That IoP submission
Jul 20, 2010
Bishop Hill in Climate: Parliament

Do you remember the Institute of Physics submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry? The institute's criticisms, being so strongly worded and coming from such an important body, were seen as highly significant. The opening gambits of the paper gives a flavour of the rest:

1. The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.
2. The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and coordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law.

Soon after the submission appeared, things became a little heated. Without warning, the IOP issued a clarification, stating that it still officially believed in global warming. Then a story appeared in the Guardian, linking the paper to a known sceptic named Peter Gill, a member of the IOP group responsible for the submission.

The Guardian reporter, David Adam, made much of Gill's involvement, entitling his article "Energy consultant linked to physics body's submission" and quoting statements Gill had made on the subject of global warming. This was despite the fact that the Institute had told him that Gill was not the main author of the submission nor did it mainly reflect his views. 

In the wake of David Adam's insinuations, Peter Gill was the subject of a great deal of blogospheric flak but chose not to respond. Now, however, he has decided to tell his side of the story and what follows is a guest post.



I have been involved with the Institute of Physics (IOP) for over 40 years and have served on many committees and formations in various pro bono capacities. However in what follows I am only providing my own views and I am not talking on behalf of the IOP or indeed any faction of its membership.

Firstly I wish to avoid some confusion on my most recent pro bono posts with IOP. I was Chair of the Energy Group, one of some 50 subject groups within IOP, for a three-year stint that ended in October 2008. I was also a member of the Energy Subgroup of the IOP Science Policy Board from its foundation until it was disbanded in June 2010 as a direct consequence of Climategate. It has been the role of the Energy Subgroup for over five years to make submissions to government on energy related matters.

In November 2009 I sent the following e-mail to Robert Kirby-Harris, CEO of IOP:

Dear Bob,

You will recall that I pointed out that some time ago IOP's stance on anthropogenic climate change, particularly in terms of suppression and censorship of contrary views, risks bringing the IOP into disrepute. Now you will see all over the Internet the consequences of Phil Jones activities at CRU of which the following is typical:

By the way although IOP would not give a platform for Nigel Lawson to  speak please note that Nigel and Fred Singer will be debating climate change at IOD tomorrow night with Mike Hulme (ex Tyndall) and Michael Grubb (Carbon Trust).

Regards Peter

I received no reply to that e-mail.

In late January/early February 2010 I had a telephone discussion with Peter Taylor, author of Chill - A reassessment of global warming theory on the question of submissions to inquiries on the Climatic Research Unit following the disclosures in November 2009. I pointed out that in my view it was doubtful that IOP would make a submission given its support for the AGW hypothesis and the recently displayed attitudes. Peter indicated that he would be submitting and since his views are similar to mine I decided not to submit on a personal basis.

On 3rd February 2010 I was very surprised to receive an e-mail from IOP's policy officer, with an attached first draft of an IOP submission to one of the inquiries, which had been prepared by one of my colleagues on the Energy Subgroup without any prior discussion. I was busy at the time but said that I would dig out the notes I had made last November and make my substantive comments in a few days' time. This would still have allowed sufficient time to allow the draft to incorporate these well before the deadline. In the meantime I made one e-mail comment direct to the lead author to the effect that in the first draft's first sentence "The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries, they could have worrying implications for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context", the word "could" should be cut.

None of my colleagues on the Energy Subgroup share my strong sceptical views on AGW as far as I am aware and indeed a number of them are vocal supporters of the AGW hypothesis. However it was apparent in the subsequent revisions of the draft submission that there was considerable concern about the apparent lack of scientific integrity displayed in the disclosed e-mails.

On February 5th I sent the following e-mail around the Subgroup (repeating my earlier comment direct to the lead author for all to see):

Dear XXXX,

In the first sentence of your draft you mention that "unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries, they could have worrying implications..." I feel strongly that the word "could" should be deleted. The reason is simple if the e-mails are not forgeries then we should all be shocked and the implications are indeed grave.

I have now consulted the notes I made months ago on the topic. The first thing to say is that I have only looked at a tiny amount of the information available. For a start there were well over a thousand e-mails. What initially struck me was the unpleasantness of it all and in particular the gloating over the death of a dissenter. The latter is of course not relevant to the enquiry.

In generic terms I regard the following as matters undermining the integrity of science and the scientific method:

I strongly suspect that some of the above could lead to prosecutions. It is therefore worth mentioning that the enquiry should be careful not to prejudice any legal proceedings against a number of individuals whether concerned with the misuse of public funds or indeed many other matters.

I have not attempted to incorporate the above in the draft for the moment for two reasons. Firstly I feel sure you would do the job quicker and better than I and secondly I prefer to first await reactions from the Sub-group. I should say however that as I gleaned my generic points from rather random opening of e-mails etc it would take some time to annotate the points with references to specific material from the 60 plus mega bites available.

Regards Peter

As it turned out some of the themes I had listed had already been picked up by others and incorporated in the draft. In the opinion of the lead author some of my other points required "independent" verification.  However by 10th February the Science Policy Board had approved the draft as it was before incorporating the material I supplied on 5th February that had not been covered by others. Whilst there may have been time to make further revisions before the submission deadline this was considered risky. I was told that the reason was that a number of individuals in the IOP hierarchy were against submission from the start and any delay could result in a reversal of the decision to make a submission. It is also noteworthy that every member of the Sub-group was circulated with the following e-mail on 10th February:

10.02.10 - Lords issue warning over 'Climategate'

Press Releases - Alerts - Environment Agency

Cost of not preventing and adapting to climate change could be ‘dangerous’

An influential coalition of peers led by Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith has today voiced concern that the continued media furore around climate change science could lead to a disastrous delay in action to prevent dangerous climate change and adapt to its consequences.

In a letter published in today’s Daily Telegraph, the group of 15 Lords - which includes Government advisers on climate change such as Lord Stern,  Lord Turner and leading industrialist Lord Browne  plus CBI boss Richard Lambert - expressed concern that ’climategate’ threatens to undermine “progress towards, and public support for, a global deal to reduce emissions building on the Copenhagen Accord.

The letter urges “the media, the public, policy makers and the scientific community to calm their nerves and take a proportionate look at the evidence as a whole. What the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence shows is that climate change is happening and is very likely to be caused by human activity.

"Yes, there is uncertainty in the science, and there probably always will be. But the uncertainties are not primarily about whether or not climate change is happening, but about how fast change will come and how bad it will be.

"The challenge is one of the management of risk, and none of the evidence implies that we can be confident that the risks are small. On the contrary, taken together, the evidence strongly suggests that the risks are major and delay in action is dangerous.

"We must maintain our resolve to focus on the real issues. What matters is how we get global emissions to peak and start to decline in not much more than a decade; reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050; how we shift to a low carbon economy; how we will adapt our communities and infrastructure to more extreme events, such as flooding, drought and sea level rise; and how we will change behaviours and values so that we can all live in a cleaner, more sustainable world.

"We should not gloss over the problems that have occurred in the past few months. There are important issues about scientific process and conduct that must and will be addressed by the IPCC and the University of East Anglia.  Openness to scrutiny is important both for the integrity of science and public confidence in it. But equally we should not let them prevent us from getting on with the jobs that really need doing."

Lord Smith added:

"Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today.  In the UK we are likely to face hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters and more extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and heatwaves."

The Environment Agency, as the leading environmental regulator for England and Wales, regulates nearly half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and is playing a key role in tackling climate change and helping people and wildlife to adapt to climate change.

Remember that for the reasons given the only real impact I had on the IOP submission was the elimination of one subjunctive in the first sentence!

Nothing else happened as far as I was concerned until early March when, out of the blue, David Adam, a Guardian reporter, rang me at home saying that he had been speaking to IOP HQ who had suggested that he speak with me about the IOP's submission to the Select Committee. I asked him to ring me back after I had spoken to the Director of Communications and External Relations. There were two reasons for this, neither of which I shared with David Adam. The first was that I suspected that IOP HQ would not give out my details without prior reference to me. The second is that it is forbidden for an IOP member to speak on behalf of IOP without specific permission. I discovered that David Adam had been zealous in his pursuit of information about the make-up of the Energy Subgroup and the main author of the submission. Apparently he already had my name and the name of a committee member of the Energy Group. It seems likely that Mr Adam did not appreciate the difference between the Energy Group and the Energy Subgroup of the Science Policy Board at least at the beginning.

It transpired that, although the membership of the Science Policy Board is in the public domain, for reasons unknown to me the membership of the Energy Subgroup of the Science Policy Board has never been public knowledge. Consequently, without obtaining the permission of everyone on the subgroup, the IOP could not respond to Mr Adam's requests about the members and the lead author as it would be breaking the law (Data Protection Act).

When I spoke to the Director of Communications, I was told that the IOP had issued a "final" statement to the Guardian explaining that my role had been very limited. I therefore e-mailed David Adam to the effect I had nothing to add to what he had already been told. Had Mr Adam telephoned me back as arranged I would have confirmed that my involvement had been extremely minor. However he did not call again. In writing his piece, he no doubt relied on Internet or other research. His Guardian article was picked up all over the world with the usual consequences in blog space.

It would be more than a little interesting to discover how my name became associated with the IOP's submission at all as no IOP Officer admits that he or she was the source of this information. It seems likely to me that whoever told the Guardian almost certainly did so to discredit the submission by associating it with a sceptical view of the AGW science; in fact the bias of the subgroup is in the other direction. Nevertheless, it was my colleagues who were largely responsible for the submission, a document that, frankly, I would have preferred to have been stronger. What is clear is that the saboteur was successful, not least because the IOP appeared to lack transparency by not listing the contributors to the submission.

While I took the flak on the Internet (first 4 pages of items if you Google: peter gill cru physics) the IOP simply stated that I had only a minor role in the submission and that it as an organisation had no doubt about the science of anthropogenic climate change. Until now I have not responded to intemperate remarks made in blog space resulting from David Adam’s article.

On 25th June all members of the Energy Sub-group received the following e-mail (partial text extract only):

Following the meeting of the Science Board on 17 June 2010, it is with regret that I announce that the Energy Sub-group is to be disbanded, immediately. This, as you can imagine, is a direct consequence of the Climategate affair."

 To which I replied:


Long before the Energy Sub-group was formed I was on an e-mail list providing input to IOP submissions to government. At that time a final draft document would eventually be produced by our contributions for submission. However we frequently found that the document actually submitted had been severely edited by IOP HQ. The Energy Sub-group has not suffered in this way in its submissions and our deliberations have been transparent at least to ourselves. This situation now ends with the decision to disband the Energy Sub-group. By taking individual advice but not sharing it around the process is damaged.

As the person who took all the flak for the IOP's submission, even though my substantive contribution was not included at all, I imagine that the IOP will continue not to wish my name is associated with any submission in future. However as I am no longer bound by collective responsibility I may consider defending myself without of course naming any of those involved in the submission to the Select Committee. If any of you are in doubt about the extent of abuse piled on me just google my name plus Physics and CRU.

Two final comments: (1) We have all given our time free of charge in quite a number of submissions for which the IOP has gained many brownie points. It is significant that the Science Board has chosen not to thank us for that work but to dismiss us in a a way that suggests blame. (2) Almost certainly someone within IOP decided to sabotage our submission to the Select Committee by telling the Guardian Newspaper that the document was strongly influenced by a climate sceptic (me). That person has been extremely successful as our submission is virtually ignored by the Select Committee.

Regards Peter

Energy consultant linked to physics body's submission

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