Jul 072010

The report is now online and you can find it here

The first thing to say that it is big, running to 160 pages, so it will be a few days before anyone will be able to make a comprehensive assessment. The following comments are confined to reading the executive summary only.

Here are the bits that will undoubtedly catch the headlines ahead of detailed reading of the report:

13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

15. But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science

So it would seem that the only major criticism that this report chooses to make is that scientists have guarded their work a little too jealously, which will no doubt amaze many people who have read the emails. But note also the use of the word ‘conclusions’ in paragraph  14), and that in paragraph 13) although the scientists ‘rigour and honesty’ is not in doubt, that is not quite the same as saying that their conduct has been of the ‘highest standard’ as described in the first sentence

In setting out the inquiry’s remit the report has this to say:

5. […] the UEA commissioned two inquiries. The first led by Lord Oxburgh, into the science being undertaken at CRU, has already reported. This document is the report of the second inquiry – The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review – which examines the conduct of the scientists involved and makes recommendations to the University of East Anglia. Our inquiry addresses a number of important allegations that were made following the e-mail release.

One might therefore expect that the Russell Report would stay well clear of quality of research. So it’s a bit surprising when one finds the following:

17. On the allegation of biased station selection and analysis, we find no evidence of bias. …

 19. The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU’s work in this area [land station temperatures] could be trusted and should be relied upon and we find no evidence to support that implecation [sic].

Turning to the blogosphere the report has this to say:

35. Handling the blogosphere and non traditional scientific dialogue. One of the  most obvious features of the climate change debate is the influence of the blogosphere. This provides an opportunity for unmoderated comment to stand alongside peer reviewed publications; for presentations or lectures at learned conferences to be challenged without inhibition; and for highly personalized critiques of individuals and their work to be promulgated without hindrance. This is a fact of life, and it would be foolish to challenge its existence. The Review team would simply urge all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand. That said, a key issue is how scientists should be supported to explain their position, and how a public space can be created where these debates can be conducted on appropriate terms,where what is and is not uncertain can be recognised.

36. Openness and Reputation. An important feature of the blogosphere is the extent to which it demands openness and access to data. A failure to recognise this and to act appropriately, can lead to immense reputational damage by feeding allegations of cover up. Being part of a like minded group may provide no defence. Like it or not, this indicates a transformation in the way science has to be conducted in this century.

The report would seem to be looking only at the problems caused by bloggers washing climate science’s dirty laundry in public, not the state of laundry itself.

Given that the blogosphere precipitated the Climategate scandal, and thereby made Sir Muir’s report necessary, it really is very strange that his panel has not chosen to interview any blogger. It is also very strange that the name of Judith Curry, a mainstream climate scientist who has probably made the most perceptive comments on the disaster that has befallen her profession, does not appear in text search of the report.

There seems little doubt that the global warming lobby will draw much comfort from the Russell report, initially at least. But it would also seem possible that it will mark an important milestone in the climate debate for reasons that they will be less jubilant about. As with the Hutton and Butler reports on the Iraq war, people are likely to ask whether the conclusions are supported by the evidence. Without a complete and thorough reading of the report it is too soon to tell, but if doubts emerge, then trust in climate science, in science generally, in the scientific establishment that oversees science, in politicians who  rely on science to justify their policies and in NGO’s, and in journalists whose very survival depends on scientific evidence will be further undermined.

Can I ask everyone to be very careful when commenting on this thread. Ad hominem attacks and unsupported or libellous allegations are not likely to improve matters, however tempting they may be. I will snip ruthlessly.

[All emphasis in quoatations as used in the report.]

37 Responses to “Russell Report: is the whitewash complete?”

  1. Geoff, #24:

    You have a good point about Jones and Mann and FOI not being the main topic in the public bar of the Pig and Whistle. But if there are journalists schmoozing in the saloon bar, then it just might be.

    I’ve put a new post here using Alex’s transcript of the Acton interview. Every time a journalist asks a question and gets an evasive answer that will have an effect on their view of the story and the way they that they approach it in future.

    Looking at media coverage of the Russell inquiry it is noticeable that even the BBC has headlined the adverse findings rather than the ones that UEA would undoubtedly like to see. There also seems to be a general feeling that this week’s events will not put the matter to rest.

    So from a PR point of view the advantage probably lies with the sceptics. The news stories deriving from the publication of the report have reminded the public about Climategate at a time when it has been out of the headlines for some time. There are enough loose ends, and awkward questions that will be asked, to revive the story again and again in the coming months, and that is likely to percolate through to the public bar eventually.

  2. geoffchambers

    Mao used the Trotzky “worse means better” approach quite successfully in China, but that’s all another story…

    I really do believe that public opinion has turned on the whole AGW hysteria, as a) a still small but growing portion of the general public is beginning to take an interest, b) the costs of proposed mitigation steps are beginning to become clearer, c) some climate scientists are beginning to express skepticism of the “mainstream party line” and d) the IPCC has fallen from its pre-Climategate pedestal.

    The mainstream media has not played too large a role in this new wave of awareness (still too much indecision and backside covering).

    Your “cold war” analogy could well turn out to be right, with the skyrocketing “nuclear deterrent” and other “defense” expenditures (Eisenhower’s warning of a “military-industrial complex”) being replaced by Lomborg’s “climate-industrial complex” spiral (and too many influential people and organizations “on the take” to derail the whole circus).

    I believe that there are two basic differences today, which may affect the outcome:

    One is the more open (and instant) flow of information from the blogosphere plus the inability of the climate scientists to hide their data behind “security classifications” as was done during the Cold War.

    The second is the fact that there was a real East/West power struggle then, which could, at any moment, have instantly become an extremely destructive all-out war by action from either side, while today there is no real danger of any imminent climate disaster: even the worst scenarios tentatively project something that might happen by year 2100 (yawn!).

    But we will have to wait and see.


  3. geoffchambers:

    I agree with Max. An hour ago I got back from the pub (a long lunch on a hot day) and can report that a couple of blokes there, knowing I was interested, volunteered (unprompted by me) that “these East Anglia climate scientists still seem to be in trouble”. What’s happened is that most people are now sceptical, they’ve heard (vaguely) about shenanigans at CRU and, when they see another story, they don’t read the detail and simply assume it’s confirmation of their understanding.

    As Max says “public opinion has turned on the whole AGW hysteria”. And, as TonyN says, “from a PR point of view the advantage probably lies with the sceptics”.

    I stick with my #3.

  4. PeterM (#21):

    So you’d be happy if “a truly independent team investigating the BP fiasco in the gulf” were led by a US Supreme Court judge and were to include oil engineers and academics. I entirely agree. And I suppose therefore that you would agree with me that a truly independent team investigating the CRU fiasco might be an equivalent UK body and not one appointed by UEA. I would expect it to have the power to cross-examine witnesses – and that such witnesses should include, as well as members of the CRU itself, Steve McIntyre and other prominent independent researchers.

  5. Robin and PeterM

    This may be a bit off topic here, but at the very beginning of the BP Gulf fiasco I heard a report, which indicated that BP had managed to lobby the US Dept of the Interior inspectors and some influential politicians to waive the normally standard “failsafe” second blowout protection system, which is required in most of the world for deeper offshore wells.

    This system was said to have involved an added cost to BP of $550,000 at the time. This is a bit worrying for a company that has gone out of its way to invest several millions into all sorts of PR gimmicks to project a “green” image (“beyond petroleum”) and to state its support for cap and trade, development of renewables, etc.

    This story has disappeared for now. But if it really is true (and doesn’t get covered up by a combination of the US administration plus BP, each for their own separate reasons) it will eventually come to light provided there is a truly independent inquiry.

    If this story is revealed to be true and “gets legs”, it would clearly incriminate BP management (at a fairly high level) for the disaster.

    It would also put cold water on the Obama administration’s plan of using this disaster to block all future deep-water offshore drilling (as well as expanded Arctic drilling) as “inherently too risky”.

    BP’s initial emergency response seems also (until just recently) to have been more concerned with recapturing and recovering the leaking oil rather than closing off the well completely or avoiding damage to the coastal areas by siphoning off the oil plus water layer before it gets there (as is now being done).

    Foe these reasons, I would hope that a truly independent inquiry can be made (once the leak is finally repaired and the mess cleaned up).

    The current UEA inquiry has not involved a major environmental mishap such as the BP Gulf fiasco. But the public (and taxpayer) has quite possibly been misled and lied to by scientists, whose salaries it is financing. And the longer-term financial consequences resulting from bad policy decisions based on rigged data could have been even greater, so I would agree that the UK taxpayer deserves a truly independent audit that scrutinizes this whole affair in detail, not another whitewash.

    I’m sure you both agree.


  6. Robin, Max, TonyN, Thanks for your civilised replies. I really hate my self-imposed role of anti-doom-monger’s doom-monger. I’m popping back to England tomorrow for a few weeks and will take the temperature down the Pig and whistle myself. Cheers.

  7. Geoff:

    Your self imposed role keeps us sharp. Have a good trip and let us know what you hear.

  8. The last time I was in the UK, this winter, the country had just about ground to a halt as a result of a snow storm. I understand that there are now heat wave conditions there.

    So, I would expect that the public mood in the UK and maybe the US too, would now be more receptive to the idea of AGW than it was then. However, it shouldn’t. The natural swings and variability from day to day are much greater than what needs to be meaured. As I’ve said many times you need to look at the graphs and understand at least a little bit of science to appreciate what is happening.

  9. PeterM

    You are “spot on” when you write:

    you need to look at the graphs and understand at least a little bit of science to appreciate what is happening.

    “What is happening” is that there has been a very slight net increase of around 0.04C per decade in our planet’s temperature since 1850 when the modern record started (and the LIA ended).

    “Science” (i.e. studies) have indicated that a portion of this apparent warming may have resulted from a spurious warming signal caused by increased urbanization, changes in land use, relocations plus shutdowns of weather stations, but let’s ignore this for now and assume that the record is correct.

    “The graphs” show us that the warming has occurred in three multi-decadal spurts of around 30 years each, with multi-decadal periods of slight cooling of about the same length in between, in sort of a rough sine curve on a slightly tilted axis.

    It the same time, “the graphs” show us that atmospheric CO2 has been rising at about 0.4% compounded annual growth rate since records started in 1958, and there are ice core data, which would indicate a more gradual increase from pre-industrial times to 1958.

    Human CO2 emissions have increased sharply since the end of WWII.

    “Science” (i.e. th GH theory) tells us that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 should cause a theoretical temperature increase of around 1C.

    “Science” (i.e. solar studies) tell us that 20th century solar activity was the highest in several thousand years, and that roughly half of the observed warming can be attributed to this. This high level of solar activity has now slowed down; current activity is extremely low as SC24 is having problems getting started,

    “Science” (i.e. other scientific studies) links a portion of the warming to changes in ocean currents; most scientists agree that the modern record warm year 1998, for example, was partly caused by a very strong El Niño.

    A check shows that the remaining part of the warming can reasonably be attributed to anthropogenic GHG increases, based on the theoretical 2xCO2 climate sensitivity of 1C.

    Over the past decade, “the graphs” show us that warming has stopped (or even reversed slightly) despite record CO2 levels; this is being attributed to “natural variability” (i.e. the sun, ocean currents, other unknown factors, etc.).

    So much for “the graphs” and understanding “a bit of the science”.

    Now back to “what is happening”: this all tells us that there may have been a very slight human influence in the slight warming we have seen to date, which might continue into the future (provided the natural forcing factors do not cause a continuation of the current cooling).

    Any disagreement?

    (If so, please be specific.)


  10. Here’s a link to a transcript I made of last week’s BBC Newsnight, mentioned above – any errors you may find are probably mine.

    I found this wording by Gavin Esler strange: “Do you accept that this has been, even though the scientists have been called honest and rigorous, and so on, this has actually been quite disastrous for their campaign, because it casts huge doubts, which people still talk about?”

    His word “campaign” does seem rather curious, in the context of scientific work.

  11. Many thanks to Alex for transcribing the newsnight item, since BBC programmes aren’t available in Europe for obscure commercial reasons.
    It’s a landmark. Brief interviews with Holland and Mcintyre, despite the fact that none of the enquiries covered thought them worth interviewing. An even-handed treatment from Sue Watts – no doubt due to TonyN’s excellent work on the spliced Obama speech. Gavin Esler sounds well-informed, and Watson and de Boer sound utterly defensive, retreating to make a last stand round the IPCC.
    Of course, it’s much easier to catch the nuances in reading than in watching, but I imagine the programme must at least have shown that nothing is settled.
    I’ve often felt the story is too dull and complex to capture the attention of the majority, but this transcript suggests that it might break as a media story, about internal tensions (at the BBC, the Guardian, or elsewhere) between journalists and advocates, news and propaganda. I’m massively cheered by this.

  12. Thanks, Geoff! Gavin Esler at one point refers to a recent interview with Sir David King in which he says that “setting what he calls impossible targets is actually counter-productive”. Now I wish I’d seen that as well, or caught it while it was on iPlayer. Oh well, hopefully it will resurface at some point..

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