Monday, November 23, 2009

Arbitration

Having recently been appointed arbitrator by Stoat, I feel obliged to issue at least an interim statement on the CRU email thing. I'm not sure I am ready for a final verdict. Most of you will have had a look at RC already, who have a massive thread on it.

I will start with a disclaimer - I have not read all the emails, and do not intend to. It is hard to miss the irony in people eagerly poring through illegally-obtained private email, looking for ethical breaches by the writers! I'm sure we can all imagine the outrage if one of the emails revealed that a scientist had hacked into one of the sceptics' computers and was reading all their correspondence. So a bit of perspective is called for here.

About 16 of the emails - that's well over 1% of the total - involve me. I don't know Phil Jones personally but am involved in a joint (multi-author) paper. Which incidentally has just been judged acceptable for publication by the Editor, although it is still meandering at its own slow pace though the system. Anyway, since this email is freely available, and someone has even thought it worthy of publishing in a blog comment somewhere, this is what I wrote:

Dear All,

I had a reply from Grant, and have made some changes to the paper - very little of substance, but I've lightly edited the wording throughout. I also added refs to Newell and Weare, and Angell (not A+Korshover), which seem relevant. Despite this, I've managed to cut a few lines off in total. I have also drafted replies to the reviewers (with their comments appended for reference).

We do have a 2 week extension agreed, to 11 Nov. However it doesn't really seem like there is much more that needs doing. More suggestions are welcome, however, and before resubmitting, *I need an explicit OK from each author*.

Riveting stuff, don't you think?

There is more in a similar vein. Seriously, the minutiae of discussions over a few stylistic wording changes to a minor paper is among the top 1% of incriminating emails handled at CRU [um..I meant to say, forms 1% of the bundle of the most incriminating emails], that proves that AGW is a hoax and that we are all conspiring to fabricate evidence and cover it all up. Or something like that.

Most of the contents that have had people getting so excited about on the blogs seem pretty innocuous to me - the usual to-and-fro of scientists discussing, arguing, sometimes exhibiting frustration. We are, after all, human. A handful of messages hint at something a bit worse, and I'm not going to excuse anyone who has behaved in an unethical manner, but it is hard to condemn anyone based on a few cherry-picked emails, many of which in any case have straightforward explanations. If there was a lot of serious malpractice, I'd expect to see more substantial evidence from the past decade of email at one of the world's leading climate research centres. On the whole it is thin gruel indeed. It is clear that most of what people are getting excited by is just the typical banter of scientists engaged in debate and discussion, and many of the commenters just don't have a clue about the scientific process. The person who quoted our email correspondence about the edits to the manuscript claimed that this proved how political all us scientists are! In fact we were simply improving the paper in accordance with various comments from reviewers (which we basically agreed with), which is how the peer review process normally works.

In summary, there are probably some minor lapses in there, but everyone who has read any of the emails is already guilty of something worse and there's no firm evidence of major crimes.

46 comments:

Tom C said...

So James, as an appointed arbitrator (in light of the controversy under discussion you don't seem to grasp the irony of that), what do you make of this one:

Thanks very much Tim,

I was hoping that the revisions would ally concerns people had. I'll look forward to your comments on this latest draft. I agree w/ Malcolm on the need to be careful w/ the wording in the first paragraph. The first paragraph is a bit of relic of a much earlier draft, and maybe we need to rethink it a bit. Takinig the high road is probably very important here. If *others* want to say that their actions represent scientific fraud, intellectual dishonesty, etc. (as I think we all suspect they do), lets let *them* make these charges for us!

Lets let our supporters in higher places use our scientific response to push the broader case against MM. So I look forward to peoples attempts to revise the first par. particular.

I took the liberty of forwarding the previous draft to a handfull of our closet colleagues, just so they would have a sense of approximately what we'll be releasing later today--i.e., a heads up as to how MM achieved their result...

look forward to us finalizing something a bit later--I still think we need to get this out

ASAP...

mike

Just the normal to and fro of science, eh?

Tom C said...

How about this one:

From: Keith Briffa To: mann@xxxxxxxxx.xxx Subject: Re: quick note on TAR Date: Sun Apr 29 19:53:16 2007
Mike
Your words are a real boost to me at the moment. I found myself questioning the whole process and being often frustrated at the formulaic way things had to be done - often wasting time and going down dead ends. I really thank you for taking the time to say these kind words . I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same. I worried that you might think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties . Much had to be removed and I was particularly unhappy that I could not get the statement into the SPM regarding the AR4 reinforcement of the results and conclusions of the TAR. I tried my best but we were basically railroaded by Susan*. I am happy to pass the mantle on to someone else next time. I feel I have basically produced nothing original or substantive of my own since this whole process started. I am at this moment , having to work on the ENV submission to the forthcoming UK Research Assessment exercise , again instead of actually doing some useful research ! Anyway thanks again Mike.... really appreciated when it comes from you very best wishes

Keith

Let me give you a hint, James. There are a lot of us who work in other scientific disciplines and interact with academics and government reserachers all the time. This is *not* usual behavior. This is eveidence of political corruption of science. Not conspiracy, but corruption.

Francis Turner said...

Yes. I agree. The emails are mostly pretty small beer. I think the couple where there is discussion of how to evade the various FOIA requests and replace journal editors are possibly not so but the rest (so far, E&OE) are mostly confirming what we know.

The more interesting area is the code. Again some of this is just stuff that has already been released, but some of it appears to be new. And some chunks of that - the cru-code directory tree - look like an embarrassing mess. This may explain why it wasn't released and it does not inspire me with confidence regarding the outcome viz the HADCRU dataset.

Someone ought to give the CRU a few million quid to hire a some of professional programmers and a professional project manager to go through the lot and rewrite it. The HARRY_READ_ME.txt file shows that when a poor grad student was apparently given the task of tidying the stuff up (and porting to a beowolf cluster?) he found it a nightmare.
There seems to have been little if any change control or archiving in place and an extremely poor level of documentation.

If this were a bank and they made home loans (or similar) based on the output of this they'd probably be in jail, and it would fail any DoD (or NASA) quality control standards. In fact large chunks of it belong on thedailywtf.com

I hope (but that's probably a pious hope) that other climatology programs and the like are better because the rat's nest that is CRU code does not inspire me to trust its output in the slightest. Yet we are potentially using the output of this to make decisions about carbon taxes and the like that will affect most people on the planet.

Steve Reynolds said...

Judith Curry has some good points here:

http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7826#more-7826

Martin said...

Tom C,

you are obviously not a scientist. Stop lying. I am, and I read and re-read the two passages you quoted, and I am still at a loss what you see wrong with them. Did you remember to flip the paranoia switch?

Tom C said...

Martin -

So, these don't bother you?

"I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same."

"Lets let our supporters in higher places use our scientific response to push the broader case against MM."

Martin - what is the "Broader case against MM"? What else could that be other than a political agenda?

So you are a scientist and in the back and forth of E-mails with your colleagues you talk about beating up those with different views, trying to oust journal editors, re-defining the peer-reviewed literature, looking for advise on how to mask data trends and how to avoid FOI requests? What field do you work in?

Hank Roberts said...

> the needs of the science
> and the IPCC ....

They're different. What you get from the IPCC is what _every_government_ allows the IPCC to publish, out of the science.

"A recent article (subscription required, sorry) in Science suggests that some scientists view the IPCC as overly cautious:

'In the latest report, its fourth since 1990, the IPCC spoke for scientists in a calm, predictably conservative tone (Science, 9 February, p. 754).'"
http://www.grist.org/article/should-the-ipcc-be-more-extreme/

See also:
http://www.grist.org/article/Why-you-should-believe-the-IPCC-part-134992653

Mark said...

Tom C,

You don't appear to understand the purpose of the IPCC, a gap that is being filled with sinister assumptions. The IPCC doesn't do original scientific research. Its purpose is to bring together the body of peer-reviewed research on climate change and summarize various aspects of the state of climate science, a process that involves hundreds of contributors and thousands of reviewers. Keith Briffa looks like he's expressing frustration that he's spending so much time on the IPCC process instead of doing research, which I would guess most scientists enjoy doing a bit more. He also appears to be dismayed that a stronger conclusion regarding some aspect of the report was not adopted in AR4, which tends to support the notion that conclusions in the IPCC are conservative, or the "lowest common denominator" - ones that most can agree on.

As for "Mike's" comment (Mann?), MM I understand refers to McIntyre/McKitrick, two individuals known to have a strong political agenda, pushing Congressional invasion in science and so forth, and who have done shoddy analysis. He's urging his colleague(s) to take the high road and not engage in the political mud-slinging that is common in that crowd, but instead focus on the science. Let others expose the clear political agenda and behavior of the MM crowd.

Now if there was some conspiracy, and private emails are a reflection of true feelings, wouldn't you expect Mann to say privately something like "MM is right. They discovered that our reconstruction is fatally flawed and their analysis is pretty sound. The best we can do is try to put up a weak reply and limit the damage." Instead, although they expressed privately what they clearly thought of MM misleading efforts, they did indeed take the high road, publishing their response in the peer-reviewed literature and working to further improve on their multi-proxy reconstructions (2008, Mann et al.) independent of the political "hockey stick debunked" rhetoric.

The emails on the whole are an affirmation to me that there has been no fraud or conspiracy, as has been dishonestly alleged by certain folks. I just hope this episode doesn't deter scientists from speaking candidly in the future, knowing that every email could be stolen and printed everywhere. While a certain crowd feigns concern over scientists being more "open", I'm afraid such an episode might have the opposite effect.

Jesús said...

Tom C, regarding "beating up those with different views", you all fail to acknowledge a pretty straightforward evidence: that scientists don't (want to) beat up MM or XX or whoever because they have different views, but because "their actions represent scientific fraud, intellectual dishonesty, etc. (as I think we all suspect they do)". There's no need to make things up. In this case, the quoted e-mail itslef explicity mentions it!

Hank Roberts and Mark have also provided a good example of another pretty straightforward interpretation of the other e-mail.

Now I wonder, will you acknowledge that you are so keen to see that you saw more than there really is? Or will you just go looking for another e-mail to throw?

A last caveat: facts are what matters, not how onself feels. All this stuff reminds me of how recently a Greenpeace leader publicly admitted that they were exagerating on Arctic ice prospects and that they made a mistake on a press release. Finally it turned out that this GreenPeace leader was wrong (actually misled by the reporter) and the press release was correct (it was just taken out of context, just as these e-mails are).

Martin said...

Hank, Mark, thanks. Tom C, that switch...


So you are a scientist and in the back and forth of E-mails with your colleagues you talk about beating up those with different views, trying to oust journal editors, re-defining the peer-reviewed literature, looking for advise on how to mask data trends and how to avoid FOI requests? What field do you work in?


I work in another geoscience... as a scientist, I frown upon misrepresentation by contexticide, especially from stolen goods. A real scientist wouldn't do that. Doing something about journals that don't uphold peer review standards OTOH, whether by getting the editor ousted or by avoiding the journal, is, as you would know, the legitimate responsibility of a community of peers committed to the quality of the science. Surely you know the sordid Soon & Baliunas story? If not, why not?

And yes, sometimes I too am tempted to beat the crap out of the Watts and McIntyres of this world, and not for their 'opinions' :-(

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Annan said...

Tom C,

As several others have said, those emails do indeed seem pretty innocuous to me.

In particular, trying to write a document that has broad support from hundreds or even thousands of scientists is bound to require some manoeuvring over which bits get featured most highly.

crf said...

Perhaps one could try Bible coding these email messages and seeing what comes out. Obviously that method carries huge weight with the press and public! It's not much worse than cherry picking some emails and then disingenuously attempting to read into them far more than their content warrants.

David B. Benson said...

Hmmm. At least one crime was committed in obtaining the CRU e-mail messages. It my well be the case that reposting these non-public e-mail messages may well be committing another.

(The exception being James's reporting of his own; obviously he is free to do so when it pleases him.)

James Annan said...

David,

Yes I was considering deleting Tom's comments, although of course he will scream censorship if/when I do.

David B. Benson said...

James,

Let him scream all he wants. It is just possible that you are "an accessory to a crime" in hosting illegally obtained copies of the private e-mail messages.

I would suppose the applicable lwas would be those of Japan or Britian...

David B. Benson said...

Or the country in which the server resides?

Tom C said...

Well let's see, I supposedly "screamed" somewhere in my post, I am paranoid, I am politically motivated, I have committed a crime, etc. etc.

Funny thing is that Hans Von Storch has just commented on this episode and he thinks Mann and Jones should be barred from IPCC participation. Maybe I'm not so debased after all. Maybe if a few more courageous scientists speak out the momentum will turn and this corruption will be behind us.

Paul said...

And Von Storch made this comment where?

James Annan said...

Well on the one hand I am uncomfortable about this blog hosting other peoples' private email, on the other I don't think there is much chance of anyone actually complaining, since they are effectively in the public domain. Plus, they don't actually contain much of substance. I'll leave them for now.

As for HvS, I have seen what he wrote on his home page it should hardly be a surprise that one of Mann's rivals should be trying to take advantage of this affair, and I expect to hear of harrumphing from various other people who find themselves criticised in the emails. I'd probably be doing it myself if I was in their shoes. I agree there are some problematic emails, but also a whole lot of totally mundane stuff being completely misrepresented and blown out of proportion. It is interesting to note HvS does not express any qualms about reading through the private emails of others. If IPCC authors were required to allow full access to the past 10+ years of their files then there I think would not be many candidates, at least not credible ones. Maybe that would suit you just fine.

Deep Climate said...

There's been a lot of criticism of various actions contemplated against Climate Research. That's all well and good, but there was clearly a rogue editor there (Chris de Freitas) who was passing clearly substandard work. We all know how that turned out.

Now, James Annan has been forthright about problems at GRL based on his own experience. And it is obvious that once again, sub-standard papers are being published: McLean et al, Lindzen and Choi, Klotzbach et al etc.

What are climate scientists supposed to do? Wait patiently for a GRL editor or two to see the light and resign in protest? And meanwhile pretend all is well and treat it like a bona fide science journal?

There's a serious problem with GRL and it should be discussed openly. The AGU needs to step up and acknowledge the problem and do something about it. If not, the journal will become marginalized and increasingly avoided by serious scientists.

Martin said...

James:

It is interesting to note HvS does not express any qualms about reading through the private emails of others. If IPCC authors were required to allow full access to the past 10+ years of their files then there I think would not be many candidates, at least not credible ones. Maybe that would suit you just fine.


That would suit many people just fine, and may be the most serious fall-out of this.

About Von Storch, yes it is disappointing that he would react this way, especially compared to his exemplary conduct in the S&B spat... he has every reason to be envious at the h-indices of Mann and Jones ;-) but not wanting the IPCC to be populated by the top workers in the field is just irresponsible.

Deep Climate said...


There's a serious problem with GRL and it should be discussed openly. The AGU needs to step up and acknowledge the problem and do something about it.


Oops, I meant JGR of course, i.e. Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres). Sigh ... sorry about that.

James Annan said...

DC,

Well there have been some clunkers in GRL too...what's worse the editors seem openly hostile to fielding comments there (not just my experience).

Martin,

I've certainly no intention of piling onto HvS, who I respect greatly. I think he's certainly entitled to his opinions and statements (Paul: see the link in my previous comment if you haven't already), but am not convinced by his tentative suggestion, still less Tom's exaggeration of it.

Deep Climate said...

By the way, AGU is searchibg for editors for both GRL and JGR-Oceans.

http://www.agu.org/pubs/editors/search/

viento said...

Whether or not this is private information is, at the very least, debatable, and possibly lawyers will have have to clarify this question. There is not personal information here. They reflect their activities as public employees, funded by public money and commissioned by the UN. This information had been required to be disclosed under FOI and, it seems, possibly illegally withhold.
One person involved even warns the others the that the emails had to be formulated as if they would be eventually going to be made public.
All these are legal matters, which we possibly are not in position to judge. It is, strange, at the very least, that you do not seem worried about the damage to the peer-review system and the credibility of science that this information contains

viento said...

Monbiot:
This does not change the science but Phil Jones should resign

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/23/global-warming-leaked-email-climate-scientists?showallcomments=true#CommentKey:ec106fea-3008-4b59-ba57-dbc1aaddeff4

skanky said...

"Whether or not this is private information is, at the very least, debatable, and possibly lawyers will have have to clarify this question. There is not personal information here. They reflect their activities as public employees, funded by public money"

The emails are the property of the University - so permission should be obtained from the university before being published. Some emails in that file will be privately owned, or owned by other institutions (eg JA's, MM's etc. emails).

They are not public employees.

Their work is part funded by public money (I don't know the full breakdown), but then so is anybody's who do work for governments, councils, etc.

The FOI request was turned down by the compliance officer at the university, appealed against, and the rejection upheld. The letter is on CA (and re-posted on RC), so I'm sure people have seen it.

It is very likely that no emails were deleted (maybe locally, but so what?), as the university will have copies of all its email traffic. Without knowing what their email system is, it's hard to know what form it's stored in.

The fact that the emails are .txt files suggests either an Exchange server or a different store from which the emails were exported. Either way, there's no evidence of the university destroying any emails - especially as these go back ten years or so.

James Annan said...

UEA staff are not "public employees", the UN has nothing to do with it, they are UK employees and the ECHR gives a clear expectation of privacy even while at work.

But irrespective of legal details, reading private email without permission is certainly ethically worse than the vast majority of the contents that I've seen. If you found someone searching through your emails on your PC at work, how would you react?

As for Monbiot: journalist in overexcited journalist writes hyperbole shocker. Colour me unsurprised. He'll have got bored with this and will be writing another chip wrapper next week.

Tom C said...

The legal issues here are pretty thorny, but the expectation of the partisans here - that their champions will be unscathed - is a little optimistic. Martin, your "accessory to a crime" theory is laughable. And you think I am paranoid.

The Mann E-mail that I posted does not portray a scientist who wants to get things right. It portrays a cynical politician orchestrating a smear campaign. Most people have no problem grasping this.

One of the more interesting E-mails, in context of recent blog wars, is from Kaufmann's coathor,in which he admits that the Finnish lake sediment series was used upside down. He outlines steps taken to correct the matter.

But your colleague Stoat poured forth as many words as are in War and Peace trying to obfuscate this problem, which anyone with common sense, let alone scientific training can grasp. Mann replied in the peer-reviewed literature (everyone prostrate themselves) that the claim was "bizarre".

So, how about you, Annan the Great, can you bring yourself to admit that Mann is wrong? Or would the political fallout be too damaging? I'm sure the smear campaign against Von Storch is gearing up.

Carl C said...

I have to agree - it all sounds more Karl Rove than Carl Sagan. It's definitely a "say it ain't so Joe" moment. I think Hans von Storch has it about right.

It's a shame the reich-wingers in the US have so much more ammunition now (the Inhofe's & Issa's et al are smacking their lips and writing subpoena's up as we speak -- and it's ain't for capturing the UEA hacker).

viento said...

'UEA staff are not "public employees", the UN has nothing to do with it, they are UK employees and the ECHR gives a clear expectation of privacy even while at work.'

They were preparing drafts of one chapter of the IPCC Report, and one lead author warns them explicitly that the emails may eventually have to be made public. So, they knew.

All personal information had been previously stripped off. There are no references to wives, lovers, private money or the like whatsoever. This is very different from sneaking into my PC, not that there would be much about lovers anyway..

Nixon also argued they were his private tapes.

Deep Climate said...

Among other things, Monbiot has totally missed that the emails that supposedly show efforts to suppress "skeptic science", are really a discussion of what to do about the skeptic "gaming" of the peer-review system.

It turned out it was worse than they thought. And it's still going on. See James's latest:

http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2009/11/advice-to-agu-regading-their-journals.html

I'd like to think my comment above reminded James that he should take action on this issue. I'm glad someone is.

James Annan said...

Viento,

The IPCC has some rules about access to its workings. As you may recall, I've been scathing enough of how they originally interpreted part of that policy, but they eventually fixed the problem. However, this does not cover the vast majority of the released emails, including all the ones relating to me, for example.

Tom,

I haven't managed to get very interested in the various hockey wars. My vague understanding is that the proxy should not have been used, but that it doesn't make any real difference.

Yes DC, my latest post was partly precipitated by your prompting, although I've also heard widespread concerns from multiple sources.

skanky said...

How much do authors of IPCC chapters get paid for their work?

skanky said...

"I haven't managed to get very interested in the various hockey wars. My vague understanding is that the proxy should not have been used, but that it doesn't make any real difference."

GS gives a reasonable sounding explanation on RC (context thread, IIRC). Not that bothered about that stuff myself, either, so can't immediately find them again.

Anyway, the fact that there are two different papers, that used very different methods suggests that one mea-culpa is not so damning of the other study.

I'm sure those who raise the issue in their usual mock horror have already seen the comment replies, and wouldn't be persuaded anyway, but other vaguely interested may want to find them.

James Annan said...

"How much do authors of IPCC chapters get paid for their work?"

That was a joke, right?

Authors get precisely a big fat nothing. I am sure they do, on the whole, get some support from their current employers, at a minimum being allowed to use their existing facilities at work such as email, PC and library. I guess they would mostly get cut a bit of slack for what costs in terms of their existing duties and outputs, but for the most part it is just an additional and unpaid (but prestigious) task on top of everything else they are supposed to be doing. Several have been heard to say "never again", especially during the public comment phase when they are obliged to read and respond to absolutely everything that is submitted :-)

Oh, at the end of it they get a free copy of the book. But I got that for just supplying a little bit of data :-)

skanky said...

"That was a joke, right?"

Yes and no.

Some people seem to want to conflate IPCC report writing with public money. I knew the answer, but thought it might sound better coming from you.

Though as you're a climate scientist, they probably don't believe you. ;)

Jesús said...

James, in this blog post you say:

"A handful of messages hint at something a bit worse, [...]"

What are you thinking of? The FOIA request? It's the only thing I can think of, though I don't know much about the UK regulations.

Thanks!

Steve Bloom said...

I've now gone to the trouble of looking at the British FOI law, and I don't see a problem for the CRU folks. Confidential communications (defined by whether the sender thinks it's confidential) have an "absolute" exemption from disclosure. Given that the UEA FOI officer was discussing the matter with Phil and others prior to the deletions, that they were legal should come as no particular surpise.

I should state that while I'm not a subject matter expert, these days I write environmental legislation for a living.

DavidH said...

Steve Bloom,

"Environmental Information" is excluded from the British Freedom of Information Act 2000 and has to be dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 which has fewer absolute exceptions and a presumption of disclosure.

It is the EIR you guys need to worry about and the Aarhus convention from which it descends.

James Annan said...

Jesús,

There's a clear breach of confidence about manuscript reviewing, but yes I was mainly thinking that the FOI stuff looks worrying (though it may be legal anyway).

Jesús said...

Thanks for your answer, James :)

I guess I woudn't go along with the view that "there's a clear breach of confidence about manuscript reviewing" arising from these e-mails. We know from your blog and others' that many scientists are upset with the publication of some substandard papers in the peer reviewed literature. I don't see a big deal in trying to fix that malfunction.

Cheers!

Jesús said...

DavidH,

If "it is the EIR you guys need to worry about", why did the e-mails say "FOIA" instead of "EIR"?

Thnx.

James Annan said...

Oh, there was certainly a "X is reviewing a manuscript about Y" statement which should not have been made. Not a hanging offence but a bit embarrassing nevertheless.

Regarding EIR/FOIA, I doubt that the people actually knew the precise legal details - in fact it is probably vague to this day, as much of it depends on precedences which have not yet been established - it's always up to the judge...

Jesús said...

Ok, James, I've just read your comments in the other post. I agree that this mail is embarrasing, but, anyway, I don't think this exceptional specific case questions the overall reviewing process.

Cheers!