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The Muir Russell report

by Gavin and Mike

The long-awaited and surprisingly thorough Muir Russell report (readable online version) was released this morning. We’ve had a brief read through of the report, but a thorough analysis of this and the supplemental information on the web site will have to wait for a day or so.

The main issue is that they conclude that the rigour and honesty of the CRU scientists is not in doubt. For anyone who knows Phil Jones and his colleagues this comes as no surprise, and we are very pleased to have this proclaimed so vigorously. Secondly, they conclude that none of the emails cast doubt on the integrity and conclusions of the IPCC, again, something we have been saying since the beginning. They also conclude as we did that there was no ‘corruption’ of the peer-review process. Interestingly, they independently analysed the public domain temperature data themselves to ascertain whether the could validate the CRU record. They managed this in two days, somewhat undermining claims that the CRU temperature data was somehow manipulated inappropriately. (Note that this exercise has been undertaken by a number of people since November – all of which show that the CRU results are robust).

All in all, none of the various accusations and insinuations that have been floating around the blogosphere have been sustained. (See some of the early media coverage of the report).

However, there are two issues that have come up that deserve some comment. The first are the evolving practices of data presentation and access, and the second is the issue of how to handle Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

As climate science has moved away from single researcher/single study/single site analyses towards synthesis across multiple studies, across the globe and involving more and more researchers, practices that were appropriate at one time don’t necessarily scale up to the new environment. Data requests dealt with on an ad-hoc and informal basis work fine if only a couple of people are interested, but more formal and automated procedures are needed when the data sets grow and many more people are involved (see the PCMDI/CMIP3 archive of model results for instance). Given too, the obsession in certain quarters with irrelevant details of smoothing techniques and end-point padding in decade-old papers, it is clear that the more information that is put out as supplementary material to the creation of high-profile figures, the better off we will be. Examples of this for figures in IPCC AR4 already exist, but it will be helpful for IPCC to adopt this practice more generally. Historically, this hasn’t been done – mainly because no-one thought it particularly interesting (most smoothing methods produce very similar results for instance), particularly for figures that weren’t for publication in the technical literature.

One example of this was the cover art on a WMO 1999 report which, until last November, was completely obscure (we are not aware of any mention of this report or this figure before November in any blogospheric discussion, ever). Nonetheless, in the way of these things, this figure is now described as ‘an icon’ in the Muir Russell report (one of their very few mistakes, how can something be an icon if no-one has ever seen it?). In retrospect (and as we stated last year) we agree with the Muir Russell report that the caption and description of the figure could indeed have been clearer, particularly with regard to the way proxy and instrumental data sources were spliced into a single curve, without indicating which was which. The WMO cover figure appears (at least to our knowledge) to be the only instance where that was done. Moving forward, nonetheless, it is advisable that scientists be as clear as possible about what sorts of procedures have gone into the preparation of a figure. But retrospective applications of evolving standards are neither fair nor useful.

With respect to the continuing barrage of FOI requests (which are predominantly for personal communications rather than for data), we can attest from personal experience how disconcerting these can be at first. Since there are no limits on what can be asked for (though there are many limits on what will be delivered), scientists presented with these requests often find them personally invasive and inappropriate. Institutions that do not have much experience with these kinds of requests, and who are not aware of what their employees do that is, and is not, covered by the legislation, are often not much help in sorting out how to respond. This can certainly be improved, as can the awareness of the community of what is recoverable using these procedures. While it is not relevant to the legislation, nor to what can be released, the obvious bad faith of many of the requesters indicates that actual information about the functioning of public bodies is not the primary goal in making these requests. However, it would be a terrible mistake for scientists to retreat from the public discussion on climate science because of these attempts at intimidation.

We will post on more specific aspects of the report, and perhaps the legacy of the whole affair over the next few days…

235 Responses to “The Muir Russell report”

  1. 201
    Lloyd Flack says:

    Do the British and American Freedom of Information Acts require government bodies and government funded bodies to respond to requests from forign locations or are they only required to respond to citizens and residents? I ask this because the CRU appeard to be getting a lot of FOI requests from the US and other countries. I thought the purpose of FOI was so citizens could know what their government was doing. I see no reason why government bodies should have to respond to such requests from foreigners.

  2. 202
    ccpo says:

    Thank you, Scott and Seb, for making the effort. You are correct. The context is clear, the use of antecedent and pronoun is clear, and no other sentence in the post Jim objected to could be construed to mean to ignore the scientists.

    [Response:Think whatever you want, I’m sure it means exactly what you want it to mean. Your comments indicate what your position is.

    Enough of this. It was a misunderstanding that was made worse by over-ripe rhetoric.

    [Response: Then don’t use it, be clear about exactly what you mean, don’t demoralize/insult other people e.g. Bob Sphaerica, for their legitimate and well-explained efforts to help, based on your opinions about human psychology and blanket statements about what people respond to. If you do so again, I will react in exactly the same way I did this time.–Jim]

    On to more imporant things.


  3. 203
    Barry Woods says:

    I am fortunate to have a ticket for the Guardian debate – following the Muir Russell enquiry – in London tonight..

    George Monbiot is the chair, Fred Pearce – ‘The Climate Files’ author is on the panel and even Steve Mcintyre!, plus Professor Trevor Davis UEA, Bob Watson DEFRA.

    If, I get the opportunity, I will ask a question or 2..

    Anybody have any suggestions…

    My first thought was, is carbon trading really a good idea. -ie all the bankers looking to make their next prifits from it. I know James Hansen thinks, cap and trade is not a good idea..

    As George Monbiot, as recently changed his mind about Phil Jones, it should be an interesting meeting.

    Guardian debate: Was ‘climategate’ the greatest scandal to hit climate science or a mere storm in a teacup

  4. 204
    jgnfld says:

    Just a quick link to the Wall Street Journal response to Muir-Russell. The article is by a “scientist”, but is pretty much 100% innuendo and “links”.

  5. 205
    Mikel says:

    Re: 201 Lloyd Flack

    I cannot reply for the US Freedom of Information Act, but the Freedom of Information Act covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the similar Act covering Scotland is required to respond to requests regardless of origin, as is the case for the Environmental Information Regulations.

    As far as the UK is concerned, the vast majority of requests for information regarding climate science will come under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), making some of the preceding discussions on the CRU emails over the past months irrelevant. The EIR has extended the organisations covered by the Regulations to include some private organisations, such as the water utilities.

  6. 206
    Neal J. King says:

    Barry Woods, #203:

    It would seem that a much more relevant question would be, “When is Steve McIntyre going to admit that the only serious problem with Climategate was the thief?”

  7. 207

    #203 Barry Woods

    Please take a look at a proposal that considers the science and the economy together while eliminating the mess of schemes that may, or mostly, be fomented by carbon trading:

    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future –
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  8. 208
    milestone says:

    An inaccurate interpretation of the “climategate” investigations in The Atlantic:

    [Response: yes, and a pretty good take down of it at DeSmogBlog. -mike]

  9. 209
    Gareth says:

    In the matter of Monckton v Abraham, the potty peer has now posted at WUWT asking for people to flood Abraham’s university with calls for disciplinary action. As a consequence, I have posted this:

    We the undersigned offer unreserved support for John Abraham and St. Thomas University in the matter of complaints made to them by Christopher Monckton. Professor Abraham provided an important public service by showing in detail Monckton’s misrepresentation of the science of climate, and we applaud him for that effort, and St. Thomas University for making his presentation available to the world.

    If you support Abraham, please visit Hot Topic and leave a comment in support.

  10. 210
    David Jordan says:

    The Guardian comments on the debate they hosted last night between various luminaries on both sides( They portray the UEA as being firmly on the back-foot, even after Muir-Russell. I wonder if any readers were at the meeting and can give an independent account?

  11. 211
    Deech56 says:

    Gareth #209: Thanks for coordinating this. I added my signature (using my real name, of course).

  12. 212
    Barry Woods says:

    George Monbiot actually came across very well, a fair ‘chair’ and with a sense of humour saying:
    “He was the ideal chair, because he had managed to alienate, everybody!”

    You do really need to see the video, to see how bad the UEA’s Trevor Davis was, especially how, the admission that Phil Jones was not seen by Muir Russell after the enquiry panel had formed, was dragged out of him…
    I think the Time journalist, asked for confirmation from Davis, whether Mcintyre account was correct, ie the head of the enquiry, had not the head of the department (Phil Jones) to be formally interviewed, after the panel had formed.
    George to his credit, did not allow Davis (UEA) to get away with anything, George pursued the question, with Davis, until after much note shuffling, not sures, mumbling, refering to notes, Davis eventually mumbled Phil Jones,- met Muir Russell in January, Steve Mcintyre said, ‘confirming’, BEFORE the panel had formed.
    Bob Watson’s admission, that he had only read a FEW emails was just laughable, given the debate…
    Fred Pearce did come across very well (Fred and George came across as journalists)
    Keenan was very concise and tough, maybe overstepped the mark, saying all climate science was rubbish (assuming man made kind)
    What may be lost because he said that, is he talked about the human ‘cost’ of it all, hundreds of millions of poor affected, because we ‘must’ do ‘something’ about AGW,even as the uncertainties get bigger for AR5.
    His other valid point, that struck a chord, was how there is no processes, for challenging academic fraud, incompetance, no way to hold anybody academic to account,(fraud/incompetance) Citing an example, (not climate science) that he was pursueing, where the university, said no method to do this.
    Keenan I think impressed the journalists, like Fred, George Roger Harrabin, The Times, etc with his conciseness, and interest in accountability of academia, no ‘waffle’.
    Former IPCC man Bob Watson, could only keep repeating, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, 95% scientists agree, very superficial platitudes, that just did not work in a debate, where every one was knowledgable.
    Roger Harraibin asked him a question from the audience, and the response from Bob was very poor, totally not answering the question, which I heard at least one of the journalists present, saying Bob did not answer the question.
    Fiona Fox asked a question, pretty much attacking the Guardian journalists, for being irresponsble for reporting about climategate. Fred Pearce’s reply was perfect, comparing to how reporting MP’s expenses was referred as attacking democracy initially, but long term better for democracy (cf climate science)
    Fiona Fox, sounded to be like a very strident ‘activist’, really need to here it for yourself..
    The journalists present could not fail to see, what the Muir Russell enquiry was really about, following UEA’s and Bob Watsons poor performance here
    George Monbiot, WAS a very good chair…
    I had thought – oh huh, when he started of with the ‘Climate Change DENIAL community’, but it would be picky to highlight any detail.
    He fulfilled the role of chair correctly. (if only he’s stop denial stuff in his blog – that totally alienates me, annd many others,)

  13. 213
  14. 214
    Paulk says:

    For those of use who have been arguing with climate denying friends for a while, can anyone find specific rebuttals to Clive Crook’s claims in his latest “Big Green Lie” piece in the Atlantic?

    While one rebuttal is that he has cherry-picked his selections, a more specific demonstration of that would be very helpful, in particular regarding the thoroughness of the various investigations. (His implication is that specific failures to investigation an aspect of the “scandal” in one report is uniform for the rest. My understanding has been that some of the things he claims weren’t investigated, were, in fact.)

    This kind of piece has the potential to be very damaging unless these criticisms are addressed.

  15. 215
    dhogaza says:

    People should keep in mind that Barry Woods believes that Bishop Hill is the best source of information on the hockey stick (i.e. his book that “proves” academic fraud on the part of Mann, blah blah).

    His account of the Guardian debate may be subject to a certain amount of bias, in other words.

    On the other hand, Monbiot and (especially) Pearse have dug themselves so deep into the doo-doo over climategate that they’re going to do anything to “prove” that, as journalists, they did nothing wrong in accepting the denialist narrative regarding the e-mails rather than doing any serious investigative work themselves.

  16. 216
    Barry Woods says:

    Hi Dhogaza,
    unlike some I read any books that are recommended to me, or that pick my interest..
    I even enjoy reading RealClimate, after all it was recommended to me by a personal friend that co-edited the 2001 IPCC synthesis report!!!!!

    They haven’t called me a deniar, or even a sceptic! yet ;)

  17. 217
    Barry Woods says:

    Here is the audio link,

    let everyone form their own opinion, I just said it as I perceived it, and of course, my views are my own.

    (they cut a lot of Doug Keenan out, for legal reasons no doubt, Doug stands by what he said, by repeating, his charges are on his website, either side would have done this, sceptical or pro)

    [Response: Keenan is a first degree idiot. He was the one who forced Queens University of Belfast to release their tree ring data earlier this year, on the grounds that it was somehow critical to global temperature reconstructions. I don’t spend a lot of time reading denialist junk, but I did read his ideas about why this was supposedly the case, and I have never read anything more ridiculous and counter to reality. He believes that even though certain Irish tree ring proxies held by QUB do not correlate at all well with local temperature records, that they are somehow useful as a global temperature proxy. Worse by a fair margin than even McIntyre’s nonsense on Yamal.–Jim]

  18. 218
    pete best says:

    Re #212, being a good orator does not make you right now does it ? Too many journalists Monbiot and Pearce amongst them perhaps are attaching to much importance to these emails and their oratory skills much like politicians make them seem to be in the right when the truth is that they are the reporters of science and not the practitioners. This debate was in London about a international issue and giving O2 to the skeptics and deniers only means one thing. You aint convinced anyone either way.

  19. 219
    ghost says:

    RE: 212 “His other valid point, that struck a chord, was how there is no processes, for challenging academic fraud, incompetence, no way to hold anybody academic to account,(fraud/incompetence)”

    That strikes me as hogwash purveyed by the uninitiated. There are multiple ways currently in use and that have withstood the test of time. One is to decline peer-review publication of oat-brindled pony loaves submitted by the scientific equivalent of illiterate 5th graders. That does have the odd side effect of stirring up the ad hominem bots, though. Hmmm, maybe there’s a paper in that phenomenon.

  20. 220
    Mikel says:

    Re 217 : Jim’s response:
    Keenan is a first degree idiot. He was the one who forced Queens University of Belfast to release their tree ring data earlier this year, on the grounds that it was somehow critical to global temperature reconstructions.”

    In the interests of accuracy, it was the UK’s Information Commissioner who forced QUB to release their data,unless QUB successfully appeal. Moreover, the Decision Notice does not go into whether the grounds for release were in any way due to the data being critical to global temperature reconstructions, i.e that the public interest was engaged. The ICO found that the exceptions stated by QUB were not applicable.

    Decision Notice reference:

    [Response: I’m talking ultimate cause, not proximate. It was Keenan who pestered the powers that be into forcing the release. Mind you, I am in no way arguing against the release of these (or any other) data. I am arguing against people who make a huge fuss under the belief that supposedly “suppressed” data actually indicate that something is wrong with the science that needs to be covered up, when in fact they have no idea what they are talking about wrt the significance of the data. It is so fitting that Keenan and McIntyre were the tag team last night–birds of a feather as they say.–Jim]

  21. 221
    Mikel says:


    Jim, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you. However, I am carefully trying to point out that there is a legal framework within which we all have to operate. It does not make any sense to try to get round that framework by trying to argue that, for example, various exemptions should apply, unless you have very good legal obligations for withholding information. Any withholding of information requests is going to be seen as a cover up.

    Siince it is clear to me that the scientific evidence is sound, I’d recommend keeping the argument to the science and deal with the requests without concern about who is making them. Much better to leave handling these requests to those who have the training, experience and possibly the ability to be dispassionate.

    [Response: Be careful here. FOI laws are not absolute in any sense and there are some very sound exceptions to disclosure. The chief one that is relevant in most of the requests for communications (in the US at least) are related to whether a communication is an ‘agency record’ and is something to do with the official activity of the senders/recipients. For instance, emailing your girlfriend a recipe is not going to be an agency record regardless of where you sent it from – there is lots of case law on this. Similarly, there are some things that are privileged – reviewer/editor communications, personnel issues, pre-decisional deliberations etc. These filters all need to be worked through by lawyers – one email at a time if need be – (one of the reasons why these requests are seen as invasive). But you are correct, the motives and reasons of the requestors does not play a role in deciding what gets released. – gavin]

  22. 222
    Didactylos says:

    I see The Guardian couldn’t get any scientists to their debate. I wonder why? Oh. Right.

  23. 223
    Mikel says:

    Re: Gavin’s response to 221

    Your description of the US legal framework is not that dissimilar to the UK. We are in agreement and back to much of my post 51. We may get back to the legal framework if you do decide to post further on the implications of the Muir Russel report.

  24. 224
    Lloyd Flack says:

    About the graph from the 1999 WMO report that caused all the controversy, it was on the front cover of the report. That is, it was part of the packaging. It was a teaser, meant to give an indication of what was inside. It was not meant to be examined in the same way that you look at the figures inside the report. They are what the readers are meant to get their information. They are supposed to have all the annotations and descriptions that would merely clutter a cover figure. The things that were left out made it more fit for its purpose.

  25. 225
    Julian Williams says:

    Re 222: No scientists? Apart from 2 professors of science, two others with mathematics degrees + the two science journalists (and I think at least George Monbiot has a science degree).

  26. 226
    Brian Dodge says:

    [Response: And who’s going to do all these things–file all these lawsuits, pay for
    the lawyers etc? …]
    [Response: Good, now suggest something that hasn’t been done already. And then take
    the lead on it.–Jim]

    Okey Dokey.

    I called Earthjustice, “a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to
    protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth,
    and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.” and spoke with
    them about this issue. They are of course aware of “Climategate”, and even have a
    link to news about the Muir Russell report on their home page. They often take cases
    on the basis of reports from their supporters or concerned persons who contact
    them, and they like an issue to be sent to them in writing (e-mail, snail mail)
    rather than over the phone. The person I spoke to gave permission to post to this
    blog about our conversation & my follow up email.

    my e-mail to them:

    Subject: Followup to our phone conversation – Defending (in court) environmental
    scientists, especi – ally climatologists, against libelous attacks

    There is currently an ongoing discussion about the Muir Russell report which
    exonerates climate scientists on the blog
    (Intro) – (full comments)

    There are suggestions that climate scientists that have been libeled or otherwise
    attacked by global warming denialists counter such malicious attacks by going to
    court against the most egregious offenses. The climate scientists who run the blog
    have pointed out that they don’t have the funds, expertise, or time to pursue such

    Earthjustice has done an outstanding job of legally representing the environment;
    environmental scientists, especi – ally climatologists, could use some legal
    advice/help too right now, even if a considered legal opinion from your staff is
    that they shouldn’t pursue denialists in court.

    I am aware that this is a complicated (=expensive) issue, and that there may be
    little you can do and even less that would be prudent to do, but I think that it
    would be worthwhile for Earthjustice to look into this.

    I would like to confirm that the $500 donation I made should be earmarked for this
    cause if possible, but may be used elsewhere at your discretion.

    Thank You,
    Brian Dodge

  27. 227
    Geoff Wexler says:

    New Scientist coverage.

    The recent coverage of the NS has been rather mixed. For example in its editorial this week it complains that the 3 recent inquiries into the CRU all avoided the science. Good thing too!. We have the IPCC. The last thing science needs is to be decided by a series of prolonged semi-judicial inquiries spreading over a decade or two.

    This proposal is remiscent of that of Nigel Lawson et al who want to overthrow the IPCC. The trouble is that the previous inquiries might have raised expectations that there would be additional inquiries into the science.

    On the other hand , to its credit the NS did publish (on 30th June) a review of Fred Pearce’s book. Pearce is of course a consultant for the NS but that did not prevent Chris Mooney from indicating that he did not like the book and its preoccupation with details. I suspect that he might have been trying to be gentle because scientific reporters have so much power. The review ends with : “Global warming is real and human-caused, and no email can change that” Perhaps not, but it can make it worse by delaying mitigation.

  28. 228
    Barry Woods says:

    George Monbiot, I believe, has a degree in Zoology

  29. 229
    Mike says:

    New Scientist opines that “Russell’s team left other stones unturned. They decided against detailed analysis of all the emails in the public domain. They examined just three instances of possible abuse of peer review, and just two cases when CRU researchers may have abused their roles as authors of IPCC reports. There were others.”

    Were there? NS doesn’t identify other instances of either. Anyone know what they might be referring to?

  30. 230
    Hank Roberts says:

    > all the emails in the public domain

    The stolen email? Or are they referring to something else?

    Remember, use conspiracy logic: the thieves announced they’d published a “random sample” from the vast amount of stolen email. If you believed that, and if you believed they’d done a proper random sample, you’d then be able to believe the large volume of yet-unpublished email was probably (at the 5 percent level?) comparably full of the same kind of secret badness. Conspiracy logic always says there’s more hidden than found. Lather rinse repeat.

    Nobody who thinks believes that’s true. But we need a majority.

  31. 231
    Mike says:

    NS means all the private emails of everyone in CRU. Maybe their phones should be tapped as well. After all their office phones are public property. It is crazy. But the general public may not realize this. Certain government officials are required to save all their work e-mails for posterity and these can be subject to subpoena. But this does apply to college faculty or most public employees. And, you need some evidence of wrong doing to get a subpoena. If NS has such information they are not revealing it. Perhaps NS will hire some hackers.

  32. 232
    J Bowers says:

    Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, the Institute of Physics’ Energy Sub-Group has been disbanded because of Climategate after the Science board looked into it.

  33. 233
    Denise Davis says:

    As an American, I would like to first and foremost apologize for the tactics employed by my conservative neighbors. Fueled by greed and their desire to keep our country dependent on oil and mass consumption of disposable goods, they will do anything and everything to distort and manipulate scientific research to serve their own goals. The careers, integrity and feelings of others mean nothing to them, and they will not hesitate to ruin a person’s life for a sound bite on Fox News.

    I grew up in the 1980s, when being “green” was called being “eco-conscious.” Back then, we were concerned about the ozone layer, but the basic principles seem the same to me. To me, climate change is particularly logical. I do not understand the mindset of those who claim all the chemicals and pollutants we as a society spew into the environment can have no affect. To me, it is a particularly naive and ignorant assertion. My brother believes what he is told by Fox News (Faux News, really), and refers to climate change as the “global warming hoax”. He thinks it’s just a way for Al Gore to get rich. Al Gore was already rich, so this assertion also seems illogical to me.

    I just want to thank all the scientists who persevere in the face of such political opposition. Much like when the commonly held belief was that the earth was flat or that the sun was the center of the universe, the truth faces major obstacles by governments and politics who have no business interfering. Thank you, for standing on principle. Thank you, for choosing to work so tirelessly for the greater good. Thank you, for not succumbing to the pressure and turning tail. Thank you, for using your gifts to help the human race survive.

  34. 234
    Bob Ryan says:

    I met and knew Steve through various meetings and interactions within the AMS. Ben said it best, “Steve Schneider epitomized scientific courage. He was fearless. The pathway he chose – to be a scientific leader, to be a leader in science communication, and to fully embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the climate change problem – was not an easy pathway.”

    He was a world class scientist and person who was passionate about his science and communication of science to the world public for better understanding and decision making. His contributions are immense and his voice, writings and ideas will be immensely missed.

    Bob Ryan

  35. 235
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re:#227 (up-date)
    (Mainly from memory). The New Scientist of 3rd August carries a relevant item from Trevor Davies in its ‘Opinion Letters’ section. This took exception to the claim that there was still a case to answer on the science. As I saw it his point was that the conclusion that there had been no malpractice does have implications for the validity of the science.

    Presumably he means that after these inquiries, there is no longer any reason to treat the output of CRU in a different way from the output of any other good department.

    Unfortunately this argument could be used as a justification for having the three inquiries. This obviously has its dangers because it could act as an incentive to having more frivolous libelous attacks.
    Elsewhere in the magazine, there is an interview with Trevor Davies and Phil Jones.