Oxburgh and the Jones Admission

Source: ClimateAudit

by  Steve Mcintyre

A bombshell from the Oxburgh “inquiry”.

Obviously, the most contentious issue in the Hockey Stick controversy has been, uh, the hockey sticks – an area where CRU scientists Jones, Briffa and Osborn have been intimately involved as authors of key proxies, authors of multiproxy studies in the IPCC spaghetti graph, peer reviewers of journal articles and IPCC assessment authors. The core position of Climate Audit in respect to these studies is that the data and methods used in these studies do not permit assertions about the medieval-modern relationship to be made with any confidence. This gets played out in numerous disputes over individual proxies and individual statistical methods, but these do not deflect from the overall issue.

I heard from a reliable source that, during the Oxburgh interviews, Phil Jones admitted that it was probably impossible to do the 1000-year temperature reconstructions with any accuracy. Obviously, this would be a hugely important admission relative to this debate, but the Oxburgh Science Appraisal Panel “inquiry” did not report this admission even though UEA had announced that the Science Appraisal Panel would “re-appraise CRU’s science”.

I accordingly sent the following letter last week to Oxburgh (both to his House of Lords email and the UEA email address used for the “inquiry”), copying the letter to two members of the Parliamentary Committee and two journalists and forwarded it to the Muir Russell inquiry.

Dear Dr Oxburgh,
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chairman of the Science Appraisal Panel, which reported on April 14, 2010 on the independent external reappraisal of CRU’s science that had been announced by the University of East Anglia in February 2010.

It has come to my attention from a reliable source that, during one of his interviews with the Science Appraisal Panel, Phil Jones (of CRU) admitted that it was probably impossible to do these [1000-year temperature] reconstructions with any accuracy.

Given that this has been one of the most contentious, if not the most contentious issue, in the disputes about CRU’s science, the failure of the Science Appraisal Panel to record this important information appears to me to be a material omission that, in this case, distorts the research record.

Under the circumstances, I request that you forthwith issue an addendum that clearly reports Jones’ evidence on the probable impossibility of doing the 1000-year reconstructions with any accuracy.

Yours truly,
Stephen McIntyre

This morning, I received the following remarkable response:

Dear Dr Mcintyre,
Thank you for your message. What you report may or may not be the case. But as I have pointed out to you previously the science was not the subject of our study.
Yours sincerly,
Ron Oxburgh

Read it again. The “science was not the subject of our study”. Why would anyone have expected that science would be the subject of study of the Science Appraisal Panel? Well, there’s a good reason why they would. The University of East Anglia and Muir Russell said over and over again that the Science Appraisal Panel would, uh, “re-appraise” CRU’s “science”.

Consider first the original announcement by the University of East Anglia on Feb 11 here entitled “New scientific assessment of climatic research publications announced”, stating:

An independent external reappraisal of the science in the Climatic Research Unit’s (CRU) key publications has been announced by the University of East Anglia. The Royal Society will assist the University in identifying assessors with the requisite expertise, standing and independence.

“Published papers from CRU have gone through the rigorous and intensive peer review process which is the keystone for maintaining the integrity of scientific research,” said Professor Trevor Davies, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Enterprise and Engagement. “That process and the findings of our researchers have been the subject of significant debate in recent months. Colleagues in CRU have strenuously defended their conduct and the published work and we believe it is in the interests of all concerned that there should be an additional assessment considering the science itself.”

Or Muir Russell’s comments at their Feb 11 press conference:

Our job is to investigate scientific rigor, the honesty, the openness and the due process of CRU’s approach as well as the other things in the remit.. and compliance with rules. It’s not our job to audit CRU’s scientific conclusions. That would require a different set of skills and resources. The University recognizes the need for such an audit. It has asked the Royal Society how this should be done. They have decided they would commission a re-appraisal of the main scientific conclusions of CRU with assistance from the Royal Society to identify the person or persons with the standing and expertise and skill to carry this out.

Or the Royal Society press statement on Feb 11 in which Martin Rees stated:

It is important that people have the utmost confidence in the science of climate change. Where legitimate doubts are raised about any piece of science they must be fully investigated – that is how science works. The Royal Society will provide advice to the University of East Anglia in identifying independent assessors to conduct this reappraisal.

Or the BBC report of the same day:

However, the panel will not review the past scientific work of the CRU, as this will be re-appraised by a UEA-commissioned study that will involve the Royal Society in an advisory role.

“Colleagues in CRU have strenuously defended their conduct and the published work and we believe it is in the interest of all concerned that there should be an additional assessment considering the science itself,” Professor Trevor Davies, UEA’s pro-vice-chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement, said in a statement.

Royal Society President Lord Rees said that it was important that the public had the utmost confidence in the science of climate change. “Where legitimate doubts are raised about any piece of science they must be fully investigated – that is how science works,” he explained. “The Royal Society will provide advice to the University of East Anglia in identifying independent assessors to conduct this reappraisal.”

Or the UEA written submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Feb 25:

2.3 Alongside Sir Muir Russell’s Review, we have decided on an additional scientific assessment of CRU’s key scientific publications; an external reappraisal of the science itself. The Royal Society has agreed to assist the University in identifying assessors with the requisite experience, standing and independence.

Or Muir Russell’s written submission to the Parliamentary Committee:

4. The[Muir Russell] Review’s remit does not invite it to re-appraise the scientific work of CRU. That re-appraisal is being separately commissioned by UEA, with the assistance of the Royal Society.

Or Acton’s oral testimony to the Parliamentary Committee:

As for the science itself, I have not actually seen any evidence of any flaw in the science but I am hoping, later this week, to announce the chair of a panel to reassess the science and make sure there is nothing wrong.

Oxburgh neither confirmed nor denied the Jones admission. Unfortunately, there are no documents of the Jones interview since Oxburgh flouted the Parliamentary Committee recommendation that the inquiries conduct their business in the open, in which they stressed the importance of opennness in achieving acceptance of the inquiry results. Lord Oxburgh in effect spit in the eye of the Commons Committee recommendation by not taking submissions, not transcribing interviews and not even reporting interview notes. Worse, at least one panelist has already destroyed his interview notes.

Despite all the statements by the university to the public and to Parliament through press releases and evidence to the Commons Committee that Oxburgh’s panel was to “reappraise” CRU’s “science”, Oxburgh says that “science was not the subject” of his “inquiry”.

Given all the statements to the public and to Parliament saying the exact opposite, one would expect Oxburgh, as chair of the inquiry, to have clear and written terms of reference, changing the terms of reference from those presented to the public and Parliament. And here, of course, mystery and inconsistency abound, with Oxburgh saying that his terms of reference were “verbal”. (Who ever heard of “verbal” terms of reference?)

But back to Jones admission that it was “probably impossible to do the 1000-year temperature reconstructions with any accuracy.” I have this information on excellent authority. If so, this would be an important admission given statements by IPCC and others that confidence can be attached to the spaghetti squiggles. The validity of this information needs to be determined – perhaps some of the members of the Oxburgh Panel can confirm this to reporters. Perhaps Jones himself will admit the point.

Maybe the Commons Science and Technology Committee can re-convene and find out what the hell was going on with the Oxburgh “inquiry”.

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