The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 120-139)


1 MARCH 2010

  Q120  Dr Harris: You would not object to sending peer reviewers or editors that data?

  Professor Jones: No, but they have never asked.

  Q121  Dr Harris: Okay. Moving on to something else, there is this whole "hide the decline" business I want to talk to you about. There was a concession from at least one set of critics that the "trick" is probably not an issue because they recognise that it is a term used.

  Professor Jones: It is the best way of doing it.

  Q122  Dr Harris: It may not be the view of all of your critics but at least you have some on the record saying that that is now not the issue. But then you will recall there was an exchange I had, if you were listening, with them about this question of hiding the decline and I just wanted you to respond to their assertion that when you did that it was not set out in the publications—I must say I have not gone back to the publications to read them so I am relying on your view on this but I am sure it can be done—and that in fact it was never shown that this was going on. Whereas your evidence from the UEA says very clearly that this is part of the published scientific record that you were doing it and the reasons you were doing that, and that can be criticised or agreed with by other scientists. Can you just talk about that?

  Professor Jones: That particular email relates to this document that I produced for the World Meteorological Organisation at the end of the last millennium in 1999. One of the curves was based on tree ring data which showed a very good relationship between the tree rings and the temperature from the latter part of the nineteenth century through to 1960, and after that there was a divergence where the trees did not go up as much as the real temperatures had. We knew that because we had written a paper the year before in 1998 in the journal Nature which discussed this divergence between tree growth and temperatures in recent times. Not all tree ring series show that but this particular one we knew did, so we knew that putting the tree ring series in from 1960 onwards would be wrong because it does not agree with the instrumental temperature. What we did for this simplified diagram was to put the instrumental data on the end from 1960, so that only applies to one of these curves on this cover. We had written about it the year before, in one of the first papers on the divergence problem—I think other groups had actually called it the divergence problem—and, since then, we have been working with other tree ring data trying to improve the way we process the data to try and make sure we keep as much of the low frequency information on longer timescales in the trees because you have to standardise trees in a certain way to produce temperature reconstructions.

  Q123  Dr Harris: My question is: in subsequent papers when that was done was it always explicit, albeit only by reference to the Nature paper to which you were referring?

  Professor Jones: It was always explicit in the subsequent papers because some of the subsequent papers have improved the processing techniques.

  Q124  Dr Harris: Did you understand what those witnesses (if you heard them) meant when they said that they could not see, they thought the hiding of the decline approach—which is a label from an email—the identifying and dealing with the divergence problem, was itself hidden. You do not accept that?

  Professor Jones: We do not accept it was hidden because it was discussed in a paper the year before and we have discussed it in every paper we have written on tree rings and climate.

  Q125  Dr Harris: While I have you on trees, if I may, an assertion was made by the first panel that all the data on trees before a previous date relates to one pine tree. I would like to call this "the case of the lonesome pine"; is that a problem from your perspective?

  Professor Jones: No, it is not a problem at all. That particular reconstruction went back to 1400, or just after 1400, and that is because there are insufficient trees to go back before that, there are more than just one. We have criteria to determine how far you can go back in terms of the number of trees you have at a certain number of sites.

  Q126  Dr Harris: It is not lonesome.

  Professor Jones: No.

  Q127  Graham Stringer: Professor Acton—you have probably read about it—the Speaker in this place lost his job partly because he seemed to think it was more important to pursue people who had leaked MPs' expenses rather than deal with the issue which seemed to show some problems in the way members had claimed the expenses. Do you not think that your assertions and your submission to this Committee are going along the same line as being very concerned with the leaks and then prejudging the outcome of the inquiry in what you say?

  Professor Acton: I hope not. The point of setting up the independent inquiry is to hear it and allow it to look absolutely fully into all the matters before it. I want to know the full truth; I am surprised you find a prejudging here and I am concerned.

  Q128  Graham Stringer: The reason I say that is there is a statement from your Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Trevor Davies, who argues exactly the case that Professor Jones has been arguing, that Professor Jones has no case to answer and the only way you can read your submission to this Committee is to say that you agree with Professor Jones.

  Professor Acton: Do you mean about the climate science?

  Q129  Graham Stringer: Yes.

  Professor Acton: Ah. Muir Russell's independent review is not looking at the science, it is looking at allegations about malpractice. 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. It is amongst the most thoroughly endorsed and co-witnessed science there is. Professor Jones has 450 co-authors from 100 universities—from Princeton, from Yale, from Columbia, from Imperial, from Oxford—there could be scarcely more prestigious and completely autonomous scientists endorsing it. I am a historian, it would be extraordinary for me to cast doubt on it.

  Q130  Graham Stringer: I meant both actually, both the science and the procedures that had been followed, because one of the things you have said in your memorandum is that the Information Commissioner said that no "breach of the law has been established", but the letter from the Commissioner states "the prima facie evidence from the published emails indicates an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information". It is hard to imagine a more clear-cut or cogent prima facie piece of evidence, is it not, and yet you have taken the opposite view? You have supported the science—I accept the fact that you are not a scientist—but you have also supported the administrative process and that is rather prejudging it.

  Professor Acton: May I comment because I am rather puzzled about the statement from the ICO because, as I understand it, our principle is that prima facie evidence is evidence which on the face of it and without investigation suggests that there is a case to answer. To my mind there is prima facie evidence; why else did I set up the Muir Russell independent review? Prima facie evidence is not the same as, "you have been found to breach". You explain it to me if you would; I am very puzzled. If it is sub judice, if, as we had in a letter 10 days ago from the ICO, the investigation has not even begun, I am puzzled how we could have been found to breach if there has been no investigation.[5]

  Q131  Graham Stringer: That is not what you said actually, you did not say that this is yet to be judged, what you said is: this statement "indicated that no breach of the law has been established". That is you prejudging the case.

  Professor Acton: It has not been established—unless there has been an investigation.

  Q132  Graham Stringer: Would it not have been better to say that?

  Professor Acton: I have tried to, rather succinctly. To establish is to have done an investigation.

  Q133  Graham Stringer: Can I ask you a more general question on your attitude? I was trying, perhaps not very successfully, to draw an analogy with our problems in this place with the Speaker. Should you not actually have been delighted that all these emails have been released? On one of the most important scientific issues of our age, is it not really important that we have as much information out there as possible?

  Professor Acton: It is, and I would think that one should go well beyond the Freedom of Information Act, the issue is so important. Once it is in the minds of some people, once they imagine there is a conspiracy to distort, then any refusal of information, even if it is nothing to do with data but private emails or commercial agreements, will feed that. I am longing for it to be completely open but whether it is a good thing that the emails are thrown open like that, I wait to judge. That there be much more public debate, I delight in and I thoroughly agree with. I am anxious if the effect of the way in which it is reported is disinformation, a sort of hint about something where there is absolutely nothing hidden. It is in a way the most deeply confirmed and affirmed, the major issue of a temperature graph from about 1850. The early medieval period—we should be spending more money on that research, but the latter is so overly endorsed by scientists I am puzzled that we should welcome a savouring of doubt where scientists say "but there is no doubt".

  Q134  Graham Stringer: Can you tell us how you came to choose Sir Muir Russell to run this inquiry?

  Professor Acton: I took counsel from very senior figures, including those in higher education, about somebody who would have knowledge of university life, real experience of public life and command enormous respect for their integrity, preferably whom I had never met. Muir Russell was the top name that came to mind and I was delighted when he agreed to do it.

  Q135  Graham Stringer: Thank you. Can I go back to Professor Jones? I do not want to repeat the previous exchange we had but I just would like to be clear in terms of the answers to the questions from Doug and Evan about the repeatability of the works you put out. You are saying very clearly that on a lot of the papers you have put out other scientists, not that they need your working books, cannot repeat that work when those papers are published because they do not have the programs and the codes?

  Professor Jones: They have not got the programs or the data.

  Q136  Graham Stringer: So they cannot without that?

  Professor Jones: That is just a fact of life in climate sciences.

  Q137  Graham Stringer: That is very plain. Dr Graham-Cumming has made a number of points: that it appeared that your organisation, writing the different codes that it did, did not adhere to the standards one might find in professional software engineering and that the code had easily identified bugs—he himself claims to have identified bugs in the programs even after the BBC2 programme—that no visible test method was apparently used and they were poorly documented. Is that true, is Dr Graham-Cumming right?

  Professor Jones: Those codes are from a much earlier time, they are from the period about 2000 to 2004. The codes that were stolen were earlier and we have people working on these at the moment, trying to do some other work, but they do not relate to the production of the global and hemispheric temperature series. They are nothing to do with that, they are to do with a different project.

  Q138  Graham Stringer: Which project are they to do with, so that it is clear to us?

  Professor Jones: They are to do with a project that was funded by the British Atmospheric Data Centre, which is run by NERC, and that was to produce more gridded temperature data and precipitation data and other variables. A lot of that has been released on a Dutch website and also the BADC website.

  Q139  Graham Stringer: Have you now released the actual code used for CRUTEM3?

  Professor Jones: The Met Office have, they have released their version.

5   Note by witness: For clarification see Ev 39 Back

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