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« Another HSI review | Main | 14th July 2010 »

More on Oxburgh's eleven

When my FoI request to Imperial led to the disclosure of the Hand and Hoskins emails, there were many redactions of names, which I found rather frustrating. From the language of many of the emails, it appeared that many of the names were of senior people and should thus have been disclosed. I queried this with Imperial who have now disclosed almost all of the relevant detail.

One interesting snippet has emerged from this. When the original emails were released I reported on an inquiry made to Lord Oxburgh by Oliver Morton of the Economist about how Oxburgh's Eleven papers were chosen. When he replied, Oxburgh said in essence that he didn't know.

What I received was a list from the university which I understand was chosen by the Royal Society The contact with the RS was I believe through [name redacted] but I don't know who he consulted. [Name redacted], when I asked him, agreed that the original sample was fair.

Well, now we know who the redactions were. The contact through with the Royal Society was through Martin Rees - we knew that already. The other redaction, the other person consulted about whether the sample of papers was reasonable, was...Phil Jones.

Now, whichever way you look at it, this is a funny question to put to the accused if one's objective is a fair trial. I mean, what could Jones say? "You've picked all my bad papers"? And of course Jones must have known that the sample was not representative.

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Reader Comments (72)

#ChrisS somewhere upstream: No, I didn't follow up on this at the time. The question of who made the selection seemed to me more important than what Phil Jones said about it, and it seems from looking back at my email that i did make a few further enquiries, but as someone mentioned I got involved in reporting and writing about some other stuff and didn't come back to it.

Jul 19, 2010 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterOliver

The Good Bishop would have made a world class detective. He has truly been blessed with an unerring instinct that cuts through the noise to extract signal, an awesome ability to ask the
killer question at the right time, to the right people and extract answers!
He is also a talented, entertaining and lucid writer.
Dare I suggest that while holding onto your nom de plume, dear bishop, that you change your public name to Sherlock Watson?
I wouldn't recommend the choice, John Holmes, as I have been informed from a reliable source that this would be stretching things a bit too far!
Seriously sir, your positive contribution to the Climate debate is much appreciate.
Thank you.

Jul 19, 2010 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterroyfomr

If it wasn't enough being hooked into the tremendously readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion until 3 am, I have to wake up to this!
Congratulations on your persistence. It is amazing that these people do not seen to realise that there are FOI laws now which are able to be used to expose their duplicity? And when dark things are found, that there is now a devices called blogs on the Internet, through which this information can be disseminated world wide? I believe that Watts Up With That has up to 3 million visitors a month.
Imagine how much we would know of this sham, if there were not an internet? The thought is scary.
I wonder how many journalists have read this book, or any of the other books which are now coming out thick and fast on the whole wobbly edifice that is AGW?
Surely sometime soon more journalists will wake up to what a terrific story this is and start running it on the front pages of the newspapers? And start digging into all the scams involving green power? And start questioning the politicians on their power generation plans? And, and and......?

Jul 19, 2010 at 11:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterxyzlatin

I would recommend that everyone does as I did, that is to email Chris Huhne, our current (UK) Energy & Environment Secretary, cc'ing your local MP and a national newspaper Environment Editor, demanding that a properly docucted and indepdendent enquiry take place that interviews and takes evidence across the AWG divide. If enough people do, then he cannot ignore it. By cc'ing your MP, you can rightfully ask that he/she follow this up, and keep writing and asking until a proper response is made. Also make it clear to Mr Huhne that your letter to him is a public document, as so his reply will be.

Jul 19, 2010 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon

It's quite difficult to make a useful comment here

I'm constantly astonished at people's outraged surprise when the depths of political cynicism are seen ... it's all about marketing. So why is this a surprise, exactly ?

The Enquiries have achieved their purpose. The "meeja" have predictably reported that the Science is alive and well and will henceforth be more open and transparent. Any nit-picking is simply denialist' propaganda

For me, the sad part is that people like Judith Curry become collateral damage. Such a pattern, however, is clearly observed in all political sequences. Empiricism is always sacrificed

Jul 20, 2010 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

There is an old saying in politics.

What gets you in the end isn't the deed it's the coverup.

Look to Clinton and Nixon as prime examples. Ham fisted attempts to cover things up could end up doing more good than all the graphs in the world.

Jul 20, 2010 at 12:19 AM | Unregistered Commenterjv

Shock email

Jones (Director of CRU), when I asked him, agreed that the original sample was fair.

Oxburgh report:

All had been published in international scientific journals and had been through a process of peer review. CRU agreed that they were a fair sample of the work of the Unit Intro, para 3.

Director of CRU speaks on behalf of CRU! Shock!

Jul 20, 2010 at 12:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

@ Phil Clarke

Bearing in mind that he was suspended at the time, if not shock then certainly surprising.

But since when has it been thought appropriate that a defendant chooses which pieces of evidence should be examined by the court?

So yes, you should be shocked. As a red hot warmist, I know you will find this difficult!

Perhaps you might consider how you might feel if, in an inquiry into ExxonMobile's think tank donations, ExxonMobile was allowed to chose which donations were to be examined?

Jul 20, 2010 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

But since when has it been thought appropriate that a defendant chooses which pieces of evidence should be examined by the court?

There is not a shred of evidence that this happened. Jones stood aside while the investigation proceeded.But he was of course co-operating fully with the enquiry. According to the mail, after the selection of papers had been done Jones was asked a question:

"Jones , when I asked him, agreed that the original sample was fair."

Which the devious Oxburgh, in er, a sinister attempt at a whitewash reported as:

"CRU agreed that they were a fair sample of the work of the Unit"

Did anyone really believe that this meant the Director of the Unit when most of the papers were worked on was not consulted????

There are, seems to me, just two other ways it could have played out

1. Oxburgh could have not consulted CRU/Jones. Apart from being odd practice, this would lead to the possibility of a later complaint that Jones disagreed with the paper selection, as being unrepresentative.

2a Oxburgh consults Jones who answers the question.

2b Jones refuses to answer.

As we can see the reality - 2a - produces howls of complaint for the conspiracy nuts - 150 posts at WUWT so far. The outcome of the others are speculation, I speculate that had Jones not co-operated this would have led to howls of 'what is he hiding?'....

Thus climate scientists might be justified in thinking that it sucks to be a climate scientist right now. It would be a shame if this blogospheric lynching put off the brightest and best from joining the profession, at a time when they are most needed. Let's not forget that the only significant and consequential instance of undisputed malpractice found by the many eminent panels so far convened was the unauthorised release of the mails in the first place.

Jul 20, 2010 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Could Oxburgh not have looked at the science which was in dispute? The science which formed part of some of the skeptic submissions to the review panel? The science which formed part of the FoI requests over the years? Bypass Phil Jones all together and look at the issues which arose from this affair? Surely, if ALL the science is sound, why bother to even check if a set of papers is representative at all? Surely it should all be. (Or have I got this wrong?)

Jul 20, 2010 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss H

It would seem that the US government provides much of the funding for the CRU and are contemplating stopping these funds:

I do hope they get to hear about this farce of an enquiry!

Jul 20, 2010 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bailey

Phil Clarke

If the "Eminent Panels" to which you refer represent the "Brightest and Best" of the current climatology profession, then you have no need to fear the blogosphere having any influence on prospective candidates for the profession.

Jul 20, 2010 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrCrinum

Phil Clarke's points need to paid attention to. However, I don't think that they are the end of the story,

People with business and legal backgrounds typically pay quite close attention to things like whether contracts are properly authorized. At any time at which Oxburgh talked to Phil Jones, Jones had stood down as director of CRU and did not have authority to speak for CRU. It seems to me that Oxburgh was entitled to say "Phil Jones agreed that they were a fair sample of the work of the Unit" but not that "CRU agreed that they were a fair sample of the work of the Unit". It seems to me that agreement from CRU would have required Peter Liss, Acting Director, to agree.

It seems to me that there's a relevant difference here. In order for Peter Liss to properly agree on behalf of CRU as an institution that they were a "fair" sample, Liss would have had to carry out some independent due diligence to ensure that they actually were a fair sample. For those of us who have experience with actual agreements, Phil Jones was not authorized to agree on behalf of CRU and Oxburgh was wrong to say that CRU had "agreed" that the sample was fair.

This is a different point than others have been making.

There is still another issue arising out of this that intrigues me. Oxburgh has defended the Acton Eleven on the basis that his panel ranged far more broadly though details of such broader ranging are non-existent. When did Oxburgh ask Jones whether he thought that the Eleven were 'fair"? I presume that it was in connection with the April 7-8 interview - where Oxburgh conveniently kept no recording, transcript or notes. Why would Oxburgh ask Jones whether the Eleven were "fair" if they were interviewing him about many other articles? That the question was asked on that occasion in that format suggests to me that the Jones interview was narrowly confined to the Eleven, contrary to other claims by Oxburgh for which there is no actual documentary evidence one way or the other.

Jul 20, 2010 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

Phil Clarke

I understand your reasoning regarding Oxburgh consulting CRU/Jones regarding the selection of papers.

I agree Jones had to be consulted; if not CRU could claim that their relevant science had not been the subject of the review. But equally the detractors should have been consulted.

The disappointment that I have, as a person seeking resolution, is that Jones did not insist that the papers about which the main criticisms had been levelled had to be included.

The present outcome is, I am sure, not what CRU/Jones wanted, a half-hearted review that still left them open to criticism. CRU/Jones being confident of the science would have looked at the review as an opportunity to provide an overwhelming exoneration. CRU/Jones would know full well that without the inclusion of the “pertinent” papers and without the critics having representation that there could no satisfactory exoneration.

So the question is, why are CRU/Jones not crying foul about the reviews? Never mind the so called “sceptic blogosphere”.

Why are CRU/Jones not complaining that the reviews denied them the opportunity to face down their detractors? I cannot see a resolution until they do and I am sure that this is understood by all concerned including CRU.

Jul 20, 2010 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Phil Clarke:
Surely the reaction to Jones' being asked about the papers is in the context of which papers were actually proffered. If the papers did not reflect the key issues raised by the emails, then the fact that Jones when asked thought that they were "fair" is problematic for both Oxburgh and Jones. If on the other hand the papers proffered covered the critical issues then there would be no issue.

Jul 20, 2010 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Bernie, your post very concisely and effectively states the case and destroys the validity of the convoluted "reasoning" above.

Jul 20, 2010 at 7:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

Dear Bish

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Check this out

EU officially says no to illegal timber

"If the law is adopted it will mean that from 2012 illegal timber and timber products will be banned from the EU market and that companies importing timber will have to provide information about the country of origin of the timber they use and its legality. "

Jul 21, 2010 at 4:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

I think will always treasure these gems from Phil Clarke as above, wonderful stuff:

"Thus climate scientists might be justified in thinking that it sucks to be a climate scientist right now." - My heart is now bleeding for the poor sucking souls on the sucking $80Bn AGW gravy train.

"It would be a shame if this blogospheric lynching put off the brightest and best from joining the profession, at a time when they are most needed." - Best and brightest at what; mendacity, fraud, scientific malpractice and congenital incompetence? Maybe such as these deserve a little discouragement.

"Let's not forget that the only significant and consequential instance of undisputed malpractice found by the many eminent panels so far convened was the unauthorised release of the mails in the first place." - Help, my head is about to explode.

Jul 22, 2010 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

First: IANAL.

Taking as a given the Oxburgh inquiry's decision to investigate CRU on the basis of a representative sample of CRU's work, it was indeed correct for Oxburgh to ask Jones if the proposed sample was in fact representative. Asking the question helped to make sure that the selection was not unrepresentative in a way that slanted against Jones. And it helped to ensure that Jones couldn't later complain that the report was unfair because the supposedly representative selection was slanted in this way.

We can leave aside for now the question of whether Jones had the authority to speak for CRU in this matter, or whether Oxburgh was asking Jones to speak for CRU rather than for himself. Or whether Jones was right to ask only Oxburgh and then state that he had asked CRU, if in fact that is what happened. Because even if we assume that Jones had no right to answer the question on behalf of CRU, it was surely reasonable to allow him to answer the question on his own behalf. The remit of the enquiry was to investigate CRU, but obviously this investigation had the effect of putting Jones' personal reputation at stake. So even aside from the need to do natural justice to Jones or avoid lawsuits from him, here Oxburgh had someone who had a vested interest in helping the inquiry by identifying some possible mistakes that might make it wrong for the inquiry to state that the sample of papers was representative, or to found conclusions about CRU on that basis. The fact that Jones had no incentive to point out some other possible problems with the selection doesn't negate this.

To answer Martin Brumby's question:

But since when has it been thought appropriate that a defendant chooses which pieces of evidence should be examined by the court?
- as far as I know, courts usually encourage all sides in a case to explicitly agree on as much as possible, right up front, so that the court can focus its time and attention on the things that remain in dispute. Taking as a given that the inquiry was going to evaluate CRU on a representative sample of papers, it would be reasonable for the inquiry to get general agreement, if at all possible, that what it chose as a representative sample was indeed representative. And if the inquiry wanted all involved to agree that this sample was representative, then obviously Phil Jones would have to be one of the people it asked. If the inquiry couldn't get general agreement on a representative set of papers, then it would have to fall back to a more formal and adversarial way of making the selection.

Your Grace's argument that it would be a bit self-incriminating for Jones to say that the sample was unrepresentative isn't a major stumbling-block: there were many ways for Jones to express his unhappiness about the selection - staying off the record, or making throat-clearing noises about "widely misunderstood" or "controversial" or "some minor errors". He wouldn't have had to publicly proclaim "but these are all my greatest frauds!" in order to withhold his approval of a particular selection of papers.

So: in the context of a good-faith search for a representative sample of CRU papers, it would have been reasonable to ask Jones if he agreed with the selection. Of course, in reality it Doesn't Matter™ anyway, for two reasons. The first is that Oxburgh seems to have conspicuously failed to do anything which would have ensured that the selection of papers wasn't unrepresentative in a way that favoured Jones or CRU - whether asking CRU's critics what they thought of the list, or not taking the list from CRU in the first place.

The second is that in any case it was impossible to assess CRU properly by passing judgement only on a representative sample of its work, and nonsense to claim to have done so. CRU stood accused of having done some specific work that was much worse than the allowable residue of duff in the output of a "small research group[...]" of 30+ scientists over a few years. Nor did this work slip past the attention of the senior staff; they were the people who did it. Nor was it the result of a random collapse of standards from time to time; the allegation was that the dubiousness of CRU's practises would increase at times when the unit was striving to get a strategically important result, and sometimes when it just saw a chance to taunt an enemy. It's impossible to acquit CRU of these allegations by only proving, even genuinely, that most of its output was fine. This would be like trying to defend the reputation of Lucrezia Borgia by assessing the quality of a representative selection of the goblets of wine she served to her guests, and finding that it was pretty good.*

I commend all this to your Grace's consideration, especially in the preparation of your forthcoming pastoral letter. I may be a fool to spend so long chewing over something that Matters Not, but of course we all agree that it's important to get the details right. :) And Phil Clarke is certainly not going to be the last person to argue the point in an attempt to vindicate Russell and CRU, if given the opportunity.

* Yes, Borgia likely never poisoned anyone. Again, you couldn't hope to prove it by the method above.

Jul 28, 2010 at 2:30 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

in an attempt to vindicate Russell and CRU

Gah. Oxburgh and CRU of course.

Jul 28, 2010 at 2:32 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Something similar is true of Muir Russell failing to meet with Jones in the course of his inquiry. The real problem is not that Russell himself did not go to any interview with Jones, it's that he sent Geoffrey Boulton in his place. (With Clarke and Norton receiving a CRUTEM briefing on another occasion.) Had Russell appointed an experienced QC, briefed him thoroughly and let him loose on the CRU faculty, then it might have been it bit odd for Russell not to also come along himself, but it surely would not have been the end of the world. It's only in the absence of any credible interviewer that Russell's own absence really makes matters worse.

Jul 31, 2010 at 2:38 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

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Sep 23, 2010 at 2:36 AM | Unregistered Commenternono

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