Tricks of the trade and other treats – comments from a UEA veteran

On Monday the 18th October 2021 (in the run-up to COP 26 in Glasgow) the BBC broadcast a re-enactment/version/play/docudrama (call it what you will) of events following the release of emails and other materials from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 and its effects upon the leader of that unit – Phil Jones. Also covered are some of the attempts by the University and its Vice Chancellor Professor Ed Acton (aided and abetted by the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research: Professor Trevor Davies) to limit the damage these disclosures (almost immediately labelled Climategate) were causing within UEA and across the globe. At the time of the email release I was a member of the School of Environmental Sciences, within which CRU was a part. I knew many of the UEA participants involved and worked with some of them. The BBC broadcast was therefore of particular interest to me, and I anticipated it would bring back personal memories, both good and bad. It didn’t. It didn’t really deal with the reality I remember. Instead it focussed upon preparations to get a mentally shattered Phil Jones into a position where he could face the Press and, more importantly, a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. I suspect memories have been selectively massaged (just like the weather data Jones used) to fit what the playwright and the BBC establishment want it to look like.

The underlying premise of the play was that the emails were taken out of context; they did not reveal any dark, nefarious plot by the world’s senior climate scientists to hide evidence that refuted the world heating up to dangerous levels. Instead, they reveal attempts to frustrate evil climate contrarians (aka evil deniers) from their misleading claims. All was done for the very best of motives and can be (and is) defended eagerly and vociferously. Nevertheless reaction to the email release was overblown and was directed at individuals causing great distress, and for some like Phil Jones, suicidal thoughts. Concentration was focussed upon one email which used the words “Hide the Decline”.

So nothing to see here, move on. But the world didn’t move on and, according to the BBC and the writer of its play “The Trick”, action to resist oncoming Climate Armageddon was delayed by a decade.

Problems with the play

Related denier bashing

Oddly, statements about Climategate causing substantial policy delay, according to my suspect memory at least, only started to be aired in the past few years, not in 2009-10 as the play implies. In a similar vein the play brings up the not-so-old chestnut that the major Oil Companies knew about global warming as long ago as 1979 but deliberately kept it hidden. Unfortunately (for the play) I believe that this storyline only became current in around 2017 when lawsuits in the USA began. The claim of big oil company knowledge and cover-up would not have been widely known immediately after Climategate when the play was set. But inclusion of this claim fitted the narrative of the play – that well financed deniers paid for the illegal hack (= cyberterrorism) and caused a totally innocent Phil Jones to go doolally. Certainly at the time of Climategate oil companies were being accused of funding anti-climate change activities but commonly not for suppressing knowledge that it would cause major harm. Swept under the carpet was the fact that CRU at this time was actively seeking research funds from the self-same wicked big oil.

Actors and who they played

I had a significant personal problem with the play – I knew what the UEA and CRU personnel looked like. Some of the actors playing those people looked nothing like the people they portrayed. Every time Aneirin Hughes appeared as Trevor Davis I did a double take because there was no resemblance. I needed to re-establish the identity of who he was supposed to be and by the time that happened I had missed what he was supposed to be saying. I missed, for example what his relevance was within the play – was this ever explained? I suppose I could go to a recording I made but I haven’t the fortitude. Adrian Edmondson as Ed Acton was much easier; the tonsure was a great help, but every now and then when Edmondson’s full stature was visible I had to remember he was playing the role of a much shorter man. I never met the PR men, nor Mrs Ruth Jones, so those characters gave no trouble.

Timings in the play

I have serious problems with the play. It took place between the email release (November 2009) and the report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (dated March 2010). It thus spans five winter months, yet we see the Jones family cavorting on an East Anglian beach, splashing each other with what must have been frigid sea-water, or Phil Jones ambling up to his calves contemplating suicide. It wouldn’t have happened, not without much facial grimacing. Then there was a scene of Ruth and Phil in a car parked on grass next to the Broad (a large man-made lake in the UEA grounds). Leaving aside the fact that such parking is strictly verboten, the grounds were full of trees in full leaf. The continuity advisor must have been having a really bad day.

Then what was it with all the night scenes within the UEA campus? Yes, I’m aware that during the day the walkways would be full of students, but I recall scenes from a science fiction film being shot in daylight in a previous year during term time with no problems. Anyway it gave an impression that the actions being contemplated to combat the bad vibes UEA were being subject to could only be discussed during the secrecy of the night. Not a good image.

Undue focus upon Jones

Other concerns I have include the impression that only Jones was being victimised. Yet I know that most CRU staff were affected. I saw some of the vicious trash sent to Keith Briffa. Most people either tried to ignore it or simply refused to look at the internet. Offensive mail was intercepted and not read. I don’t know why Phil Jones did not take precautions. Only Phil went catatonic. In an interview for BBC Look East yesterday (19 October) he lays most of the blame on invasive press intrusion but still mentions hate mail. Even now allegedly he receives hate mail every November-December.

In addition to this, there was nary a mention in the play of the support Phil Jones and other members of CRU were offered. This gave the false impression that the powers that be were hanging him out to dry. Yet the head of School, Professor Jacquie Burgess called upon all of us to be supportive and for us not to engage with a raging press – to which even I agreed.

False claims about responsibility

But by far the most egregious element within the BBC fabrication concerned the totally unsupported claim that Climategate occurred as a result of a deliberate hack. This it was stated, without any evidence whatsoever, was at the instigation of and financed by deniers. The fact that much of this unsupported claim came from the Police gave the claim great credence. At the end of the programme there was a little bit of small print saying that the hacker has not been identified. Yet the playwright and the BBC know for a certainty who sponsored and financed the email release. Unbelievable!

The released emails are capable of being interpreted differently. According to sceptics they point to 1) Attempts to engineer the removal of troublesome editors who had allowed publication of contrarian papers within journals under their control; 2) The blocking of legitimate FOI requests; 3) Requests to delete potentially incriminating emails; 4) Attempts to block contrarian-favourable publications from being used in IPCC reports; 5) Scratching each other’s backs by favourably peer reviewing papers; 6) Cherry-picking data; and 7) Modifying code to hide troublesome data. Little or none of this was mentioned in the play so keeping put-upon Phil as squeaky clean as possible.

The dispute that created most heat in the play concerned an email that used the words “hide the decline”. It was this that provided the punctum for the entire play. Even Sarah Palin was mentioned arguing that this email revealed a plot to hide evidence of declining temperatures rather than a continuing increase. The focus upon this email allowed the play to credibly (and correctly) explain the email away and ignore the rest.

Ignoring the Harry Readme Files

Completely ignored was the fact that the released emails were accompanied by other documents, in particular the Harry Readme files. I long for a playwright and broadcaster with the boldness to incorporate this part of the release and its implications into the narrative of Climategate. The contained messages written by the poor sap charged with straightening out of the CRU climate databases (who I never met, but I would have liked to shake his hand for his honesty) are telling. They reveal the parlous state of this information; information used to demonstrate an ever increasing global temperature and then as justification for uprooting the basis of all of our lives.

It’s botch after botch after botch”

“What the hell is supposed to happen here? Oh yeah – there is no ‘supposed’. I can make it up – So I have.”

“Oh my giddy aunt – what a crap system”

“I’m seriously close to giving up again. The history of this is so complex that I can’t get far enough into it before my head hurts and I have to stop. Each parameter has a tortuous history of manual and semi-automated interventions that I cannot just go back to early versions and run the update program.

“OH Fxxx THIS I’m hitting yet another problem that’s based on the hopeless state of our databases. There is no data integrity. It’s just a catalogue of issues….”

These (and many many others) give more than adequate justification for the chemist Fred Menger’s famous saying:

“If you torture data sufficiently, it will confess to almost anything.”

This saying should be carved deeply above the CRU building’s main entrance and appear on the screens of CRU computers whenever they are turned on. These would be warnings to all those purporting to calculate a meaningful average global temperature from crap data.

Of course supporters of the current alarmist doctrine point to the fact that all inquiries about Climategate supported CRU and further mention that CRU’s results were duplicated elsewhere including by a group at Berkeley deliberately set up to challenge CRU’s results. What is seldom mentioned is the fact that all these groups are using the same awful data sets and methodology. It’s not surprising the same outcomes arise. After Climategate I mentioned these same outcomes and was told not to raise this issue. The argument was that if CRU was just duplicating other groups’ results, why did we need CRU?

Postscript

Interestingly last week’s Radio Times gave “The Trick” a two page write-up but not top billing. That went to Drama of the Week “Succession,” a series about a close-knit group at each other’s throats, which was given five pages and made the cover story (or am I getting confused and The Trick revealed the wickedness and in-fighting of deniers?) Even the ever-supportive Guardian on Monday gave most attention to Succession, relegating The Trick to a lower place on its recommendation column. Finally the Guardian review for Tuesday wasn’t about “The Trick” but was for “Succession”. Odd that, given the Guardian’s propensities.

If this is to be a review of the  program, it will require an overall evaluation and a number of stars awarded.  Well, overall I enjoyed it; it never dragged and for me the 90 minutes sped by. Victoria Hamilton impressed portraying a supportive Mrs Jones.  For many of the reasons given above I didn’t believe all of it, but then it wasn’t billed as a documentary.  I learned a couple of interesting new things, but these I will need to do some research upon before I believe them – such is the nature of this story and its narrative. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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October 20, 2021 at 03:10AM

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