Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CRU Cleared Again

Story about Lord Oxburgh's inquiry into CRU practices here. Some excerpts:

The scientists at the centre of the row over the hacked climate emails have been cleared of any deliberate malpractice by the second of three inquiries into their conduct.


The report concluded: "We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal."


The panel was not tasked specifically with looking at the way CRU handled access to its data and Freedom of Information requests from members of the public but it commented that there were "a host of important unresolved questions" arising from the application of FoI to academic research. "We agree with the CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties should stay with those who collected it," the report said. It did criticised the government's policy of charging for access to data. "This is unfortunate and seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in government."

So, this puts Oxburgh's panel at odds with the Parliamentary Inquiry, which seems to want the data handed out willy-nilly. Furthermore, a number of climate scientists have noted and expanded upon the issue raised in this last couple of (bolded) sentences, including James Annan:

Let me introduce you to the NERC policy on Intellectual Property. Short version: "Who owns the intellectual property? We do." The UK Ministry of Defence (who run UK Met Office and therefore the Hadley Centre) is orders of magnitude worse in its defensive and bean-counting approach to the supply of, well, just about anything that they have and anyone else wants. The bottom line is (or certainly was, when I worked there) that NERC employees are under pressure to sell anything that can be sold. And if someone asks for something, that means it must surely be worth something, right? Of course this is an attitude that the scientists - who know that they can't really get any significant price for their work - have always implacably opposed, but we don't really count for much when the politicians are demanding budget cuts and percentage returns on investment.

There were some complaints about CRU's statistical practices:

The panel did raise doubts about the statistical input into scientific papers authored by researchers at CRU. "We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians," it concluded.

...which the University of East Anglia responds to as follows:

The Report points out where things might have been done better. One is to engage more with professional statisticians in the analysis of data. Another, related, point is that more efficacious statistical techniques might have been employed in some instances (although it was pointed out that different methods may not have produced different results). Specialists in many areas of research acquire and develop the statistical skills pertinent to their own particular data analysis requirements. However, we do see the sense in engaging more fully with the wider statistics community to ensure that the most effective and up-to-date statistical techniques are adopted and will now consider further how best to achieve this.

But otherwise, a clean bill of health. Of course, the UEA commissioned this inquiry itself, so there will be cries of "white-wash" from the usual suspects who are, at this very moment (taking into account the Penn State investigation of Mann), batting 0-for-3. That will be nothing but sour grapes on their part.

The entire report can be read here.


Mark Richard Francis said...

When I did PR for a research institute in Toronto, they had an epidemiologist on staff who would advise researchers on the most appropriate methods to use.

I wouldn't mind a good statistical review of how CRU weighs their temperatures. They have been criticized as being the least reliable of the reliable official temperature records because they underweigh ocean and polar temperatures, producing a cooler temperature record than what we get back from other records and orbital monitoring.

John Mashey said...

Yes, more (competent) statisticians = good.

I do assume you propose to increase the funding to do so, right?

Steve Bloom said...

Mark, the ocean temperatures are provided by the Hadley half of the HadCRUT team and so are not CRU's responsibility. In any case I don't recall hearing about any statistical issues relating to that data set, but perhaps I missed something.

There is a CRU polar issue, but it isn't statistical. They simply exclude the high Arctic since it has no station data. GISS, by contrast, interpolates adjacent station data to cover the area. As the high Arctic is warming faster than the rest of planet, HadCRUT thus runs cooler.

Steve Bloom said...

Presumably we'll now see statisticians applying for grants to do such work. I don't expect either NERC or NSF to be especially interested.

Frank said...

The UEA clears the UEA with 'independent' inquiry. The fox investigating the disappearance of a few hens.

"Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool, a man of impeccable credentials in the climate change field. Lord Oxburgh is chair of the multinational Falck Renewables, a European leader with major windfarms in the UK, France, Spain and Italy, and he’s chair of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, a lobby group which argues that carbon capture could become a $1-trillion industry by 2050.

Lord Oxburgh’s judicial temperament also served him well in his role as chair of the university inquiry. “We are sleepwalking” into a global warming threat so dire, Lord Oxburgh explained in 2007, that the world may need to do more to discourage carbon dioxide emitters than to simply put a price on carbon. “It may be that we shall need, in parallel with that, regulations which impose very severe penalties on people who emit more than specified amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” he explained." - L Solomon, NP 15 April