What The Press Should Cover, and Won’t

The first of three investigations into the CRU emails has been released. You can read the British House of Commons’ entire report here, but I found the summary on page 7 to be just as useful. In part, it reads:

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed emails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew – or perceived – were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

In the context of  the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided.

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. We found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.

DeSmogBlog also has a great summary which you can read here.

We know that the system of climate science is not perfect, and that the folks at CRU did not handle things in the best of ways all the time, but who ever does, especially when you are the target of organized campaigns to discredit your field? The real problem, though, is that everyone who keeps up with North American or British news heard that climate scientists were accused of fudging and manipulating data. There is no evidence to support these allegations, and the House of Commons’ report confirms this. However, I’m not naive enough to believe that the media will cover the result of this “scandal” as intensely as they covered the allegations themselves.

Imagine that you read in the newspaper that a man has been charged with murder. It will be months before you find out the verdict of his trial, and unless it’s OJ Simpson, you probably won’t hear the verdict at all. Many, perhaps most, people would assume that the man is guilty.

We assume that allegations have merit, when – at least when it comes to climate science – they just as often do not.

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8 thoughts on “What The Press Should Cover, and Won’t

  1. [quote]We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided.[/quote]

    Avoided? I doubt that very much. Had this data been available, the UEA would have been bombarded with FOI requests for something else, instead. And the deniers would have launched their pre-Copenhagen assault with some other spearhead.

    As for the inability of the press to run long in-depth stories with headings such a ‘Innocent Man Falsely Accused of Murder’ – I don’t think that’s entirely their fault. Their apparent lack of any ethical responsibility hinges on the fact that they exist to make money, not to inform. The press merely panders to what the majority wants to hear and read about – which seems, sadly, to be mostly scandal, filth and smut. In the current framework, we get the ‘news’ that we deserve :(

    If schools taught lessons in critical thinking, maybe we would all be better off?

  2. Alas, said journalists seem bent on defending their way of doing things; and gut-thinking members of the general public are also bent on defending their way of thinking about things. I’d bet that volumes have been written on journalists’ general inability and unwillingness to sort fact from fiction — and still they’re unable, or unwilling.

    The question is, what can we do?

  3. The inquiry states that ‘hide the decline’ refers to ‘deletion of data that is erroneous.’ Where in the literature is it established that this data is erroneous? Did they measure the widths incorrectly? No, the tree ring widths and other data are measured correctly, as far as anyone is aware. What is the committee referring to, when they speak of erroneous data?

    [There is obviously something wrong with the Briffa set, at least when using it to model temperature, because the tree ring growth is decreasing while temperatures measured by thermometers (which are much more reliable) are increasing. The growth has been measured correctly, but it is erroneous in that it is no longer reflecting what it used to. -Kate]

  4. MikeN:

    as far as anyone is aware.

    As far as “anyone” is aware, it seems to be a weird habit of some to represent their own state of knowledge as “anyone’s” state of knowledge. How does one even begin to combat this sort of mindset?

  5. >he growth has been measured correctly, but it is erroneous in that it is no longer reflecting what it used to.

    But how do they know that it used to reflect this? [snip – inflammatory]

    [It would be best to go and read the literature on the subject – Briffa 98 would be a good place to start – or talk to someone in dendro. Keep in mind that there are other proxies as well. I’m not sure where to look for one, but I suspect there’s a borehole or ice core data set from a similar area of northern Asia that could be used to assess the paleoclimatic accuracy of the Briffa set. -Kate]

  6. So why not run with the other dataset that does not show a decline?
    Why the need to go with a dataset with inconvenient errors that need to be hidden?

    [Perhaps it was all they had at the time. I didn’t work on Mann98, so I can’t tell you. Please pose your questions to someone more qualified to answer, in a venue that does not make them seem like accusations of incompetence. -Kate]

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