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 -). 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.