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« Royal Society podcasts | Main | David Henderson in the FT »

A letter from Phil Willis

In the wake of the rather peculiar findings of the Science and Technology Select Committee, I wrote a letter to chairman, Phil Willis, explaining the concern among sceptics over the findings and inquiring if he would be able to answer some questions for BH readers.

There was a swift response, indicating that Willis would be willing to answer questions, provided they were within the remit of the report itself.

This seemed thoroughly reasonable, so I put together a list of questions and sent them on their way.

The response arrived earlier today. This is the key bit:

Your questions raised detailed points about the Committee's deliberations and how it weighted the evidence that was presented to it in this inquiry. I am sorry, but these are matters on which I am unable to enter into detailed correspondence. I can, however, make two general points. First, as the Report makes clear, the COmmittee received in addition to the oral evidence taken on 1 March a substantial number of written submissions which were carefully considered. Second, the report sets out the reasons that led the Comittee to reach conclusions and recommendations that it did.

He goes on to suggest I address my concerns to the Russell and Royal Society panels.

And so, gentle readers, the questions I have asked on your behalf are to be ignored. If you are interested, here they are.

Questions for Phil Willis

1.            The potential “manipulation or suppression” of data was one of three questions in your terms of reference. You acknowledged the receipt of written evidence that CRU had manipulated data, noting in fn 17 that these issues were raised in McIntyre’s submission, which described incidents of “arbitrary adjustment (“bodging”), cherry picking and deletion of adverse data.” There is no evidence on the record – from Jones or anyone else – contradicting these assertions. Why did you omit these issues from your inquiry? In the absence of any rebuttal, what was the basis of your conclusion that CRU’s reputation was “intact”? Since the evidence was not rebutted, shouldn’t you have drawn the attention of the Science Panel to these matters and asked them to examine these particular issues?

2.            You concluded that the term “trick…to hide the decline” was “shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous”. No evidence was placed on the record (nor exists in the specialist literature) claiming that the tree ring data was “erroneous” i.e. measured incorrectly. The data is what it is. Upon reflection, do you still think it is appropriate to use the term “erroneous” for the tree ring data in this context?

3.            You also stated that “what was meant by ‘hide the decline’ was remove the effects of data known to be problematic in the sense that the data were known to be misleading.” Did you receive any evidence (other than from Jones and/or UEA) that deletion of post-1960 tree ring data from the IPCC and WMO graphics was an acceptable statistical technique? In the absence of such independent evidence, what was the basis for your conclusion that this was an acceptable technique? Given that there is convincing evidence that the post-1960 tree ring data was removed from the relevant IPCC graphic, on what basis did you accept UEA’s evidence that “CRU never sought to disguise this specific type of tree-ring “decline or divergence”?

4.            The contemporary Climategate emails state that the reasons for the deletion of the post-1960 tree ring data (hide the decline) were concerns that “the skeptics [would] have an field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates” and that inclusion of the data would “dilute the message rather significantly”. What steps did the Committee take to assess assertions by UEA and Jones about the motives for deleting post-1960 data from important graphics against contemporary evidence from the Climategate emails?

5.            Your assessment of potential subversion of peer review omitted the consideration of relevant incidents placed into evidence. Why did you fail to consider the following cases from McIntyre’s submission that apparently showed efforts by CRU correspondents to subvert the peer review process?

If published as is, this paper could really do some damage. It is also an ugly paper to review because it is rather mathematical, with a lot of Box-Jenkins stuff in it. It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically.

Recently rejected two papers (one for JGR and for GRL) from people saying CRU has it wrong over Siberia. Went to town in both reviews, hopefully successfully. If either appears I will be very surprised

I am really sorry but I have to nag about that review – Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting 

What was the reason for not considering these incidents? How can you justify a conclusion that there was no effort to subvert the peer review process without considering these incidents?

6.            Evidence was also presented to the Committee of the opposite form of subversion of the peer review process: non-arms length peer reviewing by Jones of articles by close associates (Mann, Schmidt, Santer etc.). Why did the Committee omit consideration of this aspect of the peer review problem? Did the Committee intend to condone such practices? In retrospect, should the Committee have commented on these matters?

7.            Professor McKitrick argues that Professor Jones used his position in the IPCC to suppress evidence that called the quality of his data sets into question (Ev 140, para [13]-[15]). The Committee accepted Professor Jones’ claim (paragraphs 72, 73) that he was merely making "informal comments" and expressing his views to a colleague about some papers. Did the Committee not consider it relevant that Jones was, at the time, not merely acting in a private capacity, but was a Lead Author of the IPCC Report, and that he was therefore not merely expressing an opinion about the papers, but was in fact expressing an intent to manipulate IPCC guidelines in order to prevent disclosure of peer-reviewed evidence that went against his views?

8.            In defence of this claim that he tried to keep sceptic findings out of the IPCC reports, Professor Jones defends himself by stating that the papers were already in the scientific literature, an explanation that is accepted by the committee. Since the accusation is one of keeping the findings out of the IPCC reports, the fact that they were already in the scientific literature is irrelevant. Professor McKitrick states that Professor Jones did keep the papers out of the drafts of the IPCC reports, only including them in the final draft after protests from sceptics and then inserting unsubstantiated statements into the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (para 15) in order to bypass their conclusions. Professor McKitrick lists (para 19) the evidence that the committee would need to obtain in order to disprove an allegation of fabrication of evidence.

How has the committee discounted Professor McKitrick’s allegation? Did the Committee ask Professor Jones to supply the information alluded to by Professor McKitrick? If not, is the Committee prepared to ask him for it now? 


So, to return to Phil Willis's letter, we have a series of mysteries. Despite Mr Willis's statements to the contrary, the report does not explain the reasons for the conclusions the committee reached, at least not those questions posed above.

Where, for example the committee took evidence of fabrication of part of the contents of an IPCC report, but no evidence to the contrary, what possible weighing of the evidence could the committee make? How could it come up with a finding of "not guilty" without any evidence for the defence? I suppose this is probably within the remit of an official whitewash.


Moving on, Mr Willis suggests that we sceptics should address ourselves to the Russell review or to the Royal Society panel. This will be interesting. Ross McKitrick has submitted the same allegation of fabrication to Sir Muir's team. But I don't think this will make any difference.

My guess is that the subsequent story will go something like this: the Emails panel will defer ruling on the issue because it is a scientific question. They will hand the job over to the Royal Society panel instead.

The Royal Society panel is tasked with examining CRU's research for integrity. But of course the observant among you will notice that Ross McKitrick's allegations relate to an IPCC report and not a CRU paper. McKitrick's allegations will therefore be out of scope. See where this is leading?

But wait! I hear you cry. There is an IPCC inquiry too isn't there? Well, yes, except that the IPCC inquiry is looking at institutional design and not scientific matters, so once again, the allegation will be out of scope.

Clever eh?


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Reader Comments (28)

I'm sure you'll be provided with a thorough and detailed reply (form letter 16b, "Dear ," soon!

Apr 7, 2010 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean Peake

This looks increasingly like what Gene from Brownwar would call the exhaustion of the democratic process, or some such. Perhaps he has some suggestions as to what we should do in the circumstances.

Apr 7, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Would it not have been better to have addressed your well expressed questions to each of the Committee members and compared their replies ?

Apr 7, 2010 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony

Various self-dealing panels may find pretexts for dismissing these pertinent, well-documented questions, but meantime the Montford/BH reprise persists in cyberspace, awaiting interrogators of integrity. As reasonable and valid queries remain arrogantly ignored while Climate Cultists continue propagandizing their extreme Luddite agenda, Internet constituencies will form like eddies in a stream to conduct objective, rational evaluations of what is --let's face it-- junk science, drivel on its face.

When a disinterested if inchoate consensus eventually takes form, malfeasant official bodies with their pilot fish will find themselves irrelevant, entitled to neither credibility nor respect. Great will be the rage of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca when they discover that Warmists' dollhouse goodies are naught but colorful papier mache. As fur flies thick and fast, Green Gang mafiosi will have only themselves to blame.

Apr 7, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Blake

"Same old same old." "Nothing here, move along."

Why am I not surprised?

Note to Tom Sawyer -- there is a fence or something needing white washing. Please apply to Science and Technology Select Committee, attention: Chairman, Phil Willis.

Apr 7, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

The Emperor pirouettes down the boulevard in naked abandon...

Apr 7, 2010 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Clever eh?

Oh yes, very clever, so clever that dear Phil managed to get the outcome of the inquiry declared in the press within 12 hours of announcing the enquiry.

With regard to the Sir Muir’s and the Royal Society, agreed, it is predictable that each report, will either include a statement along the lines of “we found certain issues but they were not in our remit” and/or “we expected that aspect to be covered by the other inquiries” or you will hear those lines during the press conference that announces the findings.

Thanks for asking the questions and also thanks for the book (halfway through) it is proving to be a wonderful insight. I also notice that it is deservedly climbing up the Amazon ratings, more power to your elbow sir!

Apr 7, 2010 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered Commentergreensand

The reply, like a large part of the report will have been drafted by the committee clerks.

Apr 7, 2010 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfounded

You might write back to Willis and ask if he would please forward your questions to Russell and ask Russell to ensure that his inquiry addresses these issues. It would be telling if Willis then refuses your request.

Apr 7, 2010 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul

It is things like this
that will eventually over time negate any need for above. So please.. do not despair.

Apr 7, 2010 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephan

They can run but they cannot hide. The truth will prevail. It's only a matter of time.

Good on you Bishop for on point questioning.

Shame on Fill-Willis for hiding behind procedure. If you're going to make a public judgement, you'd bloody-well better be prepared to defend it.

They can run but they cannot hide.

Apr 8, 2010 at 12:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve E

John Blake said,

"When a disinterested if inchoate consensus eventually takes form, malfeasant official bodies with their pilot fish will find themselves irrelevant, entitled to neither credibility nor respect. Great will be the rage of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca when they discover that Warmists' dollhouse goodies are naught but colorful papier mache. As fur flies thick and fast, Green Gang mafiosi will have only themselves to blame."

Sir, you have indeed been true to your surname. Your second paragraph read like pure poetry in the early "Blake" tradition when, according to Wikpedia "The earlier work is primarily rebellious in character, and can be seen as a protestation against dogmatic religion."


Apr 8, 2010 at 12:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve E

All you Americans out there, we need to assure the Republicans re-take the Senate in November. Inhofe is chomping at the bit to launch real investigations.

Apr 8, 2010 at 12:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterWalt

I have a very simple question but never found any answer to it :
does a proxy reconstruction going back to ~year 1000 (MWP) and showing the same rate of warming as instrumental temperature post-1960 actually exist ?

For example in the IPCC report fig6.10 all proxy reconstructions show a much lower rate of warming for the post-1960 period (and Briffa shows a decline as we all know now).


Apr 8, 2010 at 1:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

With all due respect, Your Grace, but I've gotta say that Brits really ARE a trip. The submissions listed in the report were mainly from skeptics, but the oral testimony was overwhelmingly from the official, warmist side. We've just witnessed something interesting... the Willis Inquiry operated on the old assumption that gentlemen don't lie to other gentlemen, and when a gentleman does lie, it is bad form, donchaknow, to call him a liar. Just leave a white feather on his desk next to his pistol and he'll do the right thing....

OK, wicked thought.... first, Yer Grace, this Commission of Extraordinary Gentlemen has clearly indicated where we fall in the natural order of things. They've lied to us, they know we know they've lied, and they really don't care. We're not their equals. Second, I suggest that every constituent send his MP a white feather first thing tomorrow morning and then every morning until the election. CC the PM and the Milliband Brothers as well. If it means voting BNP or UKIP, then do it, but chuck them out.

Apr 8, 2010 at 1:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

Yeah it's the common ploy. I have been writing to the Press Council here and they will not answer questions. All these bureaucrats on big salaries protecting their positions and those they answer to.

Apr 8, 2010 at 3:32 AM | Unregistered Commentertwawki

All this proves once again that no system is better than the people in charge. In an ethically advanced society such as the UK, however, such weaseling behavior is unambiguously and inexcusably shameful.

Apr 8, 2010 at 3:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

Your 8 questions are an outstanding summary of the behavior that has plagued climate science for two decades. I bookmarked them for use as a refresher in the future.

Apr 8, 2010 at 6:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe

As I am sure I said here before & elsewhere, that there will be found no "wrong-doing" per se but just silly procedural issues that should have been followed. Ruler across the knuckles & business as usual. The science still stands! This will of course be the findings of the Royal Society inquiry, the CRU inquiry, the IPCC inquiry, any the Micky Mouse Appreciation Society inquiry too for all that! Why waste the money we have little of it left? At least we can go out in style knowing we were right all along.

Apr 8, 2010 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

In summary the committee, as Phil Willis has confirmed, turned a blind eye to the evidence of wrong doing and simply reiterated the old mantra of the science being settled.

This inaction and evasion will be repeated down the Climate Change food chain until these emails falls off the end.

Apr 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I would like to see this information get out into the MSM. Could the Bishop submit it in an abbreviated form to various newspapers as a letter to the editor and see if we have any luck?

Apr 8, 2010 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

long one again, sorry but very relevant question:
Has the consensus been derived via groupthink?

Symptoms of groupthink:

Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.

Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.

Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.

Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.

Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.

Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.

Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.

Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink, resulting from the symptoms listed above, results in defective decision making. That is, consensus-driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking[5]

Incomplete survey of alternatives

Incomplete survey of objectives

Failure to examine risks of preferred choice

Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives

Poor information search

Selection bias in collecting information

Failure to work out contingency plans.

Janis argued that groupthink was responsible for the Bay of Pigs ‘fiasco’ and other major examples of faulty decision-making. The UK bank Northern Rock, before its nationalisation, is thought to be a recent major example of groupthink.[5] In such real-world examples, a number of the above groupthink symptoms were displayed.

Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking.

Catastrophic, unprecedented Man Made Global (agw theory) would seem to HAVE ALL THE SYMPTOMS of groupthink. look at where the credit crunch crisis got us, when it finally crashed an burned, that only had a few of the symptoms

According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:

Structural faults in the organization:
insulation of the group,
lack of tradition of impartial leadership,
lack of norms requiring methodological procedures,
homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.

Provocative situational context:
high stress from external threats,
recent failures,
excessive difficulties on the decision-making task,
moral dilemmas.

All the above is the IPCC/CRU/Media/Politics in the last few years.

Apr 8, 2010 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterbarry woods

So when he says he is "willing to answer questions" what he means is he isn't willing to answer real questions. Typical.

Apr 8, 2010 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Is there not an opportunity here for a charge of maladministration to be raised? All administrative decisions, in principle, are subject to challenge on the (generally quite restrictive) grounds that the decision making process has to take evidence properly into account.

Here it might be hard to show how evidence which only tended one way was magically converted into a decision which went the other way....

Apr 8, 2010 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Dodgy Geezer.

My guess is that this is not subject to review by the courts since it would be covered by Parliamentary privilege. I think it's only actions of the executive that can be questioned in this way.

Apr 8, 2010 at 4:26 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Phil Willis retires as a Member of Parliament on 12 April 2010, according to his web site, so it is unlikely you'll get any further responses from him

Apr 8, 2010 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Bodman

"My guess is that this is not subject to review by the courts since it would be covered by Parliamentary privilege. I think it's only actions of the executive that can be questioned in this way..."

Hmm...surely only if they are acting in their parliamentary, as opposed to executive, role? A minister's decisions can certainly be questioned if he is required to consider some issue before ruling and proveably does not do so?

In any case, making such a challenge and getting turned down on Parliamentary privilege grounds would be a small victory in itself.....

Apr 8, 2010 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Yer Grace

Are you considering writing to Sir Muir seeking the Review's responses to recommendations 15-18 and 21 of the Report?

I should have expected by now a site acknowledgement that the House of Commons Committee has issued its report, made recommendations for Sir Muir (16, re the Review's Terms of Reference) and the Review's workplan, and that a Review meeting has been scheduled to consider the Report. The ICCER claims to wish to operate as openly and transparently as posible.

There was an ICCER meeting scheduled for 20 March but the 'actions agreed' have yet to be posted.

Apr 9, 2010 at 2:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterE O'Connor

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