Does the Latest Climategate Investigation Exonerate the Scientists Involved?

Recent media reports such as the Huffington Post‘s “‘Climategate’ Investigation VINDICATES Scientists, Finds Research Reliable“ claim that an “independent” Climategate inquiry “vindicated” the parties involved. But was the inquiry in fact independent, and how much of an inquiry was actually made?

As Patrick Michaels points out, the investigations were not exactly as “independent” as they have been labeled:

Last week “The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review,” commissioned and paid for by the University of East Anglia, exonerated the University of East Anglia.


One of the [investigative] panel’s four members, Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, was on the faculty of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences for 18 years. At the beginning of his tenure, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)—the source of the Climategate emails—was established in Mr. Boulton’s school at East Anglia. Last December, Mr. Boulton signed a petition declaring that the scientists who established the global climate records at East Anglia “adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity.”

Michaels also points out that the institutions performing two earlier investigations—the University of East Anglia itself, and Penn State University into its employee Michael Mann—stood to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for global warming research had any wrong-doing been found.

The BBC’s Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin also reports questions about the independence of the investigations, which you can hear here.

But, motivations aside, just how rigorous was this “independent” investigation that has now “vindicated” the scientists involved?

As background for those who might have forgotten who the players are, last November, an unknown party known only as “FOI” (Freedom of Information) posted to a website thousands of emails and other documents among key scientists, all champions of anthropogenic global warming and involved in the UN panel creating its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. The key players involved were Phil Jones, director of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU), Keith Briffa, a climatologist at CRU and IPCC author, and Michael Mann (of “Hockey Stick” infamy) at Penn State University. Phil Jones stepped aside as director at CRU pending the investigation’s findings, and is now set to return, though with a slightly different title.

The most serious evidence the hacked emails had revealed was of Keith Briffa colluding with a colleague of Mann’s to change the published IPCC assessment of the Hockey Stick dispute from that which had been sent to external reviewers to one that favored Mann and his colleagues, creators of the Hockey Stick—rather a direct contradiction of the fabled “peer review” process. These were the email exchanges about the IPCC report (AR4) that Phil Jones exhorted all to delete (see #2, below).

Other of the more damning emails involved are also outlined below.

As extremely well documented in Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog, the investigation, headed up by Sir Muir Russell, only interviewed representatives of the CRU itself—hardly a balanced investigation—and Russell himself did not even attend the interviews of Jones, Briffa and other key players (“Muir Russell Skipped Jones Interviews“).

Further, although the panel had been directly tasked to:

Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes.

The investigative panel did not review the vast majority of the emails. (“The Botched Examination of the Back-Up Server“)

It thus appears that this latest investigation hardly warrants the name, and the charges remain largely unanswered:

1) Hide data requested by outsiders.
Phil Jones to Mike Mann:

The two MMs [probably Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.

Phil Jones to Gavin Schmidt (Climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies):

All our FOI [Freedom of Information] officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions not to respond—advice they got from the Information Commissioner. ...

The FOI line we’re all using is this. IPCC is exempt from any countries FOI—the skeptics have been told this.

2) Delete emails and lie about their back conversations on rewriting the IPCC report.
Phil Jones to Mike Mann:

Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4 [the IPCC report]? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene [Wahl, an employee of the U.S. Department of Commerce] and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar [Amman, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research] to do likewise Cheers, Phil.


Keith should say that he didn’t get anything extra that wasn’t in the IPCC comments.

Although the Russell panel’s finding reports “evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them [under Freedom of information law],” Fred Pearce of the Guardian points out:

Yet, extraordinarily, it emerged during questioning that Russell and his team never asked Jones or his colleagues whether they had actually done this.

3) Manipulate (or “enhance”) data to support findings such as the “Hockey Stick” graph made famous in Al Gore’s movie, among other outlets. Phil Jones, explaining that switching over from the use of “proxy data”—tree-ring samples—used to derive temperatures for earlier periods, to “real temperatures” for the more recent years, “hides” the decline in temperatures that the tree-ring data shows in more recent years—and, voilá, produces the continually upward-rising (“hockey stick”) temperature graph:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. ...

Despite its other gaps, the Russell investigation did agree that use of this “trick” was improper, and:

was misleading in not describing that one of the series was truncated post 1960 for the figure, and in not being clear on the fact that proxy and instrumental data were spliced together.

4) Bring down a leading climate journal in response to its publishing a peer-reviewed article skeptical of anthropogenic global warming.
Michael Mann:

Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.

Phil Jones:

I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute.
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