Muir Russell Climategate review – evidence of missing evidence

A few days ago, I decided to re-read the Muir Russell review (aka the Independent Climate Change E-mail Review) which was published circa July 7, 2010.

One of the things that annoyed me on first reading (and no less so on second reading) is that for all the fancy footers and “graphics” on each page, whoever compiled the report failed to incorporate any navigational aids (such as hyperlinked table of contents, or better yet a tagged format which would generate a series of bookmarks so that one might use the built-in sidebar for navigation purposes) when converting the document to .pdf. But I digress …

I have previously noted my skepticism regarding some of Muir Russell’s findings. In particular, the rather inordinate verbal acrobatics that were performed in order to absolve Briffa of any wrongdoing when (contra the IPCC specific admoniition that the compilation of Second Order Draft Comments was not to be copied, quoted or distributed) he decided to send it to his buddy, Eugene Wahl, requesting Wahl’s assistance.

Interestingly, the report cited Briffa’s E-mail to Wahl not once but twice: the first instance can be found in the body of the text [p. 79] as “Evidence in Support of the Allegations”, and the second (a partial quote) in the “Findings” as footnote 41 [p. 84]. Yet, for some strange reason, the report omitted Wahl’s response. Perhaps the purpose of this glaring omission was to avoid detracting from the big picture the Muir Russell investigation “team” was determined to convey.

Setting aside “the science”, one thing that I’ve noticed in all my exercises in due diligence is that those who are committed to the CO2->AGW causation cause seem to have developed a remarkable facility for setting up stawmen and wild goose chases – the latter of which appear to be designed to divert attention from the foolhardiness of the former (and sometimes vice versa)

I first noticed this remarkable facility when I was doing my research related to Briffa’s responses to reviewer comments on the Second Order Draft of AR4, Working Group I’s Chapter 6, Verse

But speaking of Briffa, Boulton, the AR4 Second Order Draft, reviewer comments and wild goose chases …

Notwithstanding Muir Russell et al’s obvious dedication to their ‘do no harm to the CRU/UEA’ unspoken mandate (which was not articulated in their purported remit), the “evidence” posted* on the Muir Russell Review website indicates that while they were most gracious in permitting CRU to “verify… and correct the record” – according to at least one meeting note – prior to publishing on the website, there is no indication that any such courtesy was extended to those whose critical submissions they presumably used in determining their lines of questioning. Nor did they choose to provide an opportunity to any critics to “verify … and correct the record” on any CRU “responses” at any point during the review process.

[* The Review site doesn't make it particularly easy to navigate the evidence. So as a public service, I have compiled the details from their site (as of 2010-Nov-28) into a single spreadsheet and made it available here.]

Here are some excerpts from an April 9th Interview “final” version, as posted [document 0141]:

Summary of salient points of interviews with Professors Philip Jones and Keith Briffa, Dr Tim Osborn and Tom Melvin
Interviewers: Professors Geoffrey Boulton & Peter Clarke.

Interview carried out at UEA on 9th April 2010.

The UEA group were asked to verify that this is a correct record of our meeting, and to correct the record where they believe it not to be. These have now been received and are added to this note.

If they wish to make further comments, please send these separately, rather than attempting to amend this record. In addition, we have a number further questions in relation to the IPCC. Two will be sent later, one is included as paragraph 18.


Issues relating to the IPCC

16. As time had run out, it was agreed that Professor Boulton would later seek written evidence from Professor Jones and Professor Briffa.

There’s also document 0123 (also dated April 9):

Issues and questions to be examined with Professor Jones and Briffa at 9 April meeting


The issues in the following paper are set out as a series of questions and allegations that Professors Boulton and Clarke wish to examine with Professors Jones and Briffa. They are derived from the submissions made to the Review and related to the emails that are at its heart. As such they should not be assumed to reflect the views of the Review team.

They echo in slightly more detail some of the issues that were identified by the Review team at an earlier stage, and which CRU addressed in its response. The fact that they are repeated and enlarged on here should not be taken to imply that the earlier CRU responses were inadequate, but that they are issues that the team which (sic) to “bottom out” in detail.
2.2 Did the CRU group subvert IPCC procedures by excluding views of which they disapproved from proper consideration, and set aside IPCC rules through concessions to views of which they approved?

Professor Briffa
b) Briffa sent IPCC chapter materials, including Reviewer Comments to Wahl of Alfred College, in apparent contravention of IPCC rules, seeking advice on how to respond to review comments about divergence. Wahl supplied Briffa with unpublished material that had not gone through the IPCC review process (1155402164). [emphasis added -hro

Actually, the most frequently mentioned concern did not pertain to “divergence” but to “replication”. Nonetheless, Wahl’s reply to Briffa is not in the report – nor does it make an appearance in any of the evidence except as support for footnote 42 [page 84], Briffa’s June 25 “Response to additional Question regarding Keith Briffa’s request to Eugene Wahl and his Response” [document 0135]. In addition to this reply, Briffa, for some reason decided it was necessary to incorporate several other items of correspondence between himself and Wahl.

Wahl did supply Briffa with “unpublished material that had not gone through the IPCC review process”. In fact, I had quoted excerpts from Wahl’s helpful response many months ago:

[...] I am also attaching a review article Caspar and I plan to submit to Climatic Change in the next few days. [The idea is that this would accompany the Wahl-Ammann article, to summarize and amplify on it -- given all the proper and non-proper interpretation WA has received and the need for subsequent analysis that WA only lightly touches on. Steve Schneider is aware that it is coming.] I think a read through this, especially the part on PCs and Bristlecones, can say about all I might offer additionally. It is not lengthy.

Please note that this Ammann-Wahl text is sent strictly confidentially — it should not be cited or mentioned in any form, and MUST not be transmitted without permission. However, I am more than happy to send it for your use, because it succinctly summarizes what we have found on all the issues that have come up re: MBH. As you can see, we agree at some level with some of the criticisms raised by MM and others, but we do not find that they invalidate MBH in any substantial way.[...] [emphasis added -hro]

It is interesting to note that in an April 6 E-mail to Oxburgh, Muir Russell anticipated completing the review “before the end of May at the earliest”. Fair enough, let’s give him some leeway here and stretch it to mid-June. But, in the event, the report was not completed until circa July 2, and released (after following the dictates of “natural justice” by giving UEA a chance to see it first) on July 7.

This suggests to me that Muir Russell is not particularly skillful at estimating the time required to complete a task. Or is there an alternate explanation for the disparity between his April 6 estimate and the actual completion date?

I’m not sure of the date that David Holland sent his submission to Muir Russell; but I’m fairly certain it would have been prior to the March 1 deadline for “submissions”, as announced on February 11. And I do know that circa April 15 (the day before the “second tranche” of submissions was posted), Holland was advised that his submission would not be published on the review website due to some (unpublished) legal advice that “it could be open to a claim of defamation”.

Having now read Holland’s submission (twice), even though I’m not a lawyer, I can only say that such an excuse simply boggles the mind. Nonetheless this “legal advice” did not preclude review “team” member Geoffrey Boulton (who just happens to have a very extensive history of affiliation with the University of East Anglia’s Environmental Sciences department … which, of course would lead any reasonable person to conclude that there’s absolutely no possibility of bias on his part … NOT) from performing a “redaction” exercise that is tantamount to virtual butchery, the likes of which I’ve never seen before … and believe me, I’ve seen onehellofalot of virtual butchery in my time.

The first sign of Boulton’s butchery appears as an honourable mention in a submission from Briffa and Osborn [document 0120 which the Review website indicates is dated May 6, but is actually dated May 19 as a "response" to Boulton's May 6 letter and May 12 "clarification"].

Briffa and Osborn’s colour-coded, cherry-picking exercise – based on their, uh, reconstruction of Boulton’s butchery – includes as “supporting documentation” a screenshot of 2 review comments on the First Order Draft (with no indication of the “chapter team’s” response). This is rather odd, considering that the issue pertained to a paragraph in the Second Order Draft for which there were 37 comments from 8 authors.

There is a further May 19th document [0143] which the Review site lists as “Briffa, Information re Wahl and Ammann (2007, Climatic Change) and its usage in the IPCC AR4″. However, there’s no title page and the header on each of this document’s 2 pages reads, “Eugene R. Wahl and Caspar M. Ammann, May 19, 2010″; consequently, it is not entirely clear to me who the real author(s) might be.

So, the question/issue on April 9* [document 0123] (as noted above, and repeated below to save you scrolling back) was:

Professor Briffa
b) Briffa sent IPCC chapter materials, including Reviewer Comments to Wahl of Alfred College, in apparent contravention of IPCC rules, seeking advice on how to respond to review comments about divergence. Wahl supplied Briffa with unpublished material that had not gone through the IPCC review process (1155402164). [emphasis added -hro

* The Review team was not consistent in dating submissions/evidence on the website; however, the preamble to this document would suggest that it was actually written sometime prior to April 9, in order to provide the interviewees with time “to prepare”.

Review comments are mentioned as part of the evidence in support of the allegations [Item 34, p. 79]. However the Report’s findings and conclusions are deafeningly silent on the questions inherent in the above. So it would appear that somewhere between pages 79 and 84, someone dropped the ball – perhaps they saw fit to do so because they found “The evidence and narrative provided by Briffa is persuasive[...]” [p. 83]. The Review team’s conclusions [pp. 84-85] on this particular matter:

9.5 Conclusions

40. In summary, we have not found any direct evidence to support the allegation that members of CRU misused their position on IPPC to seek to prevent the publication of opposing ideas.

41. In addition to taking evidence from them and checking the relevant minutes of the IPCC process, we have consulted the relevant IPCC Review Editors. Both Jones and Briffa were part of large groups of scientists taking joint responsibility for the relevant IPCC Working Group texts and were not in a position to determine individually the final wording and content. We find that neither Jones nor Briffa
behaved improperly by preventing or seeking to prevent proper consideration of views which conflicted with their own through their roles in the IPCC.

The Review team’s archiving of submissions and evidence on the website uses a rather unfathomable convention. If you sort the spreadsheet, I mentioned earlier, by Number, you will notice that some numbers are in red; this is to highlight missing document numbers [0085, 0086, 0113, 0114, 0117, 0138, 0140, and 0150]; perhaps the 2 0155s (also in red) were intended to lessen the deficit; although one shows a date of Feb. 13 and the other, Oct. 24. This is not the only anomaly I found in attempting to correlate date sequences with document numbering sequences [try a sort by my ReformattedDate column, to see what I mean!]

So what is one to conclude from all this?! Well, it could be purely coincidence that Boulton’s butchery [May 6] (and Briffa and Osborn’s colour-coded, cherry-picked “reconstruction” thereof [May 19], along with other subsequent and related materials, up to and including one on June 25) threw a monkey-wrench into Muir Russell’s “timetable”.

Then again, one has to wonder why it took Boulton from April 9 until May 6 to perform his butchery on Holland’s submission. One might even wonder if perhaps he wasn’t even planning to do so. However, hiding Holland’s submission did not make his well-documented chronology and allegations disappear, as perhaps the Review team might have hoped. Holland’s April 15 announcement – and offer to make his submission available on request – via Bishop Hill’s blog would certainly have been noticed.

During Muir Russell’s encore performance at the U.K. House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, he made a number of rather odd rambling – and sometimes obfuscatory – comments, including:

Q122 Stephen Mosley: You mentioned Mr Holland there. There has been criticism, and I know we have received complaints as well, of your decision not to publish David Holland’s submission detailing the alleged breaches of the IPCC’s rules. Did you take Mr Holland’s evidence into account before you made the judgment on the allegation of the breaches of the IPCC’s rules?

Sir Muir Russell: Yes, and you will see that Mr Holland’s recent comments do acknowledge that in fact Briffa and colleagues saw his submission and commented on it. So we have quite extensive paperwork, and I think it is reproduced in the evidence on the website, that shows Mr Holland’s submission being taken very carefully into account in responses and, I can assure you, being very fully discussed by us before we produced the material that is in the second half of chapter 9. The only issue, I think, turns on whether the full submission was appropriate to publish, given some elements of the terms in which it was written. But I think the substance of the issues has all been dealt with. The team went into that pretty carefully.

I’m not sure if in that last sentence he’s referring to his team – or the “hockey” team. But, it would appear that, if Briffa and colleagues had not “[seen] Holland’s submission” – and performed their reconstruction of Boulton’s butchery (along with other “smoothings”) – perhaps Muir Russell’s report would have been delivered in accordance with the schedule he had “anticipated” on April 6.

3 thoughts on “Muir Russell Climategate review – evidence of missing evidence

    • Uh, Donna … if you mouse over the link in my article, you’ll see that I’ve already “tinied” it … although mine is called ReviewEvidence! But both yours and mine will always resolve to the googledocs URL :-)

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