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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)

Delingpole in WSJ:

28 Nov: WSJ: by James Delingpole: Climategate 2.0
A new batch of leaked emails again shows some leading scientists trying to smear opponents..

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Archant (UEA-connected Board) press weighs in:

27 Nov: Norfolk Eastern Daily Press: Tom Bristow: UEA’s Tyndall Centre rejects Mail on Sunday claims over influencing BBC policy
And a spokesman for the Tyndall Centre said: “We infrequently provide advice to media programmes for effective science communication when requested.
“We promote accurate information on climate change research, and will speak up against attempts to confuse the public with obscure, unsupported, or unbalanced reporting of the available evidence on climate change.
“The Tyndall Centre supports and encourages society to debate its options to manage our future climate. There is overwhelming evidence that the world is warming because of greenhouse gases.”

see comments: readers are not buying it...

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

surely it's not this Tom Bristow writing the Tyndall piece?

Tom Bristow, Climate Change University of Edinburgh

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

click on pic and compare with the Edinburgh Climate Change pic...

Tom Bristow, EDP and Evening News reporter!/tomsbristow

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

25 Nov: Cambridge Network: Climategate is a distraction
From the Scientific Alliance: with COP17 about to start in Durban, will the latest release of emails from UEA have any influence?
This new batch of messages has caused much excitement in the blogosphere. It certainly shows a degree of defensiveness and a lack of willingness to engage constructively with critics; the wagons were being circled quite a few years ago. This is disappointing behaviour and, in an ideal world, we would hope that professional scientists would behave differently. But human nature being what it is, those with a belief in a cause will defend it as best they can. Scientific objectivity goes out the window. Any real scientific sleight of hand – or even fraud – will be uncovered and pointed out and, eventually, the truth will out. But we should not expect any meeting of minds on the subject of climate science any time soon.
In fact, focussing on this latest batch of emails is something of a distraction. Yes, senior scientists who should have known better appear to have acted unprofessionally at times, and some of the emails themselves were hardly shining examples of high scientific standards. However, few of us would like to see our emails in public in this way, complete with hasty misjudgements and phrases which we might have cause to regret...
National and global responses to the perceived threat of climate change will hinge on the behaviour of politicians, influenced largely by public opinion, but also to some extent by international negotiations. Embarrassing emails between climate scientists are a side issue.

Cambridge Network, Founders

links in above Founders for Founder Members, Corporate Members and Individual Members.

Cambridge Network: Scientific Alliance

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

I think it quite unlikely that Russel himself set about parsing 1000 messages for any purpose. That would have fallen to a computer data expert who in very short order could have indexed the whole lot into a searchable data block. It could then have been crawled as easily as searching with Google.

If he did attempt this on his own then he is a grander idiot than we have imagined.

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterdp

However, few of us would like to see our emails in public in this way, complete with hasty misjudgements and phrases which we might have cause to regret...

I wonder how many people think this is right? There's a few of mine that would embarrass other people, but I don't think there are many, if any, that would embarrass me. There's a few where I wrong in fact (as opposed to opinion) or a bit naive, but nothing where I slag others behind their backs.

It's not far removed from the old defence for war crimes - "but everybody was doing it!"

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

Off topic.....but....

A press release of some sort - which ends with the footer...

"Eco Energy Cities Plc – A Joint Venture between the University of East Anglia,
Davis Langdon and China Developments Plc "

Trevor Davies' bio shows up on their site...

Because Trevor Davies is listed as a director:

Here's another blurb linking the UEA with this firm:

Strange stuff - but the UEA and probably Davies were certainly profiting on the back end from the fear that they generated with their tax-payer funded media manipulation.

Nov 28, 2011 at 5:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterZT


Either way, has anyone followed up the error in the list of FOI requests with the UEA/Russell panel? We could probably brainstorm a decent set of questions. An initial selection:

To the UEA
1. Who at UEA provided the list to the Russell inquiry?
2. Has the error been previously pointed out to the UEA?
3. If the answer to 2 is "yes", what action has the UEA taken to correct the error?

To the Russell Inquiry:
1. Where did the list of FOI requests come from?
2. Has the error been previously pointed out to the Inquiry?
3. What action does the Russell Inquiry intend to take to correct the error?

Nov 28, 2011 at 7:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

Thanks for cache link. That shows that Google cached it just before 8 pm. The page says it was revised on 25 November. I made a comment about it at 12:43 pm on 25 November on the second page of comments on "The Jones Rebuttal", pointing out how they had only quoted part of email 1897 and had not explained what it was about. Now they quote the entire email and explain that it was actually about a subject access request not FOIA and that Jones only deleted emails prior to 2005 - ie before the FOIA and EIR.

That is why I want to know what was revised and was it after 12:43 on 25 November.

Nov 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

More alarmism reported in the local E. Anglia press and the Tyndall centre

UEA professors have warned governments gathering in Durban for climate change talks that time is running out to agree a deal over greenhouse gas emissions.

The director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Professor Corinne Le Quere, stressed a deal must be reached by 2015.

To keep the rise in temperatures below the target of two degrees (C), carbon dioxide emissions need to peak between 2015 to 2020 and then decrease rapidly afterwards.

At the moment they are growing by around three per cent a year.

She said: “2015 is really the latest you can start the agreement, by 2020 it is finished.”

Professor Le Quere believes little is likely to happen in Durban, but that should not stop Britain from taking the lead.....

Nov 28, 2011 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Richard, you say,

The Act reads:

77. (1) "Where

(a) a REQUEST for information HAS BEEN MADE to a public authority....(my emphasis)

This suggests that the remaining provisions take effect only once a request has been made. Timing is therefore of the essence to the offence set out in sub-para (b).

In that case why do they not start off by saying,

WHEN a REQUEST for information HAS BEEN MADE to a public authority

And why bother to put in the longer "would have been" instead of "was"?
any person to whom this paragraph 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 which the applicant would have been entitled.

Nov 28, 2011 at 8:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

Nov 28, 2011 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

David Holland
I have some (fairly limited) experience of drafting legal documents.

"Where ... a request has been made ..." is fairly standard terminology and would normally be interpreted as "subsequent to a request having been made" or in the situation where the making of a request has "activated" this section of the Act. As you say, timing is of the essence. If no request has been made there is no way of knowing if any request will be made. Prima facie there can be no offence in this context if there has not been a request.
The use of the word "when" is fine in daily speech; I think you would find that a parliamentary draughtsman would say that it is not precise enough for the wording of a Bill.
Similarly, the use of the phrase "would have been entitled ..." implies the further wording "... were it not for the fact that the person in question had "altered, defaced, blocked, erased ..." the material in question.
It's pedantic but a parliamentary lawyer would argue that it has to be to be as prescriptive as possible.
The lacuna in this particular Act (probably because it would never cross a civil servant's mind(!)) is the lack of any sanction against any of the misdemeanours quoted prior to a request being received. Mainly, I would suggest, because no civil servant would destroy anything unless he was forced to and — in any case — why would you destroy something that might become the subject of a FoI request some time in the future?
If UEA staff are doing that it implies they have something on paper that would create trouble for them if it became public. In which case they are being more than a little stupid. In spite of recent matters, they would be much more secure using a decent mobile phone network.

Nov 28, 2011 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

It's not far removed from the old defence for war crimes - "but everybody was doing it!"

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:53 AM | Mooloo

For UEA it's a case of 'but we thought everybody was doing it'.

They are a well connected and well funded bunch of climate agitators who convinced themselves that sceptics are well connected and well funded by Big Oil. They see a coherent enemy because they are a coherent force and they see that enemy as funded and malign because they are funded and beneficial. They are on a climate crusade.

In trying to discredit people who want to see how settled the science is they have discredited themselves and their avenue of 'science'.

Nov 28, 2011 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

@ Gareth

Yep, I think that's true: the fantasists tend to project onto their critics their own characteristics.

The most obvious example is the fantasists' assumption that all sceptics hold exactly the same views. They once heard a sceptic say the earth's temperature is unchanging, therefore all sceptics think the earth's temperature is unchanging.

We tend to dismiss this a straw man argument, which it is, but the mentality that gives rise to it is the really interesting thing. AGW fantasists all really do think the same thing - the sky is falling - because consensus is a self-congratulatory word for groupthink.The idea that there could be nuances of disagreement with the groupthink is beyond their imagination because heresy is heresy is heresy.

Nov 28, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

The response of the HoC Science and Technology Committee to the Climategate 2.0 emails will be very revealing, in particular that of Mr Graham Stringer MP who is one member who straddles both the current and the previous Parliament. My recollection is that he was one of the few members who asked pertinent questions at the time, and authored a minority report.

Will the powers that be try to sweep it all under the carpet again?

Nov 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Has Dellers been sent this posting and the responses..?
If not - he should be appraised of them..!

Nov 28, 2011 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

"wishing to conceal the complete disarray of the raw data and the numerous internal disagreements about whether many of the results were robust or not and also whether they were being particularly honest about their unwavering support for the Hockeystick"

"Since Climategate 2.0 (I love the .0) it appears that tied into this may also have been the lure of potentially large funding arrangements with the likes of Goldman-Sachs So yes, there was motive."

Motive enough to risk conspiracy charges and jail sentences? Assuming that these are clever, if not intelligent, people, and presumably able to gauge the risks, I do not think this is sufficient explanation of the almost manic pursuit of FOIA denials.

Perhaps the asnwer lies in wait in the yet to be released emails.


Nov 28, 2011 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterNik

Mooloo (responding on population growth)

Don't know where on earth you are getting your data from. A few very quick clicks provide masses of data showing proportions of populations under 25 and its scary. India, for example, has 50%. Haiti has 60%. Africa, including Egypt, similar. Latin America only slightly less. World population went from
3 billion in 1960 to 6.9 billion in 2010 and will double again in less than 60 years - this ain't old age. And I didn't say there wasn't enough food, but I will say there ain't enough water. Why are we talking hose-pipe bans here? Not because it doesn't rain but because we're using too much.

Nov 28, 2011 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E


See all the blue? Those are the bits below replacement. The blue-green is the bare replacement countries.

Latin America's overall birth rate is down to 2.9 and steadily dropping. Generally it is high in shitholes like Haiti (where replacement is probably over 3) and low in decent places like Chile.

India's drop is just as dramatic. A crude birth rate of 22 per 1000 isn't close to replacement given their health conditions and would barely be replacement in Europe.

Check them all out at that site.

There are a lot of young people in Egypt, for example, because 20 years ago the change had not reached them. Now it has. You can see the tremendous dip about that time.

The result is that for the next twenty years most of the world will see an increase as life expectancy rises, but the long term trend is that populations will level.

The number of young people in those developing countries today is a good sign. It means that most children reach adulthood. And when that happens, combined with increasing education, women stop having so many babies.

As for concerns about water -- well, the Malthusians have to worry about something. There's lots of historical evidence for food to show that it's not yet a concern. So they move onto something else. Currently it's water. When that doesn't pan out, they'll move onto something else. Personally, I wish they would use their energy worrying about the lack of freedom, something of which there is a definite shortage.

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

The problem with whitewash is it needs to be re-applied annually.

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

That fact that the only FOI request left off the list submitted to the Russell inquiry, by the CRU, was the one that prompted the "delete any email" request is pure coincidence.


Was that written tongue-in-cheek or does anyone regard that as a actual defense?

Public money spent to account for a failure of publicly funded persons to comply with lawful information requests from the public and the investigators somehow missed the most salient facts in the pile? No search or investigation of for what specifically "incited deletion"? Not even a term search about the FOI requests?

As someone who has worked on a number of document-intensive investigations, I can say that any evidence of deletions and/or comments about intended deletions tend to increase rather than decrease investigative curiosity.

In this case, the dog is not barking.

This "omission" is very strong evidence that there were facts they simply did not want to find and they succeeded handsomely in that non-pursuit. In any event, the presumption of good faith is gone.

Nov 28, 2011 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Hoya


At least I've found out what "Malthusian" means. Not very convinced though - the UN projections seem to go from spot on at 7 bill in 2011 to total catastrophe by 2050 or to the other extreme of reducing by 2050. Pay your money, take your pick. Me, having spent years living in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico and sub-Saharan Africa, I'm leaning to the high end.

Nov 29, 2011 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

I read all of you climate skeptics regularly and never participate because I don't know enough to do so. However, I wanted to ask if anyone here thinks it's strange that RealClimate, the website of climate record has had virtually nothing about the second round of emails. It's almost like they think if they ignore it, it will go away. Not likely

Dec 1, 2011 at 1:25 AM | Unregistered Commenteralice

It has been said that the CG1 and CG2 were "out of context", but in actual fact they WERE the context, surely.

Jan 31, 2012 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.S. Williams

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