Since the Russell Report was published I have put up three posts posing questions that Sir Muir Russell should be compelled to answer about his inquiry. These have also appeared on the Global Warming Policy Foundation website:

The question now arises, who should ask these questions and can Sir Muir Russell be compelled to answer.

The good news is that before the ink on the Russell Inquiry was really dry, the Daily Express reported that the Labour MP Graham Stringer was calling for a re-assessment of Climategate:

He said it [the Russell Inquiry] fell short because it was unable to access thousands of other emails to establish whether there was a conspiracy among climate scientists at the CRU.

Mr Stringer said: “To make sense of whether there was a conspiracy, whether they really tried to subvert the peer review process, you would have had to look at these emails. It’s an inadequate report that doesn’t do the job. It’s not going to allay anybody’s fears.

“I certainly believe the matter should return to the House of Commons to be debated because this is the basis of spending billions of dollars worldwide.”

You may remember the redoubtable Mr Stringer as being the only MP on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee who was well enough briefed on Climategate to ask consistently searching questions at their somewhat rushed oral hearing of evidence. His PhD in Chemistry and a career as an analytical chemist before entering parliament would have helped him here.

In an interview with Andrew Orlowski of The Register, Graham Stringer has set out more of his reservations about the credibility of the inquiries and his concern that the university misled the parliamentary committee. Lord Willis, who was chairman of he committee at that time, has also accused the university of “sleight of hand”.

During the Select Committee hearings Graham Stringer made no secret of his suspicion that Professor Acton  (Vice Chancellor of UEA) was more concerned by the perceived injury to the university’s reputation caused by the publication of the Climategate emails than discovering what they revealed about the activities of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and that this could prejudice both the independence and impartiality of any inquiries that the University of East Anglia (UEA) might instigate. The transcript of the Select Committee’s hearings of oral evidence is well worth looking at in the light of all the criticisms that have been levelled at the Russell and Oxburgh enquiries since then (here).  Questions 127 – 134 from Stringer to Acton, the chairman’s intervention with question 152, and questions 176 – 179 from Stringer to Sir Muir Russell make the Committee’s grave concern that Professor Acton was intent on apportioning blame for the scandal to the leaker or hacker rather than getting to the bottom of what had been going on at the CRU very clear. Also their unease that Sir Muir Russell’s inquiry might attract criticism unless he was very careful to ensure that its procedures were beyond reproach.

Graham Stringer’s contribution did not finish with his energetic contributions to questioning the witnesses. If you look carefully at the end of the Committee’s report, you will find Formal Minutes of the meeting that approved the text prior to publication.  Attendance on this occasion was rather sparse.

At the oral hearing, the following members were present in addition to the chairman,  Phil Willis: Graham Stringer, Tim Boswell, Dr Brian Iddon, Ian Stewart, Doug Naysmith and Dr Evan Harris, who arrived late. However when the text was approved, Stewart and Naysmith were not present. Eight propositions were put and voted on, and on every occasion Stringer was a minority of one in the face of votes by all the other three members of the committee except the chairman who did not use his vote. Here is a summary of what happened:

Graham Stringer voted against two paragraphs in the report being approved and included:

  • Wording that rejected the concerns of sceptics who had made submissions to the committee about the CRU’s version of the global surface temperature record quoting a claim by Phil Jones that other researchers had reached the same conclusion independently. (Paragraph 47)
  • Wording that suggests that CRU’s refusal to make data available made no difference to the credibility of their surface data records because the work was corroborated by other findings. (Paragraph 51)

He also attempted to make the following amendments:

  • In a paragraph absolving Jones from any wrongdoing with regard to his notorious ‘trick’ to ‘hide the decline’ email, Stringer attempted to get the following caveat including : “We have not taken enough evidence on this matter to come to a final conclusion”. (Paragraph 66)
  • Stringer attempted to strengthen a fairly diffident recommendation by the Committed that, if the culture and practices at CRU were typical of climate science as a whole, then perhaps other scientists working in this discipline should review their practices too. (Paragraph 132)

Concerning the two inquiries commissioned by UEA,  Stringer tried to get the following sentence added: “Given the increasingly hostile attitudes of both sides on this issue, it is vital that these two inquiries have at least one member each who is a reputable scientist, and is sceptical of anthropogenic climate change” (Paragraph 124)

  • Dr Evan Harris proposed the following sentence should be added to the report: “Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact.” (Paragraph 137)

Graham Stringer also voted against the Summary being added to the report and the final text of the report being adopted by the committee.

Had Graham Stringer’s input been heeded, then the findings of the committee would have been far more cautious and in keeping with the hastily assembled evidence at their disposal. The failure to adopt his recommendation that sceptical views should be represented on the inquiry panels has had very serious and obvious consequences for the credibility of the Russell and Oxburgh reports.

In spite of the haste with which the committee’s deliberations were carried out, they did at least mange to lay down some very definite markers for the way in which the UEA inquiries should be carried out. Their concerns about the independence of such inquiries are reiterated in various parts of their report together with reservations about the adequacy of the terms of reference, but finally they say that they accept Sir Muir Russell’s assurances that none of this will be a problem. In the light of the reaction of the public and the media to both Russell’s and Oxburgh’s efforts, their fears were well justified.

One paragraph in the committee’s report stands out particularly:

134. The process of two reviews or inquiries is underway. In our view there is the potential for overlap between the two inquiries-for example, the question of the operation of peer review needs to examine both methodology and quality of the science subject to review. The two reviews or inquiries need to map their activities to ensure that there are no unmanaged overlaps or gaps. If there are, the whole process could be undermined. (Select Committee Report page 44)

In this paragraph, and elsewhere in the report, the Committee made it quite clear that, so far as inquiries into Climategate were concerned, they expected the job to be done properly; for the sake of climate science and of the scientific community as a whole. We now have a ludicrous situation where two inquires have reported on a scientific scandal and both chairmen have disavowed any responsibility for looking at the science. Yet Professor Acton’s trump card when he appeared before the committee was to announce that the university would commission an additional inquiry, which was later assigned to Lord Oxburgh, for precisely that purpose.

In the run-up to publication of the Russell Report a large part of the media were anticipating that this might produce the answers that we have all been waiting for and draw a final line under Climategate. That has not been the case and the consensus is that this story is by no means over yet.

So what is likely to happen next?

Parliamentary Select Committees are dissolved when an election is called, and a new one comes in to being with the new parliament. Of the members who were on the old committee, only Graham Stringer is still an MP, and it is reassuring to see that he is now on the new committee. Of the other members, the Chairman is Andrew Miller who, according to the website voted moderately against the Climate Bill. Of the other ten members of the committee all but one were elected to Parliament in May, so they have no track record.

On 7th July, the Global Warming Policy Foundation announced that they had commissioned a report on the three inquiries into Climategate that have so far taken place.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation has criticised the Independent Climate Change Email Review for a lack of openness and transparency in its inquiry. In response, the GWPF has announced that it has commissioned its own investigation into the way the three Climategate inquiries have been set up, how they were conducted an how they arrived at their conclusions.

They have very wisely put this task in the hands of Andrew Montford who is probably better placed to handle this task than anyone else. As a climate sceptic blogger at Bishop Hill who broke many of the stories that led to concerns about the independence of the Russell and Oxburgh inquiries, and as the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, he is obviously very familiar with the territory. Although he can make no claim to ‘independence’, if he brings to bear the meticulous care and attention to evidence with which he filleted Michael Mann’s  famous graph in his book then the result should be persuasive. And for that matter, is there anyone who has become involved in the debate over Climategate who can be described as impartial?

It is to be hoped that the new House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee will be galvanised into calling Professor Acton, Sir Muir Russell, Lord Oxburgh and Professor Trevor Davis (Pro-Vice Chancellorof UEA) before them to account for their actions, and answer questions, in the face of the warnings that the old Select Committee set out. If they decide not to do so, then they would do well to heed this paragraph from the Russell Report:

27. Arguably the most significant change produced by the blogosphere is a transformation in the degree of openness now required of scientists whose work directly affects policy making. Without such openness, the credibility of their work will suffer because it will always be at risk of allegations of concealment and hence mal-practice. The extent to which this change was fully recognised by both CRU and UEA administration is an important issue for the Review.

Russell Report, page 42, para 27

If Parliament, in the form of a Select Committee, fails to clear up the mess left by one rushed inquiry and two discredited inquires into what has been described as the greatest scientific scandal in living memory, then the establishment will be implicated in what appears to be a cover-up. The blogoshere will not let the matter rest, and it is the establishment that will be held to account this time, not mere scientists.

7 Responses to “Climategate Inquiries: It’s up to Graham Stringer and Andrew Montford now”

  1. Much as I admire Andrew Montford, I don’t think the media will take the slightest notice of his report, not unless it wins an Oscar and a Nobel Prize.
    A Parliamentary Enquiry, on the other hand, can hardly be ignored. The composition of the new Science and Technology Select Committee (all new boys and girls except Stringer, the Chairman (“moderately anti-Climate Bill” Andrew Miller) and AN Other) may be vital to the continuation of the Climategate saga, and therefore to the future of global warming politics.
    What new MP wouldn’t want to shine by revealing the truth (about global warming, or about its sceptics) in the adversarial context of a parliamentary enquiry? There are so many simple, unavoidable questions that could demolish the reputations of so many important people. Surely, in these circumstances, the press must start doing its job, and see the media value, if not the importance, of this story?

  2. Geoff:

    At the moment there is evidence of the shortcomings of the inquiries in the transcript of the HoC committee, in the reports themselves, in press coverage, and scattered over numerous blogs, including shrewd comments like yours. Some of it is fragmentary, and only carries weight if associated with information from other sources. Context is almost non-existent as much of this stuff has been written for those who are familiar with the background or by people who are not familiar with the background.

    One of the problems with the Hoc committee hearings was that only Graham Stringer seemed to have done enough homework to really understand the issues.

    Andrew Montford probably has as good an all-round view of what is available as anyone. If he can produce a reasonably concise, fully referenced paper setting out all the issues then there will be no excuse for ignoring a scandal that has been made worse by the failure of those who should be insuring that there is a transparent and impartial investigation burying their heads in the sand. His report may not be newsworthy in itself, but what it can be used for should be.

  3. The extent to which this change was fully recognised by both CRU and UEA administration is an important issue for the Review.

    Russell Report, page 42, para 27

    Shame (and ironic) that it wasn’t recognised by Sir Muir and his chums, then!

  4. Pleased to see Andrew is writing the review. I hope it is as well presented as his book on “The Hockey Stick”.

    However, I hope he does better than his summary of “climategate” in his book, which I consider to be the weakest chapter.

  5. Neil Hampshire:

    The timing of Climategate was a bit inconvenient for Andrew; the manuscript had already gone to the publishers ahead of a January publication date. That chapter had to be added at break-neck speed, before anyone had really had a chance to make a detailed analysis the vast amount of new material that had become available.

  6. Graham Stringer has been in action during a appearance before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee by Sir Martin Rees. See Bishop Hill here:

    If you are using the dedicated Silverlight video player to watch this, Stringer’s questions start about 14:44:00

  7. Going by recent posts on Bishop Hill, the reviews of the Hockey Stick Illusion appear to keep on coming, though. Slowly but steadily, it’s getting publicity.

    I think Mr Montford ought to write his next book about the IPCC and all the “-gates”.

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