Saturday, December 05, 2009
I've tried to speak to the people at UEA who are making the key decisions on the inquiry, but haven't managed to.So basically a transparent whitewash entirely run by "mainstream" ie alarmist scientists won't wash. It needs to do the absolute minimum to make one major sceptical figure say it is genuine. For this Lord Lawson is the obvious figure - while he has been a literally lone voice among UK politicians for years he is a member of the Lords, former Chancellor & having worked with the Civil Service he is, in the words of Sir Humphrey, "soundness" is the ultimate virtue & that somebody who is sound doesn't have to be told what to do - a sound chap knows. I am not accusing Lawson of being sound but I am saying he moves in such circles & will undoubtedly now be coming under immense pressure not to rock the boat.
So I've jotted down a few questions they might be likely to face when they announce their decisions.
Mainstream sic scientists may feel that many of these questions hand far too much power to climate sceptics, some of whom have tried to discredit them and their work - by fair means or foul.
But the inquiry will need to be supported by the global public in a wired world. So it will need to strive as far as possible to avoid reproach in the blogosphere. Here are some questions:
1 - What is the purpose of the inquiry? Is it to reach a judgment on the ethical conduct of the scientists involved, or on whether their activities affected the science on which the Copenhagen deal is being forged. Or both?
Professor Phil Jones, the researcher at the heart of the e-mail affair, insists that his science is clean. And most scientists I have spoken to sic again say that if any potential anomalies in the CRU data were to be uncovered they probably wouldn't prove significant because that data set is almost identical to other ones.
But the public will want to see both issues - science and ethics - fully addressed.
2 - How will UEA ensure that its chairperson is acceptable to commentators and the public, as well as to the mainstream scientists convinced of the risks posed by climate change and angry that media attention is being diverted by an apparent sabotage campaign?
Will the university find a way of seeking the opinion of key sceptics like Lord Lawson before they name the chair? My guess is that if key players like Lord Lawson don't support the chair's independence, the inquiry will be compromised.
How will the inquiry command international respect? Will there be an international element - perhaps from the US?
3 - Can UEA allow the chair to determine (with the university's agreement) the remit of the inquiry and to nominate other members of the inquiry panel? If UEA tries to control the remit, sceptics won't accept it.
4 - Will the university ask for the inquiry to report in a specific time period?
5 - Will the inquiry have to consider all aspects at once, or report in stages? Under the two-stage scenario, stage one might examine the key scientific question. This is important because politicians preparing to ratify any Copenhagen deal will be asked by their publics to ensure that the assessment of the risks of climate change doesn't need to be re-visited because of the CRU affair.
Stage two of the inquiry might ask broader questions about the peer review process and about procedures for dealing with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This has been discussed in my earlier column. Stage two is very important, but in my view it's not as urgent as stage one.
6 - How will the inquiry be run? They are expensive and need staff. Who will pay and will the funders be trusted by the public? Some bloggers appear not to trust anyone with anything, but they do not form the full court of public opinion.
7 - How will the inquiry team communicate with the public? This is a key issue. Any chair who turns up in a UEA hall for his/her press conferences will be described by sceptics as a patsy. But if communications are not to be arranged through the university, then who will do it?
This is a scary time for the people running UEA. There are big risks for them in floating the inquiry into total independence. But in my view, the risks of not doing it are far greater for the world of science and climate policy.
The timetable here is important. For the US climate bill to pass in its current form, it arguably needs to get through the Senate by June.
Republican climate sceptics in the Senate will demand conclusions from any inquiry before they agree to sign off any bill.
So what sort of enquiry should they do. Firstly & most importantly it must be open, taking evidence in public. This is even more important than who chairs it since there is an old unofficial legal maxim that no judge, however corrupt, behaves openly corruptly before an audience.
It has been suggested that a high court judge would be more impartial. I disagree as the Hutton Enquiry proved - they are all sound chaps. Moreover this has been a dreadful blow to the credibility of British science so British scientists must be seen to be the ones fixing it. Obviously we would oppose any scientist who has been on the alarmist side. While I personally have no doubt that Benny Peiser or Stephen McIntyre would do the job properly & that it would be insulting to say otherwise, I can see they must be ruled out.
I suggest that what we want is a very prominent scientist in one of the "hard" sciences, who doesn't work for the government (probably an emeritus professor), hasn't taken a stand publicly or privately, on the subject & isn't going to be impressed by honours. I suggest a British Nobel Prizewinner. I admit I don't know individuals in more detail than that but anybody in that group knows how science works & is unlikely to be overawed.
I must admit would prefer it to be a government enquiry as that could take evidence under oath & I would like to see Jones giving evidence on whether anybody in government ever told him that funding was available for alarmists & not sceptics with lying being a criminal offence. An enquiry which does not, without very good reason, match these standards will clearly have been nobbled.
And talking of nobbling - on Thursday the BBC evening news after spending 20 seconds on mentioning that East Anglia was going to conduct an enquiry they spent 5 minutes on the evening news assuring us that climate change was causing Saharan Taureg to replace their camels with trucks.
They were adamant that this was purely because of global warming making the desert a difficult place for camels to live rather than calling it progress. Presumably nobody at the BBC knows that Steptoe & Son don't use horses now either.
On Friday they had their resident Climate expert Harrabin (degree in English) putting a short piece on how unquoted stuff in the emails had been damaging but implied it wasn't that important & then went on to much longer coverage of the Copenhagen shindig. He also mentioned that Saudi Arabia have specificaly said they now believe catastrophic warming a scam - but that is just Saudi Arabia & thus of no importance!!
I firmly believe that the broadcasting of a formal, public debate between both sides would inform the public far better than all the spinning. This is something the new Global Warming Policy Foundation could sponsor. With the BBC having spent many thousands of hours pushing warming & effectively none reporting the other side supportively getting a 1 hour balanced programme might allow the BBC to be able to claim, in arithmetical terms, to be merely 99.99% corrupt propagandists. So far neither they, ITN or C5 have felt any urge whatsoever to demonstrate any impartiality on anything, which I think is damaging to Britain's political culture.
I've been going through the emails again. Do you know Jones calls you a prat in one of them? 1254754536.txt.
I have called Jones worse so I can't complain. The answer they suggested they send me is just fluff & doesn't address my question which is par for the course.