Sep 092010



Yesterday I watched the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee questioning Lord Oxburgh. Once the official transcript becomes available I expect that this will cause quite a stir. If there was any doubt before that his inquiry was a fiasco, then there can be none now.

What follows are a few notes based on listening to a recording rather carefully last night.

At the outset, Oxburgh made it very clear that he had been most unwilling to take on the job of chairing the review panel when the University of East Anglia (UEA) asked him, however he had eventually been persuaded.  Why the university had been so persistent in their overtures, rather than just looking elsewhere, was not explored, but perhaps it will be at some point in the future.

In the early stages of the committee session it was quickly established that, although the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Acton, had told the previous Science and Technology Select Committee that he was about to announce a review that would ‘reassess the science [at CRU] and make sure that there is nothing wrong’, Oxburgh was given no such instructions. Instead he was asked merely to consider the honesty and integrity of the scientists.

Nevertheless, the review panel was provided with a list of eleven papers published by CRU scientists on which to base their judgement. Graham Stringer attempted to find out how these papers had been chosen and by whom, which is rather important. Sceptics have pointed out that whoever did choose them steered well clear of the research findings that awkward questions have been asked about.

This is what happened:

Stringer: Can you tell us how you chose the eleven publications from the Climatic Research Unit?

Oxburgh: ‘Err … we didn’t choose the publications, they were … [starts again] Basically what I said that we needed was something that would provide a pretty good introduction to the work of the unit as it had evolved over the years. And the publications were suggested to us, came via the university, but via the university and the Royal Society I believe. We feel, and let me emphasise they were just a start, because all of us were novices in this area, I think we all felt that they gave us a very good introduction. From then we moved on, we looked at other publications, we asked for raw materials and things of that kind. The press seems to have made quite a meal of the choice of publication. I think for anyone on the panel, this all seems a bit over the top because it didn’t have that significance.

Stringer: are you saying that Jones chose the papers themselves that were to be investigated, and that wasn’t the panel or the RS?

Oxburgh: There was no suggestion that Professor Jones chose them.

Stringer: Then where did the list come from?

Oxburgh: I believe they came um from the … well  I suspect that one of the people involved was Professor Liss who was the acting head of the unit I think, who had been brought in from outside the unit to look after it, but he is a chemical oceanographer who is broadly interested in this area and I think he, in consultation with people in the Royal Society, and maybe others outside the unit who had some familiarity with the [area?].

Stringer: So the list did not come from the Unit, you’re absolutely categoric on that?

Oxburgh: [Stuttering and hesitating] I have … Well I can’t prove a negative [giggling] as you know, [inaudible] we have absolutely no indication that it did.

Stringer: Some of the publicity says that it came from the RS, but the panel were given the list before the Royal Society were asked, weren’t they?

Oxburgh:  I … [long pause] … Not as far as I know. I mean you might be right, but I don’t believe so. No, certainly, I don’t think that can be true.

Stringer: … [long pause] Right!

(My emphasis)

For a moment it seemed that Graham Stringer, who would fully understand the significance of what Oxburgh had said even if his fellow committee members did not, seemed to have been rendered speechless. For the last few months, news media and blogs all over the world have been reporting that the science at CRU has been investigated on the basis of a list of papers recommended by the Royal Society, and that no serious fault has been found with this work. In effect, the CRU has had its reputation restored on the basis of the Oxburgh Report. Now it is apparent that no review of the scientific research at CRU has taken place. And as some sceptics have long suspected, the chairman of the review panel blithely accepted a list of papers to examine in accordance with his very limited remit to consider  the integrity and honesty of the scientists. He did not even have the curiosity to find out  how the list had been chosen or by whom. Worse, there seems to be a direct conflict of evidence between Stringer’s version of events and that presented by Oxburgh. No wonder Stringer was shocked.

When Stringer eventually gathered his wits again, he said that there were a couple of things that Oxburgh had said which he found surprising. This was the other one:

Stringer: You also talk about the integrity [of the CRU scientists]. One of the accusations made in the evidence to the predecessor [Science and Technology Select] Committee of this, was made by [Doug] Keenan who accused …

Oxburgh: [interrupting, as though he was unfamiliar with the name] Made by?

Stringer: Keenan!

Oxburgh: Keenan, yes.

Stringer: … who accused Professor Jones of fraud …

Oxburgh: [interrupting again, sounding bored and dismissive] Yes

Stringer: …  if you were trying to find out whether there was fraud going on or whether the scientists had integrity, did you look at Keenan’s accusations?

Oxburgh: … [Pause] I don’t recall doing so if I did

Stringer: [obviously taken aback] … Right!

So not only is Oxburgh blissfully unaware of who selected the research papers that he has founded his review on, but he is also admitting that while considering the integrity of the authors he has failed to take into account a long, detailed, referenced and widely publicised accusation of scientific fraud against one of them.

It is hardly surprising that Graham Stringer was shocked.

When I listened to the proceedings live yesterday morning, it all seemed fairly pedestrian, partly perhaps because when the committee chairman introduced Lord Oxburgh he had mentioned that he was in poor health. Perhaps also because nearly all the members of the committee other than Graham Stringer and the chairman are newly elected MPs who will still be finding their feet. In any case, no one seemed inclined to really hammer points home, and it would have been difficult to do so without accusing an elderly and sick man of total incompetence at the very least.

There were other questions that the committee raised: selection of the review panel (Oxburgh claimed that one of them was an ‘active climate sceptic’), whether Jones told the panel that it is impossible to reconstruct temperatures over the last thousand years (a somewhat hesitant and equivocal answer), why Oxburgh had chosen not to publish any of the panel’s working documents, with Stringer quoting Professor Kelly’s damning notes about the standard of some of Keith Briffa’s research (Oxburgh’s response was to defend Briffa),  how integrity was to be defined, if that was the purpose of the review (Oxburgh seemed not to have given this much thought), how the panel’s terms of reference had been decided (it all seems to have been rather vague and informal), whether the scientists were able to produce raw data to back up their finding when asked by the panel to do so (not in some cases), and whether the review was really independent (by the time Oxburgh tried to explain that it was, he had already said in a reply to another question that he had taken on the job to ‘help’ the university).

It would seem inevitable now, that after the committee questions Sir Muir Russell next month, they will also recall the Vice Chancellor (Professor Edwad Acton) of the University of East Anglia and the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Professor Trevor Davis). They are the people who commissioned the inquiries, and now suspicions about the shortcomings or at least one of them are turning into facts.

Much of what came out at Wednesday’s session of the Science and Technology Select Committee has been talked about in the blogosphere for months. It matters that these are the sole preserve of the emerging media no longer, but in the public domain as evidence to a House of Commons committee.

(The transcripts above were made late at night and in a hurry. They are pretty accurate, but are not intended to be a substitute for the official transcripts when they appear)

Video of the session can be found at starting at 10:38:30.

Steve McIntyre has two ‘must read’ posts about all this at Climate Audit here and here, with more to come apparently.

12 Responses to “Lord Oxburgh caught in the headlights”

  1. TonyN

    Apologies. I looked here first before posting something on this subject over at WUWT a few hours ago but this article wasn’t up then. I have updated it and reposted it here.

    I am indebted to Jimbo for providing the intriguing link showing the interests of Lord Oxburgh.

    Let us try to find a way through the convoluted path this reveals.

    Lord Oxburgh is Honorary president of the CSA (Carbon Capture and Storage Association)
    and also of the renewables co Falk renewables
    According to its website, as of November 2009 ‘the Association benefits from a close working relationship with the UK Government and European Commission in developing an appropriate regulatory framework for CCS and influencing policy developments on an international level.'[2]

    The co secretary of the CSA is David Green o.b.e who is described as a renewables lobbyist

    Interestingly he is also Chief Executive of the UK Council for sustainable energy

    The UKBCSE was established in May 2001 as a business lobby to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Representing the main energy providers in the UK it has become a reputable body on the potential for renewable energy in Britain and has close government connections.

    As stated in the link above;

    Quote: ‘he is also company secretary to the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (since 2005) also in the same building suggesting a revolving door with potential conflicts of interest.’

    To (almost) complete the story we can do no better than repeat the comments of our poster Tenuc.

    “Lord Oxburgh Appointed Non-Executive Director and to become Chairman in 2007
    D1 Oils plc (D1), the UK-based global producer of biodiesel, is pleased to announce the appointment of Lord Oxburgh as a Non-Executive Director of the Company with the intention that he becomes Chairman in early 2007. When Lord Oxburgh succeeds to the Chairmanship, the present Chairman, Karl E. Watkin, will remain as a Non-Executive Director of the Company.
    Lord Oxburgh is a long-standing public advocate of the need to address climate change issues. He served as the Non-Executive Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading plc from 2004 to 2005, during which time he took a close interest in the company’s environmental technologies. Since then, Lord Oxburgh has been an adviser to Climate Change Capital, a specialist investment banking group focused on companies and financial institutions affected by the policy and capital market responses to climate change.”

    However, the trail takes a strange twist at this point as this post from ‘Atomic hairdryer’ demonstrates;

    ” From Oxburgh’s current bio..

    Lords career
    Member Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) 2000-

    So he’s a ‘peer’ of the committee that interviewed him yesterday. Establishment man, safe pair of hands, bit under the weather yesterday so didn’t manage a blinder that day. Not to worry, we’ll produce a corrected response in a few days.”

    If we follow the virtuous circle this reveals, we have Lord Oxburgh-the Honorary President of a lobby group for carbon capture (CCSA) who is Chairman of two renewable energy companies-windfarms and biofuels and is an investment adviser for companies involved in climate change. He has strong UK Govt connections and operates from the same building as the UK council for sustainable development-whose Chief Executive is Co secretary of the CCSA. He was chairman of an enquiry set up to examine CRU, whose ‘evidence’ that the world is warming would benefit the aims of a number of bodies, including the British Govt and renewable and carbon capture companies. To cap it all he was (not at all rigorously) examined by the very same parliamentary committee on which he already sits.

    However, I am sure it is all entirely innocent


  2. Tony:

    Oxburgh’s link with Climate Change Capital is new to me and, I think, completely damning to any claim he could make of impartiality. Far worse than his interests in alternative energy.

    I’m afraid that this post was a bit slow appearing because I have been ministering to a sick car.

  3. Bishop Hill points out that Oxburgh’s interrogation has received no notice in the mainstream media, except for an article in the Guardian. Pity. “Top scientist called in to help university: calls vice chancellor a liar” sounds like a story “with legs”.
    The Guardian’s headline is “Oxburgh: UEA vice-chancellor was wrong to tell MPs he would investigate climate research”. In other words, a university official has been chosen as the Climategate scapegoat, a figure as far as possible from the science, which must be protected at all costs. No doubt he will have a hard time before the committee, and that will be the story. “Vice chancellor made a hash of the enquiries, but science ok”. End of story.

  4. Geoff:

    Give it time! You need to be very well up to speed with what the blogs have been saying over the last few months to appreciate the significance of what happened on Wednesday.

    About six weeks ago, I heard from a horse’s mouth that the HoC S&TSC would be too busy with other matters to revisit Climategate. Evidently they have changed their minds. I don’t know why.

    Oxburgh is just the first course, with Russell to follow. As I say in the post, it would seem inconceivable that Davis and Acton will not be on the menu in due course.

    In a few days time, Andrew Montford’s critique of the several reports on Climategate will be launched at a press conference. Knowing the thoroughness of his previous work, that will provide reliable context for what the Select Committee are doing and make the significance of the answers they got from ‘Lord O’ more accessible. It is also likely to identify other questions that need answers.

    Eventually, the committee will have to produce a report. It is at that stage that I would expect the MSM to become interested. For the time being, I think that there will be politicians and academics who are following developments very closely, even if they don’t have much to say at this stage.

  5. TonyN #4
    That’s the kind of good news we footbloggers in the Climate wars need to hear from time to time!
    A comment on Oxburgh’s performance. His only utility to the various companies who employ him in figurehead positions (and infinite thanks to Tonyb for listing them so clearly) is his House of Lords address and his CV. If the House of Commons committee report receives any adverse media coverage at all, his usefulness will be seriously compromised. This will give pause for thought to all the many other establishment members who figure on green company letterheads. Do they step forward to defend “the science”, and risk exposure on sceptical blogs? I expect a serious counterattack when they realise the fragility of their position.

  6. TonyN

    HS was the first place I looked for a report as normally you are red hot on this sort of thing. I’m afraid your excuse of ministering to a sick car won’t work. We both know that both of us get so much money from Big Oil that we can afford to throw away the old car every time the ash tray becomes full. :)

    I look forward to the Bishops analysis. I’m still laughing at Lord O being cross examined by his own committee. I think the bark went out of many of these committees when Glenys Dunwoody died. She was a real seeker after truth.


  7. Like so much else that has happened during ClimateGate, this level of scrutiny and exposure would never have occurred before, so I’m going to be optimistic too.

    “Much of what came out at Wednesday’s session of the Science and Technology Select Committee has been talked about in the blogosphere for months.”

    The blogosphere and the emerging media have become a force that can no longer be ignored; this has been the case from Day 1 of ClimateGate, right up to and including the above excellent detailed background check on Lord Oxburgh (adding my thanks to TonyN and TonyB.)

    It still surprises me though, the extent to which this entire business is becoming something of a humilating own goal on the part of UEA/Oxburgh. It is almost as if these parties have not noticed that the world has changed, or realised that all the bumbling and muddle and remedial wallpapering, which might well have gone unchallenged in past epochs, would not go unnoticed in 2010.

    Great article and comments; I think we’re gradually getting there. To quote Mao Tse-tung, on the long march to transparency and the reformation of climate science, “ten thousand waters and a thousand mountains are nothing.” :o)

  8. Presumably….

    All this is going to be sent to Graham Stringers parliamentary email adress, as well as other interested MP’s

    I sent quite a lot in the past…. looks like he completely understands about Kelley’s notes, and the lack of science..

    especially, the computer simulations…

    the quote,

    ‘that just is not science, but literature’

    in the Register, SHOULD go down in history (ref Briffa and the fact that not even Briffa/CRU could reproduce his OWN results”

    remind him, that the poor are paying higher energy bills because of this CAGW deleusion- possibly for no good reason, than emotive humans are bad polluting species pr pumped out by Greenpeace, wwf, Gore, etc, far beyond even the IPCC science reports, let alone the stuff that was left out/ignore showing a lack of any observable evidence, desppit 30 years of looking for a human AGW signature in the climate.

    Stringer in full…(the Register)

    Stringer says the practices exposed at CRU undermine the scientific value of paleoclimatology, in which CRU is a world leader.

    “When I asked Oxburgh if [Keith] Briffa [CRU academic] could reproduce his own results, he said in lots of cases he couldn’t.

    “That just isn’t science. It’s literature. If somebody can’t reproduce their own results, and nobody else can, then what is that work doing in the scientific journals?”

  9. Graham Stringer cares about the poor….

    remind him of this.

    Telegraph: An ill wind blows for Denmark’s green energy revolution
    Denmark has long been a role model for green activists, but now it has become one of the first countries to turn against the turbines.

    “Unfortunately, Danish electricity bills have been almost as dramatically affected as the Danish landscape. Thanks in part to the windfarm subsidies, Danes pay some of Europe’s highest energy tariffs – on average, more than twice those in Britain. Under public pressure, Denmark’s ruling Left Party is curbing the handouts to the wind industry.

  10. I honestly think the most damning aspect of his testimony was when Lord Oxburgh concluded there is no way to reconstruct global temperatures over the last 1000 years. With out that foundation, all the global warming claims and hockey stick graphs fall apart.

  11. […] important posts on the hearings can be found at Harmless Sky and Climate Audit (here and […]

  12. There’s been an interesting development in the mystery of how the eleven papers were chosen, here at Climate Audit. Not the final answer, perhaps, but getting closer.

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