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Acton's blind eye

Readers may recall that at the Science and Technology Committee hearings into Climategate, Professor Acton told MPs that when he had discovered that the Russell inquiry had failed to investigate the question of breaches of FOI legislation, he had instituted his own inquiry which had determined that Jones and Briffa had not in fact deleted emails subject to FOI.

This was widely assumed at the time to have been the standard mealy-mouthed UEA response, which neatly avoided addressing whether emails had been illegally withheld (as opposed to deleted). This supposition was strongly reinforced by the Climategate 2 emails which confirmed that Briffa and Jones had systematically hidden emails to prevent their disclosure under FOI.

These questions all came up again at the Information Tribunal on Tuesday, when Acton waxed lyrical about the written statements he had received from Jones and Briffa confirming that they had not deleted emails subject to FOI. These statements, he assured the Tribunal, had been signed in good old-fashioned blue ink. Unfortunately, he went on to explain, they had subsequently been lost.

David Holland had subsequently questioned Acton about the possibility that there had been concealment and Acton, if I recall correctly, had said that this had been ruled out too.

Today, however, UEA's legal team wrote to the Tribunal to say that they have uncovered a draft of the statements - no signatures, but perhaps more importantly, no mention of withholding emails without deleting them.

Everybody, but everybody knows that staff at UEA were systematically withholding emails subject to FOI. Acton knew, or if he didn't, he knows now. Which then raises the awkward question of why nobody at UEA has lost their job.

Is criminal behaviour no bar to advancement at UEA? It would appear that way.

Briffa statement

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Reader Comments (73)

I'm not surprised, it seems to be endemic in UK academia. I have seen it for myself.

Jan 19, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Pharos your link to the Institute of Physics document is broken

@Jan 19, 2013 at 1:27 AM | MikeH1946

If you are using Chrome, triple clink on the link text, right click, and "go to..."

Works for me for all links above, whether apparently truncated or not.

(Version 24.0.1312.52 m - latest version)

Jan 19, 2013 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Jan 19, 2013 at 2:25 PM | Jeremy Poynton:

I cottoned onto this a while ago, they're not the only ones, when we wanted to do some research with a non-governmental research organisation back in the 80s we discovered they had no formal methods for developing software, no formal methods for project management, and the recording and storing of documents, no formal methods for recording access to documents and no formal methods for change control. If they had been using stastistics to come up with their results they would have had no statisticians, they'd simply have given it a lash themselves. I suspect that the UEA and it's Vice Chancellor seem to be similarly equipped with amateurism. Indeed I don't know what QA the Met Office has but I do know they don't use statisticians to intepret their results.

Jan 19, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Thanks Mike, but no. It does look like they read the report. This may be the public simplified version. This was more like a peer reveiwed paper. Not powerpoint. It had the details as to why success or failure of a technique and had both in detail.

Jan 19, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

'Climate of Fear' really was a brilliant title. The movie ought to be made, but completely ignore Crichton's script and make a documentary of the last few years instead.

Jan 19, 2013 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

...Indeed I don't know what QA the Met Office has but I do know they don't use statisticians to intepret their results.
Jan 19, 2013 at 4:11 PM geronimo

See .

"Lord Donoughue has told me that the Met Office claims that it has tens of scientists who have at least some training in the statistical analysis of time series. "

"...has tens" - that suggests 20? 30? Met Office staff who have "at least some" training in the statistical analysis of time series. How many staff do they have in total? 1500?

So around 30/1500 = 2% of its staff have "at least some training" in the statistical analysis of time series.

What is the Met Office's core business, if not the statistical analysis of time series? [and the prediction of time series, for which analysis is a pre-requsite].

Close it down.

Jan 19, 2013 at 6:49 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Meanwhile, as Mann V. <I> National Review revs up , a relevant finding from CEI's attempt to establish itself as a bona fidescientific authority has surfaced :

"[C]areful examination of the e-mails and their context shows that the petitioners’ claims are exaggerated, are often contradicted by other evidence, and are not a material or reliable basis to question the validity and credibility of the body of science ...

Petitioners’ assumptions and subjective assertions regarding what the e-mails purport to show about the state of climate change science are clearly inadequate pieces of evidence to challenge the voluminous and well documented body of science that is the technical foundation of the Administrator’s Endangerment Finding."

CEI appealed this to the DC Circui Court of Appeals, , which found it sound and rejected their appeal.

Jan 19, 2013 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

I wonder if any of this will find its way to the BBC climate horror bin? Probably not.

Jan 19, 2013 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Despite all the coverage about the infamous BBC climate change seminar and its attendees, and its impact on BBC impartiality, nothing at all is mentioned in Wikipedia, despite it having a whole section on BBC impartiality criticisms. They have guardians in all the right places.

Jan 19, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

seems as if Russell hand fed Rudolf carrots on Christmas Day. Go! Russell!

Jan 19, 2013 at 10:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


Who are CEI?


Jan 19, 2013 at 11:01 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, to the extent of my knowledge.

Jan 20, 2013 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Russell I'm not sure what your point is. You appear to be saying that the emails don't, of themselves, constitute evidence that the body of the science of climate change is wrong in the opinion of the US judiciary. They may be right, but that's not the point at issue is it? The point at issue here is that scientists may/probably have deleted emails in defiance of the FOI Act 2005. Those emails may/probably have pointed to malfeasance by said scientists. The Vice Chancellor of the University told Parliament that he'd conducted an investigation and had found that no emails had been deleted by said scientists. His "investigation" seems to have been to ask the scientists if they'd deleted any emails and they have said "no". Which satisfied Mr. Quelch. It now transpires that the documents he had asked them to sign have been "lost" but that there is a document extant, unsigned, purportedly written by Briffa, which looks suspiciously like a document prepared by someone else.

So those with inquisitive minds are asking whether the "investigation" actually took place and whether those "investigated" actually signed the documents, or actually deleted the emails. The science of climate change isn't at issue here, but I have to say I don't see the "voluminous and well documented body of science that is the technical foundation of the Administrator’s Endangerment Finding." that the judges did. The issue here is that a Vice Chancellor of a prominent UK University may/probably have lied to parliament about the deletion of emails requested through the FOI Act, 2005. That is a very serious issue, which I have to admit will probably not be solved on this blog, but that doesn't preclude discussion of the issue, or airing of opinions about the VC of UEA, or the scientists involved.

Those same scientists by the way who are now churning out papers that have re-instated the MWP, when 5 or 6 years ago they were telling the world that the late 20th century warming was unprecedented on the basis of one tree in Yamal. So you see "voluminous and well documented bodies of science" can change.

Jan 20, 2013 at 6:47 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Cupertino Electric, Inc
Computer Enterprises, Inc.
Central European Initiative
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Cutting Edge Product Innovation
Cincinnati Eye Institute

Jan 20, 2013 at 7:55 AM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

@ John Pitman

Search for "Warm words". This should lead you to the document which explores and recommends on the approach and use of language to sell the CAGW story.

Among other things it recommends dropping references to catastrophe. The use of such techniques is now commonplace in attempts to sell political ideas. It results in attempts, frequently successful, to change the meaning of words by creating different associations. New Labour were past masters in the use of such techniques. It appeared about one year after the Futerra document, and about 8 months after the BBC seminar. I have no doubt that it was a significant contribution to the PR campaign that preceded the passing of the Climate Change Act.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

"These statements, he assured the Tribunal, had been signed in good old-fashioned blue ink. Unfortunately, he went on to explain, they had subsequently been lost."

Maybe the dog ate them.

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpen

Ah yes good old fashioned blue ink that must be the type that fades if exposed to the light of day.

Jan 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

Thanks Oldtimer, I can use this one. The one I wanted was a publication but this will do as well until I find the other one. I liked the other one because it highlighted the error that the government or its officials were making.

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

Russell unfortunately Mann will not go to court , firstly becasue he wants to avoid discovery , and secondly becasue once away from pal review and the most 'friendly ' questions that allow him to bluster and BS, he is hopeless. Still if we lucky , I am wrong and Mann for once in his life will get the type of grilling his colleges should have given him mnay years ago.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

[The following may at some point appear at CA, where I first tried to post it a few days ago. However, WordPress have released a new, improved "responsive" design, that is causing (me at least) no end of grief posting comments on other WP blogs]

The timing of this resurrection (re-construction?!) of these mirabile dictu pieces of "evidence" in support of Acton's claim to have "investigated" the matter of deletion of emails subject to FOI is highly suspect, IMHO.

As even Muir Russell (or whoever actually wrote the report for him) had noted in his Jul. 7 report (p. 93)

32. The Review found an ethos of minimal compliance (and at times non-compliance) by the CRU with both the letter and the spirit of the FoIA and EIR. [emphasis added -hro]

Muir Russell's Jan 15/13 claim to have deleted relevant emails (presumably from a laptop of latter day recollection paid for by UEA, which is now supposedly in safekeeping at the Royal Society of Edinburgh) strongly suggests that the "ethos" he encountered at CRU/UEA may be somewhat contagious. But I digress ...

If Acton's Jul. 26/10 letter to Briffa is to be believed, it seems that it took approx. 3.5 weeks for the message to sink in (because UEA were given an advance copy on July 2)

But apart from the timing, Acton's phrasing is somewhat odd, to say the least; what I found particularly curious (apart from providing Briffa with a copy and paste exercise, a task that apparently took four days for Briffa to complete) was:

Following your meeting with Trevor Davies earlier today, I would therefore like your written reassurance on some of the concerns that have been thrown up. [emphasis added -hro]

Since Acton claims to have conducted this "investigation" why wasn't he at this purported meeting with Davies? Where are the minutes of that meeting, one wonders, and what might they reveal?

As for "concerns that have been thrown up" ... I've heard of barriers being "thrown up", but concerns?! Aren't concerns usually documented - rather than "thrown up"?

Oh, well, perhaps Acton had originally written "concerns we couldn't get thrown out between July 2 and July 7" but, because he was reluctant to ... uh ... give up the "thrown" ... in keeping with the "ethos" he decided to change it to the rather inarticulate - if not meaningless - "concerns that have been thrown up".

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:18 PM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

I noted that the earthquake scientists in Italy who failed to warn of immanent danger ended up in goal for criminal negligence.
Our lot of climate killers (well, they are causing the vulnerable to die from hypothermia related illnesses) get promoted. For once Italy seems to have this about right.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

I hope that whoever at the Tribunal is in correspondence with the UEA's legal team on this matter replies to them pointing out that the unsigned drafts are meaningless.

Furthermore, I hope that they request a confirmation from Prof. Briffa that he did actually sign this letter and that he was the holder of the newly recovered draft. If he can't recall signing it, I hope that they ask him to confirm that he would be prepared to do so if asked again.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

I'm not sure if this is apposite but a rather intriguing story has emerged today concerning another "inquiry" that wasn't - the "Plebgate" incident. For overseas readers this relates to a high-ranking government minister (Mitchell) being refused permission to exit Downing the attending police officers. Mitchell was accused by the police of calling them "Fucking plebs" and storming off shouting ".....should know your place" et al.
This was grist to the mill for the left-wing press who jumped all over it. Mitchell denied using the word "pleb" but eventually resigned after 3 weeks after a member of the public alleged they had witnessed the altercation and backed the police version.
Prime Minister Cameron promptly asked a Cabinet Secretary (Sir Jeremy Heywood) to investigate the matter who ultimately "failed to uncover the truth" about the altercation involving the Minister and the police according to a report issued today by a committee of MPs!
Subsequently it turned out the "member of the public" (a) was not there (video surveillance cameras showing no-one in sight), and (b) was in fact a serving police officer!
Despite this evidence being known the MPs report says Sir Jeremy "did not pursue unanswered questions about the scandal and should have recognised the need for a wider inquiry into the unresolved questions and inconsistencies surrounding the incident". Indeed Sir Jeremy admitted to the committee that he decided not to pursue the possibility of "a gigantic conspiracy" against Mr Mitchell.
The Committee said Sir Jeremy had been the wrong person to conduct the inquiry ....and there was a potential conflict between his role investigating the claims and his primary responsibility to support the Government. The committee said an independent adviser should have been asked to investigate instead.
Hoist by their own petard it seems.

Jan 21, 2013 at 11:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohnbuk

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