions on climate change.”

Many other written submissions referred to the departure from normal scientific practice and the issue of FOI requests.  The growing number of FOI requests were a direct consequence of the lack of adherence to the scientific method.  The volume of requests only became onerous because of obstruction, by Dr Phil Jones and various colleagues, of attempts to independently verify their findings.  To declare that it wasn’t general practice in climate science to adhere to the scientific method is demonstrative of the flawed science underpinning the man-made global warming hypothesis.

To suggest that the focus on Dr Phil Jones is misplaced shows the Committee can’t have read the leaked emails or the written evidence in full.  It is clear from the emails that Michael Mann and Jones were leading protagonists in the paleoclimatic community on which so much of the man-made global warming theory relies.  Had the Inquiry had more time, there were those such as Keith Briffa, Tom Wigley and Ben Santer and others in the frame who should also have been called to account.

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided.

The statement that “it is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers” is either naive or disingenuous.  A prerequisite for the publication of papers in reputable scientific journals is that data and methodologies should be made available to others to independently verify the findings.  Had CRU done so, the man-made global warming agenda wouldn’t have gained traction.

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

What is at issue here is not the language but what was done and what was actually declared.  It refers to the manipulation of data to achieve a desired result, ie. the “hockey stick” and that the 1990s were the hottest of the second millennium, a claim which is discredited by numerous studies including those of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick.  The various “hockey stick” graphs in which the decline has been hidden have been used extensively in the global warming propaganda without any statement that the proxy data, used to derive the graph, diverge from the actual temperatures recorded in the second half of the twentieth century.  The divergence calls into question the validity of the proxy data and the way it was manipulated to create “an inconvenient truth”.  There may have been some disclaimers in the small print in the papers underlying the IPCC reports but there is no mention of this flaw in the graphs used in the IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers or the Met Office’s Warming leaflet widely distributed in the UK last November.

The Committee clearly didn’t look at the emails or all the evidence in order to be able to claim “the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process”. Richard Courtney refers to suppression of scientific papers in his written evidence.  Phillip Bratby refers to subversion of the peer review process by Dr Jones:  “The ‘co-conspirators‘ (the words of Prof Tom Wigley, ex-CRU director in an email dated June 2005) manipulated the peer-review process so that their papers were reviewed by their colleagues and so that sceptical papers were not published. This manipulation involved threats to journal editors: Jones ‘I’m having a dispute with the new editor of Weather. I’ve complained about him to the RMS Chief Executive. If I don’t get him to back down, I won’t be sending any more papers to any RMS journals and I’ll be resigning from the RMS.’  Jones was asked by a journal ‘Please list the names of 5 experts who are knowledgeable in your area and could give an unbiased review of your work. Please do not list colleagues who are close associates, collaborators, or family members. His response to colleagues suggested five names and included the following ‘All of them know the sorts of things to say, without any prompting‘.”

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. We found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.

All science should be sceptical and the sharing of data and methods is fundamental to proving an hypothesis.  The UEA should be censured for failing to ensure that scientific principles were adhered to by CRU.  Resort to FOI requests should be superfluous in the field of scientific study, particularly one that is so heavily publicly funded and has such significant consequences for the UK and the rest of the world.  The Met Office’s Hadley Centre and CRU are central to the man-made global warming agenda and need to be subject to rigorous scrutiny to ensure that public policy is formulated on the basis of the best knowledge available.  Clearly, much of the uncertainty surrounding the claimed influence of human CO2 emissions is suppressed by the IPCC and in public debate.

We accept the independence of the Climate Change E-mail Review and recommend that the Review be open and transparent, taking oral evidence and conducting interviews in public wherever possible.

On 22 March UEA announced the Scientific Appraisal Panel to be chaired by Lord Oxburgh. This Panel should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge its work.

Judgement is reserved on these two additional inquiries but if this report is an exemplar of how this issue is being addressed, it doesn’t augur well.

There is no reference in the Summary to the question posed by the Committee: How independent were the other two international data sets?  That will have to wait for analysis of the full report.

Finally, John P. Costella has put together a well constructed analysis of the leaked email correspondence which unfortunately, was not submitted to the Committee. That said it’s a long document (149 pages) and may not have received the attention it deserves.

Oral and written evidence to the Committee

1 thought on “House of Commons Science and Technology Committee CRU Inquiry”

  1. Of course, all the above is very true. And as long as enquiries are conducted by those with a vested interest in a positive outcome in favour of man made “global warming”, the results will be just as predicatable.
    Any enquiry must fully consider the role of water vapour, cloud seeding via cosmic rays moderated by the Sun’s heliosphere, and various other theories that may explain why our global climate continually changes. There are problems associated with the fact that CO2 has continued to increase steadily while global temperature continue to vary in all directions (downwards lately) .
    Having read all the CRU emails myself, there is little doubt in my mind that the average man in the street would reach the same conclusion that I did…
    These scientists, knew exactly what they were doing and did everything possible, within there sphere of power and influence, to conceal evidence that might throw doubt on their own theory of it all being down to mans production of CO2. And quite frankly the evidence to support CO2 is very weak.
    There are more convincing theories yet to investigate and the science is still far from being settled.

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