Climategate Scientists "Unhelpful"—But Basically Exonerated


Move along -- nothing to see here

The Independent Climate Change Email Review panel's report [pdf] is now out. The report explicitly does not focus on the scientific work of the climate researchers at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and associated researchers involved with the released emails. Below is a selection of some of the conclusions from the report's executive summary:

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.

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.

But what about the accusation that tree ring data was manipulated so as to unwarrantedly produce a recent spike in global average temperatures (the "divergence" issue) and the notorious "hide the decline" and "trick" emails? The panel mildly finds that the presentation of the "hockey stick" graph was "misleading."

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.

Did the CRU scientists and confreres try to subvert the peer review process? One interpretation of the panel's conclusion is that this kind of thing goes on all the time, but one hopes that over time the scientific process will set it right.

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.

Conclusion: All right, people. Move along. Nothing to see here.

And while that may be right, the defensiveness and lack of openness has damaged the credibility of climate science.

More later after I have a chance to digest the panel's findings.