CRU and Me: A Doomed Relationship

I arrived at UEA in 1989 from Canada as an infant in swaddling clothes, babbling incoherently, knowing little about climate. At Toronto, climate change had barely come into my orbit. Instead, the big environmental scare story was acid rain and those diabolical Yankees spewing raw sulphuric acid onto eastern Canada’s “wonderful virgin” forests (and the USA blaming Canada’s industry for polluting the “formerly pristine” Adirondacks). Before then, my employment in the oil industry was indeed climate-free, despite later accusations to the contrary. Oil company employment later became a signal establishing my extreme evilness because, as all climate ‘perverts’ subsequently became aware, we ‘oilys’ were all busy hiding our knowledge of, and culpability for, climate catastrophe. 

So I had no experience to draw upon when confronted in my first few months at UEA with the revisionist view that the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age were confined to lands around the North Atlantic Basin and were not global. This despite the fact that Hubert Lamb, the first Director of CRU (part of the School of Environmental Science, which I had joined) had introduced those time periods and his graph of changing global climate was to grace the IPCC FAR the following year.

The CRU Mafia

I was aware early on that within a white innocuous looking building with an oval cross section, attached by a skyway to the teaching hall of the University, was the haunt of a group of researchers who studied climate change and other arcane subjects. You sometimes saw the inhabitants at guest lectures and at other times in School meetings where they sat brooding (possibly about catastrophes and hiding things). Eventually you learned their names and that, although linked to the School, they were not exactly directly employed by the university. They were all on soft-money contracts, many from the U.S. Department of Energy. The University (and the School) benefited from the prestige generated by the many, highly rated publications written within CRU. But not one of the inhabitants of that oval tower was a lecturer, let alone a supreme being – a professor. However, that did change and some senior researchers were awarded professorships and became more integrated within the School and University.

My relationships with CRU personnel were few. Some were on the same university or school committees as those I ran or were members of (it was there that I must have earned my “loose cannon” status). I once (to my later embarrassment) proposed a joint research project with a CRU-ite, upon the Nazca Lines of Peru. Fortunately, for my later reputation, the Peruvian government of that time wanted no interference from damn Anglos.

Student debates and CRU

My main interaction with denizens of the CRU building was in connection with an interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching module I gave upon fossil fuels. Part of this concerned the environmental impacts of finding, producing and using fossil fuels, including climate change. Rather than inflict my prejudices upon my students I got them to develop their own. I created a list of different topics, together with some selected references and asked groups of 3-4 students to research those topics on the basis of 1) the views of climate change advocates, 2) the views of sceptics, and 3) how advocates responded to sceptical views and/or how sceptics tackled rebuttals. The results of their endeavours were presented orally by them at a series of seminars. To these seminars I invited each year two members of CRU for balance. Initially I got people like Keith Briffa and (no snow) Viner, but later we only got young Turks who were appalled that intelligent undergraduates (sometimes only 4-5 years younger than themselves) could spout such outrageous denialist drivel. Climate change advocacy lost much support amongst my students by this attitude because they had independently reached their own conclusions and weren’t about to be railroaded into accepting dogma.

Fateful interactions with Phil Jones

The other main interaction occurred just before Climategate broke. I became aware, from reading Climate Audit, that discussions were taking place to force Phil Jones and others to release data using FOI requests. I made discreet inquiries and established that no one in the University, especially within CRU, seemed to be aware of these moves (although later this was denied). Unable to contact Phil Jones, I emailed and subsequently spoke to the University’s Press Officer because, being in the direct line of fire, I felt he needed to be informed of a potential firestorm. That firestorm in fact came from Phil Jones and was directed at me. He was incensed that I had the temerity to contact the Press Officer, told me the Press Officer was already aware (a bare-faced terminological inexactitude), gave me a diatribe against Steve McIntyre and his nefarious motives and practices, and recommended that I should read the “right” websites. To this, I responded with equal venom. These matters were all part of the Climategate 2 exposee.

Relations with CRU, except for Keith Briffa (who would still occasionally come to my office for a brief (sometimes long) chat) had reached a nadir. CRU denizens and I would studiously avoid each other when passing in corridors. Childish really.

Climategate’s immediate aftermath

Then came Climategate and a few days later an extraordinary faculty meeting was called (more of this next time). There I saw Phil Jones, by then a haggard wreck of a man as a result of receiving an unending stream of internet bilge, including as we later learned, multiple death threats to himself, his colleagues and even his family. By that stage, I had little respect for the man, but no one should have been subjected to what he had to endure. 

At that extraordinary faculty meeting we were requested to keep schtum, not to respond to press inquiries. Few of us knew anything anyway, not even if the emails were forgeries or not. We all agreed to this demand. However, in less than 48 hours, some senior members of staff with connections to CRU, in particular Professor Andrew Watson, were broadcasting their support for CRU, even to the extent of calling opponents “ar$eholes” (see Scientists behaving badly – part II ). This created considerable friction within the School and utter disgust within me.

Climategate 2

Several years later, with the release of further Climategate emails, I refused to add to Phil’s and CRU’s tribulations. They knew exactly what I thought of them, of their actions and their shoddy work. Adding my small voice would have achieved absolutely nothing, except encouraging those critics still devoted to doing my University and School harm. As I will relate in the last of these reflections, I had also lost what small influence I had with the University, after the passing of the Climategate 1 storm. Now, almost a decade after Climategate 2, I still have zero regrets for the stance I took. But it might have been wiser for me to have remained silent altogether and so curtailed much spleen venting from others.

Next time, the aftermath of Climategate, Ed Acton and all that.

9 Comments

  1. ALAN
    You are naughty. You don’t tell us that to get to the meat of the affair one has to click on the Climategate II link, then scroll down to Lucy Skywalker’s comment, where all is revealed. And very interesting too. The least one can say is that Phil Jones is consistent throughout.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A serious question: Did Phil Jones spend all his time collecting temperature records, plotting them on his thousand kilometre square maps and recording the results on floppy disks? It sounds about as much fun as the hotel clerk has hanging your key on the peg with your room number on it. No wonder he always sounds so grumpy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Geoff, I have no idea and for a couple of reasons. Foremost amongst them was that I really wasn’t interested. I never understood the significance of, nor the attraction of, some sort.of average temperature for the planet. As a geologist I knew their basic palaeoclimate premise (that the present is unusually warm) was bovine turds. The previous Interglacial must have been significantly warmer since it is marked by raised beaches five metres than today’s sea level. This implies higher sea levels and lower amounts of ice.
    The second main reason for not knowing is that CRU really were separate. Their building was barred to us. The only time I did any work there was to use Keith Briffa’s tree-ring counting machine to examine and count varve-like layers within ancient evaporite deposits. So few people observed CRU working, nor possibly yawning with boredom.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Alan, very interesting & informative part 2, thanks & looking forward to part 3.

    also thanks Geoff, for your first comment “heads up” on the “Lucy Skywalker’s comment”.
    after reading that email exchange, can’t wait to find out who attended Alan’s retirement do!!!

    snippet from last email in Lucy’s comment –
    “Phil Jones replied: – ….. Alan is retiring at the end of this year….thankfully”

    Like

  5. “But it might have been wiser for me to have remained silent altogether and so curtailed much spleen venting from others.”

    Absolutely not. Cultures win when everyone caves. You should be proud of your part in resisting blind conformity.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Andy, you misunderstood, or more likely I was too ambiguous. When I wrote that I should have “remained silent” I was referring into my new venture into blogging, done to defend my university and School. Instead it seemed that I only afforded critics a greater incentive and opportunity. My actions then were counterproductive.

    I have absolutely no regrets about broadcasting my climate scepticism. There were many times, however, when my confidence was challenged. New evidence from the Consensus would shake it, and I would await rebuttals from my stalwart friends the sceptical blogs.

    To date, my new venture here has not provoked any spleen venting, but I anticipate more resistance to my third and last part where I try to find some sympathy and understanding for the position of Professor Edward Acton when he whitewashed CRU. That will be a much more difficult ask.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. ALAN KENDALL

    CRU really were separate. Their building was barred to us. The only time I did any work there was to use Keith Briffa’s tree-ring counting machine

    That’s fascinating. Is it normal to have an entire department barred to colleagues? Were there armed secret service agents on guard? And the tree-ring-counting machine, did you manage to make a sketch of it on your inner thigh while no-one was looking?

    Jones’s boast that he’d rather destroy data than let anyone see it appears in a new light. I see him ingesting floppy discs to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

    I once started a strip cartoon history of climate that featured Phil Jones as a Saruman-like character barricaded in his ivory tower, but I dropped the idea when Keith Briffa died, since I’d been less than kind about him. And anyway, my imagination wasn’t up to inventing a tree-ring counting machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Geoff, I was going to suggest that the tree-ring counter looks like a palantir (excuse spelling and possible accent omissions) but no, that would have to be the computer that tells the future. As Chris Lee says, and paraphrasing probably, “Time? What time do you think we have?” Sauron had told him about the climate emergency.

    I picture a vast library of slices of tree (why take a core when you can take a disk and kill the tree), and that their rings are counted by a comedy pair of pint-sized orcs.

    Like

  9. Geoff, your cartoon-creating imagination is running in overdrive.

    The H. Lamb Building (= Bat Cave of CRU) used to lie along a very convenient and pleasant shortcut from some car parks into the Teaching Wall wherein ENV resided. The building had a large central atrium with green-leaved plants, even in the depths of winter. CRUites obviously objected to the disturbance caused by the transients, and arranged for our keycards to be voided, so effectively banning us. After all it was THEIR building, devoted entirely to the holy mysteries of climate and not to be tramped through disturbing their essential work (whatever that was).

    I do speculate on how you might have shown secret agents dressed in a cartoon. I would have opted for Greek Army dress uniform with even more ruffs.

    Keith Briffa’s Tree Ring Counting Machine was our name for it. I only attempted to use it once, but a post-doc did give it a proper trial. If I remember correctly it was essentially a microscope with an eyepiece equipped with a measuring scale, and a stage on which the sample was held, that could be raked forward by precise steps. Later versions I understand could measure wood density (presumably using some sort of needle penetration). Can’t be ar$ed to remember/look it up. We resorted to a much simpler method, we took close up photographs, printed them at 3X, and measured the laminae with a ultra high-tech wood ruler. Worked every time. No eye strain.

    The bind boggles as to how you might have depicted a KBTRC machine.

    Liked by 1 person

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