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Science and the Leveson inquiry

Overseas readers may or may not be aware of the Leveson inquiry into media ethics which is currently gripping the metropolitan elite in the UK. One submission of evidence to the inquiry is of interest - from the Science Media Centre, who were involved in PR efforts on behalf of the Oxburgh and Russell inquiries.

Their submission makes the extraordinary claim that the inquiries into CRU were "independent" and that Phil Jones was exonerated. Given that even Harrabin and Fred Pearce have said that the inquiries were inadequate, this claim seems to me to be more spin than truth. Fox also seems to want the Leveson inquiry to believe that Jones was cleared of misleading policymakers over climate change. Given that the Russell inquiry found the "hide the decline" graph to be misleading, this seems to me to be a case of spinning oneself into the realms of falsehood.

The Leveson Inquiry has heard much from big names whose reputation has been damaged by inaccurate reporting. But this problem does not just affect celebrities. While it is thankfully rare, there are scientists who have suffered serious damage to their scientific standing after being misreported in the press...

There is...the case of Professor Phil Jones from the University of East Anglia who was widely accused by the media of fraudulently doctoring data to mislead the public and policy makers about climate change. Even after four independent inquiries cleared Professor Jones of any scientific malpractice some journalists continue to make the same false allegations (see separate submission from UEA). The SMC recommends that Phil Jones be called to the Inquiry to provide evidence. His evidence would be every bit as harrowing as that given by many of those in the media spotlight and would serve as a reminder that scientists are human beings and can also suffer enormously.

I like the idea of Jones being called to give evidence though. I think yet another inquiry that heard from CRU but not their principal critics would rather prove the point.

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Reader Comments (24)

Perhaps we need an inquiry into the ethics of inquiries?

I sometimes think (I wish) these people inhabit a totally alien universe devoid of both intellect and morality. The shame is that they think they can get away with it - AND THEY DO!!

Jan 12, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Back in May last year I wrote to each member of the HoC S&T committee explaining how the enquiries were not "independent". I did not receive a response from any of the members (14 members, I recall). Lies have better legs than truth.

Jan 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Steve Macyntyre has been doing detailed analysis of Jones's past statements in the light of additional information contained in Climategate 2 . For example, Dr Phil, Confidential Agent: Re-visited

Phil and UEA do not emerge looking good.

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

The inquiries were independant. Independant of any integrity?

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Presumably, if Jones is called - whichever publication "smeared" him would have to defend themselves with legal representation.

I'm sure that the "Climategate 2" email trail would prove a rich seam to mine for a smart media lawyer to rustle up a devastating "public interest" defence.

This could be a breakthrough.

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

What I find amazing is that despite all the "inquiries", Professor Jones has never been asked direct questions, never produced a signed witness statement and never given evidence under oath.

I for one would welcome the opportunity for Professor Jones to "put the record straight"- in a Court of law.

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

The SMC recommends that Phil Jones be called to the Inquiry to provide evidence.

I second that! However he did not show up at the Information Tribunal hearing before Christmas but left it to Jonathan Colam-French to tell the Tribunal what David Palmer told him Phil Jones had said. No one is going to get Prof. Jones on oath on the record. Someone might just ask

Did you ever alter, deface, block, erase, destroy or conceal 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.

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

His evidence would be every bit as harrowing as that given by many of those in the media spotlight and would serve as a reminder that scientists are human beings and can also suffer enormously.

What a tear-jerker, worthy of the Neil Wallis, who first likened Phil Jones to David Kelly (or got a friendly journalist to do so and what's the difference).

But wait, isn't Wallis already intimiately involved in the events leading to Leveson? Why don't Wallis and Jones testify together about the difficulty of maintaining a good reputation in these horrible times?

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Quote from Fred Pearce article, in Fiona Fox's cherished pillar of integrity and wisdom, the Guardian

'The three inquiries conducted into the "climategate" affair were all badly flawed. One, by MPs, was rushed to get it done before the general election. Neither of the other two, both commissioned by the UEA itself, directly addressed the scientific judgment of the emailing climate scientists under scrutiny. A failing that could hardly have been better designed to ensure that nobody ended up in the stocks.

Whenever the inquiries turned up, evidence that CRU director, Phil Jones, or his colleagues might have abused their positions as peer reviewers of scientific papers criticising their own work, or papered over some cracks while drafting chapters for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the inquirers concluded that it was a matter of scientific judgment. And thus either outside their terms of reference, or something where the scientists themselves were entitled to the last word. Montford dissects this systemic failure well.

One of the most serious charges to emerge from "climategate" was that CRU scientists did back-door deals to include unpublished research in the last IPCC report, published in 2007. This subverted the supposedly open review process of the IPCC. And, when someone asked for the emails that would have exposed it, they hastily deleted them – a potential breach of freedom of information (FoI) law.

The Muir Russell inquiry said it found no evidence that the CRU scientists had done this. Observers were incredulous. The chronology seemed straightforward. British sceptic David Holland submitted an FoI request to the university asking for emails in which CRU scientists discussed their work for the IPCC. Two days later, Jones sent an email to colleagues asking them to delete emails relating to the behind-the-scenes work for IPCC. That email, as Montford points out, carried Holland's FoI number as its subject line.

How did Sir Muir miss this? In a development not covered by Montford, the university has since admitted, in correspondence with blogger Steve McIntyre, that it omitted the email from its list of FoI requests sent to Sir Muir. So Sir Muir seems to have been about the only person studying the affair not to have known about it.

This is all, we may hope, cock-up rather than conspiracy. But the university did itself no favours in its own response to Sir Muir last week, when it expressed its satisfaction that he had found no evidence of such culpable deletions. Advice to UEA: when in a hole, stop digging.

None of the inquiries have cleared the air. Maybe the scientists themselves can achieve it.'

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

To my mind, Don, that is precisely why the powers that be use inquiries. They get to choose the right people, set the remit, decide whether evidence on oath will be given, and the powers of the inquiry itself regarding recommendations, and then whether they will take any notice of the result or follow up any wrong doing. Thus the unquiry is always under control to a significant extent, those in power can say that they have considered but reject any findings or that it is not in the public interest for any wrong doer to be pursued - i.e. we need to learn lessons and move on not re-hash past troubles - etc. etc.

In realilty there was never any chance that any inquiry would find against Jones/UEA beause such a finding would lead to the inevitable conclusion that the government dept. or other entity giving out the grants was remiss in oversight of the science and the scientists' institution, that money had been wasted, that state funded scientists were acting in a manner quite unknown to proper science, and that policy decisions had been made on dubious information backed by questionable conduct. That was never going to happen.

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRB

Sorry "unquiry" should read "inquiry........or perhaps not !

Jan 12, 2012 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRB

There is no possibility Prof Jones will be allowed to speak to anyone outside the 'bubble' of approval.

Far too dangerous.

Jan 12, 2012 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

I am indebted to the Bish for starting this thread and hope readers might assist me in a letter that I must write to the Information Commissioner's Office over the weekend. It is approaching a year since I made an FOIA/EIR request to UEA for among other things the working papers of the the so called Independent Climate Change Email Review - the ICCER. I do think it was ever independent and that its working papers are held "on behalf of" the UEA. Now 8 months after I complained the ICO has written

When considering whether information is held on behalf of a public authority the Commissioner will consider who has ownership and control over the information. I appreciate that the review was funded by the UEA and Sir Muir Russell was appointed by the Vice Chancellor but I can't accept your suggestion that Sir Muir Russell was in effect a contractor of the UEA as to do so would be to reject the independence of the entire review and whilst I appreciate the concerns you have in this area I do not think that we have any valid evidence to reach this conclusion. The funding was clearly given on the basis of an independent inquiry and that Sir Muir Russell was free to run that inquiry. I don't think it always follows that supplying funding will mean the funding body will automatically have the relevant control or access to the information. As noted above Sir Muir Russell and his team had control over the information created during the course of the review and access to the UEA was strictly limited. Therefore, I must conclude that the information you requested was neither held by the UEA nor held on its behalf by the Russell Review and therefore the UEA were correct to refuse your request.

There are a number of indications that I am aware of that strongly suggest it was not independent but I would like to read what BH readers think the evidence is. This may be one of the most important appeals to push all the way.

Jan 12, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland


I was one of the first to contact Muir Russell to offer evidence as he stated in one of the 18th December 2009 meetings. The Review team knew all about it. Moreover we now know that 6 weeks before the Russell Review published its Report it had in its possession Climategate 2.0 email 2526.txt In which Phil Jones wrote to the Met Office

John Mitchell did respond to a request from Holland. John had conveniently lost many emails, but he did reply with a few. Keith and Tim have moved all their emails from all the named
people off their PCs and they are all on a memory stick. So any thoughts on how to respond?

Smoking guns do not come better than this!

What legitimate ethical independent enquiry would, a week after issuing it final Report, delete all its email correspondence from the University of Edinburgh server and then refuse to explain how and why it presented to UEA an unpublished and emasculated version of my evidence submission which it then published with UEA's assistance in a format intended to disguise that fact my full submission had not been put to UEA and answered?

Jan 12, 2012 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

David Holland:
"I do think it was ever independent and that its working papers are held "on behalf of" the UEA. "

A missing "not" after "do"?

Regards and Good Luck.

Jan 12, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

We should need only remember Fiona Fox's fraudulent attempt at playing a journalist as part of a campaign of bullying and harrassment of a former office manager of ex-Labour MP Jim Devine.

Perhaps Marion Kinley, the former office manager in question, and Phil Jones can compare notes on how they were treated.

Jan 12, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

David Holland

Go for it! Perhaps with one more knock, the wall will fall, but it takes its toll on your head.

'Justice is justice though it's always delayed and finally done only by mistake.' George Bernard Shaw

Jan 12, 2012 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I think "unquiry" is absolutely the best neologism of the year!

Jan 12, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Bob

David Holland:
Have you asked Steve McIntyre for his thoughts? He has an amazing level of recall for these types of details and lines of argument.
Failing that, it might be useful if you could rough out the type of areas where you think input would be most useful and where it would be less useful.

Jan 12, 2012 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

The David Holland FOI request, the transparent clarity of the evidence surrounding it and the protracted evasion and obfuscation prior to during and subsequent to the 'independent' inquiries in confronting it, tarnishes not only the CRU and the UEA, but the moral integrity of the whole British Establishment in the imposition of their draconian climate policy. It should have been admitted, apologised for with humility, and moved on. That would have helped to return to a modicum of trust in process. But the rewritten establishment history of the affair appears to prefer the 'exhoneration' label. And seemingly the climate mainstream are content with it also, rather that airing dirty washing.

That can only continue the recruitment of yet more scepticism to the suspicion that the entire climate agenda is founded on the science of sophistry.

Jan 12, 2012 at 9:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

would serve as a reminder that scientists are human beings....

Too bad then, that they insist on playing at gods, with their pronouncements from on high that "the science is settled" and "the debate is over."

It is not us that need reminding that scientists are human beings; it is the scientists themselves.

Jan 13, 2012 at 1:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Rick: brilliant, thanks.

Jan 13, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I think "unquiry" is absolutely the best neologism of the year!


Jan 13, 2012 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

I think Hengist would really enjoy another would help to close his mind another few inches

Jan 13, 2012 at 11:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

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