November 28, 2009

Facts Evasion?

Professor Phil Jones, who, along with Penn State’s Michael Mann, has come under scrutiny of late given the substance of his leaked e-mails on manmade global warming, is calling criticism against him “complete rubbish.”

Jones argues that his biggest fault was using “poorly chosen words” that were “sent in the heat of the moment, when [Jones] was frustrated.” In an interview with the UK’s Guardian, Jones said, “We’ve not deleted any e-mails or data here at CRU” while discussing the possibility that he deleted e-mails which were supposed to be made available to the public in accordance with Freedom of Information acts.

One e-mail asked Michael Mann to delete any e-mail with another colleague and another clearly stated Jones’ desire to keep UK citizens in the dark on the existence of a Freedom of Information Act in their country.

What has me puzzled now is Jones’ insistence that no e-mails were ever deleted. In an e-mail from Jones dated December 3, 2008, he states the following (I’m leaving the entire paragraph in tact as to not be accused of cherry-picking information or taking anything out of context, which is the primary line of defense that Jones and Mann are currently using):
One issue is that these requests aren't that widely known within the School. So I don't know who else at UEA may be getting them. CRU is moving up the ladder of requests at UEA though - we're way behind computing though. We're away of requests going to others in the UK - MOHC, Reading, DEFRA and Imperial College. So spelling out all the detail to the LLNL management should be the first thing you do. I hope that Dave is being supportive at PCMDI. The inadvertent email I sent last month has led to a Data Protection Act request sent by a certain Canadian, saying that the email maligned his scientific credibility with his peers!

If he pays 10 pounds (which he hasn't yet) I am supposed to go through my emails and he can get anything I've written about him. About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little - if anything at all. This legislation is different from the FOI - it is supposed to be used to find put why you might have a poor credit rating!

In response to FOI and EIR requests, we've put up some data - mainly paleo data. Each request generally leads to more - to explain what we've put up. Every time, so far, that hasn't led to anything being added - instead just statements saying read what is in the papers and what is on the web site! Tim Osborn sent one such response (via the FOI person) earlier this week. We've never sent programs, any codes and manuals.

In the UK, the Research Assessment Exercise results will be out in 2 weeks time. These are expensive to produce and take too much time, so from next year we'll be moving onto a metric based system. The metrics will be # and amounts of grants, papers and citations etc. I did flippantly suggest that the # of FOI requests you get should be another.
I’ve italicized the sentence in the e-mail that caught my eye because it clearly contradicts Jones’ current position. In the 2008 e-mail, he openly admits to deleting “loads” of e-mails; now he’s insisting that he didn’t delete any. So which is it?

The argument will no doubt be that he again made poor word choices and didn’t really mean that he deleted any e-mails, even though he said that he did. Or the argument could be that the “loads” of e-mails which were deleted pertained to that “certain Canadian” (obviously Steven McIntyre). Jones did, however, contradict himself. We’re left to wonder if his e-mail was correct, given that he probably never foresaw the possibility that anyone else would view it. Now that the e-mail has gone public, denial is the best defense.

Speaking of defense, I have to say that many critics of the e-mail leak are enough to make a debate coach cringe. A few days ago I was amused by those who called for ignoring the issue because the e-mails were obtained by computer hacking, although the incident is reminiscent of that of Jim McDermott in 1996. You can pick and choose your application of illegal means, I suppose.

I figured I’d conclude with a quick look at a few more defense approaches that attempt to direct the focus elsewhere.

From the debate school of Don’t Look at Me; He Started It:

This one is similar to ones I came across a few days ago. Was there a talking points memo sent out?

From the debate school of Everybody Does It:

Apparently this person has no interest in FOI requests. I wonder if he’d have the same view had the e-mails made critics like Steven McIntyre look poorly. I’d venture to say no.

And my favorite, from the debate school of When All Else Fails, Blame George Bush:

Look, I’ll be the first one to say that Bush was a stooge. Probably not as big a stooge as Sarah Palin, but pretty damn big. This argument is quite ridiculous, though, given that blaming Bush at this point is kind of like how the Republicans blamed Bill Clinton for everything that they brought upon themselves from 2001 until 2006. Blaming others for your own faults does not make you free of fault.

Such is life perhaps. Hypocrites and liars come in different shapes, colors, ideologies, and yes, temperatures.

Hickman, Leo. “Climatologist at Centre of Leaked Email Row Dismisses Conspiracy Claims.” The Guardian. 24 Nov. 2009.

Jones, Phil. “Re: Schles suggestion.” Message to santer1 and Tom Wigley. 3 Dec. 2008. E-mail.


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