ClimateGate Inquiry: No Scientific Misconduct From "Squeaky Clean" Researchers

By Andrew Moseman | April 15, 2010 3:07 pm

Planet earthMonths after the hack heard ’round the world, the independent review is finished. A panel of 11 led by the University of Oxford’s Lord Oxburgh investigated the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, whose researchers were accused of manipulating data based on information gleaned from thousands of stolen emails. The panel’s conclusion: The scientists did not intentionally distort the truth, though their statistical rigor leaves something to be desired.

“We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it,” says the Oxburgh report. “Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention” [Nature]. This conclusion came after interviewing people within the organization and combing through the data in 11 of the center’s peer-reviewed papers published over the span of 22 years.

Oxburgh found the researchers “squeaky clean” in terms of their intentions—and that’s what this was, an investigation of the scientist’s integrity, not their results. But, the panel found their methods to be somewhat lacking. Specifically, the report says, “We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.” The university issued its own statement after the Oxburgh report’s release, including this response to the charge that they didn’t use the best statistical methods available:

Specialists in many areas of research acquire and develop the statistical skills pertinent to their own particular data analysis requirements. However, we do see the sense in engaging more fully with the wider statistics community to ensure that the most effective and up-to-date statistical techniques are adopted and will now consider further how best to achieve this.

Another area for suggested improvement is in the archiving of data and algorithms, and in recording exactly what was done. Although no-one predicted the import of this pioneering research when it started in the mid-1980’s, it is now clear that more effort needs to be put into this activity.

However, some of the panelists noted, even adjusting for newer statistical models didn’t alter the conclusions. David Hand, who is the president of Britain’s Royal Statistical Society and sat on the Oxburgh panel, dug into the infamous “hockey stick” chart of global temperatures by Penn State’s Michael Mann during his investigations. Hand agrees with Mann: he too says that the hockey stick – showing an above-average rise in temperatures during the 20th century – is there. The upward incline is just shorter than Mann’s original graphic suggests. “More like a field-hockey stick than an ice-hockey stick” [New Scientist], he says.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: It’s Getting Hot In Here, our interview with climate rivals Michael Mann and Judith Curry
80beats: Climatologist Steps Down As “ClimateGate” Furor Continues
Cosmic Variance: ClimateGate, Sean Carroll on the controversy
Bad Astronomy: The Global Warming E-mails Non-Event

Image: iStockphoto

  • David

    The report addressed the research which was found to be within guidelines and not judged on being right or wrong. I am fine with that. That part will sort itself out anyway in the review process. We learn from the negative support as well as the positive support of hypotheses.

    Good for them. If they are found to be conducting their research properly, they should be free of reproach on that matter.

    The report did not address the issues of the appearance of abusing the peer review process.

    The report did not address the issue of not complying with FOI requests and request for destroying documents.

    I don’t however see how they can be labeled “Squeaky Clean” in their intentions until all the issues that were raised are addressed.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    David, you must have missed this report.

    It addresses the claims you mention. Jones/CRU were exonerated. In some regards the report simply said there was no case to even answer. In other words, the accusations were fabrications. There is still one more report (AFAIK—there may be more) to come out, but seeing as how the rest of the accusations were based on quote-mining, misreading, taking things out of context,and in some cases out-right lies, I doubt the third report will find anything done wrong.

    Of course, if a 100 reports done by a 100 different bodies all exonerate CRU folks, there will still be those who claim “whitewash” because there will never be enough evidence to make them change their minds. Evidence, facts are irrelevant–these ‘skeptics’ know they’re right so anything that contradicts that knowledge is ignored or attacked. Typical science denialism and seen in so many other areas.

  • David

    Daniel J. Andrews:

    Thanks for the link.

    I really do not see where you are interpreting that they were exonerated.

    Directly from the report that you cite:

    (Sorry for the length but I don’t want to take out of context)

    “If the practices of CRU are found to be in line with the rest of climate science, the question would arise whether climate science methods of operation need to change.”

    92. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information (disclosable or otherwise) may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. The Deputy Information Commissioner’s letter of 29 January gives a clear indication that a breach of the FOIA may have occurred but that a prosecution was time-barred.130 As, however, UEA pointed out, no investigation has been carried out.

    93. It seems to us that both sides have a point. There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six-month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

  • m

    and yet, canada continues its trend of year after year of cooler temperatures.

    but hey – dont let actual observed results skew “statistical models”.

    that would be heresay.

  • JTK

    What trend of cooler temperatures? Cite your sources.

  • Ernie M. Brewer

    This is a very well written article at best, and still it neglects to mention evidence pertinent to Climate models, which begs the question.

    Why do 99% of climate scientists believe that CO2 is warming the planet? Boldly outline and focus on the word believe. It is absurd to believe in such a phenomena. From the research by Harvard University and Princeton University, which was released in the journal Nature, as the world’s nations met in Denmark, suggested, Sea levels were likely eight meters higher around 125,000 years ago when polar temperatures were 3-5 degrees Celsius (5.4-9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer.

    The researchers also calculated that during the last interglacial period the average sea level rose six to nine millimeters a year compared to around two millimeters a year during the 20th century.

    We are still feeling the effects of climate changes that occurred thousands of years ago. The apocalyptic scenarios pushed by the U.N. and other globalists (N.W.O.), is like believing in ghosts. The specters that fuel this research with thousands in taxpayer dollars, is going to be the downfall of society. Global temperatures increase during Solar maximums, and greenhouse gas, is a natural phenomena, which Human produced carbon and other species exhale, is but a small percent. The Globalization of mass corporate entities produce probably 25% of greenhouse gas and other toxic pollution on our planet.

  • Ernie M. Brewer
  • Brian Too

    Uh huh. Pretty much what I thought.

    Since when do the pols care about an academic scandal? And when did it become acceptable to use the proceeds of a crime in a public debate?

    This would have been a fringe issue except that it validated, or could be represented as validating, a particular political talking point.

  • Guy who Reads

    I read a good portion of this. And I have to agree with David.

    The report does conclude there was no demonstrable evidence of abuse of the peer review process. But the emails by Professor Jones are alarming. He doesn’t have to like the papers. That’s fine. But when he says something like this “I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer review literature is!” it’s a legitimate cause for concern. Maybe there was no active conduct to pervert the peer review process, okay. But the mindset exhibited by Prof Jones isn’t comforting and certainly isn’t rallying anyone’s support for the “science” whatever it may be now.

    But as far as the FOIA violations are concerned, there’s definitely strong surface evidence that the FOIA was breached. The issue is technical. Since the alleged offenses came to light more than six months after they occurred, no prosecution is possible. The report is rightly annoyed by this. As a citizen, it leaves me bewildered because that means there will be no conclusion. And the prima facie evidence in the emails appears quite strong where we have Prof Jones instructing others to delete emails and strategize about how to avoid disclosure in what sounds like a very disingenuous tone.

    If there were a tribunal and the parties were exonerated, I would still be concerned as a matter of scientific and professional ethics for the behavior exhibited in the emails. It’s definitely not good for science.

  • David

    Guy who Reads:

    I guess the thing that really bothers me enough to take the time to post is reading the people reporting it jump up and down saying that they were cleared of everything when that is *clearly* not what is in the report. They are just assuming that few will actually read and understand the report and take what the people reporting say on face value and believing that repeating that they were totally cleared enough times will make it true.

    The whole idea of keeping the “outsiders” away is antithetical to what science should be. If the detractors are wrong, take them apart piece by piece in the literature until they are just a humorous footnote. If they can’t do that, then there is something really wrong with the way they are conducting science. The facts should stand on their own.


    The findings of the biased “independent” panel was predictable last Feb. 12, when the backgrounds of panel members were revealed. They have aggressively been promoting the AGW conjecture for years. One is the editor of Nature – a well known unscientific promoter of AGW. Another spent 18 years at the University of East Anglia and has an office next to a member of the Hockey Team.

    The AP, of course, suppresses these facts, provides no potentially embarrassing background, and refuses to put these stories in the proper context. The UT blindly follows along.


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