Posts Tagged ‘CRU’

“Climategate”: The scandal that wasn’t and the scandal that was

November 17, 2010

It’s a year ago now that email correspondence of the British CRU was illegally released (*) on the internet. Over the course of heated discussions that followed, this became known as “climategate”, implying some sort of scandal.

The scandal that wasn’t

The emails were spun as if they uncovered some massive conspiracy to hide the truth. For example, some “skeptical” people and articles were badmouthed in the emails. But not because they didn’t toe “the party line” (whatever that may be); rather because some papers were deeply flawed (as is also apparent from the reviewer comments) and the behavior of some people was strongly disliked (I wonder why). Scientists in general voice their criticism without sugar on it (sorry, Willard). Steve Easterbrook gave some good insights back then into how scientists are used to communicate with other.

Of course, some unwise and some not-so-nice things were said. Haven’t you over the course of 13 years of emailing? If you had worked in a field about which there is a heated public and political debate, would people who are very hostile to your views be able to find something that they could shame you with in all those emails?

The scandal that was

The real scandal was that some people, for whatever reason, are so hostile to the science that they took this illegal step of breaking into an institute’s computer system and released private email correspondence. This was a day that the attack on science (and on scientists) arrived at a new low. Such an attack has nothing to do with sincere skepticism. Those who did this –and those who celebrate it- follow the adage of the end justifying the means, where the end apparently is to bring science on its knees. Needless to say, I hold science to be an important part of a healthy, modern society, and ignoring its insights is not a good strategy. Attacking it in ways as was done in “climategate” is scandalous.

Nature did not read the hacked emails.

(*) A recent Nature News feature about the event and how it influenced Phil Jones sais it was most likely an outside hack rather than a leak from inside:

Although the police and the university say only that the investigation is continuing, Nature understands that evidence has emerged effectively ruling out a leak from inside the CRU, as some have claimed. And other climate-research organizations are believed to have told police that their systems survived hack attempts at the same time.

CRU inquiry: Published results still credible; focus on Phil Jones misplaced

April 9, 2010

The UK Parliamentary Committee released its report on the CRU email affair (I’m a bit late to the game, I know…)

Before going to the summary, let me highlight this important point made in the report:

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.

Comparisons with other surface based datasets here; with satellite data sets here; with several bloggers’ reconstructions here.

CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here.

Here’s 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.

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. [I think that is a very naïve preposition. BV]

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 criticized for making informal comments on academic papers.

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.

The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was time-barred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

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.

See also James Annan with a good dose of British sarcasm. Also Eli, Stoat. Image Nick Anderson.

Update: Another report investigating the CRU has been released, headed by Lord Oxburg of Liverpool. Its main conclusions are that they 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.

and they remark that

it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.

The last conclusion seems very relevant in light of the recent discussions on this blog.


%d bloggers like this: