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Fred Pearce at the RI

Here is a fuller report on Fred Pearce's lecture at the Royal Institution, courtesy of reader, Atomic Hairdryer.

The Climate Files; The battle for the truth about global warming

Royal Institute 14th June
Audio archive here.

Speakers: Fred Pearce, Dr Myles Allen, Dr Adam Corner
Host: Damian Carrington of The Guardian

A smaller audience than for the Pielke lecture, with the theatre roughly half full with what looked to be a lot of journalists. The event was also filmed.

Carrington opened by setting the scene, explaining the debate was to discuss the 'private' emails written by climate scientists, which were leaked or stolen pre-Copenhagen and seized on by the blogosphere to fuel the denialist fires. The leak did raise questions however regarding data access and the peer review process. Carrington explained The Guardian commissioned Pearce to investigate the leak, leading to The Guardian's series of articles, Pearce's book, and this event.

Fred Pearce started with how the Climategate story broke for him, one Friday lunchtime, with the blogosphere getting an immediate head start on the story, compared to the legacy media. Some of the interpretations were highly misleading, especially to anyone who knew (or thought the knew) the field at all. He then called Jones to hear his side of the story, and Jones apparently blamed the Russians, which was a claim repeated by others for whatever reason. Pearce unfortunately didn't expand on the reasoning for suspecting the Russians, either in the debate or in his book. Jones said that regardless of who did it, he had critics that would likely cause trouble. Pearce then discussed the UEA's response, imposing a media blackout and suggesting nobody should be dealing in 'stolen property'. In Pearce's view, and mine, the UEA's response was misguided.

Pearce read mails over the weekend and decided there was no obvious smoking gun, but there were causes for concern with badmouthing critics, attempts to marginalise their views and obstruction of data. The following week he wrote for the New Scientist and also mentioned Monbiot's call for Jones to resign.

By December, he felt the public mood was changing and more people had noticed the story, with opinion polls changing; the UEA blackout may have lead to silence sounding like guilt. He used this graphic as an example of how sceptical journalists were seizing the issue:
Click for full-size 
He said many journalists didn't want to touch the story, plus the timing co-inciding with Copenhagen meant some had other priorities. But in Pearce's view, the leak still raised questions and read the leaked docs in more detail over Christmas, and moved on to the bloggers 'lies' with some examples.

First example given was the 'hide the decline' trick mail.

He mentioned Sarah Palin's snake oil quote, and also Inhofe's comment that it meant hiding the decline in temperatures, which Pearce stated as nonsense given that, in 1999 when the email had been written, there had been no decline. Pearce stated it clearly was not a real decline in temperatures, ie a thermometer decline, but the divergence problem. The trick was simply a presentation trick to splice the temperature onto the dendro data. He mentioned Mann had used this before, although somewhat controversially. Inhofe's interpretation was a clear lie, and same with others possibly for political reasons.

Of course we know there have been many misinterpretations for a variety of reasons, but still didn't explain why the trick was necessary. It was known about and it was, as the RC people said, 'hidden in plain sight'. What to me was revealed in the CRU leak though was some of the reasoning behind this trick, and possible peer pressure by Overpeck et al to make Briffa present a tidier picture than Briffa seemed comfortable with. For the quality of science, that kind of academic bullying to maintain consensus was more telling.

Pearce then moved on to the peer review process, using Siberia as an example given it has seen exceptional warming, which caused Allen to raise his eyebrows and make notes. Given the sparsity of data in Siberia, Jones had been criticised in the past regarding Siberia and potential UHI, or even Commissar heating influences. Jones regarded critics as troublemakers and tried to shut them down. Pearce used this as an example of Jone's response to criticism, saying one of the papers mentioned was probably Lars Kamél's paper discussed here.

Pearce cited this paper as an example of how scientists should attempt to replicate other scientists' work, and it was worthy of publication to stimulate scientific debate. The paper was rejected, and given the conflict of interest, should this have happened and how does did this rejection impact research? Independent analysis of common data should be encouraged rather than cut off at the knees.

Pearce then moved on to Mann and discussed their different styles, and how perhaps they'd egged each other on. He mentioned how they both appeared to work together to attack journals that disagreed with their views particularly regarding the hockey stick, with attempts to stifle debate. He used this email, calling the McKitrick and Michaels' paper 'garbage' and saying it would be kept out of the IPCC report, even if Jones had to redefine the peer review process to do so. Given that Jones and Trenberth were lead authors on the IPCC report chapter, they had the ability to keep hostile papers out of the IPCC report so they had a conflict of interest. Jones claimed the comment was naive and sent before he understood the IPCC process, but Pearce pointed out Jones had been working with the IPCC for more than a decade and should have understood the rules. Pearce mentioned the late inclusion of the comment on the MM paper in the report lead to limited opportunity for reviews to comment on Jones and Trenberth's views that it was not statistically significant, and the comment was unsourced. The 'fog of war' and politics has interfered with the probity of the science included in the IPCC process.

Pearce then moved on to FOI, claiming Jones was one of the first scientists to understand the significance of FOI and the impact on climate science. He introduced McIntyre as the prime mover and how the CRU emails showed how the correspondents viewed McIntyre as an adversary. Pearce said McIntyre is part of a new generation of sceptics, or a data libertarian, and not as sceptical as people consider. Pearce mentioned the presentation in Chicago where he was cheered onto the platform, then booed off it saying this showed he's not a conventional sceptic, or denier.

But then who really is? One of the problems with climate science, and especially reporting of it is the attempt to lump people into simplistic categories. From my observations, different people are sceptical about different aspects of climate science, or climate policy. The media seems to want to label people as believer or denier, with little real middle ground, and similarly with some scientists.

Pearce then said this confusion around differing viewpoints lead to a tragedy of misunderstood motives, precipitating the 'data war'. Scientists dug in, critics escalated requests for data. Pearce then showed the infamous data deletion mail, but truncated it for his slide, or I've found a response that perhaps shows better how the Team collaborated to conceal or obstruct data requests.

Pearce pointed out that although there was no evidence that the deletion occurred, it was illegal. He then cited this mail, where Jones managed to persuade the UEA that requests were vexatious and could be ignored. So Jones claimed to follow the rules, but also created a culture hostile to data sharing. Pearce mentioned an FOI request from The Guardian for the numbers of FOI requests to UEA concerning CRU to Dec 2009, 105 requests were received, only 10 accepted. This refusal to 'go with the flow' regarding FOI created hostility, and backfired given that the refusal to be open led to an increase in FOI requests.

Pearce then mentioned the David Holland FOI request for the Briffa IPCC emails saying that was a clever use of FOI to discover what backchannel processes there were outside the formal IPCC process. The CRU mails showed this and the background to Caspar and the Jesus paper, as well as breaching the IPCC rules. Pearce then showed this, where Jones requested those emails be deleted. Pearce said this was damaging stuff, and why the ICO may have said the FOI process had not been followed.

Pearce then started wrapping up. In 2009, pressure to respond to FOI requests had ramped up, demanding the CRU 'crown jewels' data. McIntyre appealed against the refusal, and the appeal was turned down. Pearce believed the timing of the appeal refusal letter being written and being received by McIntyre was significant. The rejection was on the 13th, the Climategate files were data up to the 12th, and the file was leaked before McIntyre received the rejection. This lead Pearce to suggest a UEA insider in disagreement with the FOI process may have been the leaker.

Pearce closed by stating nothing damaged the fundamentals of climate science, the 200 year old science behind global warming theory. There are questions about warming on land, but still know the world is warming. Pearce had intended to mention attemps by Curry and others to bridge build and open up the science. Jones may have been a victim of bad rule making in science, and the processes should perhaps be looked at by groups like the Royal Society.

Myles Allen spoke next.

He opened with the impact of Climategate, stating that the impact of Climategate meant the temperatures in 1878 had to be revised upwards by a few hundreths of a degree. Allen stated Climategate was necessary to restore credibility to journalists and the incident was being exploited by many people to reposition themselves following the failure of Copenhagen. He mentioned a comment by Richard Black that given Copenhagen was a washout, they needed a new story and Climategate was it, hence the 'vast' amount of coverage and Jones became a scapegoat.
Allen's introduction to the affair came as a request by a journalist to analyse the code in the CRU zip, and given his career had been based on CRU data, he took it seriously. He realised they were analysing the wrong software and it was nothing to do with the temperature record at all. He called Newsnight to challenge this and they responded with 'well it's all climate change software'. Allen's view that although Pearce didn't mention the software, that was the most damaging allegation made. He thanked the bloggers for making a small correction, which I think referred to JGC's correction to the Met Office code released post-Climategate.

Allen's concern was getting things into context. It's hard to write a book saying the outcome is boring, and at the end of the day the emails have revealed nothing and moved on the two big issues of data access and peer review. Allen claimed as a statistician, the sample size in Climategate was too small given it just looked at one mailbox. Backbiting and bitching is normal in science, not just climate science and the CRU mails just showed business as usual for science. The idea that this raises questions about peer review and science is absurd. On data access, Allen recognised this is a problem. He called Christy and Zorita asking if they'd had problems getting data from CRU and they'd said 'no'. He claimed Jones has always been completely open about his data and his methods, which is no doubt news to Willis et al.

Allen claimed that thanks to FOI, climate scientists are no longer allowed to distinguish between other climate scientists, and activists or members of the public, and this will change the way science works. The old ways had meant that you needed at least a Masters in a relevant discipline acted as a gatekeeper for 200 years, and should this be replaced with open outcry in the blogosphere? There was a libel in climate journalism that claimed Jones was the keeper of record for temperature data, when in fact that's the Met Office's Hadley Centre. He compared it to Diana reporting, where any connection allowed her picture to be used; in climate science, it's questioning the temperature record. He didn't like the book.

Adam Corner spoke next.

Corner said we owed Pearce a debt of gratitude for actually reading through the CRU archive, and again raised the sense of perspective. He used opinion polls to show views on climate change hadn't really been affected with the majority accepting climate change and a need to adapt or mitigate. One poll mentioned was by Cardiff University, showing 78% thinking climate is changing. There is a trend to people questioning human influences given the controversy, and if sceptics support mitigation, it's not necessarily meaningful. On the impact of Climategate, a survey in the US last week 9% had heard of Climategate. Within Cardiff Uni's student population, it was 20%. So he questioned the importance of Climategate beyond the sceptics, advocates and media.

Corner moved on to disclosure, and secrecy in science. Openness should help disprove conspiracies, but after interviewing sociologists Harry Collins and Rob Evans, said quoting Collins that (paraphrasing) analysing data is best left to the professionals. Science is not just a community of interest, but a community of expertise. Non-climate scientists may not understand the data or the science. Allen used the example of him interpreting dendro data as a non-expert and possibly willfully misinterpreting it as a non-expert. If that became public, scientists like Allen would have to undo damage caused by confusion or error. By being open, scientists may waste time having to explain things.

Pearce then responded to Allen and Corner's comments. He did not think long-term damage had been done, just some short-term confusion. On being more open, he thought there would be consequences, citing examples of school or hospital league tables, but the priesthood of science would probably have to become more open and more scrupulous regarding conflicts of interest. He dismissed Allen's comment about journalists repositioning and thought the Climategate story needed to be written given a lot of rubbish had been written about it, and he'd tried to present a balanced view.

Allen responded that mainstream reporting followed the bloggers and allowed the story to snowball and highlighted the BBC's use of 'hide the decline' in stories as a subliminal message despite it having been refuted. Mainstream reporting gave respectability to the story, and if it had been left to the blogs, it would have been less damaging.

Carrington raised the question of science being more open, which The Guardian supported, and Corner and Allens view that data may be too dangerous to be put in public hands. Corner responded that there's no priesthood, qualified people should be allowed access. Carrington pointed out that McIntyre is qualified, and a trained mathmatician. Pearce 's view that information should be shared for good or ill. There was some lazy journalism, but it was an easy way to label the issue with phrases like 'hide the decline'. It had to be reported, he said, and Corner agreed.

Allen then raised McIntyre and FOI, saying he'd been subject to a request for data on his global change detection software. One of his postdocs collected the data, posted it on a website and claimed McIntyre never retrieved it. He claimed this was the difference between genuine interested parties, like grad students who he's happy to share data with, and activists like McIntyre who don't want to play a constructive role in science. He also raised the issue of the Yamal data, claiming repeated requests for the data when he'd already had it for years. I'd not heard the first claim before, and the Yamal saga is explained rather differently in The Hockey Stick Illusion.

On to the audience Q&A.

First question was more a statement on perspectives. Pearce used a slide I think from the film Flood, showing London under water. IPCC claims on sea level rises were nowhere near as dramatic and the media portrayal had been exagerated.

Roger Harrabin defended the BBC's reporting. On TV reporting and "hide the decline", TV is limited in length so journalists had to explain complex subjects in 300-350 words: images or key statements are needed. He raised the merging of the blogosphere and legacy media, where blog articles are lifted directly into newspapers. Given the rise of the blogosphere, the BBC needs to reflect that change in society. He also stated he's in the process of writing a column into the Climategate investigation which I look forward to seeing. He said he'd been approaching the authorities, and got the sense that they were behaving in a way that suggests no change in behaviour post-Climategate. Allen responded with his claim that 'hide the decline' was subliminal advertising and tantamount to libel, knowing it would be misinterpreted.

Alice Bell, Imperial College questioned Collin's view on science in public and the differences between doing science in public and doing science with the public. She discussed the public response to the BSE incident, and how that had been reported. Corner responded and agreed, saying there needed to be more public engagement, but handing over the data was going to far. Pearce responded with "FOI is a fact of life", and said that science had been complacent regarding that legislation.

Oliver Morton of The Economist asked about peer review, and said it was not about all data, but data supporting published articles. If journals have archiving policies, why aren't they following those for climate science? He also challenged Allen's comment that peer review had been fine for 200 years, when current peer review is more recent. He questioned the standards of peer review given the public and policy implications regarding climate science. Allen responded that it's normal science. Editors face judgement calls and conflicts of interests; they sometimes get it wrong but Allen said that peer review is the least worst option. The CRU emails simply show open and honest discussion between peers, and the current peer review process is the least worst option.

Sandy Stark asked about FOI, sympathising with Jones and suggesting researchers needed space to formulate theories in private before publication. Corner responded that there are challenges in balancing the need for transparency with the needs of science, and avoiding being 'held to ransom' by people like McIntyre and his army of FOI requestors. Allen added that it took maybe 2mins to write the FOI request, but a man-month to respond. He said that McIntyre didn't even bother to look at the response and moved on to find someone else to bully. This was challenged by audience members, firstly on the cost issue given FOI requests can be rejected on cost grounds, and also proof that McIntyre did not access the data. Allen claimed 'URL records' as his proof, and also appeared to backtrack a little saying McIntyre's request was pre-FOI, but Allen felt they needed to respond anyway, or face more criticism on CA.

There was a question from the Science Media Centre about how Climategate had improved journalism. Stott had been interviewed recently and given a thorough grilling on his recent paper, which improves the quality of reporting. She stated that 2 out of 3 inquiries had found no smoking guns. Pearce responded in agreement that it may improve both the quality of science and journalism.

James Morgan, BBC asked the panel a simple question about whether Jones was right or wrong to request email deletion. Allen responded that the FOI said he was wrong, so he had to say he was wrong. Allen said he had no idea what the FOIA meant until years after it was enacted, Jones spotted the implications earlier than most. He suggested a reaction may be to simply delete emails.

The next question started by raising the cost issue in responding to FOI if data was simply published as a matter of routine when papers were published. The questioner also challenged the idea that science should become the new priesthood and only be open to accredited scientists, comparing it to the religious movement restricting access to the Bible. He questioned climate science compared to other areas of science such as epidemiology that also have public policy implications, or papers that challenged the mainstream viewpoint. Allen responded that there is no problem and it's much easier to publish papers that challenge the mainstream (oh yes?). If Allen could prove global warming was not happening, he'd publish and collect his Nobel. Assuming of course he could publish and not be blocked by hostile reviewers. On insiders vs outsiders, he claimed Jones was initially receptive, but once he moved into 'audit' mode, the community clammed up. Corner disputed the priesthood analogy saying scientists aren't trying to create a world view. Or consensus if you prefer.

A question from Ruskin University(?) on the priesthood and science insiders vs outsiders, comparing it to the Human Genome project and conflicting approaches, one open, one closed. Many journals require openness - why not climate science given it's an area of global importance?

Last question was from a London local authority who'd dealt that day with an enquiry regarding the number of axles on their vehicles. If local authorities and other government departments had to comply with FOI, why should science be held to a lower standard?

Closing words.

Corner, if science was thrown open, it could grind to a halt. There is no desire to build consensus.

Allen. Science grows by the ability to reproduce or refute results, ideally people should do this independently and you don't necessarily want people to use the same data. People should go out and get their own data. Allen said he supports FOI, but context needs to be kept. He cited the MMR scare as an example of the danger in misinterpreting results. If more transparency is mandated, people may keep less data and less information to avoid FOI requests.

Pearce. Independent data collection in climate science is harder given the challenges in climate science. FOI is necessary. Science, and climate science has traditionally been closed, and there is a need to be more open.

My thoughts.

It was an odd debate given there was no real balance in the panel. All were really pro-AGW supporters, and I think it was telling what wasn't mentioned. There were good things on the role of the media's reporting. Allen very much objected to Climategate being reported as news, yet it was news, and did raise issues. It helped balance the endless barrage of polar bears, icebergs and dry lake beds. But why don't climate scientists challenge exaggerated pro-AGW claims? Most seem silent on this, and reserve their ire simply for any denialist or sceptical publications. This is perhaps an example of the way the conflict has become polarised and tribal, and where people like Dr Curry are trying to build some bridges.

"Hide the decline" got much attention, but one thing I think we learned from Climategate is the mindset of the players. Why was it felt necessary for Overpeck to lean on Briffa to publish views that he did not think the science supported, and why was it necessary to hide the decline at all? The divergence problem is known about by people who care to find out about it, but I still think it was advocacy to use the presentation trick to hide it, rather than explain it.

FOI got much attention, particularly Allen's comment that he had not been aware of it. Ignorance of the law has in my opinion never been a very good defence. For climate scientists, they should probably also be aware of the Environmental Information Regulatons enacted in 2005. Those can be more applicable to climate scientists than FOI, and have higher standards of disclosure. Again this is where the bunker mentality has created the problem. If scientists were more open and published by default, then additional costs would be marginal, if the science was robust. There may still be some time spent correcting or rebutting misunderstandings in the blogosphere. But to an extent, that sort of thing already happens in the more open climate discussion sites. People are free to comment, and if they make a stupid comment are swiftly corrected or ignored. The best example though is one infamous email that didn't get mentioned, although it wasn't part of the Climategate package. That's Jones's response to Willis. As Dr Curry said, and also Mike Hulme, if the science is good, what is the fear behind publication? Surely the best way to disarm criticism is through transparency?

On the priesthood. I think this has been a problem. Climate science is only open to qualified members, but climate science is a very broad church. Allen said he is a climate scientist, and he is a statistician. Which is he? McIntyre is a statistician, so is McKitrick and problems identified to date have involved maths errors. Who is more qualified to have access, someone who is a generalist on all aspects of the climate system, or specialists in particular disciplines relating to climate. After all, given the complexity of climate science it covers pretty much every scientific discipline. Science is supposed to be about sharing knowledge, how can this be achieved if it's run as a closed shop?

I'm also curious about Allen's comments regarding McIntyre's request for Allen's change detection software given that this sounded controversial. It was used to smear McIntyre and is not something I've seen discussed.

As for the book itself, I have an autographed copy now. From skimming it, I kind of agree with the final Saving the Science chapter, which is the most important point. Climategate does raise serious questions about how climate science has been conducted.

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Reader Comments (36)

The scientists who once inhabited the Royal Institution would never have furthered their cause by salting graphs in order to avoid having to explain 'divergence'.

And if such an event had occurred - the journalists of the day would not have been queuing up to defend them.

Such are the facts of climategate.

Jun 15, 2010 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

That's an impressive summary. A big brain and/or a big notebook at work! Thank you very much for it. It was a meeting of the faithful, but there is some indication that they have been given pause for thought at least about the issues of secrecy, elitism, and hostility to criticism by those somewhat squalid and unedifying emails.

Perhaps they will get to the science in due course?.

Jun 15, 2010 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Thanks for taking the time to produce this report

Jun 15, 2010 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

Having listened to the lecture, Fred Pearce does give a pretty damning indictment of the behaviour at CRU etc. To be honest, I wasn't expecting anything half so critical. Irrespective of what was said later, he has clearly identified extremely damaging matters (fortunately he didn't spend much time combatting incorrect/over the top responses to the emails).

Jun 15, 2010 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger D.

Excellent summary - Thank you.

What stands out to me is that Fred Pearce seems genuinely concerned at what he found in the behaviour and actions of some at the CRU.

In particular his overview of how the email data was made available is in agreement with that which most of us think.

"Pearce believed the timing of the appeal refusal letter being written and being received by McIntyre was significant. The rejection was on the 13th, the Climategate files were data up to the 12th, and the file was leaked before McIntyre received the rejection. This lead Pearce to suggest a UEA insider in disagreement with the FOI process may have been the leaker."

Jun 15, 2010 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug

ZT. I agree, and think it's ironic that sceptics get branded as being anti-science for asking climate scientists to explain their conclusions. With good science, evidence supports the conclusions, bad science it does not. If the evidence is concealed, why the suprise that people are sceptical? I think journalists have realised this and rather than Climategate being something for them to talk about post-Copenhagen are now seeing the science is less settled and questioning more.

John Shade. Tired brain, small notebook and a pen that started running out of ink. Luckily I had the audio stream to help. One criticism I had was some of the science aspects were overlooked and the emails showed why some seemingly odd things were occuring. They may not have provided the full context, but then if they did not, nothing really stopped the people involved providing missing emails to add context. That again makes it easy to be sceptical.

Roger D. Agreed, but also glossed over some aspects that were more controversial. Those may be expanded on in the book, but I've not finished reading that yet. I could perhaps review that if wanted, but I'm a layperson rather than a member of the priesthood. Not being indexed doesn't help.

To an extent it felt like some damage limitation that may backfire on more vocal critics like Allen. Glossing over the questions and uncertainties doesn't help anyone and adds to scepticism or distrust of science. This is not a good thing, especially given issues around previous science such as BSE, MMR, avian flu, swine flu and also the security theatre from our war on terror. When there's a sense of overreaction combined with access to alternate theories via the 'net, there is less automatic trust in authority and perhaps a risk of crying wolf. Both science and the legacy media I think are still struggling to come to terms with the velocity of news and the way interested people can crowdsource, dissect and disseminate stories like Climategate far faster.

There are other parallels with the way the security industry adapted to the 'net. Previously that had been a closed shop, with more security by obscurity. Post-'net, that stopped working and became more open because that engendered more trust. I think the views of Allen and Corner underestimate the ability and desire of the public to understand some of these big public issues, and like Pearce think science is better served by being more open. I've certainly learned an awful lot by following the climate debate, and surely it's a good thing to encourage people to take an interest in science?

Jun 15, 2010 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

"activists like McIntyre who don't want to play a constructive role in science"

Steve Mc has done more for science in the last 10 years than any other human on the planet.

Jun 15, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

"Steve Mc has done more for science in the last 10 years than any other human on the planet."

Agreed. You only have to consider where we'd be without him!

Jun 15, 2010 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

AH. Thank you for the reporting. I am continually amazed that two professions which should be totally sceptical (scientists, journalists) can be so conservative and so accepting of "authority" when it comes to climate science. Fortunately, Climategate does appear to have had some effect on some of the more thoughtful members of those professions.

I only know McIntyre from what he has written, and it is clear to me that he is a "straight shooter", and not as deliberately disruptive as suggested by some of the participants - it is obvious that they have not read much of his blog.

Overall however, in my country (Australia), I would reckon that well over 95% of the population has never heard of Climategate, due in the main to the efforts of our MSM, particularly "our ABC" (a close cousin of the BBC).

Jun 15, 2010 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Pond

Steve McIntyre is unique. He is a man of total honesty and towering integrity. He does not express an opinion about AGW he simply investigates (audits) the science.
However back in the real world, governments are clamping down on our freedoms and digging deep into our pockets to fund useless low carbon technology.
How many people are even aware of the debate going on in the "blogosphere"? Who reads Climate Audit or "The Hockey Stick Illusion" other than people who already know what is going on?
I see so many highly intelligent and well educated people posting arguments that (as I see it) can not be refuted and which show at worst that AGW is suspect and at best that it is unproven rubbish.
Then we all agree and congratulate each other and where does this get us?
It is not the scientists who are changing our lives it is the politicians.
What are the people who post on CA, Bishop Hill, Watts up with that etc etc, doing to engage the politicians?
I believe we are indeed in a battle about how we should live our lives. I believe that we must take sides if we wish to have an influence and that IF we are agreed on the science then we should agree a common course of action.

Discuss ^.^

Jun 15, 2010 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

"Allen then raised McIntyre and FOI, saying he'd been subject to a request for data on his global change detection software. One of his postdocs collected the data, posted it on a website and claimed McIntyre never retrieved it. He claimed this was the difference between genuine interested parties, like grad students who he's happy to share data with, and activists like McIntyre who don't want to play a constructive role in science. "

If we can get the relevant section in the video and we can get someone to trawl through CA, might this be actionable?

Jun 16, 2010 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Pedant-General

Whoa, Tiger. Let's not get this out of proportion. We are talking about a minor difference over a (relatively) trivial matter. Talk of libel action is wide of the mark.

Jun 16, 2010 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Myles Allen has been in contact and has sent me McIntyre's email request, which dates from November 2008. He no longer has his response email.

Jun 16, 2010 at 10:05 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Roger Harrabin (BBC) hassled Steve McIntyre about this already (despite my urging him not to, since it was a minor non-incident a long time ago), and Steve has responded that he intended to look at the code, and hopes to get around to it when all these inquiries are over. As far as this incident is concerned, that's fine by me (heaven knows I wouldn't want people to start holding me to account for taking a long time to get around to research questions I intend to address).

There is, however, a more general point. In physics, the convention is that one at least tries to reproduce results based on the equations given in papers, and only request code as a very last resort if a result cannot be reproduced. Even then, we seldom bother with looking at each others' code -- most of us find we learn more from writing our own code and exchanging algorithms, since this forces one to be clear about what one is doing. Of course, in the event of an irreconcilable dispute, then code should be disclosable, but journal editors have always had the authority to do this, on pain of forcing authors to withdraw the original paper. It is not clear to me that using FoI to disclose all code immediately is a good idea: the Newsnight storyt is a good example of how this goes wrong, as they ended up solemnly analyzing software without apparently realizing that it wasn't anything to do with the surface temperature record.

Jun 16, 2010 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMyles Allen

Myles: I am surprised that you do not feel that data and code should be made public where possible. Certainly in my field (economics) most or all of the leading journals now require data and code to be made available. It is a pain to do, but it is clearly good practice. I think the same is true in psychology (our attic is full of every piece of paper that my wife used to collect data for her published work, because she has to provide this should anyone want to see it).

Surely the fact that McIntyre and McKitrick, who were not members of the priesthood, uncovered errors in the original hockey stick papers, proves that such open access is vital for robust science. And they had to put in a huge effort to find out what the data and algorithms were. I simply don't think it matters that unqualified bloggers might try to draw possibly false conclusions from the data; so what? Other bloggers can refute them. Let them get on with it.

Jun 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger D.

I am surprised by the suggestion that BBC Newsnight asked Professor Allen to look at the CRU software. I don't think that's accurate and I suspect that the person who wrote this blog report is incorrect. My understanding is that Professor Allen objected to the report on BBC Newsnight after it was broadcast.

Jun 16, 2010 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Graham-Cumming

Myles, thanks for responding and it was an interesting debate. I agree and disagree with some of the points you made.

I agree that there can be problems with disclosure. I remember as a student repeating classic experiments to learn about the importance of reproducability and lab discipline. For some fields that's easier than others. For some fields, like weapon related research or health, full or unqualified disclosure could be dangerous as the MMR story showed. For public funded or high public impact science though, I think the need and expectation of transparency is greater.

For climate science though, there are problems with reproducing results if those rely on common data sources. You mentioned McIntyre's FOI requests for I think the Yamal data, then pointed out he'd had that core data for years. If I understand that story correctly, yes, the core data had been published 10 years ago, but it was only last year that saw the metadata published to identify which cores were used. Why the delay? People can't really go and reproduce the data because in most cases the proxy cores are unique, and cannot be reproduced. It's been a similar situation with temperature records and FOI requests to try and identify which stations are used. Obstructing those kinds of requests just fuels the fires and seems so unecessary.

On code, I also agree to an extent. I used to code, but after being tasked with reverse engineering and documenting other peoples, I gave that up. On the Climategate story, the code released did get a lot of attention, and it has been misinterpreted. But, it also provides some insight into the workings of CRU via Harry's readme file which showed problems with the quality of programming in general, along with the lack of quality data management, inconsistent naming conventions etc etc. This may not be too suprising given most scientists aren't professional programmers and IT may be seen in science as it is in business as an expensive overhead function. But it's important, and publicising can help as the JGC example I think showed. Code was published, a minor error spotted and corrected, code improved for free because there are IT people interested in climate science and happy to help where they can. Dendro seems to have inconsistencies with metadata, IT people are used to dealing with database design and defining data dictionaries so can again perhaps help, and that may make scientists working in that field's life easier.

Given we're looking at a potential £18bn a year due to the Climate Change Act, scientists shouldn't be suprised that there is a lot of public interest in their work, and the seemingly obsessive secrecy to date has been damaging for climate science. The old saying of nothing to hide, nothing to fear should apply to climate science. There may be more things to explain, but isn't that what science is supposed to be about?

Also on your FOI comments about not archiving contentious emails, exactly that happened in business. I've seen emails in large corporates post Sarbannes Oxley telling staff not to put anything contentious in writing. Probably not what was intended, but that's business for you.

Jun 16, 2010 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

JGC- Correct, I listened again to the audio and you're right. In my defence, I'm not a journalist :)

Yer Grace, could "Allen's introduction to the affair came as a request by BBC Newsnight" be replaced with "Allen's introduction to the affair came as a request by a journalist" please?

[BH adds: Done]

Jun 16, 2010 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

It seems to me that the problems with the Hockey Stick arose because Mike Mann wasn’t completely clear in his papers what he had done. It is hard to be completely clear, and reasonable scientists would simply ask for clarification rather than assuming the worst at the slightest ambiguity. The availability of the code he used to do the calculations was always irrelevant: I think it took Martin Juckes only a few days to reproduce it in Matlab once it was clear what the algorithms and input datasets were. It is a counterfactual question we will never know the answer to, but I do wonder if things would have degenerated as they did if Mike had simply been asked to clarify specific ambiguities in his papers rather than finding his hard drives subpoenaed.

When results depend on something like a GCM which isn’t the work of a single individual and cannot readily be re-run, then clearly a different standard should apply, and in that case model output, GCM source code and data should be available (as it is in the case of In physics, there is an informal “reasonable effort” standard that people use: for example, I see it as entirely reasonable that Ben Santer expected Steve McIntyre to recalculate his synthetic MSU retrievals given all the input data was available on the CMIP-3 web-site. If Ben had said that to me, I’d have just got on with it (all the necessary algorithms and weighting functions were in the public domain, and all he was talking about was a weighted average). Deciding what is reasonable is best enforced by journal editors, who have some understanding of what is involved, not Information Commissioners, who don’t.

Can I just add that it is absurd to compare climate science to a priesthood -- both Adam and I were very clear on this. We are talking about what is best practice here, not who has been through what initiation rite. Although having said that, I now have to get dressed up in black robes and go and invigilate a Finals exam, so I'm afraid I'm signing off.

Jun 16, 2010 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMyles Allen


But wasn't Juckes doing his work after McIntyre had revealed that Mann had not centred his data correctly? If Juckes knew to centre the data on the calibration period then, yes, it would have been easier.

Mann was asked to clarify these issues but refused."Owing to numerous demands on my time I will not be able to respond to further inquiries". (Hockey Stick Illusion p91)

Jun 16, 2010 at 12:27 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

" fuel the denialist fires"???

I guess one could also guess that the emails were stolen or leaked to expose some very troubling behaviour. You could even imagine some very serious and honest "warmist" feeling that bullying people, fudging data, and subverting peer review all serve to undermine the work of those who feel that the actual science does indicate man-made warming, but are willing to go where the science leads them.

Jun 16, 2010 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterUlf

Hi - I think I may be a little late to this debate but a few thoughts nonetheless:

The concern I was expessing at the RI on Monday was simply with the idea of getting people who are not (necessarily) technically qualified to evaluate a data set to provide a sort of 'second opinion' on scientific output. This is not motivated by a concern about climate change so much as a concern about science in general.

If I do not believe what my doctor tells me, I can get a second opinion from another doctor. But I would be unlikely (and ill-advised) to venture outside of this particular 'preisthood' for my medical advice.

What will happen if three people analyse some data (say a scientist in the relevant field, a scientist in a different field, and a non-scientist) and come up with a different answer. Who should we believe? I can only think that we would be more likely to believe the person with the greatest demonstrable expertise. We could ask another person with similar expertise to check it - but that is exactly what the 'preisthood' of peer review provides.

Openess, transparency and honesty - yes. Great improvements in the involvement and engagement of non-scientists with the social and ethical implications of science (as well as policy) - yes.

But at some point someone (or some group) has to make a decision about whether something is a 'fact' or not. The peer review system makes the reasonable assumption that technical decisions should be made by those with the appropriate technical expertise. This expertise is available to anyone willing to do the necessary learning etc etc, so it is not closed in any sense other than on grounds of merit. I simply dont see the advantage of making decisions about scientific conslusions a referendum rather than an expert judgment.

I absolutely agree though that science needs to be pro-active in engaging the public. There may be some role for FOI to play in bringing this about, although processes of dialogue and participatory engagement seem much more promising ways for scientists and the public to interact than via adversarial FOI requests. The sorts of things that can achieve this are citizens juries etc. I firmly believe in (and have argued in published articles in favour of) more, and better public engagement.

Jun 16, 2010 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Corner


There is no "point at which we have to make a decision about whether something is a fact or not". There is a point at which we have to tell policymakers what the state of knowledge is, and experts should be used to do this - nobody is arguing this. But finding out whether something is a fact or not is an ongoing process and should be open to everyone.

Jun 16, 2010 at 3:24 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Adam, again I agree and disagree. FOI and EIR both have mechanisms for dealing with malicious or vexatious requests, but both were created to encourage a principle of publication by default rather than exception. If information is available, there is no need for FOI requests to obtain it. This was the problem with Climategate. FOI requests had been ignored, leading to the escalation in requests and ultimately the hack/leak of the data. That was perhaps inevitable given the way CRU responded to the early requests, but resulted in an uncontrolled release with less supporting context. The rest became history, and books.

FOI and EIR though are both currently in law, so science needs to learn to live with it, or lobby for reform. There is potential for abuse. As I understand it, if a scientist goes and collects data, they have a period of exclusivity to work with that data and be first to publish. FOI could potentially be used to bypass that convention by competing scientists, which is unfair. Conversely, we seem to see scientists acting as gatekeepers and being selective about who gets acccess to data, which is less fair, especially when sceptics are often challenged to reproduce the results themselves but can't if they can't get the data. It seems to me that climate science has become unnecessarily adversarial when it need not be and is unhealthy.

I also agree that the peer review process should be the first gate keeper, but that only works if the gatekeepers can be reasonably neutral and avoid the potential conflicts of interest mentioned. Science can be publish or perish, so control of the gatekeeping function can be damaging to scientists careers. I think the Climategate does raise questions regarding that role in climate science. Once published, papers are opened to a wider peer review and the situation becomes more complex if supporting data does not accompany it. Interested parties cannot have a more reasoned debate without it, so encourages scepticism and conspiracy theories.

I think for your 3 person review example though, that raises more interesting questions for climate science. If one person is a dendro expert, another is a statistician, and the question relates to the statistical interpretation of the data then I would probably trust the statistician and expect the dendro person to explain any discrepancy. Given climate science covers so many disciplines, it seems to me there are often differences of opinion. If a climate scientist challenges someone like Lindzen on atmospheric physics, and they're not an expert in that field then I'd believe Lindzen given he's spent his career studying that, and I think it's reasonable to do so.

Jun 16, 2010 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Bishop Hill -

I disagree that 'There is no point at which we have to decide whether something is a fact or not'. I am not talking about whether human activity impacts on the climate - that is a large collection of facts.

But consider the sort of 'fact' that is common place in scientific publishing - e.g., whether or not a particular chemical reacts in a particular way with another, or how long a particular material can retain its heat for. A researcher will run an experiment. They will reach a conlusion, based on a) the results and b) their ability to interpret those results, grounded in their expertise.

Peer review then consists of other people with similar expertise checking the conclusion. They may request the raw data to check themselves, and perhaps that sort of thing should happen more often if the research has important implications. I am certainly not arguing against other peer reviewers seeing raw data.

But once that result has been verified by a set of experts, it is a 'fact' - so there is definitely a point at which this happens. If others are dubious about that fact, they can run their own research to validate it (or not). That is undoubtedly an ongoing process. There is always more checking to do. But this must be traded off against the need to act on the fact - this second component is a much better place for public involvement (the 'so what should we do now'? bit).

But again, I just don't see how opening the physical process of generating knowledge to people who cannot claim to have as much relevant expertise as peer-reviewers would help anything, and it has significant scope for causing problems.

Jun 16, 2010 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Corner


You have a strangely naive view of peer review. I encourage you to read a good book on the subject (hint: right hand side of the screen!). Read particularly the bit where Stephen Schneider says that McIntyre's request is the first time a peer reviewer has asked him for data in 28 years as a journal editor. Also the bit where the former editor of the BMJ, Richard Smith says:

"We have little evidence on the effectiveness of peer review, but we have considerable evidence of its defects. In addition to being poor at detecting gross defects and almost useless for detecting fraud, it is slow, expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, something of a lottery, prone to bias and easily abused."

This is a poor way of establishing fact and of course it does no such thing, but nevertheless it is all we have at the moment. So to that extent I agree that the peer reviewed literature should be treated as "fact" and be the basis of expert reports for policymakers. However, the idea that you imply, namely that outsiders should then have to "run their own research" to verify it is nonsense. It has had little verification in the first place. What possible advantage is there to blocking requests for data and allowing others to check the findings. You just make deception and fraud easier and that is a sword that cuts both ways.

You also say "I just don't see how opening the physical process of generating knowledge to people who cannot claim to have as much relevant expertise as peer-reviewers would help anything". The point that has been made repeatedly about climatology is that the handling of statistics and uncertainty in the field is hopelessly amateurish. The people with the "relevant expertise" were McIntyre and the professional statisticians who work with him - people like UC, JeanS and so on. That's why they keep finding mistakes in climatologists' work.

Jun 16, 2010 at 4:38 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Wow - you can wait hours for an appeal to authority and 2 come along at the same time.

Jun 16, 2010 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Going with the doctor analogy.

If your doctor claimed you had a brand new and unique disease with vague symptoms you would maybe think twice.

Jun 16, 2010 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Adam, I have to say that I agree with the Bishop. Being able to reproduce a result is crucial to the scientific enterprise. There is no doubt that making publicly available your data and code makes this vastly easier. Surely this is an opportunity that technology has afforded us, and we should take advantage of it. I just can't see what the problem is; we all know that peer review has severe shortcomings. It is the best process there is, as you say, but bad stuff inevitably slips through. The fact was, in the hockey stick case, that no climate scientist had made any attempt to get hold of the data from the original paper. It was the outsiders who did the work. To me, the main problem is the sheer burden that disclosure places on authors, but if it is in the culture, you bear in mind that you will have to do this so your prepare your data and code with this in mind. I hate doing it, but I know deep down that it is the right thing to do.

Jun 16, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger D.

Bishop Hill

As someone who takes part in the peer review process on a regular basis I would not describe my position as naive. If people don't ask for the data often enough in peer review then perhaps they should do, that is an area of reform I support. The Oxborough inquiry recommended better collaboaration with statisticians - again, sounds like a good idea to me.

I recognise the description of the peer review process that Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ makes (in part - I disagree that the fact that its slow is an issue, to me that is a sign of not jumping the gun). But you're not answering my question - how would broadening the category of people who take part in peer review to include those who may not have the relevant expertise improve it at all? Why would it not be just as 'subjective, prone to abuse' etc etc as Smith suggests?

I'm trying to move this away from climate science as I think these points are broader and more important than that. You seem to focussing only on the aspect of the problem that is most important to you, but there is more at stake than that. Science can only function based on honest expertise-based judgments. The vast majority of the relevant expertise to make these judgments is possessed by people in a specialist academic field. So I'll repeat the question - why would you not want the best-informed people to make those judgments?

I think the McIntyre example is atypical - I'm talking about science in general, and the danger of a rush to break down the doors of science to look for a conspiracy without stopping to think what the longer term (and more general) implications might be.

Jack Hughes

Is that aimed at me? Society has been making judgments informed by scientific evidence for a long time. Do you have some other criteria on which you think important decisions should be based?

Jun 16, 2010 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Corner


Before I can answer your question, can you clarify for me? When you talk about peer review, are you talking about getting primary findings into journals or about getting syntheses of papers into expert reviews?

Jun 16, 2010 at 6:13 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


// "Society has been making judgments informed by scientific evidence for a long time."

Is this true ? Maybe give a couple of examples.

I'm really struggling to think of any "societal" judgments - ie political actions - that are informed by scientific evidence.

What kind of "important decisions" do you mean?

Jun 16, 2010 at 8:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

It seems the conversation was boxed into a corner. I do hope it was only round one and the towel hasn’t been thrown in because the going got a little tough.

Jun 17, 2010 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered Commentermartyn

Fred Pearce: Guardian

in his own comments section: seems to at least concede the emails were most probably leaked or found..
Still uses hack to decribe it generically though..

"@kerrygold and others ask if i have evidence the emails were hacked.
No. People are using hacked as shorthand for theft/release or whatever. The circumstantial evidence for me suggests an insider was responsible for assembling and releasing the emails. Or they may have been assembled for some unknown purpose and accidentally left on a part of the server where they could be found. (This had happened before.) In which case there was no theft, no hack and no crime. Given the police appear to have drawn a blank and nobody seems keen to own up (again suggesting to me an insider) we may never know."

Jun 18, 2010 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Fascinating debate. To my mind an important issue was overlooked: the scientists assumed everyone wanted to get the data just to prove the scientists wrong, and said that was ok to hand it out to someone with an MSc in a relevant discipline. The greater danger to scientists is that the requester may want to simply do science and find other things with the data, e.g. I myself am trying to correlate global warming with the number of axles on council dustcarts :-) (you have to have been there to get this joke). The world has changed with FoI - now, a thousand schoolboys each with a laptop could be more effective than one MSc climatologist. If I were a public sector scientist I would be looking for a job in the private sector, not subject to FoI

Jun 18, 2010 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterHugh

It's ironic that Adam can't find any evidence about these

"judgments informed by scientific evidence"

Jun 18, 2010 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

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