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Steve McIntyre looks at Oxburgh Panel activities to see if they match up with claims Michael Mann makes in his libel suit v Mark Steyn

February 21, 2014

In his libel suit v Mark Steyn, climate scientist Michael Mann says his work has been investigated and exonerated multiple times. Today Steve McIntyre looks at activities of the Oxburgh Panel, one of the groups Dr. Mann says exonerated him. The ‘panel’ was commissioned by the ClimateGate unit’s parent, University of East Anglia. Even though the panel only looked at 11 articles all of which were selected by the ClimateGate unit’s parent, UEA, it can’t be said there was no criticism of Dr. Mann’s methods. An image of the Hockey Stick with correction overlaid appears at this end of this post:

2/17/14, Mann and the Oxburgh Panel,” Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit.

The Mann libel case has been attracting increasing commentary, including from people outside the climate community. Integral to Mann’s litigation are representations that he was “investigated” by 6-9 investigations, all of which supposedly gave him “exonerations” on wide-ranging counts, including “scientific misconduct”, “fraud”, “academic fraud”, “data falsification”, “statistical manipulation”, “manipulation of data” and even supposed findings that his work was “properly conducted an fairly presented”. Mann also represented that these investigations were widely covered in international and national media and thus known to Steyn and the other defendants. 

In today’s post, I’ll look closely at the Oxburgh panel, one of the investigations cited in Mann’s pleadings. However, contrary to the claims in Mann’s litigation, not only did the Oxburgh panel not exonerate Mann, at their press conference, Oxburgh panelist David Hand, then President of the Royal Statistical Society, made very disparaging and critical comments about Mann’s work, describing it as based on “inappropriate” statistics that led to “exaggerated” results. These comments were widely reported in international media, later covered in a CEI article that, in turn, was reported by National Review. Moreover, information obtained from FOI in the UK a couple of years ago shows that Mann objected vehemently to criticism from Oxburgh panelist, which he characterized as a “rogue opinion” and unsuccessfully sought a public apology.

Mann’s claim that the Oxburgh panel “exonerated” Mann on counts ranging from scientific misconduct to statistical manipulation to proper conduct and fair presentation of results has no more validity than his claim to have been awarded a Nobel prize for his supposedly seminal work “document[ing] the steady rise in surface temperatures during the 20th Century and the steep increase in measured temperatures since the 1950s.”…

The Oxburgh Report and Press Conference

Turning now to the facts.

In February 2010, with the Muir Russell panel making negligible progess, East Anglia formed a second panel, which Vice Chancellor Acton told the Parliamentary Committee would appraise CRU’s science.

The University commissioned Oxburgh and his “Scientific Appraisal Panel”, which interpreted its terms of reference as the examination of a list of 11 academic articles selected by the University of East Anglia (though the list was represented to the panel as being selected by the Royal Society). The list included three CRU articles presenting variations of the Briffa MXD reconstruction that had originated the hide-the-decline controversy. 

Two of the three articles – both from 1998 unambiguously showed the decline in the Briffa reconstruction. (Indeed, it was the inconsistency between these articles and the IPCC diagram that had originally occasioned my interest.) 

However, both these articles were prior to the unsavory discussion among Mann and other IPCC authors in which senior IPCC officials expressed their concern that inclusion of the Briffa reconstruction might “dilute the message”, with Mann readily acquiescing because he did not want to give “fodder to the skeptics” (see CA summary here). Subsequent to this discussion, CRU sent Mann a Briffa version showing the decline (this version was then unpublished and not published until Briffa et al 2001). CRU later sent Mann a version in which data was deleted after 1960. Briffa et al 2001 was the third relevant article considered by Oxburgh. It showed the decline in all figures in which the reconstruction was showed individually, but in the figure comparing the reconstruction to other reconstructions (Plate 3), it truncated the data, as had already been done at IPCC. This sequence is relevant for other discussions: in this case, IPCC did not merely assess published literature; the published literature was affected by IPCC requirements.

The Oxburgh panel had only the following short report on these issues:

7. Recent public discussion of climate change and summaries and popularizations of the work of CRU and others often contain oversimplifications that omit serious discussion of uncertainties emphasized by the original authors. For example, CRU publications repeatedly emphasize the discrepancy between instrumental and tree-based proxy reconstructions of temperature during the late 20th century, but presentations of this work by the IPCC and others have sometimes neglected to highlight this issue. While we find this regrettable, we could find no such fault with the peer-reviewed papers we examined.

Oxburgh obviously did not respond to actual criticism, which was of the IPCC diagram. In May 2005, long before Climategate, I had reported the truncation of Briffa data in the IPCC report and asked the following questions:

The truncation is not documented in IPCC TAR. In most cases, people would ask: who at IPCC truncated this series? why did they do so? who approved the truncation? what process was involved in approving the truncation?

The Climategate emails obviously shed a very unsavory light on the decision to delete adverse data in IPCC TAR. 

The Oxburgh panel considered the IPCC diagram only in passing, but its finds were all adverse to Mann. They described IPCC’s failure (in Mann’s section) to highlight the discrepancy as negligent and “regrettable”.

The Oxburgh panel was also very critical of the failure of CRU to involve professional statisticians in work that was essentially statistical:

  • 2. We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.

The Oxburgh Press Conference

Mann’s pleadings specifically noted that the release of the various reports were covered in national and international media and the Oxburgh report was no exception. It held a press conference on April 14, 2010 that was attended by reporters from a wide range of international media. Oxburgh was accompanied by panelist David Hand, an eminent statistician who was then the President of the Royal Statistical Society. 

A few days prior to the press conference, Oxburgh and Hand appear to have entertained some misgivings about Mann, which were mentioned to UEA’s Vice Chancellor Acton. Although Mann is a relatively central Climategate figure, Acton appeared unfamiliar with him, but “thought that [he] recognised the name”. On April 12, 2010, two days before the press conference, he sent the following email to Oxburgh cc Hand:

Ron,
You mentioned concerns about Mann. I thought I recognised the name. Here’s the report we received from his University’s internal review which you may find of interest.
[VC Acton]

At the press conference, Hand severely criticized Mann’s reconstructions for “exaggeration” and it was these criticisms that were the story publicized in the international media and subsequently noted in a CEI blog article, which, in turn, was covered by National Review.

Louise Gray of the Daily Telegraph, generally highly sympathetic to green causes, reported that Hand had accused Mann of using “inappropriate” methods that had “exaggerated” the threat from climate change, an accusation emblazoned in the article’s headline:

oxburgh daily telegraph headline

The article continued with harsh words about Mann:

Professor David Hand said that the research – led by US scientist Michael Mann – would have shown less dramatic results if more reliable techniques had been used to analyse the data… But the reviewers found that the scientists could have used better statistical methods in analysing some of their data, although it was unlikely to have made much difference to their results.
That was not the case with some previous climate change reports, where “inappropriate methods” had exaggerated the global warming phenomenon. Prof Hand singled out a 1998 paper by Prof Mann of Pennsylvania State University, a constant target for climate change sceptics, as an example of this. He said the graph, that showed global temperature records going back 1,000 years, was exaggerated – although any reproduction using improved techniques is likely to also show a sharp rise in global warming. He agreed the graph would be more like a field hockey stick than the ice hockey blade it was originally compared to. “The particular technique they used exaggerated the size of the blade at the end of the hockey stick. Had they used an appropriate technique the size of the blade of the hockey stick would have been smaller,” he said. “The change in temperature is not as great over the 20th century compared to the past as suggested by the Mann paper.”

Mann had been interviewed for the Telegraph article and claimed that Peter Bloomfield of the NAS panel had “come to an opposite conclusion” from Hand:

“I would note that our ’98 article was reviewed by the US National Academy of Sciences, the highest scientific authority in the United States, and given a clean bill of health,” he said. “In fact, the statistician on the panel, Peter Bloomfield, a member of the Royal Statistical Society, came to the opposite conclusion of Prof Hand.”

The New Scientist’s report, also by a very green reporter, headlined that “Climategate scientists chastised over statistics”. 

oxburgh new scientist headline

The New Scientist reported that the “strongest example of imperfect statistics” was said to occur in the work of Michael Mann, which had led to “exaggerated” results:

[Hand] said the strongest example he had found of imperfect statistics in the work of the CRU and collaborators elsewhere was the iconic “hockey stick” graph, produced by Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in University Park. The graph shows how temperatures have changed over the past 1000 years (see graphic, right). Hand pointed out that the statistical tool Mann used to integrate temperature data from a number of difference sources – including tree-ring data and actual thermometer readings – produced an “exaggerated” rise in temperatures over the 20th century, relative to pre-industrial temperatures. That point was initially made by climate sceptic and independent mathematician Stephen McIntyre.

Even the Guardian reported Hand’s broadside against Mann’s work, reporting Hand as saying that Mann’s study gave him an “uneasy feeling” because it used “inappropriate statistical tools”. Mann fought back, describing Hand as only a “rogue opinion” that “should not be given much attention or credence”, while claiming that his study had been “approved” by the US National Academy:

At a press conference to launch the review’s findings, Hand re-ignited a long-standing row about a high-profile study published in 1998 by scientists led by Michael Mann at Penn State University, US. The paper featured an emblematic graph known as the “hockey-stick” that showed temperature rise in the twentieth century was unprecedented in recent history. Hand said the study gave him an “uneasy feeling” because it used “inappropriate statistical tools”. The hockey-stick effect was genuine, Hand said, but the 1998 paper exaggerated it. He praised Steve McIntyre, a Canadian climate blogger who led much of the criticism of the CRU scientists, for identifying the problem.
Mann told the Guardian that the 1998 study had been approved by the US National Academy of Science and Hand had offered a “rogue opinion” that “should not be given much attention or credence”.

The Daily Telegraph article was covered in the US by various outlets, including Fox News, which covered the Daily Telegraph story in an article entitled Top Climate Scientist Under Fire for ‘Exaggerating’ Global Warming”, complete with large photograph of Mann.

oxburgh foxnews headline

The article contained commentary that was critical of both Mann and the Penn State inquiries, including the following:

Britain’s top statistician absolved U.K. scientists following the climate-data scandal — and blasted U.S. researcher Michael Mann for exaggerating the size of global warming.
An inquiry by a panel of scientists into the behavior and methodologies of researchers at Britain’s East Anglia University found Britain’s climatologists scatterbrained and sloppy, but ultimately innocent of intentionally skewing climate data. But one of the top scientists selected for the panel slammed the methodologies used by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann to devise his infamous “Hockey Stick.”

Mann’s Protest

Mann immediately protested to Hand in numerous emails, seeking both a withdrawal of Hand’s criticism and an apology. 

On April 14, Mann emailed Hand asking to speak to him. 

The next day, Mann commenced a barrage of emails by sending Hand a copy of Wahl and Ammann, noting that Nychka of NCAR was a consultant on it. (Nychka had also been a member of the NAS panel despite this conflict, a conflict that I had formally objected to.)

Mann had also sent Peter Bloomfield a copy of the Telegraph article and asked him to intervene. Bloomfield wrote to Hand, but his letter did not provide the support that Mann had sought. Instead of opposing Hand’s remarks (as Mann had asserted), Bloomfield said that he had quickly reviewed the findings of the NAS report and did not locate any conclusions that differed from Hand’s:

A quick rereading of the report didn’t reveal any place where I, ^ or any other member of the committee reached any conclusion with which you would differ. If you’re aware of any, I’d be glad of a reminder!

Mann followed up his earlier email with a link to the adverse Fox News article. A few hours later, Mann talked to Hand by telephone. Mann followed up the call by sending Hand a list of talking points, including links to desmog and deepclimate attacking Wegman. Mann worried that “specious and false allegations” would “spin out of control” unless Hand issued a “clarification” that others would be able to “report and quote”. Mann wanted to know what measures Hand planned to “correct the record”:

Given all of this, as I stated in our phone conversation, I believe the only way to prevent the specious and false allegations about us and our work from spinning out of control in the media is for their to be a clarification issued on your part in the fairly near term, which others could then be able to repost and quote. Otherwise, the mischaracterizations that I know concern both of us, will continue to be propagated and promoted by those seeking to further enflame the discourse on this topic.
As you can see from the email I’ve forwarded below, my own university’s newspapers now wants to do an article about this, which puts me in a very awkward position. I don’t expect this sort of thing to stop without some action on your part, as mentioned above…
I am anxious to learn what measures you might be willing to take in the near term to correct the record, given the unusual amount of misinformation that this affair has now engendered.

Two days later (April 17), Mann again pressed Hand to withdraw his statements to avoid what Mann called the “spread of misinformation arising from the press conference”:

Please do let me know if you have any further questions I can address for you. Some sort of statement early this week (i. e, monday) would be extremely helpful in preventing the spread of misinformation arising from the press conference, which unfortunately does continue in the U. S. media, thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

Hand notified Oxburgh that he wanted to get Mann off his back (“since Mann is continuing to pursue me”). Hand drafted an anodyne addendum to the report, saying that they had not “intended to imply” that other groups had been “deliberately misleading” or “intentionally exaggerated” their finds, but only to emphasize the “complexity of statistics” and the “need to use the best possible methods”.

For the avoidance of misunderstanding in the light of various press stories, it is important to be clear that the neither the panel report nor the press briefing intended to imply that any research group in the field of climate change had been deliberately misleading in any of their analyses or intentionally exaggerated their findings. Rather, the aim was to draw attention to the complexity of statistics in this field, and the need to use the best possible methods.

Hand, Oxburgh and the UEA agreed that they would add the new paragraph “quietly”, commenting:

I could be wrong, but can’t see it getting much interest without people being directed to it.

The addendum was posted up on April 19 without any fanfare or announcement. Mann appears to have anticipated much more. On April 23, Tom Heap of the BBC wrote to Fiona Fox of the Science Media Center saying that Mann had claimed that Hand’s criticism was “all wrong” and that Hand would be “issuing a clarification/apology”:

By the way, Mann said Hand got his criticism of the stats all wrong and would be issuing a clarification/ apology. True?

Fox passed the inquiry to Hand, asking if Hand planned to issue an apology ( “assuming (praying) that it is not true”), observing that, if not, then someone should suggest to Mann that he not make such suggestions to BBC reporters:

Subject: aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Hi Folks – assuming (praying) this is not true? If it – or any version of it – is true – can we chat about it and how the SMC might help? If it’s rubbish someone might want to suggest to Michael Mann that he decease from suggesting it to BBC reporters.

In the event, Fox’s prayer was answered as neither Hand nor the Oxburgh panel issued any further “clarification/apology”. 

CEI and National Review

In July 2010, CEI’s Iain Murray published an article in the Washington Examiner (later republished at the CEI website here) that severely criticized defects in the UK Parliamentary Committee, Oxburgh, Muir Russell and Penn State inquiries, concluding:

Those who hope that these inquiries exonerate global warming science are engaging in wishful thinking. The Climategate e-mails are still there for all to read and the questions they raise remain unanswered. Until there are answers, Climategate rolls on.

While Murray was critical of the shortcomings of the Oxburgh panel, including its failure to “examine the quality of the science at all”, he observed that it “suggested deeper problems”, including Hand’s assertion that Mann had used “inappropriate statistical methods” (citing the Guardian) while noting that Mann dismissed Hand as merely a “rogue opinion”:

The parliamentary inquiry was also assured by the UEA that the quality of the science would be reviewed by another inquiry to be headed by Lord Oxburgh. Yet Lord Oxburgh’s panel handed down a short report which did not examine the quality of the science at all.
The panel simply reviewed a selection of CRU papers — selected by the UEA itself — and pronounced itself satisfied that the scientific process was fair and proper. The chairman of the parliamentary committee, Labor legislator Phil Willis, told the BBC he “could not believe” this “sleight of hand.”
Yet this cursory review suggested deeper problems. In his review of the hockey stick itself, according to the Guardian newspaper, the panel’s statistician David Hand said that the scientists had used inappropriate statistical methods. Hockey stick co-author Michael Mann of Penn State University dismissed this as a “rogue opinion.”

Murray’s article was quoted at length in a National Review Online opinion article on July 20, 2010 here

Murray had observed that the Muir Russell investigation (which I’ll examine separately) had not interviewed any critics, but still concluded that Mann’s graphic in IPCC TAR was “misleading”. Murray commented:

Even this inadequate investigation, however, found that the way the hockey stick graph was handled was misleading. Imagine what it — and the parliamentary committee — would have found if there had been some witnesses for the prosecution.

To which, National Review Online added sarcastically:

Witnesses? Who needs witnesses?

Conclusion

As noted at the start, Mann’s pleadings assert that he was “investigated” by multiple investigations and that all of the investigations (i.e. including Oxburgh) exonerated him of scientific misconduct, fraud, academic fraud, data falsification, statistical manipulation, manipulation of data and even supposed findings that his work was “properly conducted and fairly presented” and that these findings were announced and reported in “international and national media” of which the defendants were aware.

However, it is evident that the Oxburgh panel did not interview Mann or carry out any of the steps necessary to conduct an investigation of Mann’s work and that they did not provide the wide-ranging “exoneration” asserted in Mann’s pleadings. 

Furthermore, public statements by members of the Oxburgh panel on Mann’s work were highly critical and, far from indicating the widespread exoneration claimed by Mann, suggested the opposite. Indeed, Mann himself at the time perceived these opinions as damaging to himself, as he dismissed Hand’s as a “rogue opinion” and unsuccessfully sought an apology from Hand. .

Postscript: In October 2013, at the request of Steptoe, the then lawyers for National Review and Steyn, I visited them in Washington to provide background on the dispute. Steptoe paid my travel expenses, but I was not offered (nor did I request) remuneration for my time. During the trip, I also provided a briefing with CEI’s counsel. Following my trip, Steptoe proposed that I act as a consultant to National Review in the litigation, but I didn’t follow up or enter into any agreement. I am reluctant to enter into a consulting agreement at present, since I want to preserve my ability to comment independently. On the other hand, I can envisage circumstances in which I might enter into a consulting agreement with one of the parties and perhaps even be remunerated for my time: everyone else seems to get paid. If that happens, I’ll disclose it.”

=========================

Steve McIntyre correction overlaid in green, graph via volokh.com

12/4/2009, Looking Back at the Hockey Stick Thesis: The JoNova Account,” volokh.com

========================

Added: In 2012 alone $1 billion a day was “invested” in the notion of global warming.Long before most people ever heard of climate scientists, US politicians decided to create the CO2 terror industry by confiscating trillions of US taxpayer dollars and dispensing them to necessary people, academic institutions, and the like. They gave themselves a generation. If you have a generation with public schools, Hollywood, and the media selling the same message, you’re set. Those reluctant to ‘believe’ were silenced via ridicule. The US political class has no intention of letting go of its $1 billion a day racket. Many taxpayers have figured out by now that CO2 terror is a vicious fraud. Those who haven’t don’t want to know. In the meantime, the two US political parties have merged, ie the GOP merged with democrats. With only one functioning political party, voters can’t change anything. CO2 terror is the most successful crime against humanity ever invented. Built on something that doesn’t exist.

========================

Lehman Brothers used the Hockey Stick as sales promotion to encourage people to give them money. Unfortunately, Lehman went bankrupt. Here’s the Stick on page six of Lehman’s Feb. 2007 sales piece.
.
2/6/08, Shareholders charged Lehman Bros. use of ‘hockey stick’ graph and other erroneous global warming information harmed investors. Reuters

==================

A distinguished scientist writes of his resignation from an elite science society over its support of global warming fraud:

8/10/2010, Hal Lewis: My Resignation From The American Physical Society, published by Global Warming Policy Foundation

For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society. 

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it.”…

  • ============================

For over 30 years the US government has been confiscating and handing out US taxpayer dollars for something that doesn’t exist, human caused CO2 terror:

12/14/2005, Climate Change: Federal Expenditures for Science and Technology, CongressionalResearch.com

Climate Change: Federal Expenditures for Science and Technology,Michael M. Simpson,  Specialist in Life Sciences, Resources, Science, and Industry Division, John R. Justus, Specialist in Earth and Ocean Sciences Resources, Science, and Industry Division, Congressional Research Service, ˜ The Library of Congress

.
 “For over 25 years there have been federal programs directly or indirectly related to climate change. This report identifies and discusses direct climate-focused scientific and research programs of the federal government, as well as an array of energy programs that relate indirectly to climate change.”…

==========================

In first 6 months of 2013 if you got your news only from broadcast television networks, you wouldn’t know the scientific consensus that global warming has “paused” for at least 15 years:

7/11/13, “Networks Do 92 Climate Change Stories; Fail to Mention ‘Lull’ in Warming All 92 Times, ABC, CBS and NBC ignore ‘mystery’ warming plateau in favor of alarmism about sea levels, allergies, weather.” Wall St. Journal, Julia A. Seymour

Just since Jan. 1, 2013, ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news programs have aired 92 stories about “climate change” or “global warming.” Not a single one of those stories mentioned the “warming plateau” reported even by The New York Times on June 10.”…

===================

6/25/13, “Networks Fail to Mention ‘Lull’ in Warming in All 92 Climate Change Stories, NewsBusters, Julia A. Seymour

The networks have also completely ignored the “lull” in warming in recent years, in all 92 stories about climate change they reported in 2013.

One ABC report was typical, warning: “Many cities had record warmth, including Washington, D.C. where a lack of action on manmade climate change is likely to mean 2012 is just a glimpse into an unpleasant future, according to many scientists.”

Just since Jan. 1, 2013, ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news programs have aired 92 stories about “climate change” or “global warming.” Not a single one of those stories mentioned the “warming plateau” reported even by The New York Times on June 10. The Times wrote, “The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.””…

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