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Steve McIntyre:CRU Refuses FOI Request for Yamal Climategate Chronology

Probably no single issue damages the reputation of the climate science community more than the refusal to show the data that supports their work, even under an FOI request. The public believes that scientists who purport to be concerned about the future of the planet should not place their own financial interests, including future grants, ahead of this concern, particularly when their research has been done with public funds.

Recently I sent an FOI request to the University of East Anglia for a regional chronology combining Yamal, Polar Urals and shorter (presumably Schweingruber) chronologies referred to in Climategate email 1146252894.txt, as well as a request for even a simple list of sites used to make the chronology. This request is for data that is central to Climategate. Yamal was in controversy in the days prior to Climategate. I drew particular attention to this issue and this series in my own submission. Unfortunately, the “inquiries” avoided the issue.

Not only did East Anglia refuse my request for the regional chronology, they even refused to identify the sites. The University claimed that even identifying the sites would result in “financial harm” to the university though an adverse impact on their “ability to attract research funding”. See here.

It’s hard to imagine an institution purporting to justify its conduct in such crass commercial terms.

In more detail …

I wrote my recent posts on Yamal here here as an introduction to today’s post by reminding readers that the topic in dispute when the Climategate dossier was released was why CRU hadn’t published a regional chronology combining Yamal, Schweingruber data (including Polar Urals), as they had done for Taimyr. The question was summarized by Ross in an Op Ed as follows:

Combining data from different samples would not have been an unusual step. Briffa added data from another Schweingruber site to a different composite, from the Taimyr Peninsula. The additional data were gathered more than 400 km away from the primary site. And in that case the primary site had three or four times as many cores to begin with as the Yamal site. Why did he not fill out the Yamal data with the readily-available data from his own coauthor? Why did Briffa seek out additional data for the already well-represented Taimyr site and not for the inadequate Yamal site?

Although Briffa’s online response in October 2009 was implausible – Briffa said that they hadn’t thought of including the Schweingruber series – it was uncritically endorsed by the “community”. Briffa also claimed that this didn’t “matter” – I rebutted this latter claim in my recent post.

Briffa’s seemingly implausible assertion that they had never “considered” inclusion of the Schweingruber series was brought into question by the Climategate dossier, and, in particular email 1146252894.txt which discussed the very regional chronology combining Yamal, Polar Urals and shorter (Schweingruber) chronologies that had been at issue on the eve of Climategate:

Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006

To: philip.brohan

From: Tim Osborn

Subject: Re: Standardisation uncertainty for tree-ring series

Cc: Keith Briffa,simon.tett

Hi Philip,

we have three “groups” of trees:

“SCAND” (which includes the Tornetrask and Finland multi-millennial chronologies, but also some shorter chronologies from the same region). These trees fall mainly within the 3 boxes centred at: 17.5E, 67.5N;22.5E, 67.5N; 27.5E, 67.5N

“URALS” (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other shorter ones). These fall mainly within these 3 boxes: 52.5E, 67.5N; 62.5E, 62.5N (note this is the only one not at 67.5N); 67.5E, 67.5N

“TAIMYR” (which includes the Taimyr long chronology, plus other shorter ones). These fall mainly within these 4 boxes: 87.5E, 67.5N; 102.5E, 67.5N; 112.5E, 67.5N; 122.5E, 67.5N

We do some analysis at the group scale, and for this we take the JJA temperatures from each box and average to the group scale to obtain a single series from each of SCAND, URALS and TAIMY.

We do some analysis at the overall scale, and for this we take these three group temperature series and average them to get an overall NW Eurasia temperature for boxes with tree chronologies in them.

We did also try using a wider average for the region, including all LAND temperatures from grid boxes within a rectangular region from 12.5E to 127.5E and from 57.5N to 72.5N, but I don’t think it correlated so well against the tree-ring width data (I can’t remember the exact correlations), so we didn’t pursue that.

Does that give you enough information to be going on with? I’d recommend using CRUTEM3 rather than HadCRUT3, because the correlations seem to deteriorate with the inclusion of SST data in some cases — though of course you can look into this yourself.

Cheers

Tim

In my submission to the Parliamentary Committee and Muir Russell “inquiry”, I specifically referred them to the “still unavailable combined chronology attested in Climategate Letter 1146252894.txt” (this was one of only two emails that I directly cited in the running text.) For inquiries mandated to examine possible incidents of data manipulation or suppression (including “cherry picking”) this was right at the top of my list and should have been somewhere on theirs. Instead, the “inquiries” averted their gaze.

Because none of the negligent “inquiries” reported on the regional chronology, it remained an outstanding question. Accordingly, I recently submitted an FOI (EIR) request for information on the Climategate regional chronology, including even seemingly innocuous information such as the sites:

Climategate email 684. 1146252894.txt of Apr 28, 2006 refers to a tree ring composite identified as follows:

“URALS” (which includes the Yamal and Polar Urals long chronologies, plus other shorter ones).

Could you please provide me a digital version of this series together with a list of all the measurement data sets used to make this composite, denoting each data set by ITRDB identification or equivalent. For the Polar Urals site, would you please identify the individual data sets used by ITRDB identification or equivalent. If any of the data is not in a public archive, please provide the measurement data.

It would probably simplify matters if you also provided the measurement data used for the “URALS” chronology in a digital form.

Thank you for your attention,

Stephen McIntyre


A couple of weeks ago, the University of East Anglia refused everything in my request, up to and including a list of sites. (The refusal is online here.) I’ll summarize their response below, but urge interested readers to read the original refusal.

As a clarification for the refusal below, although I had only requested the regional chronology, an email prior to the one quoted discussed the construction of 1001 bootstrap variations, which weren’t what I was looking for.

Although they refused to provide a list of sites, they said that the sites were in northwest Siberia:

Although the specific lists of sites used at the time of the 2006 email (and as modified in subsequent work) are not being released, the primary data from which the selections were made, including the site identifiers, are available publicly on a variety of websites as noted in the above text. In addition we can release the general parameters for the sites from which the data for the URALS group were drawn: we used only ring-width data, and the sites were from within the domain bounded by 45°E and 75°E and north of 60°N

And that the sites were referred to somewhere within the lists on three websites:

Although the specific lists of sites are not being released, we are providing the general coordinates to identify the “URALS” study region from which data were selected. All of the data that we have used within this area are publicly available (including their ITRDB identifiers or equivalent) on several websites. In the attachment to this letter we provide the general regional

parameters for this study and the data (including ITRDB identifiers where they exist)

from which the selection was made can be found on the ITRDB website:

(http://web.utk.edu/~grissino/itrdb.htm). Additional data are available at other websites:

(http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/treering.html) and

(http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/people/briffa/yamal2009/data/). There are some Russian

sites not within the ITRDB database and the identifiers for those can be found on a

Russian website http://lib.ipae.uran.ru/dchrono (in Russian).

 

Secondly, even though Briffa et al 2008 purported to publish regional chronologies for three north Eurasian areas, they claimed their 2006 regional chronology was exempt because it was only a first draft.

Thirdly, they stated that the release of either the data or the selection of sites would “adversely affect the intellectual property rights of the University”:

The 1,001 composite data sets and the list of sites used to construct the data sets are incomplete and subject to further work and modification. Additionally, release at this time of the 1,001 composite data sets and the selection of sites used to construct them would also adversely affect the intellectual property rights of the University.

They argued that their “intellectual property rights” extended to the selection of sites and disclosure of the sites included in their unreported 2006 regional chronology would cause the university “financial harm” through an adverse impact on its ability to attract funding. The University goes on to say that CRU is re-analysing its results and will report back by October 2012:

In regards to Regulation 12(5)(c), it is our contention that there are intellectual property rights in the form of both copyright and database right in the composite data sets.

Creative work went into the selection of the site locations to include, and the arrangement of the data within the data sets, thus leading to a database right.

Additionally, the data itself within the composite data sets represents the intellectual effort of developing the processing of the ‘raw’ data obtained from the site datasets themselves and therefore attracts copyright. The ‘adverse affect’ to intellectual property rights is based upon the fact that release of these data sets and the methodology used in their construction would, effectively, be publication of the creative work of the CRU staff. This would seriously reduce the likelihood that any high impact journal would publish the results pertaining to this work, thus effectively causing the University financial harm via adverse impact upon reputation, ability to attract research funding, and funding arising from the citation of the publications within the REF process by which universities in the United Kingdom receive funding based on the quality of research undertaken…. the lists of sites from which the data is drawn was created in 2006 as a first ‘draft’ of work that was meant to be carried forward and refined with a view to future publication. Whilst there has been the passage of some time since the creation of the first set of 1,001 composite records, staff at the CRU have returned to this data recently as part of a project funded by NERC, which commenced in May 2010, that encapsulates this NW Eurasian tree-ring study, and which will be completed no later than October 2012. The data will be revised in the near future as the project moves towards publication of papers based on the work in constructing the composites.

This doesn’t in any way explain CRU’s failure to use the 2006 regional chronology in Briffa et al 2008. Nor does it explain CRU’s statement in October 2009 that they hadn’t “considered” combining the Schweingruber chronologies (when the email indicates otherwise).

Yamal was not an incidental issue in Climategate. As noted in my recent post, Phil Jones’ first reaction to Fred Pearce was that Climategate was about Yamal. Refusing essential documents on Yamal simply fuels suspicion.

Refusal of data requests by climate scientists are corrosive to public confidence in the climate science community. When the FOI refusals pertain to documents that were at the heart of Climategate, the refusals are particularly toxic.

The easiest way for the climate science to “move on” would be to voluntarily disclose the list of sites and the regional chronology rather than fighting FOI tooth-and-nail. This request is not going to disappear.

And the people who should be most concerned about UEA’s most recent refusal are the wider climate science community who purport to be concerned about the future of the planet. Provided, of course, in the case of the University of East Anglia, that it doesn’t interfere with their “ability to attract research funding”.

Climate Audit, 25 April 2011