Saturday, January 23, 2010

Climategate repercussions, the story grows

When the FOIA files that have since become Climategate first appeared on the scene, the forces that were marshaled against the full appreciation of their meaning and implications were, it appeared, overwhelming. The initial response of the media was either to ignore the information, or to follow the lead of folks such as the editors of Nature, and write it off as “much ado about nothing.” It has now acquired a much greater head of steam on both sides of the Atlantic. To the point, perhaps, where it will be no longer possible for the inquiries to be merely “formal whitewashes.”

In the weeks since the files were first released, as the information within the e-mails and the questions about the accuracy of the code have become clearer, the matter has begun to acquire a certain momentum. The initial questions about the release of the data from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) were intended by the University to focus on how this might have happened, rather than the content of the file. However that was quickly overcome by the nature of the material.
Thus, as described by the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology:
On 1 December 2009 Phil Willis, Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, wrote to Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor of UEA following the considerable press coverage of the data, emails and documents relating to the work of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU). The coverage alleged that data may have been manipulated or deleted in order to produce evidence on global warming. On 3 December the UEA announced an Independent Review into the allegations to be headed by Sir Muir Russell.

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
Now, however, there is sufficient concern that the committee itself is becoming involved in the inquiry. Now the inquiry is not only going to have to perform, but the evidence will also be going to the House Committee which has set up its own inquiry to address three questions.
—What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?
—Are the terms of reference and scope of the Independent Review announced on 3 December 2009 by UEA adequate (see below)?
—How independent are the other two international data sets?
And suddenly the entire situation rachets up a notch. And, for what it is worth, since there must be a General Election this year and the results of the inquiry could well be available for it, the initial “shove it under the rug” attitude may now be something of the past.

The same can be true in the United States. When the matters first came to hand Penn State set up an inquiry as to whether Professor Mann had been involved in distorting data. Faculty matters of this sort are usually handled behind closed doors (for all sorts of good reasons), but the implications of this particular situation were too large for that to be simply allowed to pass. Thus, on the one hand, Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate raised questions about ensuring an honest result.
Senate Education Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, wrote a letter to Penn State President Graham Spanier asking him to keep Piccola informed about the results of the inquiry.

"Anything short of the pursuit of absolute science cannot be accepted or tolerated," Piccola wrote in the letter.
Aaron Shenck, deputy director of the Senate Education Committee and an aide to Piccola, said Mann's inquiry is very serious and that the university must make every effort to complete the investigation.

"Senator Piccola believes the seriousness of the allegations that have been made against Dr. Mann require thorough examination by Penn State and its fullest investigatory resources," he said.

Shenck also said that although it is not within the senator's "jurisdiction or desire" to decide whether Mann is guilty or innocent, it is within the Senate Education Committee's jurisdiction to monitor the investigations.
On the other the Governor recognizes that there are also other issues.
"The governor believes that climate change is real, that it is caused by man," said Gary Tuma, the governor's press secretary. "We have proposals here on the state level to address climate change and we have no reaction to the letters, publicly or privately."
And thus the issue of money, and who stands to gain from the decisions as to whether sins have been committed may play a significant part in the results of the inquiry.

However the political ramifications on a national scale now are beginning to reach the point where the Administration’s support for global warming legislation and rules, is being increasingly challenged, with Senator Murkowski having now stepped in to use a “disapproval resolution” to restrict the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. What is interesting is that she has drawn support from at least 3 Democratic Senators as well as most Republicans.

Well as the momentum continues to grow on this issue, the first books and more comprehensive reports on what the release of the files have started to come out. I am currently reading both the “Climategate – the Crutape letters” book and the (pdf) analysis of the files by John Costella. Both of these are very readable, and I will try and have a comment/review on both next Saturday. And we will see what further developments the next week brings.


  1. The dirty deeds at the University of East Anglia are interesting, and of course deserve the disinfectant of full disclosure. As do subsequent disclosures about the IPCC's mis-statements about Himalayan glaciers.

    But there is nothing really surprising about any of these disclosures to those who had been paying attention -- the falsity of the IPCC's (Medieval) climate change-denying "Hockey Stick" had been demonstrated beyond doubt long before the whistleblower's release of information.

    What is new is the imploding global economy.

    When we think we are rich, we can afford to indulge ourselves in fantasies about puny humans controlling the planet's climate. When people are instead worrying about keeping a roof over their heads, and governments are running out of the ability to borrow yet more money, it is inevitable there should be declining enthusiasm for spending scarce resources on a scientifically-dubious artificial nightmare.

  2. And yet I was at a meeting where the Secretary of Energy waved the Hockey stick as part of his presentation, and it still drives much of the thinking of those setting policy.

    That blinkered thinking shuts out the concerns about more immediate energy supplies which get written off with - well just conserve or use wind and solar - just as they do in California!!