Stringer: Parliament misled over Climategate
Parliament was misled and needs to re-examine the Climategate affair thoroughly after the failure of the Russell report, a leading backbench MP told us today.
“It’s not a whitewash, but it is inadequate,” is Labour MP Graham Stringer’s summary of the Russell inquiry report. Stringer is the only member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology with scientific qualifications – he holds a PhD in Chemistry.
Not only did Russell fail to deal with the issues of malpractice raised in the emails, Stringer told us, but he confirmed the feeling that MPs had been misled by the University of East Anglia when conducting their own inquiry. Parliament only had time for a brief examination of the CRU files before the election, but made recommendations. This is a serious charge.
After the Select Committee heard oral evidence on March 1, MPs believed that Anglia had entrusted an examination of the science to a separate inquiry. Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia Edward Acton had told the committee that “I am hoping, later this week, to announce the chair of a panel to reassess the science and make sure there is nothing wrong.”[Hansard – Q129]]
Ron Oxburgh’s inquiry eventually produced a short report clearing the participants. He did not reassess the science, and now says it was never in his remit. “The science was not the subject of our study,” he confirmed in an email to Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit.
Earlier this week the former chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Phil Willis, now Lord Willis, said MPs had been amazed at the “sleight of hand”.
“Oxburgh didn’t go as far as I expected. The Oxburgh Report looks much more like a whitewash,” Graham Stringer told us.
Stringer says Anglia appointee Muir Russell (a civil servant and former Vice Chancellor of Glasgow University), failed in three significant areas.
“Why did they delete emails? The key question was what reason they had for doing this, but this was never addressed; not getting to the central motivation was a major failing both of our report and Muir Russell.”
Stringer also says that it was unacceptable for Russell (who is not a scientist) to conclude that CRU’s work was reproducible, when the data needed was not available. He goes further:
“The fact that you can make up your own experiments and get similar results doesn’t mean that you’re doing what’s scientifically expected of you. You need to follow the same methodology of the process.”
“I was surprised at Phil Jones’ answers to the questions I asked him [in Parliament]. The work was never replicable,” says Stringer.
In 2004 Jones had declined to give out data that would have permitted independent scrutiny of their work, explaining that “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
This policy is confirmed several times in the emails, with Jones also advising colleagues to destroy evidence helpful to people wishing to reproduce the team’s results.
“I think that’s quite shocking,” says Stringer.
Thirdly, the University of East Anglia failed to follow the Commons Select Committee’s recommendations in handling the inquiry and producing the report.
Stringer said, “We asked them to be independent, and not allow the University to have first sight of the report. The way it’s come out is as an UEA inquiry, not an independent inquiry.”
Stringer also says they reminded the inquiry to be open – Russell had promised as much – but witness testimony took place behind closed doors, and not all the depositions have been published.
How independent was the panel?
Muir Russell’s team heard only one side of the story, failing to call witnesses who were the subjects of the emails – Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit is mentioned over one hundred times in the archive – who may have given a different perspective. Nor was any active climate scientist supportive of climate change policy but critical of the CRU team’s behaviour – Hans Storch or Judith Curry, let alone the prominent sceptics, for example – summoned. Stringer feels their presence would have provided vital context.
University of East Anglia Vice Chancellor Edward Acton
The panel included Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet and a vocal advocate of mitigation against climate change (in 2007 he described global warming “the biggest threat to our future health”) and Geoffrey Boulton a climate change advisor to the UK government and the EU, who spent 16-years at the University of East Anglia – the institution under apparently ‘independent’ scrutiny.
In several areas the CRU academics were given the benefit of the doubt because a precedent had been set – often by the academics themselves.
The British establishment has a poor record of examining its own conduct. The 1983 Franks Report into events leading up to the Falklands Invasion exonerated the leading institutions and decision-makers, so too did the Hutton Report into the Invasion of Iraq.
For Stringer, policy needs to be justified by the evidence.
“Vast amounts of money are going to be spent on climate change policy, it’s billions and eventually could be trillions. Knowing what is accurate and what is inaccurate is important.”
“I view this as a Parliamentarian for one of the poorest constituencies in the country. Putting up the price of fuel for poor people on such a low level of evidence, hoping it will have the desired effect, is not acceptable. I need to know what’s going on.”
Climategate may finally be living up to its name. If you recall, it wasn’t the burglary or use of funding that led to the impeachment of Nixon, but the cover-up. Now, ominously, three inquiries into affair have raised more questions than there were before. ®