Saturday, November 21, 2009

The CRU data dump and the journalistic integrity question

I would be obtuse, perhaps, this week to comment on anything other than the release of information from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. The folk that had used the site, and thus whose material has now been passed around, are largely those that contribute to the site at Real Climate, which has responded. For simplicity in what follows I will call them “The Team.” For those who are unaware, a significant amount of information at the CRU, including personal e-mails and data files, has been sent to a variety of sources, though which it is now publicly available.

The files have now been sorted (to the point that they can be surveyed by the curious) and my own initial curiosity – because I am just finishing reading Mia Tiljander’s dissertation, was to find if there was any information on the varve data that she had produced which, when she wrote her dissertation, showed clear evidence for a Medieval Warming Period, but once it passed through The Team, was used to show that the MWP didn’t exist. So I went to the search website typed in Tiljander, and found 3 references, the first of which is a memo from Darrell Kaufman recognizing that they had flipped the data . Not that this is particularly novel, since that recognition was, I believe, recently publically admitted, at least by some of the team, but indicative of the questions about honesty that will now, unfortunately, have to be addressed by The Team if the journalistic brother/sisterhood is to retain any credibility in this overall mess as unbiased reporters of the state-of-reality.
Nonetheless, it's unfortunate that I flipped the Korttajarvi data.
The memo seems to admit to regret at being caught, but little at improperly using data to backstop an opinion.

When the files were first revealed the most obvious candidate for a “smoking gun” memo was that from Dr. Phil Jones, the head of CRU to others of The Team in which he notes:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps 
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.
There is an explanation of what this entailed at What’s Up With That (WUMT).

If there was only this one memo, as evidence of improper activity, then perhaps it might be viewed less severely, although one has to bear in mind that it has been the CRU and GISS curves for average temperature over the decades, together with the now infamous Mann “hockey stick” of temperature over the last millennium that has provided most of the underpinning to arguments about global warming.

However, as the search has gone on through the apparently 1079 e-mails and 72 documents there are some disquieting suggestions of evidence of more serious malfeasance.

Bear in mind that the authors of these memos are public servants, whose supposed mission is to help answer queries about the topic, and then read the deliberate attempt at denying that role, with statements such as:
Send them a subset removing station data from some of the countries who made us pay in the normals papers of Hulme et al. (1990s) and also any number that David can remember. This should also omit some other countries like (Australia, NZ, Canada, Antarctica). Also could extract some of the sources that Anders added in (31-38 source codes in J&M 2003). Also should remove many of the early stations that we coded up in the 1980s.
Bear in mind that there was a request under the British Freedom of Information Act that had been submitted for this data and, as the Australian Herald Sun notes:
Destroying government data subject to an FOI request is a criminal offence. Is this data being deleted the stuff CA asked from Jones in repeated FOI requests? If true, Jones had better get himself a lawyer very fast, but I doubt very much he would have done anything remotely illegal.
To which issue there is also the following:
And don't leave stuff lying around on ftp sites - you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs [McKitrick, McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? - our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it - thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that. IPR should be relevant here, but I can see me getting into an argument with someone at UEA who'll say we must adhere to it !
This from the same Dr Jones who later noted in a response to Roger Pielke Jr
Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.
I believe that any reasonable person reading the memo and that response would be more than a little suspicious that there is something rotten resident in the CRU.

Those who have been engaged in the discussion of the truth of global warming are already finding tidbits that show that CRU had a significant ($22 million) investment in their work, which might argue for a motive in holding the position that they have.

It is disappointing to read of the effort to “diminish” the MWP” :
Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen NH records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly 2K back--I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2K, rather than the usual 1K, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made w/ regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP", even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back [Phil and I have one in review--not sure it is kosher to show that yet though--I've put in an inquiry to Judy Jacobs at AGU about this].
Well it is a mess. Much more manipulative it appears, than the first reports led readers to believe. But will it be more than a couple-of-day storm. Sadly that is going to have to rely on a group of journalists who have become quite sycophantic to The Team, but whose integrity now requires them to bite that hand. It will be interesting to see how many do, and then the response of the political wing that has so tightly embraced the Team position.


  1. Hi HO,

    Strangely no one seems to have uploaded an aggregate of all the emails, so I've done the deed:

    The "putative" business was for what seems to be a general consumption piece for Eos, a journal issued by the American Geophysical Union:

    At 22:34 03/06/03 -0400, Michael E. Mann wrote:

    Dear Colleagues,
    Eos has invited me (and prospective co-authors) to write a 'forum' piece (see below).
    This was at Ellen Mosely-Thompson's suggestion, upon my sending her a copy of the
    attached memo that Michael Oppenheimer and I jointly wrote. Michael and I wrote this to
    assist colleagues who had been requesting more background information to help counter
    the spurious claims (with which I believe you're all now familiar) of the latest
    Baliunas & Soon pieces.


    At 07:33 PM 06/03/2003 -0400, Judy Jacobs wrote:

    Dear Dr. Mann,
    Thanks for the prompt reply.
    Based on what you have said, it sounds to me as if Mann, Bradley, et al. will not be in
    violation of AGU's prohibition on duplicate publication.
    The attachment to your e-mail definitely has the look and feel of something that would
    be published in Eos under the "FORUM" column header. FORUM pieces are usually comments
    on articles of any description that have been published in previous issues of Eos; or
    they can be articles on purely scientific or science policy-related issues around which
    there is some controversy or difference of opinion; or articles on current public issues
    that are of interest to the geosciences; or on issues--science or broader policy
    ones---0n which there is an official AGU Position Statement. In this last category, I
    offer, for example, the teaching of creationism in public schools, either alongside
    evolution, or to the exclusion of evolution.
    AGU has an official Position Statement, "Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases," which
    states, among other things, that there is a high probability that man-made gases
    primarily from the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to a gradual rise in mean
    globab temperatures. In this context, your proto-article---in the form of the attachment
    you sent me-- would seem right on target for a Forum piece. However, since the Soon et
    al. article wasn't actually published in Eos, anything that you and Dr. Bradley craft
    will have to minimize reference to the specific article or articles, and concentrate on
    "the science" that is set forth in these papers. Presumably this problem could be
    solved by simply referencing these papers.

    So the intended publication had a pro-AGW position in the first place, ergo biased in nature, not dispassionate research. Make of that what you will.

  2. Hmmm! Interesting, thanks! It may be that once this all shakes out, there may be some changes in some journal policies.