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Climategate 2.0 in context

This is a guest post by David Holland

Quite often things are mischievously quoted out of context by one’s critics and the press and, when faced with an embarrassing but partial release of what they had said, or written, the first response of many people is to dismiss it as being out of context. This was the claim made by innumerable supporters of the orthodox IPCC view of climate change science when, in November 2009, over 1000 emails were released in 2009 from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. It was suggested that the release was highly selective, cherry picking only the apparently discreditable emails and omitting their proper context. For many making it, however, it was a claim based on heartfelt hope and belief rather than on any knowledge of the rest of the emails or even those that had been released.

On 1 March 2010  the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons heard from the University, Sir Muir Russell and the UK’s Chief Scientist, Professor John Beddington, who said:

There is cause for concern, but I think the key about this is that Muir Russell is going to be doing a detailed and comprehensive study, he is going to look at emails in context—and we all know how things can be taken out of context—and I would like to be able to have a judgment made by Muir Russell and his team, who I have complete trust in.

The Russell Report, when eventually published, exculpated the members of the Climatic Research Unit stating, “we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.” There was, however, much criticism of the Review, which one MP member of the Select Committee described as beyond parody. The Review had not conducted any of its interviews in public nor interviewed any critics of the university. Within days of publishing its Report together with some obscure but critical evidence, the Review team endeavoured to block freedom of information requests to all its working documents by deleting its emails from the server at the University of Edinburgh, which was subject to the Environmental Information Regulations.

In this electronic age, with emails widely copied, it is not always easy to entirely block freedom of information requests and, in the months that followed, evidence has trickled out to show that the Russell Review was even less independent and objective than its worst critics suspected. In reality, it was undertaken by academic friends of the university, at its expense and under its close supervision. It had seriously tampered with at least one public evidence submission. It became known that among the almost £300,000 that the university spent on the Review, almost £9,000 was paid to the Norfolk Police.

It is not usual for the police to charge victims for investigating alleged crimes and it has recently emerged that the payment was for subcontractors employed by the police to extract all of the emails of the three most important scientists from the back-up server that had been seized by the police after the university had reported the unauthorised release of some of them. The reason for this was as Professor Beddington told MPs to allow the Review “to look at emails in context”. This is confirmed in the Review Report which states,

Recognising that the e-mails improperly released into the public domain represent only a tiny fraction (less than 0.3%) of the e-mails archived by the key individuals in the CRU, the Review team sought to set these in context. The backup server (CRUBACK3) had been taken as evidence by the police as part of their own investigation and was held by police contracted forensic investigators. A full context could only be established by some form of access to the information held on this server.

For this access the university agreed to pay £8,910 plus VAT. For this sum another expert, retained by the Review at the University’s expense, received all the emails of the key scientists on three so-called “thumb drives” or “memory sticks”. The expert, Professor Peter Sommer, reported “The emails as provided to me are in the format of an email programme called “Thunderbird”. This is a comparatively well known programme at least among computer specialists.

Now one would imagine that the Review could easily prove that the most damaging of the leaked Climategate emails were indeed taken out of context. In the case of the infamous “hide the decline” they could show the other emails traffic of the same time period and put it into its proper context. In the case of the email asking a colleague to delete emails that were subject to a freedom of information request the Review team could now do the same.

If it was true that emails were taken out of context the Review team could make a strong case with just a couple of examples, but they did not because, as Review Report states,

“It would introduce significant delay to the publication of the Review‘s report.”

To be fair, Professor Sommer does say in his report,

The processes of analysis to identify (and then review) additional email traffic which might be associated with the issues which are the subject of the allegations which have been levelled against CRU, is likely to take at least several weeks. It would be for the Review Team and the University to determine whether the cost, inevitable time delays and (at this time) uncertain outcomes could be justified

There were, before this week and Climategate 2, good reasons to take both what the Review and the Professor wrote with a large pinch of salt. The Review Report had been promised for early spring 2010 and the Professor only received the thumb drives on 14 May 2010, but after spending £9000 to get all of them, surely putting one or two of them into their context could have been done in plenty of time to finish the report by the end of June 2010.

Today there is compelling reason to suspect that the Review team and Professor could have been economic with the actualité. Just a couple of days after the release of Climategate 2, anyone can access a database with keywords and find all the relevant emails on any topic. Whereas, on the matter of deleting information that was requested under FOIA, about 20 or so emails were released in November 2009, this year there are over 100 and few if any show the scientists in a better light. 

With the Review team’s indecent haste to delete their emails from a public authority’s server and the apparent speed and ease with which amateur internet sleuths dissected this Climategate 2 release, it is at least plausible to suggest a different conversation may have taken place between the Professor and the Review team.

I have the emails and a quick look at them tells me that they will not tell you the story you want to hear

Of course if we only had 0.3% of the emails before, we still only have less than 2% Now. However, this time the benefactor has not claimed the new release is a random selection (and he/she/they may have been kidding then), but that they were selected on keywords, as our expert Professor could as easily have done for quick rough check to see what a careful review might bring forth. Who knows? Maybe one of those emails that the Review team were so quick to delete would tell us.

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Reader Comments (76)

It isn't clear, in parts, where David Holland's text ends and quotes from reports begins (and vice versa).
Could you reformat to fix this?
[Moderator 5.35pm: fixed, I hope]

Nov 27, 2011 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

As someone who has done a number of email migrations, including Thunderbird, I find this interesting.

Thunderbird migrations are simple. You just take a copy of the folder structure at a certain point in the tree on the source machine. Restore that at the same point in the tree on the destination machine. Everything is copied for the account.

Being generous about an elapsed hour`s work.

If you had three users, you could have three different Thunderbird profiles running in parallel.

For three users, I could set it all up on a computer for someone in less than half day. And they could use the inbuilt threading and search facilities of Thunderbird to analyse.

Sorry what do I know,I am not a Professor ;-)

Nov 27, 2011 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

I think the paragraph immediately following the sentence

"This is confirmed in the Review Report which states,"

should probably be in blockquote?
[Moderator: fixed again, I hope]

Nov 27, 2011 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

. . . evidence has trickled out to show that the Russell Review was even less independent and objective than its worst critics suspected.

Excellent post - except that I'd suggest that "severest" is a better word than "worst" in this context.

In my book, those who pitched into the Russell review were the best. My only concern is that the fact that Russell was (and, as far as I can see, still is) an employee of / consultant to ScottishPower and that it was ScottishPower who funded the circulation of Al Gore's dreadful film to Scottish schools has generally escaped notice.

I do not believe for a second that Russell, whose reputation in Scotland is, well, mixed, was quite as hapless as many suggest. As a civil servant of many years standing, he knew what he was about. The Russell Review has corrupted the political process.

Nov 27, 2011 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

TerryS and Moderator

I am afraid I may have led to confusion by incorrectly dating the first Science and Technology Committee meeting as 2009. It was of course in 2010. [Corrected 7.00pm, 27.11.11, Moderator}

Nov 27, 2011 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

I must also own up to another typo - just a coupe - should read just a couple.

I would also ask BH readers for some help in respect of putting things into context.

Did anyone save, before Nov 25, 2011 at 12:43 PM, a copy of the UEA press release at:

If so could you cut and past on this thread what Professor Jones originally wrote about email 1897? That is if it different from what is now there.

Nov 27, 2011 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

David -

Thank you for reminding us once again of everything that was indecent about the Russell Review and
I do trust if there is yet another review that it properly examines not only the evidence available to it but also the culpability of the previous reviews in keeping all this covered up.

Just dreaming ...

Nov 27, 2011 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

I love all these claims of "out of context". Maybe Jones et al can explain to us the correct context in which it is acceptable to:

Request a colleague to delete E-Mails material to an FOIA (a potentially criminal act)

Collude to block the work of professional scientists from publication

Attempt to have an editor of a scientific journal fired from their job

Cheer when a non AGW believing scientist dies

and so on and so on.

Strangely - ha ha - we never hear what this correct context is.

Nov 27, 2011 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterGribble

Whilst some great work has been done by the determined few from Steve M onwards I can't help feeling whether all this navel gazing into emails etc hasn't put the sceptics into collusion with the warmists in deflecting attention over the last decade or so away from the real threat to the planet (or at least the species occupying it - the planet is well able to look after itself without help or hindrance from homo sapiens) which is the exponential explosion of populations. The climate, with or without warming, hasn't the slightest relevance when we can already see the impacts of over-population right on our doorsteps.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

As David shows, we know that the Russell committee had access to the emails. That means that they had, in their possession, this email (which only became available to us through the November 2011 release):

From: Phil Jones []
Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2008 1:31 PM
To: Palmer Dave Mr (LIB)
Subject: Re: FW: FOI_08-50 ; EIR_08-01

Do I understand it correctly – if he doesn’t pay the £10 we don’t have to respond?

With the earlier FOI requests re David Holland, I wasted a part of a day deleting
numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics. So I have
virtually nothing. I even deleted the email that I inadvertently sent.
There might be some bits of pieces of paper, but I’m not wasting my time
going through these.


So let's put this email in a bit of context.

This email was sent to David Palmer on December 3, 2008. Palmer recognized that Phil's actions were problematic. He writes back to Phil on December 8th, 2008 expressing his concern over Phil's message:

Phil, you must be very careful about deleting material, more particularly when you delete
it. Section 77 of the FOIA state as follows:

77. (1) Where

(a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and

(b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the [1988 c. 29.] Data Protection Act 1998,
the applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to communication of
any information in accordance with that section, any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces,
blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the
intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the
information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

(2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by, is
an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a
fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

Palmer puts Michale Mcgarvie Michael, Tim Osborn Timothy and Keith Briffa on copy to the email. So this series of emails would have been easily located. Russell has in his possession (as a result of the work performed by the Norfolk Constabulary), evidence that Phil Jones deleted emails subject to an active FOIA.

On July 10, 2010 Muir Russell issues his findings and famously states:

Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

On page 92 of his report, Russell denies ever having seen evidence of actual deletion of emails:

There seems clear incitement to delete emails, although we have seen no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made.

On October 27, 2010, during a House of Commons Examination of Witnesses Russell is questioned about this by Graham Stringer:

Q84 Graham Stringer: Thank you. Sir Muir, on page 92 of your report you say, and I paraphrase, that there is no attempt to delete e-mails after there had been a request made, whereas in actual fact the e-mail of 27 May from Jones actually asked for deletion of e-mails, didn't it?

To which Russell replies:

Sir Muir Russell: It requested them. I think we said that there was incitement to delete. You have quoted half the sentence. The first bit says: "There seemed clear incitement to delete but we had seen no evidence of any attempt to delete in respect of a request already made."

Also in the October 27 testimony, Graham Stringer asked Edward Acton:

Q94 Graham Stringer:

Professor Acton, are you satisfied that these questions weren't asked, that people in your university were sending out e-mails suggesting that e-mails should be deleted and that hasn't been investigated?

To which Acton replied:

Professor Edward Acton: It has been investigated. I have asked them and they have assured me that they have never knowingly deleted e-mails subject to a request.

There seems to be problems with this testimony and with the veracity of the Russell report.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul

David, thanks for raising some very pertinent issues about the Russell review, what emails they had and what they chose (or not) to do with them. The sample of 2% is not looking for them, to put it mildly.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

'looking good for them'

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Moderator, I missed 2 tags to end my block quotes in my comment above. So in two places, my commentary text shows up within the block quote. If its not too much bother, could you add the tags to clean it up? I think it would make it easier for people to read.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul

There won't be another review Mattau, and if there is it will be the same whitewash, there are too many people who, instead of taking the long view, threw their lots in with the CAGW scare. They, to a man and woman, are unlikely to pipe up that they were wrong, no matter what the consequences. We will probably have to wait a long time, a funeral at a time as Max Planck said, before the greatest scam in the history of the civilised world will be put to bed.

That is unless the other scientists, the ones like Richard Betts, who are in the warmist camp but uneasy about the politics, speak out. To do that will require a great deal of courage, because, as we've seen in the emails, they are dealing with a particularly nasty gang of "scientists" who they know for sure will try to ruin their careers. I wouldn't put my head over the parapet until I was sure some senior, respected, untouchable scientist who has previously supported the CAGW meme, decided it was bollocks and said so out loud. But with the likes of Beddington at the top of science that's not going to happen.

Another way is, if you have a Tory MP to write to them copied to the PM telling him you're going to vote for UKIP because you have no other party to vote for. I'm going to do that, I've pondered long and hard about it, but Nigel Farage couldn't make a worse PM than Blair, Brown or Cameron, that's impossible. One thing for sure they won't listen to us until they realise that not doing so is going to get them kicked out of office.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Somewhat OT, but newzealandclimatechange has used the 2.0 files to put the deFreitas affair into context:

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert E. Phelan

Geoffrey Boulton is revealed to be dishonest by the Climategate 2.0 emails.

On Feb 15, 2010 the Muir Russell review site quoted Boulton as saying: "At the Review press conference (on February 11), I pointed out that I had worked full-time in the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA from its inception in 1968 to 1980, and that I had a part-time appointment between 1980 and 1986, whilst working primarily in the University of Amsterdam. Since then, I have had no professional contact with the University of East Anglia or the Climatic Research Unit."

However, several Climategate 2.0 emails show professional contact between Boulton and the UEA at a high level. Here are messages in which Boulton's name appears.

0702.txt 8 Jun 1998

1327.txt 9 Aug 2004

0040.txt 28 Apr 2000

0361.txt 21 May 2002

0458.txt 11 Dec 2007

0658.txt 6 Aug 1999

3845.txt 2 Jun 1998

4377.txt 12 Jun 2001

5075.txt 22 Mar 2002

Given Boulton's central role in the Muir-Russell activities - and Boulton's evident dishonesty - will the inquiry's report be withdrawn?

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

I think UEA et al would argue that the deleted emails were not yet subject to an FOI request i.e. that they were not subject to DH's open request and in effect deleted in anticipation of FOI requests yet to be made.

Would this be a vlid defence?

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu


Re Boulton: on reading your comment out to my husband, he said " Boulton's contact with UEA not professional - how true..."

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I think UEA et al would argue that the deleted emails were not yet subject to an FOI request i.e. that they were not subject to DH's open request and in effect deleted in anticipation of FOI requests yet to be made.

Would this be a vlid defence?

Phil Jone's email undermines this assertion. Phil writes:

With the earlier FOI requests re David Holland, I wasted a part of a day deleting
numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics. </blockquote?

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul

mpaul said: "On page 92 of his report, Russell denies ever having seen evidence of actual deletion of emails:"

If Russell didn't look Russell wouldn't see.

A number of the emails in the latest release provide some insight into why they resisted David Holland's requests:

3539: In 2008 Phil Jones wrote

A final point. It is likely that a number of people in ENV will become involved in IPCC next time. I wouldn't want any disclosure to jeopardize future involvement, if others who are involved in IPCC future think working with UEA people could be a liability.

4752: In 2009 Phil Jones wrote

The next set of [IPCC] authors will be chosen in April 2010
with nominations taking place between Nov09 and Jan10. IPCC possibly may not care about what happened with AR4, but they would for anything with the next report. So we don't want to set a precedent now, as this could preclude anyone fom UEA being involved with the next report (AR5).

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

@ David Holland - I just looked up to see if they had any snapshots of the page in question but 'fraid not. However, the search came back with:

CRU statements, rebuttals and corrections

I wonder if the BBC will now be contacting UEA/CRU to retract the apology they naively made on behalf of John Humphrys and the Today Programme?

letter of apology from BBC to CRU for an "incorrect" remark made by John Humphrys that UEA researchers had 'distorted the debate about global warming to make the threat seem even more serious than they believed it to be'.

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

mpaul - the actual quote from p92 of the Russell Report is

we have seen no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made.

I am still not persuaded that anyone has shown that the emails Phil Jones claims to have deleted were in respect of a request already made. My contention is that they would claim they were deleted in anticipation of future requests.

No-one has shown that any of the emails deleted relation to David Holland's FOI request or any other previous FOI request.

Am I wrong here?

Nov 27, 2011 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

Matthu, I thinl the record now clearly shows that POhil Jones deleted emails that were subject to an active FOIA. Phil writes:

"With the earlier FOI requests re David Holland, I wasted a part of a day deleting
numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics."

I don't see how anyone could parse this sentence to mean anything but that Phil received a FOIA from David and, in response, spent half a day deleting emails that might be covered under this FOIA.
However, I'm always interested in understanding how other people might interpret this email. Can you offer an alternative explanation?

Nov 27, 2011 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered Commentermpaul


There's the rub! Before Dave Palmer quotes section 77 to our professor, he writes:

Phil, you must be very careful about deleting material, more particularly when you delete it.

Mr Palmer and Sir Muir Russell think that when you do it is important.

mpaul has reproduced s.77 a few posts above this. Try this. Replace "Were" with "When" and replace in two places "would have been" with "was". If the act was written this way, it would be perfectly clear that deleting information that could be asked for before anyone asks for it, would not be an offence.

However how could anyone ever prove you did it after it was asked for? How could anyone ever get prosecuted? I believe the way the Act is written the offence is created not when something happens but where something has happened and where someone does ask for information.

EIR Regulation 19 has the same wording and to be compliant with the Aahus Convention, which like it or not is the law of the land the UK, the government undertook to ensure that public authorities possessinformation that is relevant to their function. So to be Aarhus compliant the wording can not allow pre-emptive deletion of information that public authorities should have available to disclose to the public.

What do our language experts think?

Nov 27, 2011 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

If you want to know just how bad the 'Russell Review' was all you need to do is look for what is not there , by that I mean that against all expectation instead of papers like the Guardian and people like Monboit crowing about the results of the review and rubbing the skeptics face in it , they largely said nothing at all has even they felt embarrassed by the shear scale of the poverty of this review .

Nov 27, 2011 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Re: David Holland
Wed, 23 Nov 2011

Professor Phil Jones, and his colleagues, explain the context of some of the phrases cherry-picked from the thousands of emails (1995-2009) posted on the web on November 22, 2011.
Because of the volume of messages, this is inevitably a small selection that have been most quoted. Professor Jones stresses the importance of reading each quote in the context of the whole email trails – which have also been posted online.

Phil Jones:

Email 3062: “We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written [...] We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff."

What has been cut out of this quote is the explanation that we wanted the science to reflect the limits of scientific knowledge ‘warts and all’: “We don’t really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written that sounds as though it could have been written by a coral person 25 years ago. We’ll have to cut out some of his stuff. What we want is good honest stuff, warts and all, dubious dating, interpretation marginally better etc."

Incidentally, this refers to Michael Schulz and not Michael Mann as bloggers appear to believe.

Email 2775: "I too don’t see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we’re choosing the periods to show the warming."

The full email exchange reveals that we were choosing colours for a chart covering periods that showed warming. The periods chosen were 1901 to 2005 (the long record) and 1979 to 2005 (the satellite record).

Email 0714: “Getting people we know and trust [into IPCC] is vital - hence my comment about the tornadoes group.”

This was related to the selection of contributing authors, not IPCC-appointed chapter authors over which I have no influence. It means scientists we could trust to write succinct and clear text.

Email 1788: “There shouldn't be someone else at UEA with different views [from "recent extreme weather is due to global warming"] - at least not a climatologist.”

This was in response to a request from a TV programme (via the university press office) which wanted to find two climatologists from UEA with differing views to debate on air. It was my view that I doubted if we could find anyone of that opposing view among my colleagues.

Email 0896: “I think the urban-related warming should be smaller than this, but I can't think of a good way to argue this. I am hopeful of finding something in the data that makes by their Figure 3.”

These were discussions between me and two Chinese scientists and they were resolved, as evidenced by the paper in Journal of Geophysical Research. It was about confusion over different regions of China.

Email 4443: “Basic problem is that all models are wrong - not got enough middle and low level clouds.”

This is a discussion that referred to climate models of the late 1990s vintage. These issues were well