Whitewashing is quick work!

Iain Murray Contributor
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Hard on the heels of the report of the one-day British Parliamentary inquiry into the Climategate scandal comes the report of the grandly-named International Science Assessment Panel set up by the University of East Anglia (UEA). Surprise, surprise, it finds nothing wrong except a few lapses in concentration caused by all the hard work climate scientists are doing to save the planet. Unfortunately for the alarmist cheerleaders who will treat these reports as complete exoneration, they suffer from exactly the same problems as the scientific reports Climategate centered around. They are sloppy and incomplete while pretending to be the comprehensive answer. As such, they damage the authority of science just as much as Climategate itself.

The Parliamentary Inquiry was never going to produce much. A single day’s hearings about a complicated subject with no-one on the committee an expert and several members true believers in global warming alarmism is not a recipe for an in-depth investigation. The main skeptical witness was Lord Lawson of Blaby, who, for all his strengths, is not an expert in the science himself. Researchers like Ross McKitrick, who have laid out strong cases for why Climategate reveals deliberate manipulation of science, were not asked to give evidence.

In the end, the Committee basically took the UEA scientists’ word for it, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and saying that the scientists were blameless. Even this committee, however, did find that “The leaked emails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU [the UEA’s Climate Research Unit] and instances where information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure, particularly to climate change skeptics.” Finding an anti-scientific culture at CRU and also that the CRU’s Director’s reputation remained intact, as the Inquiry did, is political doublespeak of the highest order. Its finding should be viewed in that light.

As for the so-called International Science Assessment panel, not much scientific assessment was done, by its own admission. The report states that the eight members spent 15 person-days total talking to UEA scientists, but no figure is given for discussions with outside figures like Prof. McKitrick. The substantive part of the report is just 5 pages long, weighing it at about 2000 words, shorter than most magazine articles on the subject. The panel members only looked at eleven published articles from CRU selected on the advice of the Royal Society, which itself has taken on a role as an advocate for global warming alarmism. All eight panel members didn’t read all eleven papers. Instead, “Every paper was read by a minimum if three Panel members at least one of whom was familiar with the general area to which the paper related. At least one of the other two was a generalist with no special climate science expertise but with experience of some of the general techniques and methods employed in the work.”

The whitewash has been applied so thinly, you can still see the scandal poking through. “Regrettable” lapses in scientific judgment are excused because of the pressures the scientists felt working in such a high-profile field, which in any other working environment would have been reason to be extra careful about quality control. Moreover, one of the main critiques from the skeptics about the research of CRU and others even before climategate was the lack of interaction with professional statisticians. Even this report finds this criticism has value: “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.” In fact, the handling of the historical temperature data and fabrication of the so-called hockey stick by the CRU scientists, Michael Mann and others was only possible because they did not share their methodology with statisticians, who would have called them on it. The Wegman Report to Congress refers.

Clearly the main accusations leveled at UEA after the Climategate scandal have not yet been addressed in any form by an independent inquiry. There is one more to come, from Sir Muir Russell’s team, which supposedly will investigate accusations of abuse of the peer-review process. If it approaches the inquiry with the same lack of thoroughness and superficiality as the previous inquiries, it will doubtless also find little wrong. However, those who have read Ross McKitrick’s narratives know there is a case to answer.

Until such time as an independent inquiry actually addresses these concerns in a thorough and, yes, unbiased manner, Climategate will remain an open wound in the side of climate science.

Iain Murray is a Director of Projects and Analysis and Senior Fellow in Energy, Science and Technology at CEI. He is also a contributor to OpenMarket.org. A veteran blogger, Mr Murray contributes to National Review Online’s Corner and Planet Gore blogs, The Commons Blog and CEI’s own OpenMarket.