Schellnhuber and the Tyndall Centre
Nov 29, 2011
Bishop Hill in Climate: other

Some strange goings on with UEA's successful bid to host the UK's national climate change centre. UEA's success led to the setting up of the Tyndall Centre.

Talking to the judges

On 27 September 1999 we see an email (#2779) from UEA's Martin Parry (later head of IPCC WGII) in which he discusses a conversation he has had with Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber.

Please keep this confidential.  It is a note on a phone call last week with Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.  In summary, he has offered to "champion" the UEA cause for a UEA bid for the Climate Change Centre.

Hans Joachim...wanted to talk at some length about the Climate Change Centre.  He said, without being asked, that he is a member of the Selection Committee.  He asked about UEA's bid and I emphasised its strength in breadth and depth, at some length (at his request).  He felt it useful to know about this because he emphasised that he felt rather isolated as one of perhaps only two members of the selection committee who were familiar with the broad aspects of climate change analysis.  At several points in the conversation, he volunteered to help us in as discrete as well as honest a way as possible.

I suggested that the best way in which we both might help him is to let him have our thoughts concerning the underlying issues that might frame a successful bid (rather than simply describing the strength of our bid to him); i.e. identifying the key activities which we think are required in a new Centre, where the current gaps in activity are, where the potential overlaps are that need to be avoided, what links one might wish to see with other national and international centres, etc.  He thought that this would help him fulfill an informed and useful role (again in an honest manner) on the selection board.  It would also help us by, incidentally, informing him of the strong assumptions that underly the UEA bid.

I asked Hans Joachim about the membership of the committee.  These are as follows: Sir Crispin Tickell (Chairman); Danny Ellerman (Energy Programme MIT); Michael Gibbons (Deputy General Association of Commonwealth Universities; member of the ESRC Council); Charlotte Grezel (Manager of Climate Change Programme at BP); Geoff Randall (NERC Council); Steve Rayner (Battelle; led the recent programme on policy responses to climate change); Robert Channon (PEGASUS); Tim Swithinbank (Department of Chemical Engineering Sheffield University); Alan Thorpe (Hadley Centre).  I asked if Sir John Houghton was on the committee and Hans Joachim said he was not; at least I thought so, until I checked this piece of information later with Trevor and Mike who indicate that there is clear evidence that Houghton IS on the committee.  I could check that again with Hans Joachim if you wish.

The upshot of this is, to repeat, that Schellnhuber is willing to champion our cause.  The question is how best to do this in a proper manner.  One way, I think, is to keep it at a personal and discrete level and for me to feed back to him not so much the obvious strengths of the UEA bid but more the sort of underlying arguments which we have rehearsed and which we think should properly underlie ANY strong bid (i.e. fleshing out the lack of information in the Research Councils' description about what is really needed, its nature and its structure).  I would be happy to be an informal conduit for this information, which might be preferable to a formal link between those more actively preparing the bid.

Shortly afterwards, in #686, we can see an outline of UEA's bid, with the attached agenda mentioning "issues for Schellnhuber".

Six months later we pick up some more developments. In #5173, we pick up a discussion between Tom Wigley and Mike Hulme. They appear to be discussing their lobbying and also some of the rival bids, in particular a bid from Imperial College London, which involves Professor Michael Grubb. Wigley has a low opinion of some of those involved:

Bob Harriss (ESIG Director) says he'll be glad to support the CRU et al. bid -- he may have already written to you.  Eileen Claussen (Pew) told me that Michael Grubb had also contacted her.  She thinks he is a jerk; but because of the formal contact from both groups, she thought it best to support neither.  Too bad.

By the way, if you want to play an underhanded trick, you could try to get some *real* economists to express their opinions on Michael. I know that Rich Richels and Jae Edmonds have a very low opinion of him (as do I).  He has no formal background in economics, even though he claims to do credible economic analyses.  Basically, he is a "greenie"; and he bends his "science" to suit his ideological agenda.  I don't know how you can alert the people who are judging the two bids to this: but it may be helpful to know the facts. 

For what it is worth, I have a similarly low opinion of John Woods and John Mason -- a couple clever "know-it-all"s in my view.   

Hulme is similarly minded:

Thanks Tom, I have the letter from Bob and it is very encouraging.  Your  comments about Mike Grubb confirm our view that Imperial have chosen the  wrong person to 'head' their Centre, but then it seems he has negotiated  himself a new Chair at Imperial and delivering this new Centre was probably  part of the deal.  We have a suspicion (but no more than that) that Steve Rayner (one of the Assessment Panel) may also have an interest in this -  but there is nothing we can do about that.

We reckon that Schellnhuber, and probably Alan Thorpe, would go for the UEA  bid, and we think we probably have the NERC vote, but in the end I think a  lot will come down to how Sir Crispin Tickell decides the dice should fall.   Is Grubb the sort of person that would impress Tickell?

We also learn some more of Wigley's opinions:

Grubb is good at impressing ignorant people.  Crispin is not only ignorant (in the economics area) but also a *real* snake in the grass.  What he will do is vote on the basis of what he can get out of it, not on the basis of knowledge-based and fair judgement.  At least Woods and Mason will be more balanced -- but their knowledge in these areas is also superficial.  The trouble is that all three *think* they know more than they do.  I think you are up against it.  However, good luck.

On the same day we learn (#2088) of some problems with the bid. The head of the panel that will choose the winning bid does not like UEA's Tom Wigley, apparently because Wigley had published a paper that was not sufficiently alarmist.

date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 17:11:20 +0000
from: Trevor Davies
subject: Research Director for TC

Mike, Be aware that Tickell dislikes Tom Wigley; this isn't hearsay - I know this for a fact. After Tom published that "delaying -emissions cutbacks - scenario" analysis in Nature, Tickell told me that Tom was irresponsible, & had damaged the likelihood of the cc issue being addressed seriously. There is also the baggage about Tickell pinching some of CRU's ideas & Tom telling him so rather unsubtly. So - he needs to be the "sort of top research scientist we know is interested".


Schellnhuber comes to UEA

Later that year, UEA's bid for the national clmate centre was successful. However, this is not the end of the story. We learn in #4958 that Schellnhuber is about to make the move from being on the panel responsible for awarding the national climate centre bid to Tyndall, to become the new institution's research director.

UEA have issued a contract to Prof. Schellnhuber (who seems to be referred to as John in this email) for an indefinite [full-time] professorial appointment with a start date of 1 October 2002.  He will be a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Research Director.

Opinions of Tyndall's new director of research

It appears that some people at UEA were unhappy with Schellnhuber's appointment. In #0432 Tom Wigley lays out his opinions of the new man. In this remarkable email we learn that Schellnhuber is taking a two full-time salaries - one from UEA and the other unidentified but presumably the Potsdam Institute. We also learn that Wigley does not think Schellnhuber is worth the money.

"You know I have no respect for this guy. My position is fully justifiable; one just has to look at his background and training, and his publication and citation records. Quite clearly, he has contributed nothing of value to the science. But even a very competent person could not possibly hold down two responsible, full-time jobs like this. Is he being paid only 50% by both institutions? Is he spending 50% of his time at UEA? Has he contributed anything significant to the research or research initiatives/planning of the Tyndall Centre?

I ask these questions because of my concerns for UEA, ENV, and the Tyndall Centre, as a Professor in ENV, and to let you know that (unless I can be convinced otherwise) I intend to raise the issue of the continuation of his employment at an ENV Professorial meeting. From what I know, he has not met the contractual obligations of his appointment and so could legally be dismissed. At the very least this issue needs to be discussed."

Some years later we also learn that Ray Bradley and Phil Jones have similarly low opinions. Bradley writes in #3803:

I just read that Schellnhuber got an OBE!!!!  I didn't know you got those for spouting bullshit, but I guess that's how far standards have fallen.  Pretty amazing...

Jones agrees:

We all agree on that!

Update on Dec 2, 2011 by Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I inadvertently misattributed the paragraph beginning:"Grubb is good at impressing ignorant people..." to Mike Hulme. In fact these words were written by Tom Wigley. I have inserted a few words to correct the attribution. My apologies for the error.

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