Apr 17, 2010
Bishop Hill


Readers may be interested in this conversation, which might have been overheard recently in the Reform Club in London. The speaker appeared to be a senior civil servant..

“You know, Bernard, for one so new to the vice-chancellor’s position, Edward has shown commendable facility in the arrangements for the outcome of these inquiries. Watch and learn, Bernard; watch and learn. If you can handle yourself half as well as Edward has then you have a bright future ahead of you.

Picking the right team is the sine qua non. A panel of sound people, leavened with a handful of neutrals (purely for effect, you understand) will produce the required result every time. Edward’s appointments to the emails panel were a case in point. True believers are not going to let you down, Bernard. Of course, old hands might criticise Edward for making his choices slightly too obvious, and there was some unfortunate public criticism, but the public really shouldn’t be concerning themselves with minutiae like the membership of panels of inquiry. How could they possibly understand? And the important thing is that Edward will get the right result, and it’s the result that counts, eh Bernard?

Of course it’s important to have the right chairman too. I though Edward’s played a delightful varation on his earlier theme here. Instead of picking someone who was an obvious follower of the cause, he chose Ronnie, whose financial interests in the outcome of the inquiry all but ensured the correct result was delivered. Marvellous! Watch and learn, Bernard. Watch and learn.

It’s important not to overdo things though. You don’t want to have everyone on side, at least not obviously so. Be subtle. You can get to where you want to go simply by ensuring that the majority of one’s travelling companions are like-minded. The others simply have to be discreet. Of course, it goes without saying that the panel should not have anyone from “the other side” on board. It wouldn’t do to risk any indiscretions, would it Bernard?

Make life easier for the panel by setting terms of reference that help them reach the answer you want them to. Think of this as a map for your travelling companions, ensuring that everyone arrives at the same destination. So much more harmonious that way, don’t you think? For one so new to this kind of thing, Edward has been masterful in this area. By splitting the inquiry across two separate panels, he has made it simplicity itself for them to let important questions “slip between the gaps” and very difficult for anyone to see where this has happened until it is too late. It was a stroke of genius to avoid publishing the terms of reference for Ronnie’s scientific panel at all.

Edward potentially had a tricky issue here, with one of those awful colonials saying that parts of one of the official reports were fabricated. Do you see how wonderful Edward’s sleight of hand was? His “division of labour” trick allows the emails panel to say that they are not qualified to assess the problem. Meanwhile, the scientific panel will miss it because they are looking only at the scientific papers and not the official reports. Do you see, Bernard? Genius!

Witnesses can be a problem. It is always possible that one or two of them might have minds of their own. Some might even know what they are talking about as well. Never, ever take evidence from people like this, Bernard, and particularly make sure that nothing is heard from those who combine both of these irritating qualities (unless you are quite sure that they will do as they are told).

Edward’s two panels, on the other hand, took the “no platform” approach and refused to hear anything from “the other side”. While this was a trifle obvious, it is certainly very safe and all manner of difficulties can be carefully overlooked. It wouldn’t do to have someone point these out in public, would it Bernard?

At some point it will become necessary to examine the evidence. Or at least to appear to examine the evidence. Edward has again showed some neat footwork here. In the case of the scientific panel, telling the panel which papers to look at was a neat and tidy way to avoid any hiccups. Where the allegation is one of “cherrypicking” data series, the panel only looks at papers where no cherrypicking has taken place. Where the allegation is one of “bodging” results, cross that paper off the list too. It’s easy when you know how. You should also see why it was important for the panel not to speak to “the other side”. We wouldn’t want oversights like this to be pointed out, would we?

The emails panel has come up with another splendid wheeze in this area. Where important allegations are made, they have simply declared that these are potentially actionable in a libel court. The immediate effect is that they can refuse to publish the evidence. This of course means that when the “not guilty” verdict is reached, the actual accusations made remain unseen. But more wonderful still is that they can then simply ignore the accusation, because to find in favour of it would be actionable too. Tricky questions put where they should be, Bernard: under the carpet.

With the ground so effectively prepared, the result is a foregone conclusion and a clean bill of health can be delivered. The icing on the cake is been the setting up of a scapegoat. By reporting that the IPCC are to blame for misrepresenting the the scientists’ work Ronnie neatly diverts attention away from the civil service and onto someone else. This was a good idea, but risky nevertheless. It was probably inevitable that someone would notice that the authors who misrepresented CRU scientists’ work were those selfsame CRU scientists. It will probably turn out right in the end because these things are a little subtle for the press corps, but it was a risk all the same.

Still, it was a good day’s work by Ronnie and his team.

What’s that you say? Two days work? Ronnie is thorough isn’t he?

Another biscuit, Bernard?"

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