When the Climategate e-mails were released last year, the evidence of misconduct by the scientists involved was so strong that the climate establishment was forced to commission a series of tribunals. Yet the conclusions of those inquiries are as specious as the science they were supposed to investigate. By asking the wrong questions — or not asking them at all — they have failed to advance the climate debate one iota.
The Climategate scandal began when an unknown party released thousands of e-mails taken from the servers of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (UEA and CRU). The e-mails appeared to show the world’s leading paleoclimatologists manipulating data to mislead, interfering with the peer review process and conspiring to delete e-mails in order to avoid freedom of information requirements.
Paleoclimatology — the study of past temperatures — is central to claims of unusual recent temperature. Most important is the “hockey stick” — a graph of historic temperatures that shows a sharp increase in recent years.
The tone of the Climategate inquiries was set by Britain’s parliamentary inquiry. With an election looming, the parliamentary committee could only hold one day of hearings, and found that the scientists involved had not attempted to mislead people.
Yet the hearings did not include testimony from the most severe critics of the hockey stick graphic, such as Canadians Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who could have explained exactly why the e-mails did suggest impropriety.
The parliamentary inquiry was also assured by the UEA that the quality of the science would be reviewed by another inquiry to be headed by Lord Oxburgh. Yet Lord Oxburgh’s panel handed down a short report which did not examine the quality of the science at all.
The panel simply reviewed a selection of CRU papers — selected by the UEA itself — and pronounced itself satisfied that the scientific process was fair and proper. The chairman of the parliamentary committee, Labor legislator Phil Willis, told the BBC he “could not believe” this “sleight of hand.”
Yet this cursory review suggested deeper problems. In his review of the hockey stick itself, according to the Guardian newspaper, the panel’s statistician David Hand said that the scientists had used inappropriate statistical methods. Hockey stick co-author Michael Mann of Penn State University dismissed this as a “rogue opinion.”
The final review, conducted by former bureaucrat Sir Muir Russell, was compromised from the start. Its chief scientist, while purporting to be independent, was a former staff member of the CRU. Once again, it failed to interview the chief critics.
This panel did not examine the other e-mails on the CRU server, as it was supposed to do. It cleared the scientists of perverting the peer review process simply because their efforts did not succeed, thereby ignoring their clear intent as expressed in the e-mails.
Further, the inquiry failed to ask the most basic questions of the CRU scientists, such as whether Professor Phil Jones had actually deleted inconvenient e-mails. Britain’s freedom of information office said that the Cimategate e-mails provided the most cogent evidence imaginable that there had been efforts to avoid FOI requirements, yet the Muir Russell review did not investigate this appropriately.
Even this inadequate investigation, however, found that the way the hockey stick graph was handled was misleading. Imagine what it — and the parliamentary committee — would have found if there had been some witnesses for the prosecution.
Those who hope that these inquiries exonerate global warming science are engaging in wishful thinking. The Climategate e-mails are still there for all to read and the questions they raise remain unanswered. Until there are answers, Climategate rolls on.