Climategate Whitewash

by Iain Murray on March 31, 2010

in Blog

The UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has issued its report into the so-called Climategate scandal.  As might be expected, it’s pretty much a whitewash, except as detailed below.  Only one MP dissented from its conclusions.  There seem to me to be some serious errors and omissions in the reports, but I’m not the only one.  For instance, Fred Pearce of New Scientist and The Guardian has some pretty serious things to say in his story, Hacked climate email inquiry cleared Jones but serious questions remain:

in their rush to judgment before parliament is dissolved for the general election, Phil Willis and his team avoided examining more complex charges, including those raised by the Guardian in its investigations in February.

Even so, they sometimes get confused. The MPs accept Jones’s claim that CRU’s habit of keeping secret much of its data, methodology and computer codes was “standard practice” among climate scientists. Yet they also note that Nasa scientists doing similar work are much more open. Not so standard, then.

And whatever standard practice may be, surely as one of climate science’s senior figures, Jones should take some responsibility for its misdemeanours? Jones has worked for the CRU for more than 20 years and been its director for six. The MPs found there a “culture of withholding information” in which “information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure.” It found this “unacceptable”. Doesn’t its director take responsibility?

The MPs kept their criticism for the university. Its “failure to grasp fully the potential damage [from] non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable”.

Also possibly illegal, it might have added.

While Pearce is good on this point – essentially that Phil Jones fostered a culture of anti-scientific secrecy and collusion as head of the CRU – he is less good on the meaning of the “trick” by which jones aspired to “hide the decline” in one particular temperature series.  Bishop Hill is right on the money here:

Mike’s Nature Trick (66) – The committee’s
conclusions are eyewatering:

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.

I’m struggling to say something polite about this.  By way of an
illustration, can you imagine the reaction if a scientist reported in
the safety literature that there was a critical flaw in the design of a
nuclear power station, but told policymakers that everything was fine?
Do the committee really think it’s fine to hide important information
from policymakers so long as you report it in the literature?

Indeed.  Did anything good come out of the report?  Well, as Roger Pielke Jr points out, a broad reading of the report reveals an indictment of the state of climate science:

Reputation does not, however, rest solely on the quality of work as it
should. It also depends on perception. It is self-evident that the
disclosure of the CRU e-mails has damaged the reputation of UK climate
science and, as views on global warming have become polarised, any
deviation from the highest scientific standards will be pounced on. As
we explained in chapter 2, the practices and methods of climate science
are a key issue. If the practices of CRU are found to be in line with
the rest of climate science, the question would arise whether climate
science methods of operation need to change. In this event we would
recommend that the scientific community should consider changing those
practices to ensure greater transparency. . .

. . . A great
responsibility rests on the shoulders of climate science: to provide the
planet’s decision makers with the knowledge they need to secure our
future. The challenge that this poses is extensive and some of these
decisions risk our standard of living. When the prices to pay are so
large, the knowledge on which these kinds of decisions are taken had
better be right. The science must be irreproachable.

And, as Climategate and the multiple subsequent revelations about the shoddiness of the IPCC’s science have shown, the science is in no way irreproachable as it stands.  Yet in the end, Prof. Frank Furedi is right about what the Committee meant in this segment:

In other words, the CRU’s real failing was to dent the authority of the
climate-change morality tale, with its idea that, with the end of the
world fast approaching, there is an urgent need to monitor people’s
behaviour and lower their horizons. A cynic might conclude that when
moral entrepreneurs say that the ‘prices to pay are so large’, their
investigations into public controversies will inevitably have a
perfunctory character, since there is allegedly a higher, more pressing
truth to be defended.

Which is exactly what happened here.

Dr Ronald Slyderink April 7, 2010 at 2:22 am

I find it very human but discouraging to hear the excuses offered. Why don't we just admit it, 'climate change' is a very complex phenomena that defies human control or understanding of all the variables at the same time, making predictability almost impossible. Not that this should stop us from trying to, but there is nothing conclusive about what exactly causes global warming to change the way it does. I think we should focus more on looking after the earth (and each other) to maintain or enhance natural processes that they remain 'sustainable' and not aggravate our ecosystems which largely serve humans and all other species together and fundamentally affect the quality of life. Arguing for or against what causes global warming isn't particularly useful, let's focus on how to improve the human condition and standards of living, indeed living for future generations and work cooperatively with nature and each other, not mindlessly pollute and degrade or diminish what we have, often to gratify wants, not just needs. May be we need to admit that our behaviour and actions on the earth have significant impacts on the functioning natural and human urban environments and is the key factor, not global warming per se. We need to be caring stewards of the gifts and resources (God has given us). Yes, God if he exists may have the final say in the question of control and ultimately our destiny. We should seek him for the real answers to climate control and global warming, more precisely overcoming the human dilemma of lack of self-control and vested self-interests.

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