The beginning of the end of climategate?

The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (S&TC) published their report on “The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia” last week. This follows their oral evidence session and requests for written evidence concerning this matter.

What did they find?

The key conclusions from the report were:

“The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced.”

“We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.”

and

“Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact.” *

I am very happy with the first and third points here. The excellent work of Phil Jones has been instrumental in bringing attention to climate change and its great that this inquiry has acknowledged that.

Data policy

As for the second point above, I have no problem with this as long as any rules imposed are carefully considered and not “knee jerk” measures designed just to show that something has been done.

Indeed, James Annan has pointed out on his blog that this criticism of “standard practice” regarding data policy must surely be aimed at the Research Councils and not individual scientists or universities. Chris Rowan neatly tweeted that this stance boils down to the “Government condemning government-funded scientists for following government IP policy”. Hmm.

It is also worth considering this point from the S&TC 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.”

This seems to be saying that, whilst desireable, even ideal data sharing rules are not fundamental in verifying CRU’s work.

(To clarify my own position, I’ve never said that I don’t think that data should be shared. However, I did think that it was unfair to criticise CRU for not following ideal data sharing standards that never existed. It seems that the S&TC largely agree with this. Rather, the S&TC criticise UEA for not supporting and advising researchers appropriately.)

Evidence

The S&TC came to these conclusions despite receiving a rather skewed view of climate research from their evidence.

For example, there was the flawed IoP evidence submission and there were a high number of submissions from prominent “skeptics” (e.g. McKitrick, McIntyre, Global Warming Policy Foundation).

This input, though, does not seem to have shaped the findings of the report in any significant way, other than some of these people being the source of many of the Freedom of Information requests that CRU received and dealt with poorly.

Looking at the minutes of the report, it seems that Graham Stringer MP attempted to amend some elements of the document to bring it more in line with the “skeptical” evidence. He was unsuccessful. However, as Deep Climate points out, even his proposed amendments would not have changed the conclusions much.

Why did this situation arise in this inquiry? Some of the comment on a recent post from Stoat suggests that those working in climate science should be more active in contributing to these inquiries, which sounds like a good idea to me.

Where next?

Of course, this is only the first of three inquiries to investigate this episode with the other two being the Muir Russell headed Independent Climate Change Email Review and the Scientific Appraisal Panel, which includes some very big names.

Hopefully, though, this report heralds the beginning of the end of “climategate”.

* Graham Stringer MP voted against the inclusion of this point.

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8 Responses to “The beginning of the end of climategate?”

  1. SmallCasserole Says:

    I thought the committee report was pretty good, like you I’d quibble a bit over the data transparency statement. It’s good to see them state so clearly that Phil Jones is being scapegoated, to my mind the man deserves a knighthood.

    The committee had an interesting set of books sent to them:
    Christopher Booker, The Real Global Warming Disaster.
    A.W. Montford, The Hockey Stick Illusion.
    Steven Mosher and Tom Fuller, Climategate.
    Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth.

    • andyrussell Says:

      You can say what you like about the “skeptic” side but they are well organised. I wonder if they were sent the IPCC reports or “The Hot Topic” by David King or any other credible books? Maybe this should be a wake up call that just doing the science isn’t enough.

  2. Alice Bell Says:

    I think you’re right to highlight Chris Rowan’s tweet – spot on on. It’s broader cultural/ economic/ policy change, or don’t criticise one group! Like climate science should be some special case (if nothing else, that helps hide stuff many would like to see more transparently handled in other ares of STEM).

    I haven’t had time to check this out myself yet, but I colleague mentioned to me last week that people in the USA have lobbied to get all publicly funded research is as transparent as possible BECAUSE this will put privately-funded (often slightly dodge-funded…) research at an advantage, both economically and in terms of publication, etc (i.e. sadly, also perhaps even academic status). Do you know if that’s true? Depressing though not surprising if it is.

    As for beginning of the end of “climategate”… we’ll see. Hope you’re right.

  3. John Mashey Says:

    Re: climate scientists responding to these things
    Yes … and no.

    1) I think this case, and others, like:

    a) The flood of junk to Penn State over Michael Mann
    b) The flood of irate letters to Skeptical Inquirer over running a straightforward article on global warming by NASA scientist
    c) The various iterations around the APS Petition

    It has been shown that *competent* committees are pretty good at separating wheat from chaff, no matter how noisy the chaff is. Many of the submissions to Parliament were ludicrous. I thought the composition of testifiers to Parliament was rather indicative of clear thinking and I probably would have chosen quite similarly … including putting Peiser & Lawson up there (but no more).

    2) Let me observe that a much of this is asymetric guerrilla warfare designed to waste climate scientists’ time, and enough of that is a win for the attackers.

    3) So let me suggest a strategy for such things for climate scientists:

    a) Make sure any evaluation committee is competent. If one is chosen otherwise, yell and scream loudly, RIGHT AWAY. The troublesome cases are those where there are naive or unknowledgable groups and broken procedures (like in IOP, or in the 2008 APS FPS foolishness that published a Monckton paper).

    On the other hand, seeing that Ron Oxburgh is running the one panel … I just don’t worry.

    b) Avoid having a whole lot of scientists writing individually in the hope of balancing numbers. YOU CAN’T. There are too many ill-informed people out there with plenty of time to generate junk, whereas working climate scientists have other things to do.
    Really, how much weight would one guess the committee gave to, for example, #41 (Anne Stallybrass, who in 8 weeks of effort discovered that climate science had gone bad.) Suppose there had been 50 more like that. Who would care?
    Compare that, say to #42 (RCS).

    c) Instead, organize no more than a few statements, and pass them around and add signatures. That’s much more time-efficient, and the evidence so far is that competent committees can tell the difference…

  4. John Mashey Says:

    Alice: yes, it’s true.
    Google: data quality act

    and read about it in Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science”.

    That’s for government research, but extending it to anything with government funding is a natural.

  5. David Colquhoun Says:

    Good report, but I would say that because it says much what I did in the Guardian http://bit.ly/djriVU .

    The problem is not that that the data weren’t already public. Desirable though I think that would be, it is still an aim in development in most areas. The problem was that they gave the appearence of being evasive, and that did enormous, incalculable, harm.

    I just looked back at some of the emails that I wrote to collaborators while working on the draft of a paper, they aren’t much like the Jones ones, just straightforward discussions of the problems. I have to agree with Jones when he described the wording of his emails as terrible (or something like that).

    You make a very good point when you say that the government, research councils and universities will have to make up their minds. They have spent the last 20 years telling us we must patent everything in sight, and make money from it Now they want us to be open with data. I guess they got it right in the end. I have always opposed the patent route myself. Just read Ben Goldacre’s column this week to see the harm it does in another area http://bit.ly/doo5QZ . Can we look forward to an end to government-sponsored dishonesty?

  6. miklos treiber Says:

    three of the four data sets you refer to have problems with methodology,
    accuracy, and or validity; not to mention issues with “adjustments-corrections” to the data. then there is the issue of the presentation of the data. if there were no problems with the data there would be no problems with the conclusions. until the data are shown to be valid and unbiased the conclusions drawn from them are not valid. if the data were accurate there would not be differences of opinion on the conclusions. the fact that we have so many differences of opinion on the conclusions drawn from these data strongly suggest that a reevaluation of the data source and accuracy of the data is required. dr. jones and the “team” lack integrity and honesty in their contorted effects to modify their data to fit their conclusions. shame on them.

  7. Getting to the truth – gradually « Open Parachute Says:

    […] also: The beginning of the end of climategate? « Andy Russell’s Blog. CRU evidence to Sir Muir Russell’s review: Download pdf (78 pp) Report from UK Parliament […]

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