Category Archives: Glaciergate

Climategate investigation: no proof of fraud, better disclosure called for


Climategate, the affair over the stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University is officially no longer a scandal. The UK’s Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee began their investigation late last year. It was established to investigate the following allegations:

The Independent Review will:

1. Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes.

2. Review CRU’s policies and practices for acquiring, assembling, subjecting to peer review and disseminating data and research findings, and their compliance or otherwise with best scientific practice.

3. Review CRU’s compliance or otherwise with the University’s policies and practices regarding requests under the Freedom of Information Act (‘the FOIA’) and the Environmental Information Regulations (‘the EIR’) for the release of data.

4. Review and make recommendations as to the appropriate management, governance and security structures for CRU and the security, integrity and release of the data it holds .

Climategate gave the denial movement the opportunity to push their claims into the mainstream media, and clearly had an impact on public perception.

It’s here! What does it say?

The report has just been released and it is  good news. In short, the science behind climate science is solid. Claims that scientists acted fraudulently are misplaced:

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. But this was not an inquiry into the science produced by CRU and it will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel, announced by the University on 22 March, to determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built.

Rightly, the Committee calls for more disclosure of data and methodologies:

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jone’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

Other investigations: claims of deniers dismissed

Already we have seen the following claims of the denial movement debunked:

  • Amazongate – claims that the IPCC overstated the impact of climate change on the Amazon rain forest by relying on a WWF press release have proven to be groundless.
  • Michael Mann manipulated data to “fake” climate change – Mann’s employer, Pennsylvania State University investigated these claims and found there was no basis to the allegations. According to the report released: “After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee finding is that there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data. While a perception has been created in the weeks after the CRU emails were made public that Dr. Mann has engaged in the suppression or falsification of data, there is no credible evidence that he ever did so, and certainly not while at Penn State.”
  • The head of the IPCC has been cleared of any charges of “financial irregularities – Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman has been audited and found clear of the so called “follow the money” argument: “KPMG, the professional services company, examined the personal finances of Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after media suggested late last year that he received money for advising several private sector companies, including Toyota and Credit Suisse. The review found these were all paid to Mr Pachauri’s non-profit organisation TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), which commissioned KPMG.”

One by one, the major claims of the denial movement have been dismissed.

Watch how they spin this into a victory about breaking “the culture of secrecy”. However the most  important facts are (1) the science is solid, (2) the charges of scientific fraud are baseless and (3) greater transparency will mitigate future claims made by the denial movement.

Addendum: This is the denial movements “Dover Moment”

A few weeks back I suggested the denial movement should be careful for that they wish for: the chance to put climate science “on trial”. Well, it would seem this was such an opportunity. If one reads the submissions you will see all the luminaries of the denial movement attempting to cast doubt on the science and attack the reputation of scientists – including a submission from our old friend Richard S. Courtney. [Hi Richard!]

It was a major effort on behalf of the denial movement to exploit the stolen CRU emails  to discredit the science. And it failed spectacularly.

It was a co-ordinated “push” by the denial movement to influence the outcome of the inquiry. And it failed spectacularly.

It was the denial movement’s attempt to legitimise their claim the science was “fraudulent”. And it failed spectacularly.

This is their “Dover moment”: when two sides disputing a scientific question are given equal opportunity to present their arguments and evidence (see Putting climate science on trial: what is the worst that could happen?). In Kitzmiller v Dover, the ID/Creationist movement was dealt a serious body blow. The climate change denial movement has just suffered an equally significant blow. This is what happens when the peddlers of propaganda attempt to take on science.

What’ next?

Let’s wait and see how the police investigation into the cyber-attack on CRU. I wonder which names we will see then?

Note: big thanks to PZ Myers at Phranygula for the shout out. Appreciated and unexpected! Cheers mate.

Asymmetric standards of evidence: how the deniers give a free pass to “sceptical grey literature”

The recent hullabaloo over the use of so called “grey literature” in the recent IPCC report points to the curious double standards used by deniers when it comes to the credibility of evidence. As anyone familiar with the debate knows, the IPCC has suffered considerable embarrassment over a series of gaffes and errors in it’s last report.

Glaciergate: the IPCC drops the ball

Perhaps the most discussed “error” is the now infamous “Glaciergate”. In short, the IPCC included estimates that overstated the rate that glaciers in the Himalaya’s would melt. The IPCC stated that they could potentially disappear by 2035, when it is more likely take 300 years.

The source of this prediction was a 1999 New Scientist article. Journalist Fred Pearce wrote an piece quoting glacier specialist Syed Hasnain, of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The article states:

“…MELTING Himalayan glaciers are threatening to unleash a torrent of floods into mountain valleys, and ultimately dry up rivers across South Asia. A new study, due to be presented in July to the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI), predicts that most of the glaciers in the region will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming.

“All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating,” says Syed Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi…”

The IPCC then relied on this article to make the claim that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by “2035” – adding the 40 years to when the article was dated.

The use of such materials is not unusual. These materials are referred to as “grey literature”:  articles and reports that are produced outside the peer review system but are used as sources of information by writers of IPCC report.

The problems in relying on such materials are now apparent. Get it wrong, and it looks as though the process is compromised.

Appearances do matter

Now I agree with other commentators that the errors in the over 3000 pages of the fourth assessment report should not compromise the public trust in the work of scientists or discredit the science. However, deniers have proved adept in spinning the story and attacking the credibility of the IPCC and scientists by playing up the errors.

I’d hazard to guess that 99% of the public who have heard of the IPCC have never read any of their reports. They only know of the IPCC and its work second hand via the general media, blogs and new services.

When they hear the IPCC has “made” a mistake they have no context. They do not know that the report is massive, that it represents the work of thousands of scientists and most of its sources is reputable science. It’s easy for sceptics to question the credibility of the IPCC because the average Joe is not familiar with the original materials.

However, we do need to be frank. It was a cock up, and the IPCC has only itself to blame. The IPCC has admitted it was an error, as they should. One hopes they take this lesson to heart, instate even more rigorous standards and review how they use grey literature in drafting their reports.

Asymmetric standards of evidence: shouldn’t the same standard apply to both sides?

Thus it goes without saying that the IPCC, scientists and other researchers should strive for the highest standards of evidence. Should those standards of evidence also apply to claims being made by sceptics?

Of course the answer is yes.

However, what is curious is the apparent double standards applied by sceptics to evaluating sources of information.

I refer to this as “asymmetric standards of evidence.”

Simply, put they demand the highest standards for evidence for climate science but rely almost exclusively on what one would term “grey literature” for their own arguments.

The research quoted by sceptics – when it’s not misrepresenting or misquoting actual science – is published almost exclusively on blogs and other websites that completely circumnavigate the peer review process.

These sites have a stated agenda: they are not simply sceptical of the science, but openly hostile to scientists, the IPCC and high profile advocates such as Al Gore. They wear their advocacy on their sleeve.

Sites such as Watt’s up with that (WUWT) and frequently publish “research” and “analysis”. Along side this material, the other staples of the denier’s library of sources are links to other blogs and YouTube video’s.

My question: how does this material differ in quality form the so called “grey literature” that the IPCC was roundly criticised for using in its Fourth Assessment report?

Very little I’d suggest.

Personally, I place little value on a Greenpeace press release. It may quote climate science research as a source, but I’m not going to rely on their spin. I’ll go to the science itself for confirmation. The same rules apply to blog posts: heck, I apply those same standards to my blog which is why I strive to include links to original sources.

So, if we are to classify New Scientist articles, NGO press releases and reports as “grey literature”, what does make blog posts from WUWT?

One has to apply the same standards. It’s what I call sceptical grey literature. Most of it is unverified opinion pieces.

One has to wonder if deniers are aware of the irony. More likely they are perfectly content in accepting evidence that accords with their own world view.

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