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The Oxburgh panel flouted both usual inquiry standards and recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee.

Please read the preceding post on Yamal background before today’s post discussing the handling of Yamal/Polar Urals by the Oxburgh “Inquiry”.

The Oxburgh and Muir Russell are particularly disquieting when one closely examines their handling of Yamal and Polar Urals, the issues that were most strongly highlighted in my own submission and that were most in controversy on the eve of Climategate.

Today, I’ll examine the findings of Kerry Emanuel and his fellow Oxburgh panelists on Yamal and Polar Urals. ( Emanuel was recently in the news in connection with his testimony to Congress, testimony in which he provided almost total disinformation about hide-the-decline – see CA post here.) I’ll conclude that their findings on these issues cannot be characterized as anything other than pure fantasy – a fantasy that was appetizing to a credulous climate science community, but fantasy nonentheless.

While the Oxburgh panel did not mention Yamal and Polar Urals by name, they made the following findings about CRU’s handling of tree ring chronologies, of which Yamal and Polar Urals were among the most prominent:

4. Chronologies (transposed composites of raw tree data) are always work in progress. They are subject to change when additional trees are added; new ways of data cleaning may arise (e.g. homogeneity adjustments), new measurement methods are used (e.g. of measuring ring density), new statistical methods for treating the data may be developed (e.g. new ways of allowing for biological growth trends).
5. This is illustrated by the way CRU check chronologies against each other; this has led to corrections in chronologies produced by others. CRU is to be commended for continuously updating and reinterpreting their earlier chronologies

[my bold]

CA readers obviously agree that chronologies are subject to change when additional trees are added. That was precisely the point of contention in respect to (a) the “Polar Urals Update” and (b) the regional chronology combining Yamal, Polar Urals and shorter chronologies, both of which were discussed at length at CA.

The issue in question was CRU’s failure to report (adverse) updated versions of the Polar Urals chronology and the regional chronology. On what basis could Emanuel and the Oxburgh panelists find that CRU deserved “commendation” for updating these chronologies, when it was their failure to report adverse updates that was at issue?

The “commendation” even flew in the face of CRU’s own evidence.

In written evidence to Muir Russell, CRU strenuously denied that they had failed to report adverse results merely because they were adverse. Their defence was that (strange as it might appear to third parties) they had never calculated the updated chronologies showing the adverse results. In respect to Polar Urals, CRU denied that they had ever reanalysed the data:

We had never undertaken any reanalysis of the Polar Urals temperature reconstruction subsequent to its publication in 1995.

As noted in my previous post, their evidence in respect to the regional chronology is inconsistent, on the one hand saying that they had never ‘considered” the incorporation of shorter chronologies:

However, we simply did not consider these data [Khadyta River] at the time, focussing only on the data used in the companion study by Hantemirov and Shiyatov and supplied to us by them.

and on the other hand saying that an “integrated” regional chronology had been an objective for Briffa et al 2008, but they “could not be completed in time”:

we had intended to explore an integrated Polar Urals/Yamal larch series but it was felt that this work could not be completed in time and Briffa made the decision to reprocess the Yamal ring-width data to hand, using improved standardization techniques, and include this series in the submitted paper.

Despite two “inquiries”, there has been no clarification of precisely what was done or not, as neither “inquiry” addressed the apparent inconsistency between the emails and their written evidence.

But there is one thing that can be said for certain: CRU did not report or apply either an updated Polar Urals chronology or their regional chronology combining Yamal, Polar Urals and shorter regional chronologies.

From that stating point, Oxburgh and/or Muir Russell could have evaluated whether CRU’s failure to report and apply the updated chronologies were consistent with “acceptable scientific practice” or not.

If such failures were consistent with “acceptable scientific practice” within the field, then, in my opinion, the “inquiries” should have urged that standards in the field be raised to ones that were consistent with what the public expected and was entitled to, given the large policy issues being faced. Or at least no lower than those applying to mining promotions. But that is different story.

However, given these facts, it was not permissible for the Oxburgh panel to make a finding (let alone a “commendation”) that CRU had “continuously updated and reinterpreted” the Polar Urals chronology and/or the regional chronology combining Yamal, Polar Urals and shorter chronologies in the region, an untrue finding that pre-empted consideration of the actual issues of why CRU hadn’t reported apparently adverse updates.

The Oxburgh panel was held out as not merely professional, but selected for eminence by the UK Royal Society. A distinguishing characteristic of “professionals” is an obligation of due diligence. Mistakes happen, but, by exercising due diligence, professionals protect themselves against accusations of negligence in the event of a mistake or error.

The Oxburgh panel flouted both usual inquiry standards and recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee. Among other lapses, the Oxburgh panel did not take submissions, did not interview CRU critics or take any transcripts of their interviews. In my opinion, because of both their inadequate due diligence and cavalier procedure, their incorrect findings about CRU chronology practices, applying to Polar Urals and the regional chronologies, were not merely a mistake, but a negligent mistake, perhaps even recklessly negligent.

It is disquieting, to say the least, that UK Chief Scientist John Beddington should describe such negligence as a “blinder well played”.

Climate Audit, 11 April 2011