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

Memorandum submitted by Dr Timothy J Osborn (CRU 28)


    — I have been a full-time member of staff in the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) for over 19 years.

    — CRU is part of the UEA School of Environmental Sciences; I am currently an Academic Fellow in the School.

    I am submitting this in a private capacity, rather than as a member of UEA staff; this document is not intended to represent the official view of UEA.

    — Some of the emails and documents that were hacked from our computer systems were authored by me.

    — Unwarranted criticism of my scientific research and scientific activities has been made on the basis of these hacked files.


    — My submission only intends to address the first of the three questions:

    What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?

    — I have chosen to address this via a set of examples, taken from the hacked files and/or published discussion of them. The purpose is to demonstrate how it is possible to distort the public perception of our scientific work by misinterpreting the content of these documents and emails or by using them out of context.


    — It is impossible to draw firm conclusions from the hacked documents and emails. They do not represent the complete record, and they are not a random selection from the complete record. They are clearly selected with a purpose in mind and it is easy for people to fall into the traps set by those who did the selection.


    — It has been claimed that CRU has destroyed the raw temperature data recorded at thousands of weather stations around the world and that form the basis for the CRU gridded global land temperature dataset (CRUTEM3). It has further been claimed that CRU destroyed these data so that CRU's work could not be verified by others. These claims are untrue. The raw temperature data were collected or collated by various National Meteorological Services (NMSs) around the world and/or assembled by earlier initiatives into multi-country data sets. CRU obtained these data from a range of such sources, and documented them (US DoE TR017, 1985). CRU does not have the responsibility to be an official repository for such data—we are not a "World Data Centre"—nor specific responsibility to archive the data that were obtained from these sources. These data are available from the original sources (including the earlier collations), from NMSs, and from a later initiative in the US that also assembled much of this raw temperature data—the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN;


    — It has been claimed that CRU unscientifically manipulated the station temperature data so that it would should global warming, while the raw temperature data would not have shown such warming. This is false on two counts.

    — First, if the raw, unadjusted, station temperature data are used to construct a gridded global land temperature dataset, then the resultant dataset shows clear warming with a very similar magnitude as shown by the CRUTEM3 dataset. I have done this myself, using the raw, unadjusted, data publicly available from the GHCN. Anybody with a little computer programming knowledge and who had spent a small amount of time reading the peer-reviewed, published articles describing the construction of CRUTEM3 could have done the same. The reason for this outcome is that the adjustments applied to the temperature data tend to cancel out—some increase the warming, some decrease the warming. The warming itself is not artificially created by the adjustments.

    — Second, the adjustments that were applied were made for scientific reasons and were documented (US DoE TR022 and TR027, 1986). They were also only necessary for a minority of stations—the majority did not exhibit clear "jumps" and discontinuities when compared with neighbouring station records.

    — If the small number of adjustments made have negligible influence on the global temperature record, then why were they made? The answer is that, although the adjustments tend to cancel when making global averages, they do not cancel out in every individual region. If only the global average was wanted, then perhaps the adjustments would not have been made. But to construct a data set that allows monitoring and exploration of regional patterns of temperature change—including, eg, the detection of the particular "fingerprints" of response to greenhouse gas and sulphate aerosol forcings—requires adjustments to be made so that all grid boxes and regions represent the best evidence for their past temperature change.


    — Various claims have been made about apparent manipulation of the peer-review system. Two examples of how the full context (not available within the deliberately selected emails) disproves such claims:

(a) It has been claimed that I used my role as a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Climatology to give undue favour to an article by Ben Santer et al. that was published in 2008. Specifically, it is claimed that this email from me to Santer:

"just heard back from Glenn. He's prepared to treat it as a new submission rather than a comment on Douglass et al."

provided undue favour to Santer, because Douglass et al. would not have a right to reply if the Santer article was treated in this way. This is false. What was not released in the disclosed emails, however, was my discussion with the journal's editor, where I note:

"He (Santer) has done a substantial amount of new work that will be included, hence it is more than just a comment on Douglass et al."

With this proper context, it now becomes clear that the reason for treating the Santer article as a new submission was because it deserved to be treated in that way—it reported many new scientific findings. It is worth also noting that treating the Santer article as a new submission does not in any way reduce the opportunity for Douglass et al to respond to Santer—via a comment on Santer et al. or via their own new submission to this journal or any other.

(b) It has been claimed that an email from Keith Briffa, in his capacity as an Associate Editor of the journal The Holocene, to a reviewer:

"I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting"

was an inappropriate instruction from an editor and was encouraging rejection of an article that supported the sceptical view of climate change. This is again false. If an editor considers that a submitted article is too poor to publish, then they can reject it without sending it out for review—so there was never any need to instruct a review to reject it. The reviewer had probably already indicated their intention to recommend rejection of the article, and then it becomes obvious that what Briffa was asking for were clearly stated reasons for the rejection so that the author could be well informed of why their paper had been rejected. This is good academic practice. Further, there is no evidence that the article in question was authored by "climate sceptics".

    — These examples demonstrate the ease with which a partial record, taken out of context, can be used to erroneously imply lack of scientific integrity.


    — Much has been made of the comment:

"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow—even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

First, the majority of climate science articles are not discussed in the IPCC assessment reports—there simply is neither space nor need to do so. The focus has to be on those that are most relevant to the requirements of the report, or that represent greatest advancement in knowledge. It is quite reasonable (indeed necessary) for IPCC authors to form and express their opinion about which papers do or do not meet those requirements. The remaining body of literature still provides the supporting framework within which the IPCC reports are based. Second, these papers were discussed in the IPCC report, demonstrating that the IPCC writing and reviewing process works well. Third, these papers have both received considerable criticism since the IPCC report, perhaps substantiating the initial judgement about the quality of these papers. Fourth, redefining the meaning of peer-reviewed literature is not possible for an IPCC author and the final comment is clearly flippant.

    — Criticism has also been made regarding the referencing of Wahl and Ammann (2006) within the Palaeoclimate chapter of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. It has been suggested that inappropriate pressure and/or bending of the IPCC rules occurred to allow this article, which was not published until 2007, to be referenced. This article was "in press" only a short time before the IPCC deadline. Reading the emails between the various IPCC authors involved in this part of the report, however, demonstrates that there was no inappropriate pressure, and that the inclusion of this reference was in accordance with the IPCC rules. For example, this email:

"Based on your update (which is much appreciated), I'm not sure we'll be able to cite either… The rule is that we can't cite any papers not in press by end of Feb."

demonstrates the position well—if a paper is not in press in the time indicating in the IPCC rules (end of February 2006) then it will not be cited. There is a clear acceptance of this rule, even if it would have prevented a relevant article from being cited.


    — A small sample of my computer programming code was included in the disclosed files. It has been argued that comments within the code such as "Fudge factor" and "shouldn't usually plot past 1960 because these will be artificially adjusted to look closer to the real temperatures" demonstrate that data have been manipulated in an inappropriate and undisclosed manner. My programs that were highlighted on BBC Newsnight that contained comments such as these were not the basis for any published article or dataset, and thus are not a valid indication of inappropriate data manipulation. If we do need to make adjustments to data that are scientifically justified, then we state clearly both the justification and the adjustment when we publish the article or dataset. In relation to the second of the two highlighted comments, it was simply a note that should have read "…because these will have been artificially adjusted…" to remind myself that I had applied an adjustment to this particular set of data (for the purposes of exploring the consequences of recent trends for the calibration of tree-ring temperature proxies) and that if I did plot them it would give a false impression of the agreement between tree-rings and temperature because of the adjustment. Thus, rather than indicating that an undisclosed adjustment would be made, it was a warning to avoid using adjusted data without realising it. To re-iterate: I have made no adjustments to data except those that are scientifically justified and stated in published papers.

Dr Timothy J Osborn

Climatic Research Unit

University of East Anglia

February 2010

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