As most readers who have been following the “climategate” controversy will know by now, the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has released its report entitled, The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
The findings are crystal clear on the most crucial points: The committee found absolutely no evidence to support accusations of scientific dishonesty, even going so far as to state that there “was no case to answer”. And it also rejected accusations that Phil Jones and other CRU scientists had attempted to pervert the peer review system.
Contrarians took comfort in maverick Labour MP Graham Stringer’s objections to some of the findings. But even here, there is little for the contrarians to cheer about, as Stringer appeared at pains to avoid any appearance of endorsing the plausibility of any of the specific accusations of dishonesty. That’s just as well, because it turns out that Stringer appears to be relying for his understanding of the issues, not on the submitted evidence, but rather – wait for it – the “quickie” book on Climategate written by Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller.
The whole report can be accessed at the S&T’s committee website, as a PDF or browsable HTML page. Here, I’ll extract and comment on the highlights. The accusations of dishonesty were summarized as follows:
6. Condemnation of alleged malpractices found within the leaked CRU e-mails was quickly disseminated on the internet. Contributors to climate change debate websites and written submissions to us claimed that these e-mails showed a deliberate and systematic attempt by leading climate scientists to manipulate climate data, arbitrarily adjusting and “cherry-picking” data that supported their global warming claims and deleting adverse data that questioned their theories.
Three submissions of evidence were cited, including that of Steve McIntyre. I recently dissected a key part of that submission, demonstrating that McIntyre’s accusations of inappropriate, undocumented adjustments to tree-ring based temperature reconstructions were utterly without foundation and thoroughly rebutted by CRU and CRU scientist Tim Osborn.
Apparently the committee agreed with that assessment, issuing a blanket statement:
137. Conclusion 2 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. [Emphasis added]
Specifically addressing the “hide the decline” controversy, the committee stated:
66. Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones’s use of the words “hide the decline” is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous. We expect that this is a matter the Scientific Appraisal Panel will address.
That leads us to the dissenter, Manchester Labour MP Graham Stringer. Stringer has a BSc in chemistry, worked in the plastics industry and thinks dyslexia is “a cruel fiction” invented by the “education establishment”. That c.v. was enough to lead the Register’s Andrew Orleski to annoint Stringer as “the only MP on the committee with a scientific background”. (In fact, Doug Naysmith, with a long and distinguished career in immunology research, is the committee’s actual bona fide scientist).
It’s true that Stringer objected to both of the above findings, leading to typical exaggerated McIntyre characterization of the report as a “split decision”.
However, Stringer’s proposed alternative to the first part of paragraph 66 read as follows:
We have not taken enough evidence on this matter to come to a final conclusion.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the contrarians, since it implicitly suggests that even Stringer recognizes that they have not presented anything close to compelling evidence for their assertions. And it should be noted that on other points, Stringer sided with the others, leading for example, to this unanimous finding on peer review.
73. 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. The Independent Climate Change Email Review should look in detail at all of these claims.
Nevertheless, Stringer’s dissent was widely noted:
The report found Prof Jones had no case to answer over allegations of dishonesty and his scientific reputation was intact – although one of the committee’s MPs, Graham Stringer, said the inquiry could have been more thorough on the issue.
So Stringer feels the inquiry was not “thorough” enough on this issue. Now whose fault was that?
A look at the oral testimony shows that when Phil Jones and Lord Acton appeared before the committee on March 1, Stringer peppered the pair with questions – fully half of the total of 80.
Yet Stringer studiously left questions about alleged dishonesty for others, and focused instead on well-trod ground concerning FOI requests, leading to time-wasting exchanges like this:
Q144 Graham Stringer: According to Mosher and Fuller when you were asked to name – and Professor Acton has named a number of other ones – countries that you had confidential agreements with now, you could only produce the names of three countries. Is that right, when you were asked?
Professor Jones: I think it was about five.
Q145 Graham Stringer: Since the data has been released has there been any legal action taken against you?
Professor Jones: No.
Q146 Graham Stringer: Did you try to get round the agreements you had made with these different countries in the interests of scientific objectivity?
Professor Jones: Not in that way. We did, with the help of the Met Office, approach all the countries of the world and asked them whether we could release their data. We have had 59 replies of which 52 have been positive, so that has led to the release of 80% of the data, but we have had these seven negative responses which we talked about earlier, including Canada.
This had already been covered in CRU’s submission; one wonders if Stringer had even bothered to read it.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Stringer was completely uninterested in possible “malpractice”, as this earlier exchange with Lord Lawson of the Global Warming Policy Foundation demonstrated:
Q28 Graham Stringer: What Mosher and Fuller say on that point is it is not just that they were using a strange procedure, but they did not explain it in footnotes or anywhere else in the literature. Do you agree with Mosher and Fuller?
Lord Lawson of Blaby: Yes, I do, and that is the significance of the word “hide”. Again, we are talking about openness, which is an essential element of integrity in science. If they had said openly that the proxy series does not fit - they say in their evidence here that it was only after 1950 or 1960 it did not fit, and that is actually not true, it is not a good fit in the latter half of the nineteenth century either, but, anyhow, if they had said it does not fit – so what we are going to do is have the proxy series for the period before the temperature readings were available and then, after that, splice on the temperature readings, and we admit that there has been a complete divergence of the two series since 1950 or 1960, if they had said that and been out in the open, it would be one thing, but they did not, they hid it.
Hmmm .. Mosher and Fuller, again. Steven Mosher, who played a key role in disseminating the climategate emails to the general public, did submit evidence to the committee, but only touched on FOI issues. Fuller, the self-professed lukewarmer and champion of plagiarists like ex-EPA economist Alan Carlin, does not appear at all.
The book promises a lot:
For those who have heard that the emails were taken out of context–we provide that context and show it is worse when context is provided.
For those who have heard that this is a tempest in a teacup–we show why it will swamp the conventional wisdom on climate change.
And yet, armed with the knowledge of the supposedly authoriative Mosher and Fuller, not to mention the submissions of McIntyre, Lawson and all the rest, Stringer could not think of a single question to ask Jones about the allegations of dishonesty. Not one.
All of which suggests that Graham Stringer knows in his heart of hearts that the accusations – “hide the decline” and all the rest – are utterly specious. It’s too bad he can’t bring himself to admit it.