Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Monford's Minnions and the 'White Wash'

The example that follows all transpired when a link I clicked on brought me to Andrew Monford’s blog, Bishop Hill. I just happened to notice a post about the enquiries that followed the email release from CRU at the University of East Anglia.

I made a comment  to state that the scientists involved been exonerated is every official enquiry but that the credibility of the inquiries will always be questioned by those who didn't get the result they wanted. I got a reply that made quite a specific claim;

"What aspect of "proven whitewash" is it that you don't understand?"

That there was actually any proof of a 'white wash' was news to me so I replied; "The 'proven' bit."

Well actually querying the existence of evidence on this blog was like kicking a hornets nest. Apparently it not the done thing to be sceptical amongst ‘skeptics' and if I didn’t know about this 'proof' I must be too stupid to see what is there in front of my eyes - well that is how it felt. Apparently it was all in 'Monford’s report on the reports; "The Climategate Inquiries".

I was even called a 'pointless troll', and 'dead from the neck upwards' and told to 'beggars off' from one of the more mature of the Monford's Minions  - yes it is you - Perry the Goldfish.

But then the man himself, the governor, Mr Monford aka the Bishop graced me with a response. He asked if I could clarify if I had read the report he wrote on the Climategate inquiries. To be honest I came across it when it fist came out but didn't give it much consideration. So I said I would be willing to look at it again but stated clearly;

"I have a serious problem with it. Posters on here have been suggesting that the other inquiries were flawed because they used people with ‘vested interests masquerading as independent review board’s, but someone who does a report for a group that denies climate change is a problem and has already written much and a book saying much the same and calling some of the science an illusion hardly fits the criteria of independence that they call for and I would expect as a sceptic."

This is true, Monford was asked by the anti-science Global Warming Foundation to do another report on the email release because it didn't like what all the others concluded. Monford had already written a book calling the research into past climate by scientist Michael Mann as flawed and the Hockey stick shaped graph from his research an illusion, pretty brave for a non climatologist - so the sceptic in me knew that he was not someone to do a balanced review of the existing investigations.

When there are three or more reports on a topic which all broadly reach the same conclusions your sceptical alarms bell should ring when another report, actually a report on the previous reports in my example, comes to a different conclusion. The majority isn't always right but clearly something will be wrong in any case like this.

But Monford replied back with a direct link to his report so I felt obliged to give it a good look but restated my concerns  about it’s lack of impartiality. So off I went to read ‘The Climategate Inquiries’ line by line and came back with my analysis. You many have to read it yourself to understand the points I make;

A rational, critical review of The Climategate Inquiries, from a sceptic.

It is clear from this report that it has no interest in finding the truth. It is solely interested in finding something wrong. But there is so little evidence of misdemeanours so the ‘serious’ findings are almost entirely disingenuous and insinuation.
From the Foreword it claims that the ‘consequences for the credibility of climate change science would be immense’. How? Climate science does not hinge on the work done at CRU and even reading the ‘serious allegations’ in the Foreword, none of them actually questions the science already published. Although it might be considered worded to give that impression.
After trying to whip up hysteria it states; “One would therefore have expected the relevant “authorities”, Government/Parliament, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Royal Society, to have moved fast and decisively to get to the bottom of the matter.”
I agree with this entirely. If things were as the Foreword alludes to then these people should have moved fast and decisively, the problem is that the most qualified people to judge didn’t agree. I’m not suggesting that the mis-management of FOIs was not serious and clearly happened but again the admin failings of a university department and some of it’s staffs belligerent attitude to the importance of meeting such requests is not evidence of anything other than poor systems and attitudes. But at least Turnbull gives us a basic list of baddies that must somehow be involved in the white wash conspiracy if only rational people wouldn't keep asking for actual evidence of it.
It then gives six bullet pointed ‘serious flaws’ reported by Andrew Monford, but even if all are completely true I can’t see any of these ‘serious flaws’ calling the science into question.

As to the actual findings;
In turns it claims that Phil Willis, Lord Oxbridge, members of Sir Muir Russell’s team and Panel members were unsuitable but with no evidence, just innuendo.
Like it or not, there is almost no person who would be qualified as a chairman who doesn’t accept the scientific opinion of the worlds national academies on climate change and see others rejection of it as denial. It is not evidence that Willis was unfit for purpose.
It was apparent from the start that Oxburgh thought some would claim he had conflicts of interest but these were in no way hidden and it is disingenuous to assume that Oxburgh would not do his job with integrity. I suspect if his findings gave what skeptics wanted all the green groups would be suggesting exactly the same unsuitability because he was a chairman of Shell.
It was also disingenuous to assume that Kerry Emanuel prejudged the inquiry findings. Emanuel was one of the most qualified to investigate the conduct of these scientists. Just because he accepts the science, and has published some of it himself, it does not mean he wouldn’t find fault with other scientists.
In truth it is almost inconceivable that the most qualified people for the task would not have some connections to the university and the science. This is not evidence that they lacked integrity or that they were compromised. Since the inquiries were not tasked with looking into if the published science was correct, there was no need to have a skeptic on the panels even if a suitability qualified one could be found.
We know that with the general election looming, the scope of the Select Committee’s work was extremely limited but this is not indicative that they did not have enough time to satisfy themselves that there was little to be concerned about at CRU other than reported.
The ‘Climategate Inquiries’ also makes claims about the Committee misunderstanding Peiser’s evidence and that it failed to investigate Keenan’s fraud allegation made against Jones. Keenan is not even a scientist. I’m sure the committee with its limited time treated unqualified submissions with as much rigour as they could afford. This might seem a hard thing to say but this now happened over a year ago and with hindsight, if there really was any compelling evidence of fraud shouldn’t someone have supported Keenan’s and Peiser’s cases and championed their cause by now?
Worryingly it also states that the Committee appears to have exonerated Jones of the charge of fabrication without any evidence to justify such a conclusion.
Guilty before innocence? Nuff said.
More than once it suggests that scientists have left out or cherry picked data which is unfounded. This is almost all about the ‘hide the decline’, chronologies and what is termed of ad-hoc bodging of data.
Even Lawson accepted the ‘hide the decline’ explanation during questioning – why is this not mentioned in this report? ‘Important information’ is also a value judgement and it is unlikely that policymakers would need to know or even understand more than they were given.
Unfortunately we are talking about concerned unqualified critics – an economist apparently. The decision what to include is a scientific one, not one that gives an answer more like what you want it to be. I believe that Briffa has justified his selection in his work. Why would you think a review panel like this should undermine peer review? Why would the Select Committee need to know how scientists decided to tackle a problem? The Panel explicitly stated that was not part of the remit.
BTW I cannot find the quoted “fudge factors” and “artificial adjustments” any where in the Climategate document data base so if they do exist I haven’t managed to check the context, or if it was anything other than just scientists doing what scientists do.
There is clear innuendo about threats to journals with no attempt made to obtain evidence from the journal editors. But the journals were capable of submitting evidence – it isn’t as if they wouldn’t have known about it. Why wouldn’t they if they thought there was any case to answer?
More un-evidenced insinuation occurs when talking about papers selected, hinting that Jones cherry picked them and this was wrong. The Royal Society made it clear that it OKed the papers as a representative sample. Why should Oxburgh doubt the RS’s integrity? Why shouldn’t the RS agree with CRU about the papers initially chosen? The suggestion that Jones hand picked the papers with the clear implication that there was something to hide in others is unsupported by any evidence.
Even now anyone could select any paper and review it. In fact there is a chance to gather some real evidence here if it truly exists. Find a paper that wasn’t reviewed and where its conclusions didn’t ‘represented an honest and scientifically justified interpretation of the data’ which was all they were looking at. The Panel was not concerned with the question of whether the conclusions of the published research were correct. That is the job of peer review, and papers whether criticised or not have been through peer review. Being critical of papers is part of the scientific process not the inquiry one.
There is a finding that; “The Panel’s conclusions that criticisms of CRU were ‘selective’ and ‘uncharitable’ appear to be baseless since there is no record of these criticisms having been examined”.
That is not how it reads to me. A larger selection of the report puts it into context;
“We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the endroclimatological work, but it seems that some of these criticisms show a rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by CRU. They seem also to reflect a lack of awareness of the ongoing and dynamic nature of chronologies, and of the difficult circumstances under which university research is sometimes conducted.”
So SOME of the criticism show a rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by CRU. Why do they have to exhaustively review the external criticism to make that conclusion? It also mentions the ‘lack of awareness’, ie ignorance of the science by those requesting the information. An important point I think, that not included.
A big deal is made of the claim that the Committee chairman refused to reveal how decisions had been reached. I’m not sure what bearing this has. I doubt it is common practice for committees to publish such information to the degree suggested. Certainly no jury would be expecting to reveal such things so I don’t see why an inquiry should be different and it could certainly be counter productive.
Much of the rest of the ‘serious findings’ just amount to criticism about the inquiry process. What is the issue with this? The reports were commission by the University, Select Committee etc., for their own benefit and to their own criteria. You can be critical of the approach used but it is not evidence of anything other than they selected a process that others might not.

Nothing suggests a ‘White wash’. Even if the findings were all true and un biased – which as I have already mentioned I have serious doubts about – they only suggest a lack of rigour and professionalism or a different choice of method. However I suspect that when looking for the very worst in something, every inquiry ever done could be said to have similar short comings.
So am I missing something? There is no proof of white wash, conspiracy or whatever. Not investigating something or not doing it properly or using the methods others prefer is not proof that it was done with any intention to hide, cover up or white wash. If we accept as Monford and Turnbull seem to, that all inquiries were so flawed as to constitute deliberate white washes, then we must assume a conspiracy and if we also add the other inquires done in the US because of these release emails we have a conspiracy of monumental proportions.
So now we have a working theory of an international conspiracy to white wash dodgy scientists clean, we now need the evidence to support it. As far as I can see ‘The Climategate Inquiries’ does not contain that. Nor does it even suggest why such a conspiracy might be perpetrated by Governments, politicians, scientists, industrialists, universities and scientific societies on the unsuspecting population of the world.
To be taken seriously claims need evidence and in this case as Carl Sagan would have said; Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I though there might be much more flack about my review of his review but strangely only one poster (to date) came back with comments about things I specifically said. His comments might be enough to encourage a future post. There were others of course but they declined to take me up any anything specific. Even the Man, the Bishop, only came back with a rather sad; "You are very funny."

My reply to him was;
"Well it wasn’t my intention to be humours, just to show that contrary to all the pseudo-skeptics that seem to congregate here there is no evidence of a conspiracy/white wash.

Is it your usual modus-operandi to respond to critical considered posts with one liners? At least you haven’t denied my conclusions. Your report was purely to find fault because the others didn’t. But having so little to go on and no ‘smoking gun’ your ‘serious findings’ are almost exclusively insinuation.
When the pretend sceptics on here decry the alleged bias and motives of the other panels, they seem OK and accepting of a review done by man whose bias was never in question. If any of these reports were going to have serious flaws it was always going to be yours because your belief in the scientist’s wrong doing was never in doubt. 

Any true sceptics should have alarm bells ringing like Quasimodo just from the thought of it."

It seems that Monford wasn’t in the mood to come out to play because his response to that: “No I don't usually respond with one liners, but I found your post so absurd that I didn't want to waste any time on it."

I declined to further reply so I'm not sure exactly what he found absurd. Was it the idea that someone should think he might not be the most unbiased person for such a report and actually brought the subject up? Was it pointing out that his report on reports contained no more evidence of malpractice that all the other investigations, just heavy insinuation? Was it the idea that for his insinuations to be true there would have to be an International Conspiracy afoot? Who knows, I doubt even Mr Monford has any idea, but such comments by him are unlikely to be challenged by his un-sceptical skeptic minions.


  1. Good Stuff. Ive got a confession to make. I've ordered his book on Amazon. Frankly I think the man deserves a fisking, I haven't yet read the climategate report by Montford nor his book but it strikes me that there's what philosophical boffins might call a 'contextual problem' with Mr Montford's climategate analysis. As for the rest of his work, why hasn't it been peer reviewed? Mann's work is peer reviewed, Montford attacks it but doesn't submit his own work to peer review.

  2. No need to confess, I read contrary stuff all the time but check out claims very critically if they go against what I know should be the case. Though I'm not sure that I'd like to think he earned money from me.

    There have been some critical dissections of his book, showing he omitted and overstated information that would undermine his case. It might be worth looking at those in tandem.

    One I came across recently;

    It is unlikely that Monford would ever get anything climate related past peer review, simply because he isn't qualified and anything will have a preconceived bias to fit his selective evidence to.