Thursday, 8 July 2010

Russell Review: Initial response

I'm going to devote several more posts to matters associated with the Russell review. This is because several of the key players are locally based and the review has been enabled by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In addition, the review is a milestone event in the climate change issue which has very considerable implications for public policy and affects every one of us - whether at the level of personal fears and behaviour - or issues such as parking, planning regulations, fuel supply and costs and taxes. If the issue does not interest you, fear not. This local newsblog will return to normal soon.

The report certainly does not give the Climatic Research Unit a free ride. There are criticisms. But there is also broad exoneration on the most of the featured allegations.

Close examination will come as the detail of the report is tested. But already significant weaknesses in the report are apparent. The clear tendency is to give CRU the benefit of the doubt. Indeed in many cases the report authors seem anxious to bend over backwards to do so. Perhaps this is not surprising as they interviewed CRU staff personally but relied only on written submissions from those who have made the charges.

But first, an example of where the report has cleared the air. Keith Briffa one of the CRU scientists, emailed this to a reviewer of a paper submitted for publication:

"Confidentially, I now need a hard and if required an extensive case for rejecting. . . "

The Review has now provided a detailed email trail which indicates that this was an innocent rather than ominous communication in a complicated trail of events. The email had led to all sorts of speculation on manipulation of the peer review system.

The email trail, not in the November release of emails, was produced to exonerate Briffa. Yet there seems to be an inability to produce emails in other cases of disputed indications of malpractice and the enquiry seems anxious to exonerate with alacrity. In some cases the Review appears to have made howling mistakes.

There is the notorious ‘delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4’ of 29th May 2008. AR4 is the 2007 IPCC report and the request relates to correspondence apparently below the radar of the IPCCprocess. The Russell review notes they ‘have seen no evidence of any attempt to delete information in respect of a request already made’. Yet the email is dated immediately after the submission of a Freedom of Information request for such correspondence.

It is also noteworthy that Phil Jones and his colleagues were never asked whether they actually deleted emails - despite him stating as much in an email. We only get a rather lame statement in paragraph 4.3.9:

"Emails are rarely definitive evidence of what actually occurred."

All in all my fears about the independence of the enquiry are still justified. Whilst there is much more substance here than in the parallel and risible Oxburgh Science Assessment Report it does little to give confidence to those who want clarity of the scientific basis for wide swathes of public policy.

For those wishing to view further critiques of the report, here is a short list.

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