Global Warming Research Must Become More Transparent, UK Report Says

Crossposted

By Bradley J. Fikes

Thanks to Watts Up With That?, which provided the UK parliamentary report on the Climategate global warming scandal in PDF.

Inevitably, the report will be spun according to whatever political views one holds. Those who back AGW will probably say it vindicates Phil Jones and the other University of East Anglia’ Climatic Research Unit scientists, because it finds no evidence that the science is false. Global warming skeptics will say the report provides evidence that the scientists’ practices were inadequate and need to be improved.

Of course, these interpretations can both be true. It’s like the dueling claims that global temperatures in the last decade are the highest recorded, and that there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995, or that there’s still a question about whether the Medieval Warm Period some thousand years ago could have been warmer than the present.

It all depends on which facts you emphasize.

Doublethink

However, the report is rather ambiguous on the evidence. in fact, it smacks of doublespeak and doublethink:

From Page 50, a troublesome paragraph:
“In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”—we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.”

So, the report says:
“We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that ‘global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity’.”.

That seems clear enough. But in the very next sentence the troublesome paragraph states:
“It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.”

So the report authors say there’s no reason to challenge the scientific consensus on global warming, but they didn’t seek evidence on CRU’s science. And anyway, examining the consensus view is the job of the Scientific Appraisal Panel.

With such clarity in writing, you can see why they’re in government.

Associated Press Saves The Day

An Associated Press article by Raphael G. Satter ignores the contradiction in favor of a pro-AGW interpretation. That’s much easier for readers than pointing out the report’s flaws.

Of course, as a professional reporter for the AP, Satter is beyond bias. He’s just telling it like he sees it — the facts just always seem to come out in favor of global warming activism, which has nothing to do whatsoever with any personal agenda. Even in the unlikely event that the vast majority of journalists were well to the left of the American public, you’d never detect a hint of it in their objective reporting.

Just to show how totally fair Satter and AP are in covering global warming, here’s part of an earlier Satter “news” article on a petition blitz organized by the UK’s Met office to drum up political support for AGW activism.

A typically unbiased AP story on global warmingA typically unbiased AP story on global warming

Click the photo for more unbiased AP global warming reporting.Hiding evidence

Just to recap, here’s the troublesome paragraph in the report, with the confusing stuff AP has helpfully omitted in boldface:

“In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”—we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.

Highlighted -- the confusing stuff AP doesn't think you should know.Highlighted — the confusing stuff AP doesn’t think you should know.

And here’s Satter’s deft editing of that troublesome paragraph:

In their report, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, “the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact,” adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that “global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity.”

A masterful job of editing out inconvenient truthA masterful job of editing out inconvenient truth

Isn’t it easier to understand when the narrative is predigested?

The Total Exoneration of Phil Jones And CRU*
*If you don’t pay attention to those emails about hiding and destroying data, which is totally acceptable practice among climate scientists.

Now let’s look at the second paragraph of Satter’s article, and then look again at the report.
Satter writes:

“The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they’d seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming — two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues.”

On pages 26-28, the report details allegations that the CRU violated the Freedom of Information Act, quoting from emails by Phil Jones and others.

This excerpt from a Phil Jones email to Michael Mann is on Page 26:
At 09:41 AM 2/2/2005, Phil Jones wrote:
Mike,[...]Just sent loads of station data to Scott. Make sure he documents everything better this time! And don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of
Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that. IPR should be relevant here, but I can see me getting into an argument with someone at UEA who’ll say we must adhere to it !. [...]

The report then discusses these and other examples of emails that ask for research data to be hidden from skeptics.
On page 32, the report states:

It seems to us that both sides have a point. There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six- month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively— either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

In other words, just because a bunch of scientists wrote emails to each other discussing the hiding or destruction of data to keep it from skeptics doesn’t necessarily means FOIA was breached. Or maybe it does. Let’s not be hasty about this. We’ll kick the can down the road and let someone else handle it.

Satter disposes of this complexity nicely.

Phil Willis, the committee’s chairman, said of the e-mails that “there’s no denying that some of them were pretty appalling.” But the committee found no evidence of anything beyond “a blunt refusal to share data,” adding that the idea that Jones was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that weakened the case for global warming was clearly wrong.

So according to Satter, this email from Jones to Michael Mann isn’t evidence of a conspiracy to hide evidence that would weaken the case for global warming:

Just sent loads of station data to Scott. Make sure he documents everything better this time! And don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that.

Obviously this email is totally innocent of unethical intent. It’s customary for climate scientists to be “worried” about FOIA requests and “hide behind” excuses not to honor them. Why should climate scientists share data with skeptics? They’re just trying to find something wrong with it! Real scientists should only share data with trusted colleagues, and keep the “dirty laundry” away from skeptics.

But the report insists on once again injecting doubt into what should be a total exoneration of these totally ethical scientists who would never, ever, practice deception or break the law.


In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six- month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively— either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

All sarcasm aside, I’ll say one thing in favor of Satter and the Associated Press: The story included a link to the report, so people could read it for themselves.

AP's link to the UK parliament's reportAP’s link to the UK parliament’s report

Unfortunately, this is the message I got when clicking the link: http://bit.ly/c4VfsY

The AP's link to the reportThe AP’s link to the report

Surprisingly, those crazy climate denialist at Watts Up With That? managed to get a copy and even correctly posted it on their server.

Oh, that’s just the blogosphere. Everyone knows the news is defined by what professional journalistic outlets like AP cover, because they have an unimpeachable record of accuracy.

A consensus about what?

And what is this scientific “consensus” of which they speak? In the report, the consensus quoted on page 46 states that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity’.”

That definition is most interesting for what it doesn’t mention. No mention of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. It doesn’t even say how much warming is taking place, or whether it’s dangerous.

As a global warming skeptic, I find little objectionable in that bare-bones definition of “consensus.”

There is indeed strong evidence of human influence on climate, such as in the Himalayan glaciers. Research has found the glacial melting is almost entirely (90 percent) caused by soot and other aerosol particulates. Unfortunately for the alarmists, greenhouse gases are not aerosols.

The “global” aspect of this “consensus” definition is about the only thing I would take exception to. I don’t think this is conclusively proven. And someone tell the committee that prepared the report that “global warming” is out of fashion. The politically correct description is “climate change,” because it allows for both unusually hot and cold changes to be attributed to human influence.

But let’s say there is some global human warming influence. It’s quite plausible that human-produced aerosols, changes in land use or greenhouse gas emissions have some warming effect on global temperatures. But is the influence overwhelming, somewhat important, or minor in comparison with natural climate fluctuations? And what is the relative importance of these human-created warming influences? The quoted “consensus” definition doesn’t say.

What global warming skeptics like myself really object to is the hysterical we-stand-to-get-fried apocalyptic demonization of CO2 and the Draconian measures proposed to combat this unproven menace. But don’t expect most of the mainstream media reporters, who have swallowed the global warming Kool-Aid, to note the difference.

Such is the slippery, Janus-faced use of language about “consensus” by global warming alarmists.

Even Phil Jones now admits that a lot of warming isn’t due to CO2 after all, according to the UK Guardian.

But for the first time he did concede publicly that when he tried to repeat the 1990 study in 2008, he came up with radically different findings. Or, as he put it, “a slightly different conclusion”. Fully 40% of warming there in the past 60 years was due to urban influences. “It’s something we need to consider,” he said.

What’s not in the report
For a supposedly exhaustive investigation into whether CRU scientists unethically tried to suppress skeptical research, the report leaves a lot out.
Here’s one Climategate email from a scientist, Keith Briffa, seeking help about reviewing a skeptical paper. You can see that Briffa meticulously follows the norms of peer review as practiced in climate science.

From: Keith Briffa
To: Edward Cook
Subject: Re: Review- confidential REALLY URGENT
Date: Wed Jun 4 13:42:54 2003

I am really sorry but I have to nag about that review – Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting – to support Dave Stahle’s and really as soon as you can. Please
Keith

And returning the scientific courtesy ….
(email portion from Briffa omitted)
Hi Keith,
Okay, today. Promise! Now something to ask from you. Actually somewhat important too. I got a paper to review (submitted to the Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Sciences), written by a Korean guy and someone from Berkeley, that claims that the method of reconstruction that we use in dendroclimatology (reverse regression) is wrong, biased, lousy, horrible, etc. They use your Tornetrask recon as the main whipping boy. I have a file that you gave me in 1993 that comes from your 1992 paper. Below is part of that file. Is this the right one? Also, is it possible to resurrect the column headings? I would like to play with it in an effort to refute their claims. If published as is, this paper could really do some damage. . .

Isn’t the impartiality of climate science peer review a beautiful thing to behold?

Now, on to the news coverage:

Bloomberg says:
U.K. Climate Science ‘Damaged’ by Leaked E-Mails, Lawmakers Say

Canada’s National Post says
‘Climategate’ scientists didn’t manipulate data: lawmakers

The UK Independent says:
Climate change scandal: MPs exonerate professor

The UK Daily Mail says
Climategate university condemned for ‘unacceptable culture of secrecy’

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says
House of Commons: No “Climategate”

Eureferendum says
It was never going to be any different

Climate Progress says
House of Commons exonerates Phil Jones

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4 Responses to “Global Warming Research Must Become More Transparent, UK Report Says”

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  3. Great post, Bradley. I’m glad I have you to read that stuff as my eyes glaze over in 5 minutes. It’s almost like reading the healthcare bill.

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