What was to become known as Climategate hit the School of Environmental Science at UEA like a blast from a twelve bore shotgun, causing damage everywhere, confusion and mad chicken flutterings. Few knew whether the emails were genuine or a gigantic smear job. Those that did know were keeping low. The few of us consulting sceptical blogs for information were advised not to race to conclusions because the veracity of the emails was still in question. But underneath a miracle was being perceived, growing ever brighter and more clearly defined. Threats to CRU, its enfolding School of Environmental Science (ENV) and the University of East Anglia (UEA) were becoming more apparent in our minds.
A meeting boycotted
Two days after the email release, the Head of School hurriedly called an extraordinary School meeting to which all staff were to attend.
At that time I was Director of Admissions for the School and was anticipating an Open Day the following week at which I would need to answer questions from accompanying parents. I anticipated questions about the email release and so desperately needed to know what the School’s position was. I didn’t learn this at the meeting for two reasons. The first was because the School hadn’t formulated any coherent response and was imposing omertà. The second reason was that I had stormed out of the meeting in high dudgeon. The Head of School was on a rantfest against evil sceptics who had made the lives of members of CRU a “living hell”, then went on to attack those who were sceptical of the “magnificent work” being done within CRU. All the time she knew of my sceptical views. Finally I could take no more. I rose and left the staff room as loudly as I could. As I left, I saw Keith Briffa rise to his feet and begin to defend me and my scepticism. That cemented a long friendship.
The next day the Head of School visited my office and offered an apology. She basically asked me to shade the truth from visiting parents the following week. I refused to do this but no critical questions were ever asked. Having missed the end of the meeting where promises of abject loyalty were extracted from staff I indeed became a loose cannon. For some time afterward I was treated with kid gloves. To my utter astonishment I was called into the Head of School’s office and asked for my opinion about a letter to be sent to certain newspapers explaining the School’s position about what was now being called Climategate. Much later I came to believe I was considered, for a short time, not so much a loose cannon, but as a landmine, capable of inflicting further damage if I went off.
In came the Science Bigwigs
After the approach by Head of School I was even asked for my opinions by the Vice Chancellor’s Office regarding the makeup of the forthcoming inquiries. I wrote long and reasoned emails insisting that critics and sceptics must be included in order to confer credibility. But by then, whatever influence I had had diminished to a tiny spark. I received no acknowledgment nor feedback. The powers-that-be had regained control, had political and academic support of the first rank, and were confident that the rug that had been pulled was now firmly being put back in place.
By this time I had reached retirement age (to which Phil Jones was so looking forward) but I worked full time for an additional two years, and then a further two years still teaching my Fossil Fuels module. I’m sure this went down a treat within CRU (not). During this time I pulled away from the Climategate controversy. I deliberately had not followed news about the CRU inquiries (it was too painful) barely noticing when they finished and their results were published. I got my information solely from sceptical blogs so have no new input to share here.
After Climategate much opprobrium was cast onto Professor Edward Acton, UEA’s Vice Chancellor, for failing to properly investigate CRU and stacking the inquiries to obtain desired outcomes. I had met him at various times at official functions and he seemed to me to be a pleasant, quiet-spoken man, a historian of Russia, and not at all the Machiavellian figure he was later portrayed as being. But who could tell?
Without a scientific background he would have been totally reliant upon others for advice. The loudest voices would have been listened to and acted upon. I suspect, but have no proof, that the makeup of the inquiries was a product of the influence of a Pro Vice Chancellor (who at one time had once been head of CRU) and of outside forces, notably from the Royal Society and the Met. Office. It wasn’t just UEA that would suffer and be besmirched if CRU were found to be guilty of high crimes against Science. Recall also that the highly influential 2006 Stern Report had as one of its support legs the climate projections from CRU. Failure to support CRU, and the Stern Report could be dismissed or severely damaged, together with all the support from governments worried by the economic implications of climate change. The Tyndall Centre, also largely within UEA, was also dependent on “The Science” as produced by CRU. Remove the credibility of the CRU data and projections, and everything dependent upon it would crumble. The Tyndall Centre had been core-funded (£19 million) by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. Much egg would have landed on these organisations if CRU were to have been shown to have cooked the books, and many important reputations would have been trashed. I suspect retribution from these granting bodies would have been significant.
These are factors largely ignored when casting blame for the subsequent whitewashing of CRU. I believe Ed Acton was placed in an almost impossible position, but at the end of the day he did lack the resolve to withstand external pressures. Perhaps his judgement was that less harm would be done to his University by supporting CRU and acquiescing to those external pressures. In the long run, who can say his judgement was incorrect?
Nevertheless Acton was held personally responsible for the tragedy and travesty that the inquiries became, and opponents moved on to claim the whole University was at fault for the actions of its Vice Chancellor and his lackeys. It was argued that the whole university should be closed down as a tarnished institution; a view I considered then and now to be absolute rubbish.
When I tried to express this viewpoint at Bishop Hill after Climategate 2, suggesting that critics try to stand in Acton’s shoes with an entire University in his charge, I met complete resistance, with no one willing to support any part of the position I was taking. I doubt if this has changed much in the intervening years. Acton is still regarded in sceptic circles with no redeeming or mitigating features. Other actors disappeared smartish into the undergrowth.
Interviewed by the police
One person still well within the undergrowth is the person responsible for the email release. Naturally Norfolk’s Finest were put on their trail and everyone relevant was interviewed. That is except for myself and Paul Dennis. Odd because we both were avowed sceptics and therefore it might have been presumed that we were prime candidates for being the email releaser. Some considerable time later, after we had thought the inquisitions had concluded, we were asked to submit ourselves. Actually this was on the basis that Paul had contacted Steve McIntyre in the past and both of us had refused to sign a widely circulated petition in support of Phil Jones et al. I was told that Schmidt sicked the Fuzz on Paul.
Not only did the Fuzz fail to identify a culprit, but they also failed to discover if the email release was the result of an external hack or an internal leak. But, given how it’s still being identified, there is no question that it is considered, by those that count, as a hack and a crime. The police inquiry was just as inept as all the other inquiries linked to Climategate.
A final surprise letter
A surprising aftermath of Climategate 2 occurred when I received a written letter of apology from Phil Jones in his role of (restored) Head of CRU. He apologised for the “unprofessional” way in which he and other CRU members had behaved in writing the emails about me. I wrote back asking if there might be further emails involving me that could be exposed at a future date, and whether or not it was within his power to apologise for others within CRU for their actions (I felt not). There was no response. I didn’t really expect one. I later discovered that Professor Jones had been compelled to write the apology by the then new Head of School and so it must have been written between gritted teeth. But for me it provided a half decent end to the whole business.
Climategate left a badly battered University and several research units that so easily could have been closed down. Instead CRU became like a phoenix, rising ever stronger and still pursuing goals that have IMHO no real meaning or validity. Other linked research units suffered no damage at all. To evaluate the significance of the two climategates, read what Wikipedia has to say about them. From my perspective it is a complete pack of lies. Reality has been buried deep.