One of the most sensational emails brought to light by Climategate concerns Phil Jones’ intention to delete emails relating the IPCC’s Fourth Asessment Report and asking others to do likewise. It was addressed to Professor Michael Mann who, like Jones, has played a leading role in the IPCC process:29th May 2008: -Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re

AR4? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise”.

Russell report page 92, paragraph 28

On the same day when the Russell Report declared that the ‘rigour and honesty as scientists’ of CRU staff was ‘beyond doubt’, it was also announced that Jones would continue to work at the university, although not as its director of CRU. Inserting the qualification ‘as scientists’ after ‘rigour and honesty’ looks like a very cautious nuance.

Given this prima facie evidence of an intention to suppress information about the way in which part of an IPCC report was drafted, surely it must be a priority of any independent inquiry into the conduct of the CRU scientists to find out whether the deletions mentioned took place. This matters because if the culture among scientists involved in assessing the evidence for AGW condones subterfuge, then it is right that this should be generally known.

This is what the Executive Summary of the Russell Report has to say about the deletion of emails:

On the allegation that CRU does not appear to have acted in a way consistent with the spirit and intent of the FoIA or EIR, we find that there was unhelpfulness in responding to requests and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them. University senior management should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FoIA and EIR compliance. [my emphasis]

Russell report page 14, paragraph 27

The report is very detailed, running to 160 pages. It has taken months to produce, and is rumoured to have cost several hundred thousand pounds. Yet the inquiry has apparently failed to determine whether the then director of CRU deleted emails, and incited other to do likewise, because their content might prove embarrassing if they became public knowledge. I can find no evidence in the report that the inquiry panel even attempted to do so. How could this be?

There are  two obvious possibilities, neither of which reflect credit on what the Universtiy of East Anglia claim was an independent inquiry. It would seem possible that Jones was never asked for a full explanation, or that he may have been questioned about this matter, but the inquiry has omitted to include his response in the report.

In a recent interview with Chanel 4 News Professor Edward Acton, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, admitted that although he had asked Phil Jones whether he had deleted emails that were the subject of FOI requests, he had not asked him if he had deleted any emails in case they might become the subject of a FOI request.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: What do you think was the purpose of trying to hide e-mails, or delete e-mails, by Mr [sic] Jones?

Professor Edward Acton: I asked Mr Jones if – Professor Jones – if he had deleted any e-mails subject to a FOI request. He had not.

KGM: That’s a slightly different question. I mean, because there was no FOI request, he was not guilty of deleting something that was subject to a… [waves arms] freedom of information request… But, nonetheless, things were hidden, presumably because he thought there would be requests for them.

EA: No, not to my knowledge. I do know that he has a very tidy two-monthly system of deleting e-mails, as rather a lot of people do.

KGM: So it wasn’t that he thought that “these could be problematic, I’d better get rid of them”…

EA: No reason to think that..

KGM: Did you ask him that specifically?

EA: What I asked him was whether he had done anything to contravene the FOI Act.

KGM: So you didn’t ask him that.

EA: I never asked anybody that, the question you are after.

It would appear that, for Professor Acton at least, there is an important distinction between deleting emails that are the subject of a Freedom of Information request thereby committing a criminal offence and bringing the university into disrepute and merely deleting emails to make sure that they cannot be obtained if an FOI request is made. That is a destination that many people might find troubling.

The University of East Anglia commissioned the Russell Inquiry; the university paid for the inquiry;  the university determined the terms of reference of the inquiry. According to the press release posted on the university website when this so called ‘independent’ inquiry was announced:

The Independent Review will investigate the key allegations that arose from a series of hacked e-mails from CRU.

There can be no doubt that the apparent intention to delete emails, and inciting others  involved in the IPCC process to do likewise, was a ‘key allegation’ once the Climategate emails became public. So why has neither the VIce-Chancellor of the university nor the inquiry that he commissioned determined whether emails were in fact deleted? And why is this question so important?

The email from Jones concerning the deletions is among the most notorious in the Climategate files. It has been extensively referred to in the main steam media as well as the blogosphere and it has come to symbolise the seriousness of the Climategate revelations. Suspicion about the deletion of emails has probably done as much to harm the reputations of the CRU, the UEA and the IPCC as any other aspect of this scandal. So why does that very important paragraph in the report, quoted above, qualify the finding about email deletion with ‘might’, and then fail to explain this uncertainty? How could Sir Muir and his panel possibly think that they would fulfil the expectations of those who were told that this was an independent inquiry when they seem unwilling to address adequately one of the most serious allegations made against the CRU scientists?

This matter is a very important plank on which the credibility of the Russell Inquiry, and the UEA as a research institution, rests. If emails were deleted then that opens up a number of issues that need to be resolved if any kind of confidence in the university and the research it has undertaken is to be restored.

If emails were in fact deleted, then what made them so sensitive? What was Jones motivation? If these emails were deleted, are there other instances of deletions that we do not know about. Why is this matter not fully explained and considered in the report? How can anyone have confidence that there are not, even now, more compromising emails on the UEA server that have yet to come to light either in the Climategate emails or in the course of the Russell Inquiry?

The email quoted at the beginning of this post is clear and unambiguous. The fact that Jones felt that he could write to Mann in these terms, with the expectation that his request for emails to be deleted would be shared with others, suggests that he considered what he was doing would be acceptable among his peers. If deletions were made, then surely considering the motivation of the scientists involved and what this might tell us about the ethical standards within the climate science community, was an inescapable duty of the Russell Inquiry. But the Russell Inquiry has failed even to determine whether emails were deleted.

Even if Sir Muir Russell’s panel made a conscientious attempt to discover what happened, but were unable to do so, then that surely is material to their deliberations and should be clearly set out in the report. Merely to say that there is ‘evidence that e-mails might have been deleted’ is to state only what is obvious to anyone who has read the email from Jones to Mann.

Until this matter has been fully investigated, and explained, it is futile to claim that either the ‘rigour and honesty’ of the scientists at CRU is ‘beyond doubt’, or that a proper inquiry into their conduct has taken place.

16 Responses to “Russell Inquiry: the question that no one dare ask?”

  1. The real reason wasn’t to investigate, it was to white wash

  2. TonyN

    I think you have answered your own question;

    “…surely it must be a priority of any independent inquiry into the conduct of the CRU scientists to find out whether the deletions mentioned took place.”

    Many of us protested at the time that there was no way this could be termed an independent enquiry.

    I think there is a secondary consideration and that concerns the thought processes and modus operandii of those running enquiries, in as much we can compare then to courts.

    It never ceases to amaze me when someone is found guilty, then on appeal found not guilty, that some very basic questions were never asked in the first place.

    Sometimes the guilty were not even in the country or were hundreds of miles away or in a public place elsewhere but these basic facts were never established.

    Whether it is lawyers being too clever or simply not wanting to ask a question because they won’t like the answer,I know not. I think this is illustrated in your transcript of an exchange with Acton you give above. Best not to ask Phil Jones a direct question as that could lead to problems later.

    The three enquiries we have had into Climategate can not be called independent or exhaustive. It would be most interesting to see the terms of reference for each of the enquiries side by side. I suspect they were so tightly drawn that nothing incriminating could ever be unearthed.


  3. tonyb:

    Steve McIntyre has a post, that I only saw after I put mine up, that adds some context to what I have said.

    The Botched Examination of the Back-Up Server

    The problem that I am finding with the Russell report at the moment is that the more I read the more questions that are raised, and there are very few answers. With documents like this it is so often what is not mentioned that is most revealing.

  4. TonyN

    Have visited CA. Steve seems hopping mad-and with good cause. Did someone mention elsewhere that Muir presided over the giantic overspend cock up at the Scottish Parliament?

    The TOR is repeated here in the hope we can draw together all three TOR’s and see what exactly these guys were supposed to be looking at in the first place.

    “Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes.”

    Very tightly drawn and they were not asked to look into the science, just a small part of the handling of data. The more I read Steves account, the clearer it becomes that basic questions werent even asked. This comes back to my court analogy-it seems that enquiries such as this are looking at high level material and just don’t concern themselves with the basics.


  5. TonyN

    You link to the the full TOR for the CS and T inquiry. According to this report additional questions would be asked (see under) but I am not sure I ever saw anywhere the resolution of these three points, especially concerning independence.

    “What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?
    — Are the terms of reference and scope of the Independent Review announced on 3 December 2009 by UEA adequate (see below)?
    — How independent are the other two international data sets?”

    I see that the Bishop has been asked to look at the results of all three enquiries. He’s hardly independent either but I’m sure he will bring a fresh perspective.


  6. Tonyb

    The S&T Select Committee report makes pretty interesting reading so far as their recommendations on how the UEA inquiries should be conducted. I have no doubt that the Bishop will make good use of these.

    One that sticks in my mind is:

    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.

    There are at least two other ‘basic’ questions that the inquiry seems to have failed to address that I intend to post about.

  7. Are you guys saying that no emails should be deleted, by anyone, ever?

    And are you also saying that everyone’s email database should be open to public scrutiny at all times? Or does that just apply to climate scientists?

  8. tempterrain,
    As with other workplace communications, emails are legal documents that must be retained for a certain period of time according to specific policy. AND, if subject to legal “discovery” or FOI request, they must also be retained… potentially indefinitely.

    It’s much the same as with any other important record, like financial records.

    We’re not discussing public scrutiny here. We’re discussing an inquiry convened to determine the possibility of illegal, or unprofessional, activity.

    Change the topic and parties involved to something that you find illegal and unethical, for which justice needs to be served (in your opinion)…and perhaps you can see why the law works the way it does.

  9. I must say I find this hard to believe. I’ve never been asked, at various workplaces, where I’ve been both a contractor and employee, to retain any emails for company inspection, let alone public scrutiny of anything and everything that I’ve written or recieved. And it is public scrutiny given that Phil Jones’s emails are now there for all to see on the net.

    That’s not to say that emails shouldn’t be covered by FOI acts and Muir Russell was correct to make a distinction.

  10. Sir Edward Acton states above “EA: What I asked him (Jones)was whether he had done anything to contravene the FOI Act.”

    Acton does not provide an answer to this question. So you are invited to read below and deduce what you wish:


    From: Phil Jones
    To:, Tom Wigley
    Subject: Re: Schles suggestion
    Date: Wed Dec 3 13:57:09 2008
    Cc: mann , Gavin Schmidt , Karl Taylor , peter gleckler

    When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide
    by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions – one at a screen, to convince
    them otherwise showing them what CA was all about. Once they became aware of the types of people we were dealing with, everyone at UEA (in the registry and in the Environmental Sciences school – the head of school and a few others) became very supportive. I’ve got to know the FOI person quite well and the Chief Librarian – who deals with appeals. The VC is also aware of what is going on – at least for one of the requests, but probably doesn’t know the number we’re dealing with. We are in double figures.

    There is prima facie evidence here that Jones did contravene the FOI Act.

    One wonders why Sir Russell did not mention this in his findings. The latter part of this very email is quoted in the Russell report at page 34, but strangely the first part quoted here is not.

  11. Geoff Sherrington:

    As I get further into the report such things are surprising me less and less.

    The problem is that Russell had six months to produce his report with paid staff and funding from UEA while the supposedly well co-ordinated sceptics funded by oil interests actually have no comparable resources to analyse and criticise the findings.

    Why is there no mention of the FOI2009 folder? It would seem essential in fulfilling the panel’s TOR concerning FOI to establish whether this folder existed on the CRUBACK3 server and if so why. If this is because of the ongoing police investigations then I can see no mention of that either.

  12. I raised exactly this issue in my 1st March submission to the Review –

    Equally worrying is the instruction from Jones to colleagues to delete emails relating to AR4, followed by the remark that he had deleted many emails. I hope the Review Team will ask Jones why he said this, what was in those emails, and why he was so anxious to delete emails relating to a hugely influential report that was going to be read by policy makers.

    It seems that they ignored this advice.

  13. Tony N 11 and P C Matthews 12.

    Of course we all clean out emails from time to time, some accidentally, some we don’t need and too often, ones we need the day after we deleted. So deletion is not uncommon. However, you don’t seem to tell your friends and colleagues about it much, so yes, there is room for questions.

    It has been my feeling, after reading the whole bundle of emails, that they were selected for deletion if a panic button was hit. They do not seem to be the work of an outside hacker, because far too much of importance was selected and the hacker would need to have done a lot of reading beforehand.

  14. Peter M #7 & 9
    You know very well that most commercial organisations are required to keep emails to cover any eventualities. That you have never been asked to produce an email is neither here nor there.

    I think most contributors to this blog are computer literate but just for those that may not realise it there is no such thing as deleting an email. I could delete every email I currently have but my organisation would have a copy. This copy and the history of what I did with the emails will be backed up and retained for maybe 7 years. This is all something that happens in the background without any user intervention.

    Now I don’t expect climate scientists to be informed about anything other than their own small world so this point may have passed them by. But any truly independent inquiry would surely contain a computer expert who would be able to call on various forensic experts that could verify all that they were told by the scientists.

    Now if the Universities systems were not able to provide the necessary backups then the University should be severely censured for incompetence in the handling of data.

    One last point, if an organisation gets in dispute with a customer and this dispute gets to court then the court can order that emails be produced to help establish the truth. Think of the Goldman Sachs exec’s who have been embarrassed by their emails recently.

    Turn this situation with the UEA & CRU into a customer supplier relationship. We the customer have invested millions (our taxes) via our chosen agent (elected government) to investigate climate. We expect impartial output, we expect them to backup any conclusions with supporting data, and we expect them to work for us not for themselves. It couldn’t be simpler, but the scientists are turning it into something that is destroying the public’s faith in science. Their answer is to stop us the public from examining their work so that no more damage is done. This will further weaken science. The real answer is to expose those that have sullied science so that others will not do it again. This will strengthen science and restore public faith.

  15. Peter Geany

    Your last paragraph in 14 says it all, very clearly and concisely. Congratulations.

    I have re-read it several times.

    I suggest that PeterM do the same, in order to really understand what is at stake here.


  16. P C Matthews, #12:

    Given the context of your submission to the Russell inquiry (here), and the authority that you can bring to bear on the matters that were supposed to be under consideration, it makes it even more difficult to excuse the panel for failing to take oral as well as written evidence from sceptics. Of course had they done so it would have been virtually impossible to avoid the kind of ‘difficult’ territory into which they might prefer not to venture. Post on this very topic coming up soon.

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