By Ross McKitrick, Ph.D
Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Guelph, Canada
News broke on or around 19 November 2009 that a large archive of emails and files from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in the UK had been released on the internet. The contents of the files were sufficiently disconcerting to the public, governments and university administrations that a number of inquiries were established. Several of my research projects were discussed not only in the so-called “Climategate” emails themselves, but also in the investigations, and I made detailed submissions of evidence to three of the panels.
Consequently I take considerable interest in the outcome of these inquiries, especially with regards to whether they approached the issues impartially, investigated thoroughly and drew valid conclusions that fully reflected the evidence.
As of 30 August 2010 all five had issued their reports. The overall impression that has been created is that the scientists and their work were vindicated. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chair Rajendra Pachauri declared in a recent interview1
“the doubts raised have proved to be unfounded.”
Considerable reliance is being placed upon the outcome of these investigations. As I will
show, for the most part the inquiries were flawed, but where they actually functioned as proper inquiries, they upheld many criticisms. But a surprising number of issues were sidestepped or handled inadequately. The world still awaits a proper inquiry into climategate: one that is not stacked with global warming advocates, and one that is prepared to cross-examine evidence, interview critics as well as supporters of the CRU and other IPCC players, and follow the evidence where it clearly leads.
Altogether there were five inquiries or investigations, conducted by, respectively, The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, The Oxburgh panel, the Independent Climate Change Emails Review under Sir Muir Russell, Penn State University and the InterAcademy Council. The first three were established in the UK and focused on scientists at the CRU. The fourth was focused on Michael Mann of Penn State University, a major correspondent in the Climategate archive. The fifth was
commissioned by the IPCC itself as a review of its policies and procedures.
Many accusations and insinuations began flying around during the uproar after the climategate emails were released. I would distill the main concerns down to the following questions.
1. Did the scientists involved in the email exchanges manipulate, hide, invent or otherwise misrepresent evidence in IPCC or World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports so as to mislead readers, including policymakers?
2. Did the scientists involved delete emails or other documents related to the IPCC process in order to prevent disclosure of information subject to Freedom of Information laws?
3. Did the scientists involved in the email exchanges express greater doubts or uncertainties about the science in their own professional writings and in their interactions with one another than they allowed to be stated in reports of the IPCC or WMO that were intended for policymakers?
4. Did the scientists involved in the email exchanges take steps individually or in collusion to block access to data or methodologies in order to prevent external examination of their work?
5. Did the scientists involved in the email exchanges take steps individually or in collusion to block publication of papers, or to intimidate or discredit journals, in order to prevent rival scientific evidence from being published?
My examination of the Climategate inquiries centers on the extent to which they succeeded in providing credible answers to the above questions. As will be shown, the various inquiries reviewed evidence that leads to an affirmative answer in each case, and in many cases the inquiries themselves report affirmative answers, yet they couched such conclusions in terms that gave the opposite impression. In other cases they simply left the questions unanswered. In some cases they avoided the issues by looking instead at irrelevant questions.
Two further questions follow from these, pointing to issues larger than Climategate itself, which many people have asked in the wake of the inquiries.
6. Is the IPCC a reliable source of information on climate change?
7. Is the science concerning the current concerns about climate change sound?
I will return to these questions in the concluding section to show that the inquiries support a negative answer to the former and are uninformative on the latter.
Read the complete report here (PDF)