Our panel of commentators give their verdict on the Muir Russell review into the hacked ‘climategate’ emails.
The report by Sir Muir Russell et al confirms what everybody who has worked with Phil Jones and Keith Briffa knew all along – they are honest, hard-working scientists whose reputations have been unjustifiably smeared by allegations of unscrupulous behaviour. These allegations are soundly rejected by the report.
I hope that the media will devote as much attention to this comprehensive dismissal of the allegations as it did to promoting the hysteria surrounding the email theft in the first place. Will the Daily Telegraph now retract its claim that the emails revealed “the greatest scientific scandal of our age” and apologise unreservedly to Phil Jones? Will there now be a public inquiry about the erroneous, shallow and repetitive nonsense promulgated in the media over this affair?
If there is a scandal to be reported at all, it is this: the media stoked a controversy without properly investigating the issues, choosing to inflate trivialities to the level of an international scandal, without regard for the facts or individuals affected. This was a shameful chapter in the history of news reporting, and a lesson for those who are concerned about fair and honest communication with the public.
Many thanks for letting me read this report prior to the embargo deadline. It got me up early on a beautiful sunny day here in Massachusetts – for what seems like another day of record-breaking high temperatures.
By Raymond Bradley: Director, Climate System Research Centre, University of Massachusetts.
I am pleased that the final of the now five investigations connected with the hacked climate research unit (CRU) emails has come to completion and, like all of the previous investigations, has found that there was no scientific misconduct by any of the scientists. I was pleased to see the committee confirm that there is nothing in the stolen emails that in any way calls into question the validity of their science, or that of their collaborators and the broader climate research community.
The committee found that there was no attempt to misrepresent or falsify data, and no withholding of access to raw climate data – despite the repeated accusations to the contrary by climate-change deniers. The committee specifically rejected the allegation that tree-ring data has been either inappropriately used, manipulated, or withheld by CRU researchers and their colleagues.
Finally, the committee rejected the claim, made frequently by climate-change deniers, that CRU scientists and other climate scientists have in any way subverted the peer-review process or sought to inappropriately influence that process.
It is my hope that we can now put this bogus, manufactured scandal behind us, and move on to a more constructive conversation about climate change. It seems particularly ironic that climate-change deniers continue to harp over their now discredited claims regarding decade-old emails while we’re experiencing almost daily reminders of the reality of global warming and climate change.
We’re currently witnessing the warmest temperatures ever globally, and are in the midst of a record-setting heatwave in the US associated with the warmest early summer temperatures ever. Meanwhile, the warmest-ever tropical Atlantic ocean temperatures are likely to lead to a hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season this summer, and Arctic sea ice is on course to plummet to its lowest levels ever this summer/fall.
Human-caused climate change is a reality, and it’s about time we get on to a meaningful discussion about what to do about it.
By Michael E Mann: Director, Earth System Science Centre, Pennsylvania State University.
The Muir Russell report is a surprisingly thorough investigation into the practices and methodologies of the CRU team. The report demonstrates again and again that the recent barrage of accusations and insinuations against the scientists and the science had no basis in fact.
The authors even created (with only two days work) an analysis of weather station data from public sources that demonstrated the same patterns and trends that CRU has published – something the critics have never done.
The report is clear about the challenges of data access in an evolving information environment and recommends a number of very sensible changes to practice to help support research groups. However, the spinning of the stolen emails will likely continue apace.
People who are claiming rather hyperbolicly that science has been “forever changed” by these events have both a rather limited appreciation of how long “forever” is, and a profound ignorance for what actual scientists have always done and continue to do.
The fact is that good scientists are, and have always been, professional sceptics. The recent focus has given the public a very distorted view of the field and if something good can come of this episode, it is that it may inspire people to dig behind the soundbites and headlines and to explore this fascinating topic for themselves.
The implications of climate science are too important for all of the media oxygen to be taken up by non-issues.
By Gavin Schmidt: Climate scientist, Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York.
What is the future of climate science and climate policy after the final enquiry into the released emails from CRU? I believe the CRU emails have been a game-changer for science – but have done little to alter the policy conundrums raised by climate change.
For climate science and scientists, three lessons must been learned: make sure to the extent possible that your analysis can be fully replicated by anyone who wishes to; as much rigour should be applied to communicating the “unknowns” as the “knowns” of scientific knowledge; and climate scientists need to re-emphasise (and maybe relearn) their public duty role as sceptics, scientific enquirers who, in the words of the Royal Society motto, “take nobody’s word for it”.
And for climate policy, I don’t think anything much has changed. We know humans have a significant role in changing the climate, but also that the future risks of such interventions cannot and will not be precisely described. The politics of climate change therefore remain, and will continue to remain, turbulent.
The key political questions remain the same: what balance to strike between pushing a strong multilateral framework of targets and timetables versus implementing a broad range of diverse multilevel policies which seek to maximise the near-time co-benefits of longer-term climate goals? I favour the latter. And how to arbitrate between the deeply held and very different world views, which largely determine people’s reading of scientific claims and which shape their preferred policy prescription?
By Mike Hulme: Professor of Climate Change, University of East Anglia.
What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective. Again and again, stories are sexed up with arch hints that these “revelations” might somehow impact on the evidence for human impact on climate.
Yet the only error in the actual data used for climate change detection to have emerged from this whole affair amounted to a few hundredths of a degree in the estimated global temperature of a couple of years in the late 1870s. Having worked in this area for over a decade, I have never used data prior to the 1890s – not because I don’t like what it tells me, but because the data is so sparse it really doesn’t tell us anything at all.
Contrary to popular myth, the original “hockey stick” reconstructions of temperatures over the past millennium played no role in the IPCC‘s 2001 assessment that most of the warming over the past 50 years was likely to have been caused by rising greenhouse gas levels.
Possibly the most important criticism in the Muir Russell review is their finding that “given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the TAR), the [hockey-stick] figure supplied for the WMO report was misleading” for not making clear that the tree-ring series had been truncated and instrumental data spliced on.
They correctly point out that the WMO report “does not have the status or significance of IPCC reports”. What they fail to mention is that the “iconic” version of the figure subsequently produced for the IPCC third assessment made it perfectly clear that the tree-ring series was truncated and the instrumental data was spliced on – the two data-types were shown in different colours!
By Myles Allen: Head of the Climate Dynamics group, Oxford University.
In comparison to previous inquiries by the House of Commons science and technology committee, the Oxburgh inquiry, and Penn State University, the report of the ICCER under the direction of Sir Muir Russell has gone further in making a detailed review of the concerns arising out of the CRU emails.
Some, but certainly not all, of the concerns have been brought to resolution. For example, with regard to the famous “trick” to “hide the decline”, whereas earlier investigations (including Penn State) claimed it was a valid procedure, the ICCER found otherwise, concluding that the figure published in the WMO report “was misleading in not describing that one of the series was truncated post 1960 for the figure, and in not being clear on the fact that proxy and instrumental data were spliced together”. It is good to finally have agreement that Jones’ graph was misleading, and the attempts to explain this away as an innocent turn of phrase are invalid.
There are a number of disappointing weaknesses in the report. However, in Section 9.3 the ICCER presented a detailed discussion of the issues surrounding the use of my 2004 paper with Patrick Michaels in the preparation of the IPCC Report. Unfortunately, the ICCER seemed to lose its way on this issue, making a superficial attempt to pronounce on the scientific controversy (despite acknowledging that it is not its place to do so) while overlooking the procedural issues that were actually in their remit. Their decision to dismiss the allegations in this instance is baseless and flies in the face of the evidence they gathered.
By Ross McKitrick: Environmental economist, University of Guelph, Canada.