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Climate jiggery-pokery

Graham Stringer, Blackley and Broughton MP, on the failure of scientific integrity

Published on March 14th 2011.


Climate jiggery-pokery

THE ‘MMR’ scare is one of the most shocking scandals of recent times.

Twelve years ago the now disgraced Dr Wakefield produced a piece of fraudulent research for his own financial gain which purported to show a link between the triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism.

As well as carrying out unnecessary and painful invasive procedures on 12 children, this fiddled research led to a huge drop in vaccination levels. Now there are hundreds of thousands of un-immunised children who are vulnerable to measles, which is again endemic in the UK.

Wakefield was not exposed by the academic, medical or scientific establishment but by the extraordinary and determined efforts of Brian Deer, a Sunday Times journalist. It took him twelve years.

Reading his account of how he achieved his success I was struck by enormous similarities with the investigation into the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 – the so called Climategate scandal.

Remember how badly the emails read: ‘hide the decline’ and ‘delete any emails you may have had’ looked like a straight forward case of scientific jiggery-pokery.

Let me be clear I am not accusing Professor Phil Jones and his colleagues at the Climatic Research Unit of the UEA of Wakefield-style fraud but I am concerned that the two investigations into the leaked e-mails suffered from the same flaws as the medical and scientific investigations into Wakefield.

Brian Deer was concerned that when he approached the Royal Free Hospital and the Editor of the Lancet, that it led to an investigation “where the accused were investigating themselves.”

There was also a two year long investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) cumulating in Wakefield being found guilty of some 30 charges and together with his colleague Walker-Smith being struck off the medical register.

Deer was still not satisfied, “the regulators main focus was ethical, mine was whether it was true”.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia seemed to share Deer’s desire to get at the truth when he announced an independent review which would “reassess the science and make sure there is nothing wrong”.

Lord Oxburgh who was appointed to chair this panel, disappointed everybody. He explained that the Vice Chancellor was new and did not understand what he had promised.He soon made it clear that he would not reassess the science but he was just going to satisfy himself as to the integrity of the scientists. After a cosy chat with the Climatic Research Unit scientists he decided that they were decent chaps.

Interestingly however following a Freedom of Information Request notes taken by one of the panellists, Professor Kelly from the University of Cambridge, indicated that while there was no “blatant malpractice” it was impossible to show that the Climatic Research Unit scientists had not cherry picked their statistics.

He thought their methodology was “turning centuries of science on its head”. Oxburgh also quietly damned the climate team by saying “it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians”

This is the equivalent of claiming medical competence whilst operating on a patient without an anaesthetist.

The other review carried out by Sir Muir Russell, a Civil Servant responsible for overseeing the huge over expenditure of the Scottish Parliament building, had even greater resonance with Deer’s concern about the accused investigating themselves. His review was charged with looking at the e-mails themselves. One of the main charges against Professor Jones was that he deleted e-mails that would show he was up to no good scientifically.

In a situation that is almost beyond parody Muir Russell stated that he didn’t ask Jones whether he had deleted the e-mails because they would have had to interview Jones under caution. What was the solution then? The Vice Chancellor asked Jones whether he had deleted the e-mails. This rather negated the purpose of having an independent Inquiry when the only person to ask the crucial question was the Vice Chancellor who saw his prime responsibility to the good name of the University. The accused investigating themselves again.

The work of the research unit is central to the manmade global warming thesis. There are proposals to increase worldwide taxation by up to a trillion dollars on the basis of climate science predictions. This is an area where strong and opposing views are held. The release of the unit’s e-mails from the and the accusations that followed demanded independent and objective scrutiny of the science by independent panels. This did not happen.

We now know that the work done at Climatic Research Unit barely qualified as science; they kept it secret to stop other scientists checking it; thus breaching one of the foundations of the scientific method.

To stop politicians cheating, athletes taking drugs and financiers embezzling, we have increasingly strong regulators. We cannot assume scientists come from a higher moral plane.

Deer’s solution of an Inspectorate of Research Integrity has to be part of the solution to restore the reputation of science.

Graham Stringer is the present MP for Blackley and Broughton and previously MP for Blackley. He entered Parliament in 1997, having previously been the Leader of Manchester City Council.

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