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Who recommended Oxburgh to chair the Science Appraisal Panel? Who indeed?

In their press statement announcing the “Science” Appraisal Panel, the University of East Anglia stated:

His [Oxburgh’s] appointment has been made on the recommendation of the Royal Society, which has also been consulted on the choice of the six distinguished scientists who have been invited to be members of the panel.

We’ve already seen a case where an untrue statement about the role of the Royal Society was inserted into the Oxburgh report (the false claim that the eleven papers had been “selected on the advice of the Royal Society”.)

So it’s reasonable to ask for evidence of the Royal Society’s recommendation. Thus far, none has turned up.

In fact, it appears that the University’s statement is once again untrue and that Oxburgh was recommended by a UK government official, rather than the Royal Society.

In an email from UK Chief Scientist John Beddington to Trevor Davies on March 23, Beddington said that he had met Oxburgh the previous evening and that Oxburgh “moaned” at Beddington for having nominated him to chair the panel:

Trevor, thanks for the information on the announcements, which all looks to be going well. As it happens, I met Ron Oxburgh last night and he duly moaned at me putting his name into the frame, but my distinct impression was that he was rather pleased. Knowing him, he will certainly make it work.

 

Beddington also made a strange comment about Michael Kelly whose sensible observations about CRU have provoked great interest – Kelly’s first tranche of observations had been given to Oxburgh on March 22. Beddington to Davies:

You may know that I also talked to Michael Kelly who was very positive and understood the absolute need for objectivity particularly given his known stance.

 

Beddington’s nomination of Oxburgh is further attested in a May 19 BIS statement in response to Andrew Montford’s FOI request:

The appointment process and selection conducted by UEA was informed by advice from the Royal Society, to ensure appropriate rigour, expertise and objectivity. As part of proper practice, in putting together a high quality panel the UEA leadership also took soundings on potential members, including candidates for the role of chair, from senior figures in the scientific community. As the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Beddington was one of those consulted. Professor Beddington offered two names of possible candidates to lead the Review, one of which was Lord Oxburgh. He also proposed the inclusion of Prof David Hands, President of the Royal Statistical Society, as someone well qualified to contribute. In addition, at UEA’s subsequent request, Prof Beddington provided his good offices to encourage these candidates to give positive consideration to an approach by UEA.

 

 

While the role of UK Chief Scientist Beddington in Oxburgh’s nomination is clearly attested, there is no evidence of any recommendation by the Royal Society in documents provided by the UEA in response to FOI requests. The first involvement of the Royal Society indicated in the FOI documents so far is a Feb 28 response by Brian Hoskins – after Oxburgh is already chair of the panel – an email in which Hoskins quickly agreed with a list of 13 candidates compiled by Oxburgh and Trevor Davies – without apparently checking Emanuel’s recent statements. If there were a document in which the Royal Society recommended Oxburgh, it would have been subject to both the UEA and Hoskins FOI requests. Thus, its absence from both productions is further evidence that the Royal Society did not actually recommend Oxburgh for the job.

This is not to say that the Royal Society would have registered concerns over whether Oxburgh’s chairmanship of a subsidy-seeking UK wind utility was, as Oxburgh himself worried, a relevant conflict of interest or whether the UK government should have asked this particular favor from the chairman of a subsidy-seeking wind utility. The Royal Society rubber-stamped everything else with no apparent due diligence, so there’s no reason to believe that they would have had any scruples about Oxburgh’s appointment.

The point is the narrow one – that it appears to me that the Royal Society didn’t actually “recommend” Oxburgh, as the University had stated in their press release – a press release in which the University pointedly didn’t thank or acknowledge the UK government for their help in selecting Oxburgh as chairman even though Beddington made a real contribution.

Rather than acknowledging the help of government officials, the UEA seems to have gone to considerable lengths to keep the involvement of Beddington and the UK government in the background, going so far as to make an untrue statement about the Royal Society recommending Oxburgh:

His [Oxburgh’s] appointment has been made on the recommendation of the Royal Society, which has also been consulted on the choice of the six distinguished scientists who have been invited to be members of the panel.

Climate Audit, 12 September 2010