• October 24, 2014

British Panel Largely Clears 'ClimateGate' Scientists of Misconduct Charges

Climate scientists were cleared of charges of scientific misconduct but criticized for a lack of openness in a report released on Wednesday by a panel in Britain.

The panel was set up by the University of East Anglia, which found itself at the center of the so-called ClimateGate scandal after more than 1,000 private e-mail messages by climate researchers there were made public without authorization last November. Some of the e-mails suggested that scientists had attempted to exaggerate their findings, hide data from critics, and pressure journal editors to suppress information in an effort to strengthen arguments that global warming requires political action.

The investigation largely cleared the scientists of wrongdoing.

"We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt," Muir Russel, who led the panel, said at a news conference. "In addition, we do not find that their behavior prejudices the balance of advice given to policy makers."

As a result, the university announced that it had reinstated Phil Jones, the leader of the university's climate-research unit, who temporarily stepped down while the investigation was under way. Mr. Jones refused to comment but said in a written statement that he felt "vindicated" by the results of the investigation.

But in a 160-page report, the investigators faulted the scientists for attempting to dodge potential open-records requests by deleting some e-mail messages, and said the University of East Anglia management "should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FOIA and EIR compliance," referring to Freedom of Information Act requests and Environmental Information Regulations.

As Mr. Russel put it during the news conference, "we do find there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness."

University officials declined requests for an interview, but said in a written statement that the university accepted the report's conclusions. "We could and should have been more proactively open, not least because — as this exhaustive report makes abundantly clear — we have nothing to hide," said the statement, by Edward Action, the university's vice chancellor.

Several other investigations have found the researchers innocent of scientific misconduct, including one last week by Pennsylvania State University, where another of the climate scientists implicated in the e-mails works.

Kevin E. Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, whose e-mails were among those made public, said that he thought the latest report should have done more to criticize those who made the e-mails public without authorization, which he characterized as harassment.

"I would have liked to see more comments on the unjustified critics and the widespread abuse and misuse of the e-mails," he said in an e-mail interview, arguing that critics took the e-mail messages out of context in their attacks on climate scientists.

The report does not seem to have satisfied those critics. Steve McIntyre, who runs the blog Climate Audit, called the report an "apologia" for the university, and criticized the investigators for interviewing only scientists, not their critics.

Comments

1. 22208120 - July 07, 2010 at 03:53 pm

American politics will argue about whether or not there is global warming until we all burn to a crisp or asphyxiate ourselves to kingdom come. American politics has become so divisive that no argument is too insignificant that it can't be polarized to an unbridgeable gap. And no matter is so important that it can't wait to be hashed around by people whose politics are already known and defined, by simply looking at whether they are (R) or (D). What a salubrious climate for thoughtful consideration and discussion. Nero would have lots of fellow fiddlers if he had lived in Modern American society! Thank goodness it's just our planet we are talking about, and not something really important like whether or not our president stands in front of enough flags.

2. mabeelrc - July 07, 2010 at 04:32 pm

So there was "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness", was there? So they attempted to "dodge potential open-records requests by deleting some e-mail messages", did they? So they "have nothing to hide", do they? Then why did they? Hide, that is. Normally, when someone proactively attempts to hide something, it's because that someone does--in fact--have something to hide.

3. 22040721 - July 07, 2010 at 05:36 pm

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4. 11272784 - July 07, 2010 at 05:39 pm

The public has become polarized on this issue to the point where many believe anything related to global warming is lies, and many others believe that anything contradicting the idea that humans cause global warming is lies.

This controversy played right into the hands of those who believe humans have no role in global warming - facts don't matter to those hard-core types, they simply believe it confirmed their suspicions.

Let's face it, what these guys did was Olympic-quality stupid. It irreparably destroyed their credibility and the credibility of many others who work in this field.

5. megginson - July 07, 2010 at 10:40 pm

11272784, I certainly share your frustration. Anything that distracts from the mass of rock-solid science that shows that we have a big climate change problem is only going to make it that much harder to fix the problem before it's too late. There are certainly some big names in climate science who are involved in the so-called Climategate mess, but you could take all of them, and all of their work, out of the mix and still have an unimpeachable case for dangerous global warming from anthropogenic causes. But that's going to get lost in the minds of many people while this three-ring circus is going on.

6. greilly - July 07, 2010 at 10:48 pm

When are we going to get over this whole global warming debate-- it is just a red herring. Whether humans are causing global warming or not is a distraction from the real issue. Stick your face down by any car's tailpipe and you know... what is coming out isn't good, regardless of whether it is causing global warming. Just walk down the beach and see the trash (or in some places tar balls) washing up and you know that global warming won't matter if we are buried in millions of used plastic bottles and bags. We need to end our dependency on fossil fuels regardless of whether it causes global warming-- the lengths we have to go to in order to get these fuels (from strip-mining to deep sea drilling) are unreasonable and inevitably these resources will be used up, although that will probably occur long after the environment we live in becomes uninhabitable. Stop wasting your time trying to convince people that the world is heating up. Just point to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the disappearance of honey bees or the pollution found on remote Pacific islands, and say "Enough is enough!"

7. pankaboi - July 08, 2010 at 05:41 am

I agree with Greilly's comments. Just look around the world. What do you see? I see drought and hunger in Africa, excessive timber logging in Indonesia, floods of biblical proportions, extraordinarily high temperatures around the globe, rapid melting of the polar ice, and so on, including those mentioned by Greilly. You realize that, even without Climategate, the world is heading for its extinction, unless steps are taken to curb global warming. Do we really want to go the way of the dinosaurs, all because of our animalistic greed? Is it not time to think like human beings or is homo sapiens past redemption!

8. raymond_j_ritchie - July 08, 2010 at 06:08 am

Our e-mail system used to have a feature which informed you whether or not an email of yours was opened and most interestingly it showed if it was deleted without being opened. It was interesting how many emails to Heads-of-School, Deans and enquiries about jobs in the US got deleted without being opened. When our system was "upgraded" we lost that facility. Perhaps some high-ranking officials did not like it.

Scientists are human and they will ignore emails from people they do not like or automatically delete them. In a field like climate change I can imagine how much crank mail they would get. I can understand their reaction to climate-change sceptics with no data to show or data the equivalent to records made with a Max-Min thermometer from K-Mart. I work on algal photosynthesis and know about the chemistry of CO2. Increase in atmospheric CO2 will increase the amount of infrared radiation absorbed by the atmosphere. That means climate change. Unless the second law is repealed there is no way around it.

In my own field of interest, I am always getting crank mail from people wanting to grow algae to make biofuels in their old bathtub in the back yard. Am I hiding some vital information from the world by deleting and/or ignoring them? Furthermore, I never share my data with anyone.

There is also a cultural difference that needs to be understood. Having studied Homo americanus and H. britannicus as an Australian post-doc, I know that they are quite different species. Whats more, neither are just Australians with funny accents. The Poms (British) have always been secretive, strangely detached and never feel it is necessary to justify anything they do whether it is in warfare, foreign policy, football, cricket or setting up a colony at Botany Bay. It is not unusual for major British scientific institutions to have no email phonebook or list of staff on the web. Why not? Because they are not needed. Britain, particularly the ruling elite, is a much more closed society than most foreigners imagine. British reserve is not necessarily sinister but a deep-seated cultural habit. Historically it has served them well. That is why German spying in Britain in WWI & II was such a miserable failure and why the Soviets had to rely on upper-class traitors. Americans never seem to understand this critical cultural difference.

I know that no american conspiracy theory can be true because culturally the yanks could not keep it secret. On the other hand, I am quite prepared to believe that the universe is an amusing experiment set up by 42 British mice at Cambridge University.

9. supertatie - July 08, 2010 at 08:02 am

Hey raymond, thanks for the laugh! (And the astute observations.)

The beauty of science is that once certain facts are proven as true (or false), and are therefore irrefutable, it mutes those who would use ignorance of those facts for their own purposes. Scientists fare better when they stay out of the political fray - which is NOT to say that their work won't be scrutinized closely by those with political ends (duh), but that they themselves should not be politically motivated to find a particular outcome.

What happened with ClimateGate is unfortunate, but inevitable, because the scientists allowed political motivations to poison the scientific process. This is manifestly sad. I grew up in an era of increasing awareness of pollution and the need for a cleaner planet. (Ditto greilly - if you don't want to eat it, breathe it, ot sleep in it, then don't pump it out into the environment.)

But I have watched as the purist GREEN environmental movement has been hijacked by the REDistributionists, who are using environmentalism as a stalking horse for their Marxist economic fantasies - now on a global scale.

Don't want more plastic in landfills? Agreed. But coming up with some trumped up crap about "global warming" as a justification for stealing wealth from productive nations and turning it over to the dictators of banana republics (where it will go right down their rathole, just like all the rest of the foreign aid they receive and prevent their people from ever getting)??? Nice try, comrade.

That scientists are willing to participate in this nonsense is pathetic. That they are willing to distort and cover up data in order to prop it up, is a betrayal of scientific principles.

I agree with mabeelrc and 11272784: these guys hid things because the data contradicted the POLITICAL hypotheses, not the scientific ones. And they have set back the work of legitimate (which is to say, non-politicized) scientists in this field by three decades.

10. mswoolley - July 08, 2010 at 08:25 am

I am always very suspicious of investigative panels "set up" by the very institution that is being accused of wrong doing...kind of like a US administration doing its own investigation into alleged misconduct and finding some minor infractions but no major wrong doing.

11. dank48 - July 08, 2010 at 10:52 am

So what will Tom Sawyer let the boys use on the fence, now that they've used it all up?

12. nowadays - July 08, 2010 at 01:53 pm

There is a good deal of conjecture, here and elsewhere, about why, if they had nothing to hide, information was "hidden" (it wasn't; scientists simply did not respond or were not as forthcoming as they could have been).

But anyone who looks into the subject finds that all the scientists were doing was responding in a very human fashion to people they fairly well knew were simply trying to denegrate their work . Their detractors were not interested in the exchange of theories or information, but simply to find fault, denegrate, excoriate and smear. Finding themselves suddenly in the spotlight, the scientists in question were becoming defensive - that's the long and short of it (several have made statements to this effect).

I assume that most of the people posing on this board are researchers of one kind or another. In all honesty, how many of you would keep your cool under the media heatlamp if your research were suddenly thrust in front of a hostile crowd of laypeople demanding you share your data, etc? In all honesty...

13. dank48 - July 08, 2010 at 04:13 pm

In all honesty, Nowadays, no problem. Indeed, honesty is the very reason it would not be a problem. (Of course, I'm not a researcher and my work is so boring to everyone outside the field that I have no reason to fear ever having this problem.)

14. supertatie - July 09, 2010 at 07:35 am

Dear nowadays:
This is precisely my point. If what the researchers are researching is TRUE, then they have the facts to defend them against all who would "smear" them. If they don't have an agenda (and even before they have a conclusion), then all they have to say is, "I am investigating this hypothesis. It is either true, or it isn't."

It is one thing to understand that some may not want to know whether what you are investigating is true or not - and that is just an occupational hazard of working in ANY science. It is quite another when you yourself are the one trying to keep your detractors from discovering that the things YOU have been saying are in fact FALSE, or unproven - and that you are willing to lie, destroy correspondence, and smear your own colleagues on the other side of the hypothesis to prop up your own. Or even that that's what you SAY you are willing to do, whether or not you in fact DO those unprofessional things.

In my field (law), if you destroy evidence or lie to discredit the opposition, you will be disbarred. If you merely threaten to do it, you will probably be censured or your license to practice will be suspended. This article claims that the investigation "largely" cleared these scientists of wrongdoing. But when you read it, the mild criticism they do receive is damning nevertheless:

"A consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness" - this was the conclusion in response to deleted e-mails.

Sorry, but that is utterly unpersuasive, especially when tied with the conclusion that the scientists didn't lack "rigor" (um, no one said they weren't passionate about what they wanted to prove) and that, on balance, it didn't affect the quality of the "advice that was given to policymakers."

Sorry again, but that kind of "no harm, no foul" standard doesn't pass the smell test with me.

The larger point, for purposes of my observations, is that none of the investigtory committee's conclusions rebuts what I am saying: that these scientists are motivated not by the science, but by underlying political motivations. And if THAT'S the game you're playing in, then you deserve all the scrutiny, the excoriation, and the "smears" you get. Because that's politics, and politics is not rocket science.

15. rhancuff - July 09, 2010 at 10:46 am

Supertatie, perhaps no one is rebutting what you're asserting because you haven't bothered to muster any evidence to support what you're saying. It's hard to rebut something that's essentially an unquantifiable assertion. However, I'd say it's an implicit rebuttal of your theory when the report states that "their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt" -- such a statement appears to accept that their conclusions were based on scientific rather than political considerations. However, since you appear to misdefine "rigor" as a synonym for "passion," I can see how you might miss that point.

16. supertatie - July 09, 2010 at 04:15 pm

I am not the one who has to justify deleting e-mails and otherwise expunging data, and then explaining messages where I plan to demonize scholars who disagree with me.

The scholars' motivations are clear.

17. raymond_j_ritchie - July 11, 2010 at 01:52 am

The spammers attacking the Climate-Change Centre were deliberately and knowingly trying to waste the staff's time. Typical climactic data files are HUNDREDS of gigs long and certainly cannot be sent as email attachments. Furthermore, they would be no use to anyone unless they had access to a supercomputer to analyse the data. Anyone with access to a supercomputer most likely already had access to the data. What a wank. To Supertatie - You learnt about such tactics in law-school but we poor scientists cannot go to a judge and get a restraining order to stop such tom-foolery.

As for deleting or refusing to answer emails. Does that mean I am legally obliged to open and read all my viagra spam mail? The university email system identifies 50 to 100 spams each day sent to my mailbox. I delete them without ever looking at them. Is that illegal destruction of data? What about the sinister motives of my email blacklist? Quite a few are biofuels nutters who think it is a conspiracy when you try to tell them biofuels schemes cannot work. You give up trying and blacklist them.

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