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CRU inquiry: science solid despite lack of statistical know-how

Cross-posted by Daniel Cressey on The Great Beyond

CRU.jpgThe integrity of research by the ‘climate-gate’ scientists has been upheld by the latest report into the email theft affair, despite the inquiry team expressing surprise that few professional statisticians were involved in work that is “fundamentally statistical”.

This inquiry, headed by Ron Oxburgh, is one of a number into the aftermath of emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. It was established to consider allegations that papers emanating from CRU had manipulated data dishonestly to support pre-determined conclusions on climate change.

“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,” says the Oxburgh report. “Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention.”

This report reviewed 11 publications considered to be representative of the CRU’s output (including two papers published in Nature). These cover direct temperature observations and the tree ring work that has caused many climate change sceptics to get so hot under the collar.

The tree-ring work was considered by the panel to have been “carried out with integrity” and the methods used in the direct temperature work were “fair and satisfactory”. However, the lack of proper statistical input into CRU’s research did displease Oxburgh’s panel.

“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,” says their report.

In response, a statement from UEA says that specialists gain their own statistical skills. “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,” it adds.

Oxburgh’s panel has already been attacked by some over perceived conflicts of interest – such as its chair also being honorary president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association. The other inquiries into the email theft and subsequent ‘climate-gate’ furore have also been attacked on similar grounds.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said in a statement, “The panel has carried out a thorough investigation of the evidence, and anybody who simply rejects these findings will show that they are motivated by prejudice and ideology rather than by scepticism and a desire to uncover the truth. I think those so-called sceptics and commentators in the media who have attempted to undermine the credibility of climate change science on the basis of the hacked e-mails now need to apologise for misleading the public about their significance.”

Image: CRU building at UEA / wikipedia


  1. Report this comment

    Mac said:

    Quote from Oxburgh report, “For example, CRU publications repeatedly emphasize the discrepancy between instrumental and tree-based proxy reconstructions of temperature during the late 20th century, but presentations of this work by the IPCC and others have sometimes neglected to highlight this issue.”

    Who were the lead IPCC authors who ‘neglected’ the efforts of CRU scientists such as Phil Jones and Keith Briffa to highlight such discrepancies?

    Why it was none other than Phil Jones and Keith Briffa.

    You could not make this up – correction – Lord Oxburgh just did.

    Such a basic error will only fuel more criticism of climate science.

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