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Posts Tagged University of East Anglia

Climategate — Journalist withdraws and apologises Ken Perrott Jul 08

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George Monbiot

George Monbiot: Image via Wikipedia

Hot Topic has an informative article covering the the Independent Climate Change Email Review chaired by Sir Muir Russell (see Climategate’s final fizzle). The report can be downloaded here (FINAL REPORT). It’s 160 pages and appears very thorough. But it will take a little time to read.

Listen to the press conference where the report was launched this morning (download mp3 file Audio recording of the press conference (mp3 format approx 14MB). I think this gives a good idea of the flavour of the report and the effort that went into it. There is also of Transcript of Sir Muir Rrussell’s opening remarks.

Hopefully this report will do a lot to help reverse some of the misleading press and internet coverage of this unseemly climategate affair.

One journalist who has already admitted to have been mistaken is George Monbiot. Back in November he called for professor Phil Jones resignation. Now he says  he was wrong to call, soon after this story broke, for Jones’s resignation? (See The ‘climategate’ inquiry at last vindicates Phil Jones — and so must I).

There were a few local bloggers who echoed Monbiot’s mistaken call – I wonder if they will now withdraw and apologise. At least Monbiot has the honesty to admit his mistake.

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Officially a fake scandal from science perspective Ken Perrott Apr 15

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Well, the latest report from inquiries into the “climategate” affair confirm that the scientific conclusions of climate scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), University of East Anglia stand on “solid ground.”

The report is clear – relatively short and well worth reading. (Download Report of the International Panel set up by the University of East Anglia to
examine the research of the Climatic Research Unit
).
Here are the conclusions:

  1. ” We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.
  2. We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of temperature specialists.
  3. It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is  unfortunate and seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in government.
  4. A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties should stay with those who collected it.”

On the CRU’s tree-ring work the report says:

“we are satisfied that the CRU tree-ring work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation and unjustified selection of data are not valid.”

And on the criticisms made of the CRU:

“From our perspective it seems that the CRU sins were of omission rather than commission. Although we deplore the tone of much of the criticism that has been directed at CRU, we believe that this questioning of the methods and data used in dendroclimatology will ultimately have a beneficial effect and improve working practices”

Points for action

Reviews like this can be very useful for science groups. After all, cases of scientific fraud are very rare but there are always procedures and habits that can be exposed and therefore corerected. After all, scientists are human, aren’t they.

In this case archival and record keeping procedures may have been understandably rather informal and this has probably been largely attended to. The comment on use of professional statisticians is, I think, worthwhile. In my career I was lucky to have statisticians on hand and always found their uinput valuable. But I often reviewed papers where authors handled statistical analyses themselves and sometimes the papers suffered for it.

The UEA, in their response to the panels criticisms, welcomed the report and undertook to consider how they could improve the use of professional statisticians. This could well involve some financial investment and should be welcomed by CRU staff.

Two other inquiries, by British members of parliament and Pennsylvania State University, have also cleared the scientists of misconduct. Two further inquiries, one led by former British civil servant Muir Russell and the other conducted by British police, are still under way.

The Russell inquiry (reports next month) is basically into issues around how the UEA carried out their responsibilities under freedom of information (FoI) legislation.  I suspect their report will be the most critical of  the CRU and UEA. It may even recommend, or result in, disciplinary actions. Hopefully though it’s recommendations will enable development of policies to improve compliance and even make a step towards demanding some responsibility on the part of those making FoI applications.

The police inquiry is ongoing. I really hope this one has a success. If they do this could be even more damning for denier organisaytions and could well lead to legal actions.

So – as any objective observer would have already concluded, the scientific integrity of climate scientists remains intact. There may yet be findings indicating inappropriate atitusded towards FoI requests. BGut there is still the criminal activity behind the hacking and release of the climategate emails.

I think that the real story lies there. And if it is finally exposed it could be big.

See also:
CRU cleared of scientific malpractice — so much for ’climategate’
Jones cleared of charges of scientific malpractice: there goes deniers claims of fraud
Scientists cleared of malpractice in UEA’s hacked emails inquiry | Environment | guardian.co.uk.
Lord Oxburgh panel clears CRU of malpractice but calls for better data practices
Climategate’ inquiry clears scientists of malpractice
Panel rules out malpractice by climate scientists
Lord Oxburgh Inquiry Clears UEA Scientists of Malpractice
Response by the University of East Anglia to the Report by Lord Oxburgh’s Science Assessment Panel
Climategate: Officially a Fake Scandal
Climategate scientists chastised over statistics
Experts respond: Climate researchers were ’dedicated if slightly disorganised’

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Institute of Physics in hot seat Ken Perrott Mar 05

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The UK Institute of Physiscs (IOP) is currently the darling of the climate change deniers, but has upset its own members. The Guardian has found their submission to the UK Parliamentary “Climategate” Hearing was prepared by a small clique, including a well known climate change denier. Now members are protesting. Some may even resign. The IOP may be forced to withdraw their submission.

Climate change politics can be a poisoned chalice for scientists. Trained to deal with objective reality and to test statements and ideas against that reality they are ill-equipped to confront the prejudice, misinformation, emotion and outright nastiness of the political world.

Unfortunately “climategate,” the hysterical anti-science campaign organised around the release of selected stolen emails from the Climate Research unit of the University of East Anglia, is beginning to bring that political world to the scientists themselves.

UK Parliament “climategate” hearings

Looks like the staid old IOP may become the latest victim of “climategate.” Mind you, they did bring it on themselves with their submission to the recent Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry (see IoP’s evidence submission). They succumbed to politicking in their own ranks and used decidedly authoritarian, undemocratic procedures in preparing their submission. This has caused a backlash from members, and reporters from the UK Guardian have been exposing the kerfuffle. The Institute’s leadership have been forced to backtrack a little on their submission and may yet be forced to withdraw it, at least in part.

Never mind – the climate change deniers loved the submission. Reading those sources your wouldn’t have known that it was only one of 55 submissions representing all points of view. It was heavily promoted in the denier echo chamber on twitter and blogs – even in New Zealand. The local popular blog, Kiwiblog, uncritically reproduced sections (see Institute of Physics on Climategate).

Perhaps, though, this promotion has gone too far. Lord Mockton’s climate change denial organisation, SPPI, has now reproduced the submission, given it a pretty cover and made it available from their own web site. An “official document” in their reprint series! I should think this will be the kiss of death, credibility wise, and cause even more consternation to institute members.

Who wrote the submission?

The Guardian reports that the evidence for the submission “was drawn from an energy industry consultant who argues that global warming is a religion” (see Climate emails inquiry: Energy consultant linked to physics body’s submission). They also found “the submission was approved by three members of its science board, but would not reveal their names. The Guardian contacted several members of the board, including its chairman, Denis Weaire, a physicist at Trinity College Dublin. All said that they had little direct role in the submission.”

Three members out of 14! (Governance Science Board).

The Guardian was “unable to find a member of the board that supports the submission. Two of the scientists listed as members said they had declined to comment on a draft submission prepared by the institute, because they were not climate experts and had not read the UEA emails. Others would not comment or did not respond to enquiries.” (See  Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry).

Apparently the report was prepared by the IOP’s Energy Group and the Environment Group was left out of the loop! While environmental and climate scientists generally overwhelmingly accept the IPCC conclusions from their review of climate science, energy and mining scientists are usually less accepting. Understandable given their commercial environment. Terry Jackson, the founder of the IOP Energy Group and Director of the Independent Climate Research Group in Bangor  (a denier group) publicly promotes naive climate denial arguments (see Sammy’s right, man is not responsible for global warming, Pouring cold water on global warming, and Scientists see signs of global cooling). This might provide an idea of the orientation of those physicists who approved the submission.

The IOP’s “clarification” to members

After protests from members the IOP produced a statement “clarifying” their position (see IOP and the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of climate data). It said:

“the Institute’s position on climate change is clear: the basic science is well enough understood to be sure that our climate is changing — and that we need to take action now to mitigate that change.”

And

“these comments, focused on the scientific process, should not be interpreted to mean that the Institute believes that the science itself is flawed.”

However , members were not satisfied. The Guardian reported “the statement appears to contradict sections of the original submission, which suggests the emails showed scientists had cherry-picked data to support conclusions and that some key reconstructions of past temperature cannot be relied upon.” (See Institute of Physics forced to clarify submission to climate emails inquiry).

And several IOP members have written open letters of protest. Andy Russell (see Dear Institute of Physics…) detailed his objections to the submission and finished with:

Finally, I am confused as to why the Energy group was tasked with preparing the statement and not the Environmental Physics group, who would have been more aware of the particular issues in this case.

I realise that a small clarification has been issued but if the IoP continues to stand by this statement then I will have no other option but to reconsider my membership of your organisation.

Ian Hopkinson (see A letter to the Institute of Physics) made the following specific complaints:

1. Item 1 mis-represents the current scientific practice of sharing of data and methodologies. Currently methodologies are generally shared by publication in scientific journals not by the explicit sharing of computer source code. Raw experimental data from third parties is not routinely shared. To imply that the researchers at CRU are acting out of step with current practice is false.
2. Item 4 specifically casts doubt on the historical temperature reconstructions based on proxy measures whilst not acknowledging that such reconstructions have been repeated by a range of research groups using a range of methodologies, as described in the IPCC 2007 report.
3. Item 5 accuses the researchers at CRU of “suppression” of the divergence between proxy records and the more recent thermometer based record. This is ridiculous, the CRU has published on this very divergence in Nature.
4. Item 6 makes no recognition of the un-usual circumstances that CRU found themselves in, subjected to a large number of Freedom of Information requests, culminating in the publication of a substantial fraction of their private e-mail correspondence.
So, an ongoing saga. I wonder if IOP members will be calling for their own inquiry into unethical behaviour in the leadership. (That’s all we need – another “climategate” inquiry!)
Are we going to see the IOP withdraw their submission to the parliamentary committee?
And how are they going to explain the republication of the submission as a reprint of Mad Mocktons SPPI denier group?
See also:

The IOP fiasco

Physicists’ message to world leaders in Copenhagen: Institute of Physics Press Release

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Freedom of information and responsibility Ken Perrott Mar 01

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Prepare for another round of “climategate,” misinformation and distortion of climate change news. This time conservative news media, denier organisations and bloggers will be concentrating on the current inquiries taking place in the UK. These will be considering issues related to the illegal hacking and release of emails from the Climate Research Unit and the University of East Anglia. One of these is the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry which hears oral submissions this week.

Already we have seen some selective and biased reporting of written submissions and I am sure this will continue. However, there are important issues at stake to do with freedom of information (FOI), harassment of scientists and the responsibility of those making freedom of information requests or using publicly available data. I hope the inquiries will deal with the underlying principles as well as making determinations on the specific cases considered.

Clearly many of the FOI requests made to the CRU were malicious. The UEA submissions says:

“In July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU. These amounted to 61 requests out of a 2009 total of 107 related to CRU, compared to annual totals of 2 in 2008 and 4 in 2007 (University totals for those years were 204, 72 and 44 respectively).”

I wonder if the requesters were building up to something?

(Graphics thanks to Going on a Bear Hunt).

Malicious FOI requests in New Zealand

The recent FOI request made to NIWA by the NZ Climate Science Coalition (CSC) was also surely malicious (and timed to coincide with “climategate). The CSC is a climate change  denier group which works closely with the ACT Party and the local right wing think tank The Centre for Political Research. The latter is also linked to the usual oveseas conservative organisations like The Heartland Insitute and conservative media like The American Thinker.

The CSC pretend they are only trying to keep NIWA honest. That they are doing “peer review.” But the quality of their discredited report “Are we warmer yet?” indicates they are not capable of scientific review (see NZ’s denier-gate, Peer Review for the Climate ’Science’ Coalition and NZ sceptics lie about temp records, try to smear top scientist).

They admit their interest is political not science. And the FOI requests and other demands on NIWA are clearly of the “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” type.

The CSC’s agenda is to discredit honest New Zealand scientists. Not peer review.

Now I hope the UK parliamentary review will consider this malicious aspect of many FOI requests and make recommendations for its treatment.

Public data and responsibility

Most people welcome the idea that data should be publicly available or accessible. I think research institutions are moving in that direction as they get their databases off paper and on-line.

But, surely with availability should come responsibility. This is a problem with denier organisations and individuals who consistently misrepresent data or use it selectively. The local deniers, the CSC, did this with the publicly available NIWA data. They presented the data in an irresponsible format (denying the need for site adjustments) and drew the wrong conclusions. Their report was then used to attack NZ scientists and to attempt to discredit their database. They used the data for political, not scientific, purposes.

I don’t know how such groups can be encouraged to behave responsibly. But surely they should be exposed to some of the same requirements our scientists must adhere to with this data. Requirements of peer review and transparency.

Unethical behaviour of local deniers

For example, how did the NZ CSC produce their report? Ask them and their answer will depend on the day of the week. On the one hand they claim that they did not have any scientific input or checking of their “research paper.” Later they did talk about a “science team” being involved – but the team wished to “remain anonymous.” They also acknowledge some science checking after their member Vincent Gray admitted to having that responsibility and acknowledged being mistaken in not having picked them up on their claim that no site adjustments were necessary.

While their rejection of the need for site adjustments was their biggest “mistake” there also appears to be something wrong with the data they used or its manipulation in the “paper.” I have asked them for information on their methodology and been told to go away. They also say that a snowball has more chance of surviving in hell than I have getting one of the “science team” to discuss things.

The refusal of the CSC to enable scrutiny of the methods used in their report may not be illegal, but it is unethical. It also indicates that they have a low confidence in the scientific credibility of the report. They are certainly in no moral postion to criticise the work of scientists in the manner they have.

So what about the requesters of official information also having responsibilities. Perhaps their treatment of data should be open to the same inspection normally given scientific reports. Perhaps they should have the same obligations to reveal data and methodologies that scientists are under.

The imposition of a “level playing field”, a requirement that requesters permit the same level of transparency required of scientists, might help limit malicious FOI requests.

See also:
The Independent Climate Change Email inquiry.
Correspondence between University of East Anglia and the Information Commissioner’s Office
The Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament:
The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia
Submitted memoranda from over 50 individuals and organisations.

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Anti-science lies being exposed — slowly Ken Perrott Feb 26

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This is a sane word of advice at the time of hysterical attacks on climate science and scientists under the “climategate” tag.

It comes in a submission from the  University of East Anglia to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology investigating the “climategate” business. It finishes with the comment:

“Given that the stakes for humanity are so high in correctly interpreting the evidence of global warming, we would meanwhile urge scientists, academics, journalists and public servants to resist the distortions of hearsay evidence or orchestrated campaigns of misinformation, and instead to encourage open, intelligent debate.”

Ah, if only! Recently on another thread we had a denier accusing scientists of ’Lying’ and being ’eco-fascists,’ ’lying parasites,’ and ’parasites of the environmental movement.’

For those of you who want a bit more sanity in this discussion have a read of the university’s submission. It’s avalable as a word document (submission) and together with an appendix.

The submission covers the key accusations being made by the climategate deniers and might be an eye-opener to some.

They say “Lies get half way around the world before truth gets its boots on.” It takes time but truth will eventually out.

I look forward to the time that all these inquiries report their findings.


Update (or BREAKING NEWS as Ian Wishart would claim): It’s also worth having a read of this statement Climate change and the scientific process from the Office of the NZ Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee. A printable version of ’Climate change and the scientific process’ is available for download here ( PDF file, 139 kb).

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