Climategate: On CRU, freedom of information and access to data

Both The TaxPayers’ Alliance and Watts Up With That tackle the issue of the CRU and its responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails they cover show resistance to answering freedom of information act requests on the part of CRU members. Andrew Bolt also highlights relevant emails. It certainly looks as if Phil Jones et al were reluctant to hand data out to people, such as Steve McIntyre, who they regarded as “deniers” of global warming. We also see requests to delete emails regarding the IPCC AR4  and a suggestion that Jones might delete emails that are subject to a FoIA request (which would be illegal), though he later notes concerns from the University that such deletion should not occur.

The reason this should be of concern is the same reason the loss of the raw data should be of concern. For scientists to fully assess a piece of work they must be able to get hold of and question the data and the methods behind that work. Yet here we have some of the key scientists involved in the research behind climate change resisting releasing the data to their critics, and worse still losing some of it!

I can understand some of the comments about private emails remaining private, but when it comes to published results that are part of the scientific record, it seems to me that there should be total transparency regarding the data and methods used to arrive at those results in order to enable adequate scrutiny and replication of results by other scientists. This should go doubly for publicly funded work such as that of the CRU and especially for work with public policy ramifications such as that on anthropogenic global warming. A concrete example of the value of allowing people with different viewpoints and methods to access data is given in the National Post which has a neat article that illustrates how different methods of averaging can give different results.

The CRU say they have agreements with the providers of some of their data not to hand it to third parties, and this obviously constrains the extent to which they can hand out data. But the email also demonstrate an unwillingness to hand out data (and even to delete correspondence regarding the IPCC’s AR4) that went beyond such concerns which is unjustified and undermines the scientific process.

Update: Bishop Hill’s account of Steve McIntyre’s attempts to examine the work of the CRU’s Keith Briffa demonstrates a long running reluctance and resistance by Briffa to release data lasting right upto 10 years after the original publication, as well as demonstrating how differing selections of data can alter the results one gets. This reluctance to release the data used to make claims does not engender trust in the scientists concerned.

Climategate: CRU’s climate change data dumped

Clarification: Below I should have written “scientific integrity”, as that’s what I’d intended. The dumping may not have had a dishonest motivation, but it does undermine the ability of other researchers to reproduce the analyses and predictions of the CRU and thus the scientific integrity of their work. The context of the resistance to releasing data under the freedom of information act, documented in some of the leaked emails, makes it look suspicious but does not prove dishonesty.

It looks as if my earlier discussion of the “Mike’s Nature trick” email may become irrelevant to assessing the integrity of the CRU team:

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

from Climate change data dumped – Times Online.

In the context of these emails, which talk about resisting FOI requests and even include a suggestion to delete data subject to a FOI request (which would be illegal) this admission from the CRU does not look good at all.

The World’s Strongest Beer: Tactical Nuclear Penguin

[Hat tip: Samizdata]

What a name for a beer! It weights in at 32%…


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RealClimate on climategate.

RealClimate, a blog written by working climate scientists has two threads on the climategate controversy that provide context for the leaked emails and code, responding to specific points being raised elsewhere.

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A thoughtful response to the climategate controversy

I largely agree with the sentiments expressed by Judith Curry writing on Climate Audit. In particular, she is spot on about transparency and the release of data. It is notable that the CRU has pledged to release the data as soon as it can negotiate freedom from some non-publication agreements.

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Climategate: On the “Mike’s Nature trick” email

Regarding the leaked emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU), one thing that is clear is that the “Mike’s Nature trick” email is genuine, as confirmed by the CRU’s Phil Jones himself. It is thus a good starting point for examining the charges laid against the CRU team.

Having studied the relevant publications, it seems to me that the email provides evidence of what may be nothing more than some sloppiness in producing a graph for this WMO Statement. The “divergence” talked about is openly discussed in papers published both before and after the WMO Statement and also in the IPCC AR4. I think the data in the WMO Statement should have been presented differently, in a more transparent manner, but I don’t think this is evidence of manipulation or deliberate hiding of the divergence.

The remainder of this article explains my reasoning.

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Climategate: The charges

This is the second in a planned series of articles on what has been dubbed “Climategate”, i.e. the leaking of data from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, including both emails and program code, which many are claiming cast doubt on the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

There are various claims being made about the CRU, based on the leaked emails and the code. The Devil’s Kitchen, writing about the significance of the CRU emails, sets out many of the charges as follows:

The scientific parts of the IPCC’s reports have been based heavily on the research and reconstructions produced by The Club—particularly on the temperature reconstructions of Michael Mann and Keith Briffa. These reconstructions (usually involving a hockey stick graph) have been constantly attacked—and usually destroyed—by sceptics such as Steve McIntyre.

What these emails show is that members of The Club have presented, as fact, data which privately they have acknowledged to be, at best, flawed.

Further, many members of The Club are editors of the reports submitted to the IPCC, and the emails show that they have deliberately cherry-picked those that agree with their position—and conspired to discredit or reject those that do not agree with their political position.

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