Archive for March, 2010

The House of Commons Report on the East Anglia Email Controversy

Below is the summary.  The full report can be found here.

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 had the potential to damage the reputation of the climate science and the scientists involved.

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided.

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. We found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.

The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was time-barred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

We accept the independence of the Climate Change E-mail Review and recommend that the Review be open and transparent, taking oral evidence and conducting interviews in public wherever possible.

On 22 March UEA announced the Scientific Appraisal Panel to be chaired by Lord Oxburgh. This Panel should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge its work.


Global Warming-What Would It Take to Change Your Mind

I’ve just started reading a book I just picked up yesterday from Fireside Books here in West Bend.  It’s titled “What’s the Worst that Could Happen?” by Greg Craven.  I have to confess that I haven’t devoted much time to becoming informed on the global warming debate.  This book looked like a good place to start.  I’ll admit right off that my inclinations rest on the side of the current consensus among climatologists that global warming is real and is being accelerated by our carbon emissions.  I have a hard time buying that the 2,500 or so scientists that are researching this are involved in some kind of conspiracy to keep their grant dollars flowing in.  I also have a hard time buying the notion that the petroleum companies aren’t influencing the debate through their dollars flowing to anti-global warming scientists and organizations.  And most importantly, I feel that we need to have respect for the scientific process.

At any rate, on page 18 of the book, the author asks the reader to come up with a description of what it would take to change your mind about your position on the debate.  You’re supposed to write down your description on the back cover of the book, but I decided to do mine online.  Here is what it would take for me.  I would need to see more than just the current email scandal that broke just before the Copenhagen summit and more than the admission that the IPCC report got the rate of glacier melting incorrect.  I would need to see more than just attorneys, political activists and scientists from outside the field of climatology writing books supposedly exposing the untold secret of the global warming conspiracy.  I would need to see the global warming deniers publish their own research in reputable scientific journals and present their findings at reputable scientific conferences.  I would then want to see their research repeated by other climatologists and I would want to see them get the same results as the denialists.  And lastly, I would want to see the current consensus shift, from human caused warming to natural warming.

The Persecution Complex

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.  If you are reviled  for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of god rests upon you (1 Peter 4: 12-14, NASB).

A major tenet of Christianity is that if you are living a godly life in Christ, you will be persecuted.  There are verses all over the New Testament that say essentially the same thing as the passage from 1 Peter does.  This teaching essentially insulates the religionists against any criticism they may receive for their beliefs, ideas or actions.  In fact, many preachers will go so far as to say that if you are not being persecuted you are doing something wrong. Unfortunately, this teaching is used to justify the tactics of many Christian Right activists and can make it virtually impossible to have a rational discussion with them. 

For an example of this let’s take a brief look at one of the most extreme Christian right wingers in the country, Fred Phelps.  I viewed a documentary not too long ago titled “Fall From Grace” which profiled Phelps and his church in Kansas.  In the video many of his demonstrations are shown along with those protesting against him.  Many of these anti-Phelps protesters would stand nose to nose with the members of the Phelps family and yell angrily at them about the hatred and bigotry they were espousing.  The Phelps family seemed to thrive on the criticisms and the actions of their opponents.  In fact they viewed it as conformation that they were doing God’s will.  When asked if the family felt that they might be wrong given the amount of opposition their demonstrations aroused, Fred Phelps’ son responded that the family was following in the footsteps of Noah warning the world about the impending flood.  Everyone who was opposed to them deserved God’s judgement. 

Phelps thankfully, represents an insignificant minority in American Christianity.  However, the same type of persecution thinking takes place in the minds of mainstream conservative Christians.  National figures like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jay Sekulow, and Matt Staver think this way and so do local figures like Vic Eliason and crew from Milwaukee based VCY America to local West Bend resident Ginny Maziarka.  They see opposition and criticism of what they are doing as not valid but instead a confirmation that they are doing right, blinding them to the hurt they are causing the many people their attacks are directed against. 

The Persecution Complex also has another side.  Fear and paranoia.  They believe, now more than ever, Christianity is under attack and Christians are in danger of losing their God-given rights.  You will often hear of Christians saying how our once great Christian nation is driving Christianity out of the public square and that attacks on Christianity are tolerated while attacks on other religions are not.  Is Christianity being driven out of the public square?  No it is not.  Just look at the numerous radio stations and television stations broadcasting Christian content.  Among my satellite channels are WVCY and eleven other channels devoted entirely to Christian programming.  VCY also broadcasts over the air on FM 107.7 and there at least two other radio stations broadcasting Christian content in the West Bend area.  Preachers are free to say anything they want from their pulpits.  Ginny and her followers have written letters to the editor, spoke at school board meetings, library board meetings and common council meetings.  She along with myriads of others operate their own websites along with thousands of churches and other Christian organizations. 

Yet somehow, despite their vast free speech rights, they feel the government is coming for them.  Just a day or two ago Vic Eliason was hosting his daily Crosstalk show discussing the census.  Despite the fact that the census is mandated by the Constitution, and many of the questions on this year’s forms are the same as questions on many previous censuses, they feel that this is another example of government oppression that will end with Christianity outlawed in this country. 

So watch out for the persecution complex and don’t feed into it. 

See you around.