This is starting to get a bit repetitive: another inquiry clears the CRU scientists. This time the report came from Lord Oxburgh’s Science Assessment Panel.
The main criticism from this report was regarding the level of collaboration between CRU and statisticians in relation to the integration of different climate datasets.
New Scientist got a bit carried away and ran with the headline “Climategate scientists chastised over statistics” despite the report saying that “it is not clear, however, that better [statistical] methods would have produced significantly different results” and “in the CRU papers that we examined we did not come across any inappropriate usage although the methods they used may not have been the best for the purpose“.
If this is what New Scientist are referring to then this is pretty weak chastisement.
But why not go further?
Others have called for professional software engineers to develop the routines CRU use to industry standards. How about some editors to help with writing their papers? The Oxburgh report also pointed out that CRU were quite disorganised so let’s get in some management consultants as well. They could do with a drawing office to help draft figures. Professional archivists would be useful to keep track of all their data and they could use some people to deal with all the FoI requests and media interest. I suspect that some social scientists and politics scholars would help focus their research on the needs of society and policy makers.
Clearly this would all be too expensive for a small research group.
As it is, CRU have 3 permanent staff and the nature of academic research funding means that work is done with the best people available at the time (i.e. PhD students and postdocs who often have in-depth statistical training) with the funding that has come through.
However, I do agree that CRU should keep up to date with the latest advances in all the disciplines that their work overlaps with, which is a huge task in such a new and dynamic field as climate reconstructions. I have no doubt, though, that all the criticism that this field is receiving at the moment will accelerate this process of tightening up the methods.
This isn’t an ideal situation but its the way things have been in UK science for many years and the fact that CRU have produced so much world-class and timely science is a testament to their dedication. Maybe the New Scientist should have picked a headline from this extract:
“We believe that CRU did a public service of great value by carrying out much time-consuming meticulous work on temperature records at a time when it was unfashionable and attracted the interest of a rather small section of the scientific community.”