Muir Russell report on CRU: “Their rigour and honesty as scientists is not in doubt”

The long-awaited Muir Russell report on various controversies concerning the work of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia was released today.

The report thoroughly examined various accusations of improper conduct, and in the main exonerated CRU scientists Phil Jones, Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn of wrongdoing in such areas as scientific research, peer review and the IPCC process, finding that “their rigour and honesty is not in doubt”. The report does criticize CRU, and indeed the University, for a lack of openness, particularly in the handling of freedom of information requests.

There is plenty to digest here, and the report will no doubt generate much commentary in the days to come. For now, though, I’ll present the report’s  summary of findings, along with pointers to previous Deep Climate discussion of some of the issues.

The findings cover the following topics (shown here along with pointers to a selection of relevant previous posts):

A few planned posts will return to these topics and incorporate discussion of some of the the report’s findings. These will likely include:

  • Examination of the allegations of IPCC process misuse related to correspondence between Keith Briffa and Eugene Wahl, with key email passages omitted from the narrative at ClimateAudit.
  • The definitive timeline and sources of the draft versions of the TAR “spaghetti graph”, along with a comparison with the AR4 equivalent.

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Here is the summary of the findings of The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (p. 11-16).

1.3 Findings

13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

15. But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science.

1.3.1 Land Station Temperatures

16. On the allegation of withholding temperature data, we find that CRU was not in a position to withhold access to such data or tamper with it. We demonstrated that any independent researcher can download station data directly from primary sources and undertake their own temperature trend analysis.

17. On the allegation of biased station selection and analysis, we find no evidence of bias. Our work indicates that analysis of global land temperature trends is robust to a range of station selections and to the use of adjusted or unadjusted data. The level of agreement between independent analyses is such that it is highly unlikely that CRU could have acted improperly to reach a predetermined outcome. Such action would have required collusion with multiple scientists in various independent organisations which we consider highly improbable.


18. On the allegation of withholding station identifiers we find that CRU should have made available an unambiguous list of the stations used in each of the versions of the Climatic Research Unit Land Temperature Record (CRUTEM) at the time of publication. We find that CRU‟s responses to reasonable requests for information were unhelpful and defensive.

19. The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU‟s work in this area could be trusted and should be relied upon and we find no evidence to support that implication.

1.3.2 Temperature Reconstructions from Tree Ring Analysis

The central implication of the allegations here is that in carrying out their work, both in the choices they made of data and the way in which it was handled, CRU scientists intended to bias the scientific conclusions towards a specific result and to set aside inconvenient evidence. More specifically, it was implied in the allegations that this should reduce the confidence ascribed to the conclusions in Chapter 6 of the IPCC 4th Report, Working Group 1 (WG1).

21. We do not find that the way that data derived from tree rings is described and presented in IPCC AR4 and shown in its Figure 6.10 is misleading. In particular, on the question of the composition of temperature reconstructions, we found no evidence of exclusion of other published temperature reconstructions that would show a very different picture. The general discussion of sources of uncertainty in the text is extensive, including reference to divergence. In this respect it represented a significant advance on the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR).

22. On the allegation that the phenomenon of “divergence” may not have been properly taken into account when expressing the uncertainty associated with reconstructions, we are satisfied that it is not hidden and that the subject is openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRU papers.

23. On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a “trick‟ and to “hide the decline‟” in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.

24. On the allegations in relation to withholding data, in particular concerning the small sample size of the tree ring data from the Yamal peninsula, CRU did not withhold the underlying raw data (having correctly directed the single request to the owners). But it is evidently true that access to the raw data was not simple until it was archived in 2009 and that this delay can rightly be criticized on general principles. In the interests of transparency, we believe that CRU should have ensured that the data they did not own, but on which their publications relied, was archived in a more timely way.

1.3.3 Peer Review and Editorial Policy

25. On the allegations that there was subversion of the peer review or editorial process we find no evidence to substantiate this in the three instances examined in detail. On the basis of the independent work we commissioned (see Appendix 5) on the nature of peer review, we conclude that it is not uncommon for strongly opposed and robustly expressed positions to be taken up in heavily contested areas of science. We take the view that such behaviour does not in general threaten the integrity of peer review or publication.

1.3.4 Misuse of IPCC Process

26. On the allegations that in two specific cases there had been a misuse by CRU scientists of the IPCC process, in presenting AR4 to the public and policy makers, we find that the allegations cannot be upheld. In addition to taking evidence from them and checking the relevant records of the IPCC process, we have consulted the relevant IPCC review Editors. Both the CRU scientists were part of large groups of scientists taking joint responsibility for the relevant IPCC Working Group texts, and were not in a position to determine individually the final wording and content.

1.3.5 Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act

(FoIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)

7. On the allegation that CRU does not appear to have acted in a way
consistent with the spirit and intent of the FoIA or EIR, we find that there was unhelpfulness in responding to requests and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them. University senior management should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FoIA and EIR compliance.

1.3.6 Other Findings on Governance

28. Given the significance of the work of CRU, UEA management failed to recognise in their risk management the potential for damage to the University‟s reputation fuelled by the controversy over data access.

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28 responses to “Muir Russell report on CRU: “Their rigour and honesty as scientists is not in doubt”

  1. John Mashey

    I’ve done a quick read, and it looks like they did carried out their charter, unsurprisingly. [Recall that the UK scientific establishment is world-class pro . After all, the Royal Society goes back to 1660, before Canada or USA were countries.] I know a few folks in high levels over there, and they are good.

    They did goof, in misspelling Benny Peizer (sic) 4 times…

    For those who might have expected stronger words, I suggest:
    a) Search the PDF for “competent” and look at the surrounding paragraphs.

    b) For those unaccustomed to the different uses of English in the UK and the “former colonies, let us say”, especially in a report like this …
    these comments may well mean something different than if they appeared elsewhere.

    The USA equivalent would probably talk of utter incompetence on the part of complainers.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      John, what I noticed especially is how they throughout discuss the denialists as if they were serious people — ‘citizen scientists’. Leaning over backward no doubt, part of their accepted restriction not to go into the science itself; but it may not necessarily go home that way in ‘the colonies’. When they are even discussing Soon & Baliunas as if it were a serious scientific paper, it becomes unintentionally comical. Almost a Poe :-)

      And the Muir Russell’s WGO graph foul-up was really bad. Not just a spelling error. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of that.

  2. As I posted on RC:

    This is good news overall and it is satisfying to hear that the exonerations keep coming in. Unfortunately, the accusations always get more coverage than the exonerations.

    The melting ice, threatened species, and ocean acidification are disappointed. They were so hoping that climate scientists were guilty and this whole AGW thing was a hoax. That way they could stop melting, dying, and acidifying. Sigh.

  3. DC,

    CBC is really mangling their coverage of this. They had McIntyre on “The National” tonight for goodness’ sakes! And not a climate scientist in sight. I just don’t get it….

    Is it worth complaining?

  4. Is it worth complaining?

    I’m beginning to think so. If a few people write in about such an egregious failure on this particular day, producers of these programs might try a bit harder. Remember, they all have estimates of how many people the one complaint letter represents.

  5. What do you say to “deniers” who say the Muir/Russel report was paid for by CRU and therefore it is invalid?

    They say it would be like BP investigating themselves about the oil leak! No one would take it seriously.

    What I ask is, “Where are all the investigations proving that CRU did things wrong?”

    http://hotair.com/archives/2010/07/08/wonderful-news-on-climate-change/?print=1

    [DC: Normally accusations of academic misconduct are handed internally. And they are taken very seriously indeed. UEA went the extra distance in commissioning an outside review.

    Penn State stuck with an internal inquiry, but also bent over backwards to examine allegations.

    You have to look at the composition of the panel (the writer of the piece you link to seems to feel that both those with and without climate science credentials should not be considered, so no one would be suitable apparently). And of course you have to look at the report itself, which is very thorough (A+), and reasonably accurate, although with a number of mistakes in the details (B+).

    Now contrast that with George Mason University, which has yet to announce a public inquiry into the Wegman scandal despite clear prima facie evidence of misconduct and co-operation with a biased partisan attack on other colleagues. Perhaps they would, if there was media pressure, but so far they are pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

    At the University of Calgary, it took a year of complaints (and media attention) to force the appointment of an internal auditor (!) to look at Barry Cooper’s bogus climate science research fund. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were funnelled to anti-AGW projects associated with the Friends of Science and run by PR operatives Tom Harris and Morten Paulsen. The university eventually closed the fund because it found that at least some money had been used to “promote a partisan point of view on climate change”. The auditor found several irregularities but could not decide on such issues as the legitimacy of research (he was unqualified to do so in any case). Again, there was no serious investigation of prima facie case of research misconduct.

    So the lesson is clear. Bogus accusations of midconduct get played up in the media and are found to be baseless when investigated fully. Meanwhile, the critics get off scot free, even though they have been shown to perpetrate falsehoods time and time again. ]

    • DC: Thank you for your reply.

      I want to do something about this problem of critics getting off scott free. It isn’t right. What can we do about this?

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      DC, didn’t George Mason receive federal funding? I know that at least NSF takes science ethics seriously. This could be leverage if they are dragging their feet (is that provable already?)


      [DC: A while back, a commenter here claimed to have lodged a complaint. However the internal process could take months, and I’m not sure what the GMU rules might be for disclosure.

      At some point, outside bodies would also get involved. For one thing, the Said et al paper on co-author social networks also contained an extended passage of “striking similarity”, to unattributed or at least uncited antecedent sources. The authors acknowledged funding from National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the U.S. Army Research Office.

      But this is much more than a simple case of apparent plagiarism, as there is ample of evidence of bias and deception in the scholarship itself, and in the overall process. For example, both Wegman and Barton claimed the report was “peer reviewed”, and Wegman even claimed the peer review process was “similar” to that of the NRC hockey stick report.

      So I believe that GMU is obligated to go further and fully investigate the whole matter. They will probably only do so though if this issue becomes more prominent in the meainstream media.]

    • I doubt George Mason University will announce anything until the process of investigation is completed. It breaks the requirement of confidentiality. In addition, if the NIH is involved, GMU will not have a choice but to do a full, unbiased investigation. The federal agencies do not take any sort of research misconduct lightly.

  6. David, the answer is in DC’s message there:

    “At the University of Calgary, it took a year of complaints (and media attention) to force the appointment of an internal auditor (!) to look at Barry Cooper’s bogus climate science research fund.”

    The media won’t do it because it takes the average punter a week to forget something and anything more than two days old is never news.

    YOU have to complain, and KEEP complaining.

  7. Gavin's Pussycat

    David, it’s good to see you motivated. It isn’t easy.

    There is an answer to your above question on RC.

    I think what DC is doing is one good thing: spend your skills and energy at investigating in detail a chosen, seemingly credible denialist falsehood (no use bothering with the tin foil hat stuff) and methodically make your case. And yes, at some point you’ll have to proceed to pressing for investigations and the legal stuff. Unpleasant but necessary.

    • Or DC can let others take care of the complaints. My guess is that there are plenty of people who would gladly take on such a task.

  8. Rattus Norvegicus

    Reading the Muir Russell report is interesting. It seems as though the only submissions they took seriously as far as evidence goes were those of M&M. They emerge from the fracas flat on their backs laying flat on the canvas, eyes glazed. And that was because the investigation was kind to them.

    To get a flavor of the responses by the scientists involved, one needs to look here. Reading here, one gets the impression that their various analysis(s) were shoddy and unfounded at best. Personally I’m surprised that the report did not call them “prats”.

  9. Oi, DC, Briffa et al even used your website as evidence!

    http://www.cce-review.org/evidence/Responses_salient_points_April9.pdf

    (page 7, right above point 12)

    Interesting read anyway. McIntyre put thoroughly in the blender. No wonder he’s whining!

    • Rattus Norvegicus

      Yeah, it was rather entertaining to see what the scientists actually thought about McIntyre’s “work”.

  10. Unfortunately (but not surprising), the response from those in denial is :

    “But I’ve read the emails, so I know they are all crooks/liars/fraudsters/charlatans/etc. I don’t need no pre-determined, biased enquiry to tell me what I already know, and which my favourite blog ‘scientists’ are telling me – it’s all a conspiracy !!”

  11. “But I’ve read the emails, so I know they are all crooks/liars/fraudsters…”

    JMurphy, according to lord_sidcup’s post http://deepclimate.org/2010/03/31/climategate-investigations-round-1-cru-exonerated/#comment-4314

    the MP who believes that the CRU were bad guys says that there weren’t enough emails read by the commission and that is why they didn’t find any problems.

    Compare and contrast.

    “there emails I’ve read were enough to prove it”

    vs

    “you need more emails to prove it”

    But mutually exclusive arguments are not new to denial.

  12. One thing I think people forget about the denialists is that they never, ever let any AGW issue get clouded with facts. ;-)

    There is plenty of research being published that shows people with strongly held, partisan opinions only increase the certainty with which they hold those beliefs when presented with clear evidence to the contrary.

  13. The Muir review has a serious credibility problem. It never looked at the science. Muir never interviewed Jones or McIntyre. No critic of CRU or UEA was interviewed. And the selected papers were approved by Jones.

    So what we had was a trial in which one side was never given the opportunity to speak. No wonder we had even some of the AGW supporters attack the review as a whitewash.

    [DC: It appears that you are mixing up two different reports. It was Oxburgh’s papers that examined the set of 11 papers. ]

    • It’s amazing how denialists can spin everything into their ‘advantage’. Apparently, it is problematic that Muir Russell did not speak to Jones. Who cares that others did, it’s the fact that Muir Russell did not that matters. But rest assured that if Muir Russell HAD spoken to Jones, the deniosphere would have screamed bloody murder, too. In that case, Muir Russell would have likely been accused of having been influenced by Jones, or being too close to Jones, or whatever would have put question marks on Muir Russell’s independence.

  14. Compare and contrast.

    “there emails I’ve read were enough to prove it”

    vs

    “you need more emails to prove it”

    They never looked at the e-mails thoroughly because they and the science were not being examined.

  15. Vangel – So far no one has come up with any investigations proving anyone did anything wrong.

    But there are 4 or 5 investigations “proving” no wrong doing that would in any way discount the science.

    Sooooo where are the accusers? Why aren’t they investigating? After all they are the ones making the accusations.

    [DC: Ah, but the Global Warming Policy Foundation has decided to be accuser, judge and jury all in one – they’ve engaged Andrew Montford (“Bishop Hill”) to conduct an “independent” investigation.]

  16. It’s amazing how denialists can spin everything into their ‘advantage’. Apparently, it is problematic that Muir Russell did not speak to Jones. Who cares that others did, it’s the fact that Muir Russell did not that matters. But rest assured that if Muir Russell HAD spoken to Jones, the deniosphere would have screamed bloody murder, too. In that case, Muir Russell would have likely been accused of having been influenced by Jones, or being too close to Jones, or whatever would have put question marks on Muir Russell’s independence.

    There is no spin. Muir admitted that they never looked at the science in depth or did much of a review of the e-mails. The review was not very independent and did not have any testimony from the primary critics who exposed the Mann errors.

    [DC: They looked at a lot more of the emails than ClimateAudit readers have been presented with. That’s because Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn went through them in a great deal of detail when responding to Boulton’s additional questions.

    Rest of off-topic and previously debunked talking points deleted as per comment policy. Please stay on topic. Thanks! ]

  17. But there are 4 or 5 investigations “proving” no wrong doing that would in any way discount the science.

    [DC: repeated points deleted. ]

    The actual inquiry into the FOI requests found that UEA and CRU broke the law and hid information that should have been disclosed.

    [DC: This is incorrect, and you have not supplied any reference to back your claim. If you are referring to a recent ruling from the UK FOI office, that finding says that certain requests concerning communication about the IPCC processes should have been handled under EIR rather than general FOI. It did not make a finding as to the correctness of the UEA refusal or whether that refusal would have contravened EIR regulations.

    Renmaining off-topic points deleted. Please try and focus and avoid repetition and off-topic points. Thanks! ]

  18. Ian Forrester

    DC said:

    Ah, but the Global Warming Policy Foundation has decided to be accuser, judge and jury all in one – they’ve engaged Andrew Montford (“Bishop Hill”) to conduct an “independent” investigation.

    It seems like they have now added “hangman” to that list.

  19. The deniers of UEA misconduct can spin the story any way that they like but the facts to dot support them. From the cited report we find the following:

    51. The complainant made an allegation that an offence under regulation 19 of the EIR had been committed. Although the emails referred to above indicated prime facie evidence of an offence, the Commissioner was unable to investigate because six months had passed since the potential offence was committed, a constraint placed on the legislation by the Magistrates Court Act 1980.

    All this means is that because six months have passed the investigation cannot proceed further and UEA cannot be prosecuted for misconduct. But the fact that UEA broke the law is not in doubt.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/387/38706.htm#note116

    I refer to to the link on the House of Commons web site above. There we read:

    “84. On 22 January 2010, when the Deputy Information Commissioner, Graham Smith, issued a statement which suggested that at l east some of the requested information should have been disclosed in the absence of applicable exemptions, it gave support to the criticisms of CRU’s handling of FOIA requests. Mr Smith said:

    The FOI Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information. Mr Holland’s FOI requests were submitted in 2007/8, but it has only recently come to light that they were not dealt with in accordance with the Act. The legislation requires action within six months of the offence taking place, so by the time the action came to light the opportunity to consider a prosecution was long gone.”

    and:

    “88. On 29 January there was an exchange between UEA and Mr Smith, the Deputy Commissioner. Brian Summers, the Registrar and Secretary of UEA responded forcibly to Mr Smith’s 22 January press statement, which asserted that UEA had not dealt with FOIA requests “as they should have been under the legislation”.[122] He did not consider it was “acceptable that such a statement which has led to an extremely damaging commentary on the University [was] first communicated to the University by a journalist”.[123] His letter goes on to defend UEA’s actions in detail and to ask that, if the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) cannot retract the 22 January statement, it issue a clarification regarding the alleged breaches of the FOIA. A response from the ICO was issued the same day. It did not retract the original statement but offered clarification:

    1. [No] decision notice has yet been issued and no alleged breaches have yet been put to the University for comment. That matter has yet to be addressed, but it will be over coming months.

    2. The fact that the elements of a section 77 offence may have been found here, but cannot be acted on because of the elapsed time, is a very serious matter. The ICO is not resiling from its position on this.

    3. The ICO’s position is as stated in point 2 above. The statement may be read to indicate that.[124] Under section 77, an offence may be committed by an individual, not necessarily the public authority itself.

    4. Errors like this are frequently made in press reports and the ICO cannot be expected to correct them, particularly when the ICO has not itself referred to penalties or sanctions in its own statement.[125]”

    Clearly UEA did not act within the law as written. But just as clearly the law makes it impossible to prosecute because of the six months period that was written in the law. The only thing that UEA can argue is that the law was broken by specific individuals and that it should not be held responsible for their illegal actions. That argument might carry more weight if the UEA actually made the data and algorithms available for independent review, something that it has still failed to do.

    [DC: The ICO said it was “unable to investigate” and could not “consider prosecution” of a “potential offence”. By asserting that the ICO statements support your definitive claim that there were “illegal actions” and “the fact that UEA broke the law is not in doubt”, you are misrepresenting the ICO position. Therefore, I’m afraid our exchange on this topic has come to an end. Thanks! ]

  20. They looked at a lot more of the emails than ClimateAudit readers have been presented with. That’s because Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn went through them in a great deal of detail when responding to Boulton’s additional questions.

    Briffa and Osborn wrote many of the offending e-mails so I do not see how they would be the ones to evaluate them.

    [DC: You are missing the point. They provided much more of the actual text of the emails than the cherry-picked quotes you may have read at ClimateAudit and other places.

    Rest is off-topic, despite repeated warnings. ]