ClimateGate and Britain’s FOI

By Frank Hagan | Related entries in Climate Change

The release of emails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has proven to be, at the very least, an embarrassment to the scientists involved. Now, there may be legal issues involved.

Britain’s Freedom of Information Act (FOI) is referenced several times in the stolen emails, notably in a postscript from CRU director Phil Jones:

PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!

In the emails several of the scientists complain about the nature of the FOI requests. The problem, as they saw it, was that the requests consume valuable time. They were irritated that after granting some requests, they had follow-up questions regarding the data and, according to the emails, requests for help in running simulations. Some of the “obfuscation” email quotes in blogs are from these larger discussions, and the context is not provided. It should be, in the interest of fairness. (It is my opinion that the context is important to show the irritation the scientists experience, but doesn’t negate the fact that the scientists should have complied with all legal requests.)

Now, the CRU has issued a statement that all data will be made public, reports the UK’s Telegraph:

In a statement welcomed by climate change sceptics, the university said it would make all the data accessible as soon as possible, once its Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had negotiated its release from a range of non-publication agreements.

The publication will be carried out in collaboration with the Met Office Hadley Centre. The full data, when disclosed, is certain to be scrutinised by both sides in the fierce debate.

The Telegraph story concerns one skeptic, an engineer by training, who had requested data through the FOI. His explanation of what he considered obfuscation and thwarting of the request is chronicled in this ClimateAudit post. The hacked emails contain disparaging comments regarding his request, and authorities in Britain are investigating the issue for possible criminal violations.

The University of East Anglia CRU will release the data. But, there is a problem: some of the data is not available.

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.

The data was destroyed prior to the term of the current director of the CRU, professor Phil Jones, and he is not implicated in any of the media reports I have seen. Further, the loss of data is not implied to be a criminal act, but simply a mistake.

The TimesOnline article states that it is now impossible to verify the calculations done by the CRU, a disturbing revelation if it proves to be true.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com


This entry was posted on Sunday, November 29th, 2009 and is filed under Climate Change. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “ClimateGate and Britain’s FOI”

  1. frankhagan.com » ClimateGate and Britain’s FOI Says:

    [...] Cross posted to Donklephant.com [...]

  2. mw Says:

    “The TimesOnline article states that it is now impossible to verify the calculations done by the CRU, a disturbing revelation if it proves to be true.” – FH

    I don’t think “disturbing” begins to cover the magnitude of these revelations. Climategate “deniers” who pooh-pooh the significance of the whistle-blown e-mail and code by saying this is just one group of climatologists among a multitude other supporters are being disingenuous at best. This very data (which is lost), support the computer models (which is proving to be buggy and containing questionable programming), promoted by this very group of scientists, is the primary scientific foundation on which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and recommendations are built.

    Telegraph:

    “What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)… Given star billing by the IPCC, not least for the way it appeared to eliminate the long-accepted Mediaeval Warm Period when temperatures were higher they are today, the graph became the central icon of the entire man-made global warming movement…. The senders and recipients of the leaked CRU emails constitute a cast list of the IPCC’s scientific elite, including not just the “Hockey Team”, such as Dr Mann himself, Dr Jones and his CRU colleague Keith Briffa, but Ben Santer, responsible for a highly controversial rewriting of key passages in the IPCC’s 1995 report; Kevin Trenberth, who similarly controversially pushed the IPCC into scaremongering over hurricane activity; and Gavin Schmidt, right-hand man to Al Gore’s ally Dr James Hansen, whose own GISS record of surface temperature data is second in importance only to that of the CRU itself. “

    McCardle:

    “The emails seem to describe a model which frequently breaks, and being constantly “tweaked” with manual interventions of dubious quality in order to make them fit the historical data. These stories suggest that the model, and the past manual interventions, are so poorly documented that CRU cannot now replicate its own past findings.

    That is a big problem. The IPCC report, which is the most widely relied upon in policy circles, uses this model to estimate the costs of global warming. If those costs are unreliable, then any cost-benefit analysis is totally worthless.

  3. Frank Hagan Says:

    mw – I tend towards understatement sometimes! Not having the original data is a big deal. It means it has to be reconstructed, which can be done, but its time consuming and expensive.

    We may have a case of 4 or 5 bad actors, but all the researchers who relied on this data have to go back to the drawing board. That has to be very frustrating for those people who spent years developing stats based on the data.

  4. mw Says:

    I tend towards understatement… – FH

    I could learn something from you. I won’t, but I could (old dogs… etc)

    I don’t think they are bad actors, so much as they are “True Believers” – so convinced that they are right, that bending over backward to shoehorn data by any means necessary into their AGW projections is not only acceptable, it is required. They knoiw the real observations will catch up to their shoehorn data someday, because – you know – they are right – the science is settled. So if they have to get REAL SELECTIVE about data and weightings to make it turn out right, it’s ok – because the science is settled and they are right. Besides, the future of the planet and the entire human race is in their hands. They are protecting us from catastrophe. Quite the responsibility. Under those conditions, a true believer will be likely to take a few shortcuts.

    One good thing that is coming out of this, is that a whole lot of people are now getting an education on what climate science is all about. I’d never looked much into the details up to now. Just assumed that the science will out. Not having understood the controversies, I was actually leaning toward accepting the AGW projections. Not now.

    This science is not settled. It can’t get any more unsettled that this.

    BTW, for anyone who, like I, was curious how it could be that there could be such scientific controversy over something as seemingly simple as measuring temperature, there is a great explanation linked here.

    The problem is not the bad actors. The problem is the range of organizations like the IPCC and governments that have completely accepted their unsettled science as true.

  5. Divided We Stand United We Fall Says:

    The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit’s New & Improved Scientific Method …

    6) If true (agrees with pre-determined conclusion) – Publish results in non-reproducible way (refuse to provide data, dismiss critics, and lose source data)….

  6. Frank Hagan Says:

    mw, I remain in the “agnostic” camp. I have generally not accepted the extreme positions on either side, either the “nothing to see here, move along” folks or the “earth will burn up” side either (I linked an AP article in an update that includes an outrageous statement that warming will be over 5°C and make the earth inhospitable within this century; that’s a preposterous idea that isn’t supported by any scientific evidence whatsoever.)

    If the recent cooling trend continues a few more years, we’ll know the scientists who are claiming that solar activity has a larger role than we think are right. They accurately predicted the current cooling trend, while the folks at CRU predicted warming. When searching for a prophet, look for one who is right occasionally.

  7. kranky kritter Says:

    I have yet to see any actual convincing documentation of a cooling trend. When I looked into it, there was no substantive back-up for a cooling trend, only a little trick of using the high year of 1998 to give an artificial appearance of cooling.

    The best data I have seen for the years from 1998 to 2009 shows a very slight upward trend in surface temperatures.

    IMO, the biggest concern these emails raises is a disturbing unwillingness to be transparent about the data, I don’t find the stated reasons in the emails for this failure uncompelling. I think climate researchers are right to suspect that opponents are trying to tie them up , cherrypick minor flaws, and so on.

    But that’s not a good enough reason to avoid transparency. If the results of climate researchers studies can’t be duplicated, their work is unworthy of trust. Those are the rules for the scientific method, and all scientists know them. It’s unfortunate that the science has become hopelessly entangled in politics. Doesn’t matter. Transparency. Raw data. Models. Show ‘em. All. Now.

  8. mw Says:

    I find a couple of points interesting about this last decade cooling business.

    First, this peculiar point about 1998 being an anomalous year. I guess the notion is that if we just throw out 1998, then we are warming again. Well, guess what. Every decade has an anomalous year or two. That sort of goes to the difference between weather and climate. So if we throw out 1998 to get the results the believers want for the last decade, does that mean the skeptics get to throw out an “anomalous year” in the previous decade to make the skeptics case look better? Do they get to throw away 10 “anomalous years” over the last century to see how that turns out?

    This is the exact problem with the CRU AGW models. Too many arbitrary selections of adjustments, data sets, start dates, end dates, etc. Errors and unknowns piled on errors and unknowns to produced a precise prediction with absolutely no understanding of the cumulative margin of error. And surprise! The much ballyhooed prediction of runaway global warming is turning out to not match the observed facts. Unless of course, we can throw away the anomalous 1998. Or change date sets. Or something. Madness.

    BTW – Even the recently retired Director High Priest of CRU – Phil Jones himself – acknowledged that there was cooling in the last decade. You gotta love those purloined letters:

    From: Phil Jones
    To: John Christy
    Subject: This and that
    Date: Tue Jul 5 15:51:55 2005

    John,

    … Also this load of rubbish!

    This is from an Australian at BMRC (not Neville Nicholls). It began from the attached article. What an idiot. The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.

  9. kranky kritter Says:

    First, this peculiar point about 1998 being an anomalous year. I guess the notion is that if we just throw out 1998, then we are warming again.

    Actually, no, that’s not really the notion, to throw out 1998. The notion is to look at all of the data, and not just to look at the 7-year period from 1998 through 2004.

    The claims of cooling I have seen are based on starting with 1998 and graphing a line from 1998 forward. Because 1998 was at that point the hottest year ever, the fitted-line (linear regression) graph was going down from the 1998 point. But the temperatures during the period from 1998 forward were by and large hotter than the previous decades, which were hotter than the previous decade, and so on and so on.

    Surface temperatures are a noisy signal. The general trend can decidedly be discerned as an upward trend. It’s not a steep upward trend, but it’s upward, and it’s hard to miss. This does not mean that every year the temperature is a tiny bit more, the graph is bumpier than that.

    I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn’t statistically significant.

    Right. If you look only at the surface temp data from 1998-2004, which is 7 years of data points, those 7 points show a downward slope, primarily because 1998 was at that point the hottest year ever. Until 2005.

    Here’s the thing. It’s a mathematical point that anyone who is sufficiently versed in mathematics can understand. Any time you do a regression on a short span of data and start with a year that is a high point on the graph, you’re likely to get a line of regression with a downward (cooling) slope. But if you did a rolling regression on every 7 year period, most of the regressions would have an upward slope. Because, as previously stated, there is a discernable long-term upward trend. From 2005-2008 we’ve had more hot years. If you do a regression on 1998 through 2008, the trend is again upward.

    I don’t know how much good faith I’ve built here as a skeptic. But I understand graph and regressions. Anyone who is a skeptic and doesn;t understand my brief explanation above owes it to themselves to dig farther into the math themselves. Or, if you don’t understand it, you owe it to yourselves to admit that you are unable to make a lucid judgement about the matter.

    The fact of the matter is that one linear regression showing a downward trend in global surface temperatures from 1998-2005 really isn’t statistically significant.Wanker that Jones is, he’sright. If it had continued, it might have represented a significant shift in the trend. But it didn’t.

    If I had a chalkboard and a classroom and an hour, I could illustrate to the satisfaction of most reasonably intelligent people exactly why one fitted line for a 7-year period doesn’t demonstrate anything important.

    The irony for me in all this is that climategate has served as a personal impetus to dig further into the matter. I am at this point somewhat more inclined to be concerned about global warming than I was before. Why? Because I realized that personally I was looking for excuses to brush it off, and had not educated myself well enough to be able to speak with any sense of legitimate understanding. I was doing weak-sense critical thinking.

    I am trying to fi that going forward, bit by bit.

    I am at this point still harboring significant agnosticism about many aspects of AGW. But I am becoming more and more convinced that many skeptics are not well-informed, and are cherrypicking to grind an axe that is not interested in the truth.

    I don’t think that climate scientists have been acting in bad faith while conducting their research, even though some clearly acted in bad faith in response to freedom of information requests. And I think they have done a poor job of documenting their data collection and modeling processes. This doesn’t mean that they are wrong. It does mean that they have a lot of work still to do to prove their hypothesis.

    At this point, there is PLENTY of reason to think that the AGW hypothesis is plausible. IT’s totally to the bad of researchers who threw out raw data and continue to conceal much of their work. That’s not the right way to roll. Politics may force them back to the drawing board to reconstruct their data, This is perhaps unfortunate, but they brought that sh!t on themselves. Even John Stewart gets this.

  10. kranky kritter Says:

    At the very least to anyone who is shopping “current cooling trend”, show me the data that you base this on. Keep in mind that it’s 2009, so if the opinion is based on 1998 to 2004, it’s not current.

  11. WHQ Says:

    The URL below will take you to a case in (kk’s) point regarding statistical trends and an apparent misunderstanding of them.

    http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2009/03/george-wills-analysis-sea-ice/

  12. Nick Benjamin Says:

    The other problem with the “current cooling trend” argument is that it ignores a fairly important thing: 1998 was a strong El Nino year. Those years are supposed to be hotter then the ones around them.

    The last few years have shown pretty significant increase the the earth’s total heat — but most of it has been in the ocean:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling.htm

  13. Tully Says:

    Kranky, problem is that your criticism applies just as much to timelines running back a mere century or two as it does to ones going back a decade. Better go check the post-Holocene proxy records. In post-glacial time we have been considerably warmer than we are now, with considerably higher sea levels, all without human CO2 contribution. Correlation is not causation, and the weak point in AGW theory is its over-reliance on a vastly overstated CO2 forcing mechanism.

    The general hypothesis may be plausible, but almost none of the claimed “core science” supporting the main hypothesis can be trusted without complete re-validation. Certainly not the material from the HRCU & cronies crowd, which crowd BTW comprises the bulk of the oversight and “expertise” of the IPCC. Their models are dreck, the data massaged into putty, and the dog ate their primary work.

    Back to square one. There are scads of honest climate researchers out there, and now that the HRCU Gang has been exposed, maybe they’ll even be heard over the Acolytes of Apoclypse.

    As I have said over and over again, once you get past the rent-seeking and thoroughly self-focused political apocalysm of IPCC/AGW, the climate still changes, with or without any human assistance, just as it has for billions of years. Thus it makes pretty good sense to keep studying it, and figuring out ways to adapt to those inevitable changes. Ways that don’t involve starving off half the human race and throwing the rest back into the dark ages would seem preferable. To me, anyway. Mileages may vary.

  14. WHQ Says:

    Ways that don’t involve starving off half the human race and throwing the rest back into the dark ages would seem preferable. To me, anyway.

    Killjoy…

  15. WHQ Says:

    Kranky, problem is that your criticism applies just as much to timelines running back a mere century or two as it does to ones going back a decade.

    It’s a tough spot to be in. If only the Industrial Revolution started 10,000 years ago.

  16. Nick Benjamin Says:

    @Tully,

    Thus it makes pretty good sense to keep studying it, and figuring out ways to adapt to those inevitable changes. Ways that don’t involve starving off half the human race and throwing the rest back into the dark ages would seem preferable. To me, anyway. Mileages may vary.

    This is why I have trouble believing any scientific evidence you post. I’m sure you can find some crazy guy who is actually proposing we undo the Green Revolution, while getting rid of all the cool stuff we have that runs on electricity and/or fossil fuels.

    Back in the real world policymakers are proposing things like cap-and-trade, which would make it more expensive to produce carbon emissions. Not impossible, not economically unfeasible (Europe has it and their economy is better than ours), just a little more expensive.

    Then there’s smaller things — like Cash for Clunkers, and proposed similar programs that would get people to weather-proof their houses, raising CAFE standards. Maybe we could spend a few billion subsidizing windmills.

    The craziest ideas I am routinely exposed to, as a leftist who works closely with the Michigan Chapter of the Democratic Socialists, are food ideas. A soda tax, less subsidies for corn. Various strategies to convince Americans the 12-oz cup and tiny burger that filled us up in the 1950s can do the same in the 2000s. Apparently our ancestors chewed, which allowed them to taste meat even if there was not a half pound of it.

  17. kranky kritter Says:

    I agree with much of what you say, Tully. I agree it’s hard to trust data when the raw data is gone and the results can’t be duplicated. And I agree that the long historical record of past warm periods means that the A in AGW isn’t firm.

    Sure, it could all be a combination of coincidence (the CO2 rise and the temperature rise) and conspiracy (data you class as the dreck of rent-seeking scientists).{spoken like the cynic of human nature that every economist is, by the way, and I’m sure you’ll take that as the compliment intended). Maybe. But I still have some basic faith that many climate scientists are making a good faith effort and are not just tricking themselves.

    Adaptive strategies make sense to me, because we really don’t know what the future holds. The past record suggests that we could stop all CO2 emissions and drain the excess, and yet still end up with a climate like Georgia in July. That’s the reality of it.

    But should adaptive strategies be the primary approach? I guess the strength of any argument there would rest on your stated belief that we’d starve half the human race and throw the rest back into the dark ages. But that’s WAY more hyperbolic than I’m used to you claiming. Feels like a gross exageration to me.

    And look what you did. You made the leftist connect the global warming bone to the obesity epidemic bone. When it comes to things like cap and trade, my concerns are less economic than libertarian. I shudder to think of a free range and inevitably corrupt international bureaucracy with the power to control energy policy and everything connected to energy policy. Which is everything else, by the way.

    In fact, I think kranky just connected the solar power bone to the libertarian bone. Gotta get off the grid if I want to keep my morally disgusting 16 oz cola and my burgers cold. Not to mention the electric fence I’ll need to ward off assaults from righteous progressives on all other manner of private activity.

    Seriously though, I think that progressives in the US seriously underestimate how strongly Americans support retaining our sovereignty. I think cap and trade has zero viability right now. It might have media legs and it might capture bandwidth, but I doubt that it even has 50 votes in the senate. I’m certain it has less support than progressives think. her is no better way to turn a politician into a flaming patriot than to suggest that other nations can tell America what we can do. And you progressives out there are free to think I;m wrong. Fine. Just hold your tongues, remember what I’ve said, and just watch.

  18. Slarti Says:

    I don’t think the embarrassment is as bad as it’s being set up as. Unfortunately, people who respect science and common sense will be proven right as the ice caps continue to melt, the summers get longer, the winters shorter and glaciers on mountains continue to disappear. Of course that can be blamed on a natural climate cycle which will be broken any day now. :p

    political forum

  19. Donklephant » Blog Archive » The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit’s New & Improved Scientific Method Says:

    […] network news, but only after being confirmed as a real story by Jon Stewart. Frank has been all over the climategate story, but he left a few angles for me to […]

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