Climategate: The Jones-Keenan Affair
Memorandum submitted by Dr Benny Peiser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee
1. I am the editor of CCNet and the co-editor of the journal Energy & Environment (E&E). Further details may be obtained from the CCNet and E&E websites: CCNet – E&E. I am prepared to give oral evidence at the Committee’s evidence session in elaboration of my written submission. I have no declarable interests.
2. The CRU e-mails under investigation suggest that climate scientists (not only at CRU but also elsewhere) have actively sought to prevent a paper on alleged research fraud from being published in violation of principles of academic integrity.
3. In the following, I will outline the chronology of the CRU-Keenan affair as documented in the published CRU e-mails and according to unpublished e-mail correspondence between me and Dr Jones.
4. It should be noted that the CRU e-mails regarding the Jones-Keenan affair are incomplete. I am in the possession of e-mail correspondence with Phil Jones about the Keenan paper that is not included in the published CRU e-mails. The point is that the ‘unauthorised publication’ referred to in the terms of reference is by no means a complete publication. There is likely to be much more other CRU email traffic bearing on the question of the CRU’s scientific integrity, over and above the emails already disclosed. In the interest of veracity and transparency all correspondence by CRU researchers regarding the fraud allegations in question should be disclosed in full so the exact nature and extent of attempts to prevent the publication of Keenan’s paper can be established.
5. In the summer of 2007, I was a guest editor of a special issue of E&E (“The IPCC: Structure, Process and Policy,” – E&E Volume 18, Number 7 – 8 / December 2007).
6. On 29 August 2007, I received an e-mail from Doug Keenan with his paper titled “The Fraud Allegations against Wei-Chyung Wang.” In this paper, Keenan accused Wei-Chyung Wang (State University of Albany, SUNY, New York, USA) of scientific fraud. In his paper, Keenan documented evidence that Wang had fabricated information about Chinese meteorological weather stations. His allegations concern two publications: a) Jones P.D., Groisman P.Y., Coughlan M., Plummer N., Wang W.-C., Karl T.R. (1990), “Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land”, Nature, 347: 169-172; and b) Wang W.-C., Zeng Z., Karl T.R. (1990), “Urban heat islands in China”, Geophysical Research Letters, 17: 2377-2380. The study by Jones et al (1990) has been a corner stone in multiple IPCC reports about the allegedly minimal role of the effect of urban heat islands on the global temperature record. The latest (2007) assessment report by the IPCC concluded that urbanization effects are insignificant with regards to global warming. One of the key papers to underpin this conclusion is the study by Jones et al. (1990). To refute Keenan’s claims of scientific fraud would have only required the release of documentary information about the Chinese weather stations in question which Wang has long claimed to possess.
7. In the afternoon of the same day (29 August) I sent Phil Jones an e-mail with a copy of Keenan’s paper attached. In my e-mail, I asked Jones whether he would be prepared to comment on the content and factual accuracy of the Keenan paper.
8. Later that day, Jones circulated the paper to Dr Wei-Chyung Wang and Dr Tom Wigley (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), informing both his colleagues that he “won’t be responding” to my request, but that he would be prepared to do so if his colleagues thought he should.
9. The next day, 30 August, Wang e-mailed Jones to say that Jones needed to respond “by providing E&E with a simple answer of ‘false’ to Keenan’s write-up, based on the communication with me.[…] We are facing a tricky person and group, and the only way to do it is to follow the procedure to drive them crazy. […] We are not going to let Keenan doing things his way. […] We should be thinking, after the whole odeal (sic) is over, to take legal (or other) actions against Keenan. […]”
10. In his response to Wang on the same day, Jones wrote: “Libel is quite easy to prove in the UK as you’re not a public figure. Perhaps when you’re back you ought to consider taking some legal advice from SUNY. Assuming the paper is published that is. […].”
11. Later the same day, Jones e-mailed Wang and Wigley to inform them that he would not respond to my request “until the SUNY process has run its course.”
12. Later still, Dr Michael E. Mann (Pennsylvania State University) contacted Jones [with e-mail copies to Dr Kevin Trenberth (National Center for Atmospheric Research) and Dr Gavin Schmidt (NASA)] to inform him about recommendations he had discussed with Schmidt: “With respect to Peiser’s guest editing of E&E and your review, following up on Kevin’s suggestions, we think there are two key points. First, if there are factual errors (other than the fraud allegation) it is very important that you point them out now. If not, Keenan could later allege that he made the claims in good faith, as he provided you an opportunity to respond and you did now. Secondly, we think you need to also focus on the legal implications. In particular, you should mention that the publisher of a libel is also liable for damages – that might make Sonja B-C be a little wary. Of course, if it does get published, maybe the resulting settlement would shut down E&E and Benny and Sonja all together! We can only hope, anyway. So maybe in an odd way its (sic) actually win-win for us, not them. Lets (sic) see how this plays out…”
13. On 31 August, Tom Wigley (a former CRU director) e-mailed Jones to notify him that he believed Keenan’s paper raised a valid issue: “Seems to me that Keenan has a valid point. The statements in the papers that he quotes seem to be incorrect statements, and that someone (WCW at the very least) must have known at the time that they were incorrect. Whether or not this makes a difference is not the issue here.” Jones was now in possession of authoritative information that undermined his claims about the integrity of CRU data products for which he is responsible. Confronted with the evidence from Keenan, and, most importantly, Wigley’s advice that Keenan appeared to have a point, Jones should have been insistent on getting the data and facts out rather than keeping them secret.
14. In response to Wigley’s warning, Jones now counselled him to suppress and conceal his concerns and acted as an advocate for Wang’s defence despite the ‘valid’ evidence against his claims. In an e-mail, Jones appealed to Wigley to “keep quiet” about his apparent backing for Keenan’s concern. In order to obviate any further critique or action by Wigley, Jones speciously told him that SUNY was about to take action against Keenan: “Just for interest! Keep quiet about both issues. In touch with Wei-Chyung Wang. Just agreed with him that I will send a brief response to Peiser. The allegation by Keenan has gone to SUNY. Keenan’s about to be told by SUNY that submitting this has violated a confidentiality agreement he entered into with SUNY when he sent the complaint. WCW has nothing to worry about, but it still unsettling!”
15. On 5 September, Jones e-mailed me a list of objections to the Keenan paper. Ignoring the expert advice he had received from Wigley, Jones called on me to reject the paper: “My view is that the claims are unsubstantiated.”
16. I informed Jones that I would forward his objections to Keenan and stressed: “I know this is a very sensitive matter and I will not rush any decision. I will keep you updated and informed.”
17. On 10 September, I received Keenan’s response which I forwarded to Jones on the same day. I e-mailed Jones: “As far as I can see, his [Keenan’s] basic accusation seems unaffected by your criticism. Unless there is any compelling evidence that Keenan’s main claim is unjustified or unsubstantiated, I intend to publish his paper in the forthcoming issue of E&E. Please let me know by the end of the week if you have any additional arguments that may sway me in my decision.”
18. On the same day, Jones forwarded my e-mail to Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt, concluding: “It seems as though E&E will likely publish this paper.”
19. The following day, (11 September), Michael Mann responded to the new development. In an e-mail to Jones, he suggested that Wang should threaten E&E with a libel suit: “Wei Chyung needs to sue them, or at the least threaten a lawsuit. If he doesn’t, this will set a dangerous new precedent. I could put him in touch w/ anleading (sic) attorney who would do this pro bono. Of course, this has to be done quickly. The threat of a lawsuit alone my (sic) prevent them from publishing this paper, so time is of the essence. Please feel free to mention this directly to Wei Chyung, in particular that I think he needs to pursue a legal course her independent of whatever his university is doing. He cannot wait for Stony Brook to complete its internal investigations! If he does so, it will be too late to stop this.”
20. Later that day, I received three e-mails by Phil Jones with additional references and objections to the Keenan paper. Jones put additional pressure on by stressing: “I don’t see how any journal would ever contemplate publishing such a paper. I hope you’ll reconsider.”
21. After minor revisions of the paper following peer review, I informed Keenan on 8 October that I had accepted his paper for publication with the modified title “The Fraud Allegation Against Some Climatic Research of Wei-Chyung Wang”. It was published in E&E volume 18, number 7-8, pp. 985-995 in December 2007.
22. The concerted efforts by a group of eminent climate scientists to prevent the publication of the Keenan paper had been unsuccessful. However, this was mainly due to the fact that I was prepared to resist peer pressure and to be open-minded regarding Keenan’s evidence and argumentation. I doubt that mainstream science editors would have dared to reject the opposition by leading climate scientists who had targeted an amateur researcher. As Phil Jones fittingly put it to me in an e-mail: ‘How would any journal ever contemplate publishing such a paper?’
23. On 1 February 2010, The Guardian reported that Doug Keenan’s E&E paper “may yet result in a significant revision of a scientific paper that is still cited by the UN’s top climate science body. […] The [CRU] emails suggest that [Phil Jones] helped to cover up flaws in temperature data from China that underpinned his research on the strength of recent global warming. The Guardian has learned that crucial data obtained by American scientists from Chinese collaborators cannot be verified because documents containing them no longer exist. And what data is available suggests that the findings are fundamentally flawed.”
24. At no time since Keenan and Wigley raised significant doubts about the reliability of Chinese climate data has Jones taken public steps to clear up the discrepancies regarding Wang’s claims and data. It is unacceptable that the scientist who disseminates a data product on which international treaties are based, as well as IPCC reports and countless government policies, should actively seek to suppress information that calls the quality of the data into question, especially after one [of] his colleagues and a leading authority has advised him that Keenan’s evidence about the data appeared to be legitimate. Comparable behaviour in the private sector would be subject to severe sanction.
25. The revelations exposed by the CRU e-mails require the full disclosure of all documents and correspondence in this alleged fraud case. Until the whole affair is fully and publicly investigated, the reputation and integrity of leading climate scientists will remain to appear tainted and discredited.
Dr Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, Faculty of Science, February 2010