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:
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?
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.
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.