Institute of Physics and the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of climate data

Here are three emails that I sent to Dr Beth Taylor (Director of Communications and External Relations) at the institute of Physics (IoP) following the submission of a memorandum to the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of climate data. (To be compliant with Dr Taylor’s desire for openness and transparency I have taken the liberty of posting her replies).

 

Subject: IOP and the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of climate data

Dear Dr Taylor,

As a member of the IoP I am very concerned at the way the Institute has handled the recent memorandum submitted by the IoP to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.  I will not go over the serious failings of this document or its factual errors – these have been extensively discussed elsewhere. However I must emphasise that the criticism of the memorandum is not connected with the IoP’s commendable desire for greater transparency and openness but is directed at the memorandum’s unfounded pre-judging of independent inquiries, based on apparently no more than what the writers of the memorandum had read in the media.

My concern is that the IoP, by refusing to publish details of the process by which the memo was written and approved, are practising exactly the lack of openness and transparency that it criticised in the CRU and Professor Phil Jones. In fact this policy is making the IoP look ridiculous and significantly impairing its credibility as a serious scientific body.

I am therefore requesting that IoP immediately correct this situation by publishing the process by which the memorandum was produced including a full list of the names of those involved in the writing of the memorandum and those who approved its submission.

As a long term member of the IoP, I would like a reply to my email and immediate action to retrieve the Institute’s reputation, failing this you may accept this message as my letter of resignation from the Institute.   The memorandum was a serious blunder, a belated cover up would be a fiasco. The IoP has no choice but to come clean quickly and admit the mistakes that have been made rather then have the information published over an extended period.

Yours faithfully,

Colin Lawson  (CPhys, MInstP)

6 Bartlett Road, Salisbury
UK

“The Guardian has been unable to find a member of the board that supports the submission. Two of the scientists listed as members said they had declined to comment on a draft submission prepared by the institute, because they were not climate experts and had not read the UEA emails. Others would not comment or did not respond to enquiries”.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/02/institute-of-physics-emails-inquiry-submission

http://andyrussell.wordpress.com/

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/03/a-mistaken-message-from-iop/#more-3125

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Beth Taylor wrote:

Dear Mr Lawson

Thank you for your email below.  I am sorry that you feel we have been less than clear about the process by which the evidence was prepared.  In fact, it followed the process we always use for agreeing documents of this kind.  We asked the Energy Sub-Group of our Science Board to prepare the evidence, based on their analysis of the material which is already in the public domain.  The evidence was then circulated around Science Board, which is a formal committee of the Institute with delegated authority from its trustees to oversee its policy work.  The only members of Science Board who commented on the evidence were strongly supportive of it going forward.

Against this background, I am not sure whether you wish me to pass on your resignation to our membership team?

Yours sincerely

Beth Taylor

Dr Beth Taylor
Director of Communications and External Relations
Institute of Physics
76 Portland Place
London W1B 1NT

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Dear Dr Taylor,

Thanks for your prompt reply.

You say “We asked the Energy Sub-Group of our Science Board to prepare the evidence, based on their analysis of the material which is already in the public domain.”  This is precisely the problem – the public domain is dominated by misinformation, deliberate lies and distortions.  Please do not take my word for this – even a superficial investigation will show that the main reason for public lack of confidence in climate science and science in general is the way that these issues are reported by newspapers and commentators with a political agenda and no interest in the truth.   The only real evidence in this case e.g. the stolen emails do not justify the pre – judgements made in the IoP memorandum in advance of at least four different inquiries. My points are more articulately made in the comments of Andy Russell at http://andyrussell.wordpress.com/

In addition; the members of the Energy group involved in writing the memorandum need to be seen as sufficiently impartial and knowledgeable to have been involved in writing what was clearly going to be a very important and sensitive document. Hence the need for transparency with regard to the actual contributors. We need to be able to ask them what evidence they used to justify those judgemental comments not supported by the emails.

I would also refer you to http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/03/a-mistaken-message-from-iop/ and plead with you to give this issue some further thought.

I would like to stress that I am not defending any unprofessional conduct by scientists at CRU but it is clear that the extent of this is not proven and the possibility of a “fair trial” rather than a trial by a media with its own agenda is not helped by ill thought out documents like the IoP memorandum.

Best regards,

Colin Lawson

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Beth Taylor wrote:

Dear Mr Lawson

I am sorry it has taken me some time to reply to your email below.  As you can imagine, I have had a pretty full mail bag on this issue.

I’m not sure that there is much more that I can add to the statements we have already given the Guardian, and which are on our website.  It may help you to know that

we are already reviewing our consultation process for preparing policy submissions, and the comments we have received on this submission reinforce the need to make sure our processes are as robust as possible.

There’s just one further point that I would really like to make, which is that I may have misled you with my use of the phrase “public domain”.  I did not mean that the evidence was based on comments in the media – after last week, I certainly realise how media reporting can slant and distort the arguments!  In fact, the evidence was based on reading many of the hacked emails themselves, which as you will know are available on the internet.

I’m conscious I still have not passed on any message about your membership – would you like me to do so now?

Yours sincerely

Beth Taylor

Dr Beth Taylor
Director of Communications and External Relations
Institute of Physics
76 Portland Place
London W1B 1NT

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Dear Dr Taylor,

I guess we are going to have to agree to differ.

You say that the evidence was based on reading the hacked email on the internet. However, these were private emails illegally obtained and printed out of context. Did the writers of the IoP statement study any of the responses by those who were hacked?  If your emails were hacked, would you expect a right of reply?  None of the independent inquiries has reported yet and so the IoP statement involving pre-judgement of the outcome of those inquiries was clearly inappropriate.

We face a monstrous and effective disinformation campaign aimed not just at climate science but science in general.  The perpetrators have a wide range of motivations but seeking the truth about climate change does not seem to be upper most in their minds.

Having read articles, papers and comments by some members of the Energy Sub-Group it would appear that they have their own agenda and should not have been entrusted with the task of writing the IoP statement.

At the moment, it is Climate science that is under attack by the forces of unreason, what branch of science next?  We have to take a stand somewhere. I hope the independent inquiries come to a thorough, objective, transparent and persuasive conclusion regarding any unprofessional conduct. Appropriate action will need to be taken and we all need to learn from any mistakes that have been made.  However, if the forces of unreason, political fundamentalism and economic  self interest  are allowed to continue to smear and abuse the work of thousands of decent scientists, the IoP will need to hang its collective head in shame.

I will not bother you further with my comments but will spend my time arguing that we as scientists need to look very carefully at the reliability and validity of our sources of information and apply the skills of critical thinking to all the arguments put forward in this debate.  A number of physicists seem to have turned their brains off just when they need to use every ounce of skill to see the wood for trees.

Best regards,

Colin Lawson

NB. I will allow my IoP membership to lapse so that I can spend the money fighting the case for reason and truth.

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