CRU’s Jones on the stand: Pearce offers opinion as news

By Bryan Walker 02/03/2010

Fred Pearce is obviously unrepentant over the unjust treatment he meted out to Phil Jones in his unfortunate series of artices on the UEA emails, one of which I commented on here. He has just produced an extraordinarily slanted account of Jones’ questioning from the Parliamentary committee set up to look into the affair. How’s this for openers?

’Jones did his best to persuade the Commons science and technology committee that all was well in the house of climate science. If they didn’t quite believe him, they didn’t have the heart to press the point. The man has had three months of hell, after all.’

Then Pearce offers two highly prejudicial descriptions of Jones’ actions, each linked to one of his own articles:

’Jones’s general defence was that anything people didn’t like — the strong-arm tactics to silence critics, the cold-shouldering of freedom of information requests, the economy with data sharing — were all “standard practice” among climate scientists.’

Pearce expresses disappointment that one of his own pet projects was not pursued by the committee:

’Nobody asked if, as claimed by British climate sceptic Doug Keenan, he had for two decades suppressed evidence of the unreliability of key temperature data from China.’

Gavin Schmidt has comprehensively dealt with this claim on Real Climate (see his comments on part 5). If Pearce is aware of what Schmidt wrote he is undeterred by it and again links to his own article as demonstrating the topic worthy of the attention of a parliamentary committee.

Then Pearce apparently leaves the scene of the parliamentary committee and offers his own account of what he claims Jones has conceded publicly about the 1990 China study, translating Jones’ ‘slightly different conclusion’ into his own ‘radically different findings’.  

There are other important Pearce conclusions which the committee failed to investigate, again expressed in prejudicial terms:

’Nor did the MPs probe how conflicts of interest have become routine in Jones’s world of analysing and reconstructing past temperatures. How, as the emails reveal, Jones found himself intemperately reviewing papers that sought to criticise his own work. And then, should the papers somehow get into print, judging what place they should have in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he and his fellow emails held senior positions.’

Pearce takes comfort from his feeling that the committee will have to pay closer attention to the issue in the light of the written submission from the Institute of Physics which is highly critical of the emailers.  He doesn’t mention that John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told the committee the institute’s view was “premature” and that they should wait until the Russell inquiry publishes its findings in the spring.

Pearce’s Guardian report is clearly an opinion piece but not presented as such. It is an extraordinary example of the authority some journalists have taken upon themselves to declare judgment on matters of which they have shown very little knowledge. Pearce is not a climate change sceptic, but he is hounding a group of climate scientists and seems fired up by the thrill of the chase. It’s a sad spectacle in a leading newspaper.

[GR adds: The Guardian’s David Adam provides a more balanced overview here, and the paper’s live blog of the session is worth a look.]
[GR update: Simon Hoggart’s take: “Whatever your view on man-made global warming, you had to feel sorry for Professor Phil Jones..”]