Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

The Wang Affair

Everybody else is having such fun with the latest climate scandal, I thought I’d have a go myself. Obviously, all of this is subject to the emails turning out to be genuine, but if they are, this promises to be quite an interesting one:

Reading through some of the CRU-gate emails, I came across the other side of an issue that we had previously only seen the public side of. This is a tale of alleged research misconduct, inquiries that didn’t investigate, or question the witnesses, but somehow managed to clear the defendant – quite how or why, we don’t know, because the inquiry refused to publish their report, and on the basis that since the accuser wasn’t invited to provide any of the evidence, they had no entitlement to see the proceedings. I thought at the time it was a strange affair, but fairly typical of the climate science attitude.

It starts with the question of urban heat islands, and their effect on the temperature record. It is well known, and easily measured, that the centres of cities may be up to 4 C warmer at night than the countryside around them. This happens especially on clear, windless nights, and is a result of tall buildings blocking radiation to space. The problem is that when thermometers were placed on the outskirts of towns a hundred years ago, the cities were much smaller, and as they have grown, the temperature where the thermometers are has risen.

That there must be some sort of effect hardly seems in doubt, but the question is, how much? And therefore, how much of the 0.8 C warming we saw over the 20th century is illusory? The IPCC relied on a particular paper published in 1990 by Phil Jones in Nature that basically said the UHI effect was trivial, which in turn relied in large part on data from China supplied by professor Wang of Albany, State University of New York.

In describing this data, Jones et al. said “The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times.” which in turn was based on the similar statement in Wang et al. “They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times…” The truth of these statements was essential for the papers to be valid, which in turn was relied on in part by the IPCC report. The problem is, they’re not true. And what’s more, somebody must have known it.

At first, nobody knew because the source data was (of course!) unpublished and unidentified. But because Phil Jones is in the UK and subject to FOIA, the Climate Audit crew managed after a fight to extract the list of weather stations from him. (One reason, no doubt, why he is so wary of FOIA compliance now!) This enabled the mathematician Doug Keenan and others to trace the Chinese weather stations used in the papers, and found that of the 84 stations used, there were in fact no records of station location for 49 of them, 8 had inconsistent histories, 18 had substantial relocations, 2 had single-year relocations, and only 7 were known not to have been relocated at all. Wang could not possibly have selected them on the basis claimed, and indeed there was other evidence that he knew of their problems in advance.

Doug wrote to Jones and Wang inviting them to comment. Following their usual policy of not engaging with sceptics, they didn’t answer. Doug wrote again setting out the facts, inviting them to retract the paper or otherwise set the record straight, and said that if they did not, then he would submit an allegation of research misconduct to Wang’s university. Still no answer, so Doug submitted the complaint, and then fired off a peer-reviewed paper to the journal Energy and Environment detailing the allegations and evidence.

Benny Peiser as editor for E&E invited Phil Jones to comment. To this, Phil did reply, but not with anything substantive, for indeed they seem to have had nothing substantive to offer. Kevin Trenberth suggests, for example (1177158252.txt): “So my feeble suggestion is to indeed cast aspersions on their motives and throw in some counter rhetoric. Labeling them as lazy with nothng better to do seems like a good thing to do.” The exact reply doesn’t seem to be recorded here, but the argument essentially seems to have been that a lot of older climate data is iffy and this is quite normal in the field, Prof. Wang has done pioneering work on this very subject, despite uncertainties which all in the field are well aware of it is “now unequivocal that surface temperatures have warmed markedly over the past 100 years. Uncertainties in the station histories do not negate this basic message.” (1177423054.txt)

Obviously, this did not persuade, and Peiser went ahead with the E&E publication.

You can read Doug’s paper (linked above) and other notes on the affair. Eventually, Wang was cleared by the inquiry into the allegations, but we don’t know on what basis. It sounds like the most bizarre sequence of events. Freeborn John also goes on to explain the oddities of the enquiries, which are also fascinating and very significant, but not what I really wanted to point out here.

Because you see amidst all the discussion about how they should respond, there are two fascinating emails from Tom Wigley who was director of CRU at the time. While everyone else was all blah,blah, blah, no case to answer, blah blah, obvious nonsense blah, blah, troublemaking sceptics and so on, Tom saw that the charges appeared to be true, the response failed to answer them, and that they ought to have issued a simple retraction right at the start and avoided all this trouble. That would, of course, have posed a problem for the IPCC’s case, but at least everybody’s job would be safe.

Email from Tom Wigley to Phil Jones:

(1188557698.txt)

Phil,

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 [Wang] 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.

Tom.

Also from Tom Wigley to Phil.

(1241415427.txt)

Phil,

Do you know where this stands? The key things from the Peiser items are …

“Wang had been claiming the existence of such exonerating documents for nearly a year, but he has not been able to produce them. Additionally, there was a report published in 1991 (with a second version in 1997) explicitly stating that no such documents exist. Moreover, the report was published as part of the Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Research Program, and Wang was the Chief Scientist of that program.”

and

“Wang had a co-worker in Britain. In Britain, the Freedom of Information Act requires that data from publicly-funded research be made available.

I was able to get the data by requiring Wang’s co-worker to release it, under British law. It was only then that I was able to confirm that Wang had committed fraud.”

You are the co-worker, so you must have done something like provide Keenan with the DOE report that shows that there are no station records for 49 of the 84 stations. I presume Keenan therefore thinks that it was not possible to select stations on the basis of …

“… station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times”

[THIS IS ITEM "X"]

Of course, if the only stations used were ones from the 35 stations that *did* have station histories, then all could be OK. However, if some of the stations used were from the remaining 49, then the above selection method could not have been applied (but see below) — unless there are other “hard copy” station history data not in the DOE report (but in China) that were used. From what Wang has said, if what he says is true, the second possibility appears to be the case.

What is the answer here?

The next puzzle is why Wei-Chyung didn’t make the hard copy information available. Either it does not exist, or he thought it was too much trouble to access and copy. My guess is that it does not exist — if it did then why was it not in the DOE report? In support of this, it seems that there are other papers from 1991 and 1997 that show that the datado not exist. What are these papers? Do they really show this?

Now my views. (1) I have always thought W-C W was a rather sloppy scientist. I therefore would not be surprised if he screwed up here. But ITEM X is in both the W-C W and Jones et al. papers — so where does it come from first? Were you taking W-C W on trust?

(2) It also seems to me that the University at Albany has screwed up. To accept a complaint from Keenan and not refer directly to the complaint and the complainant in its report really is asking for trouble.

(3) At the very start it seems this could have been easily dispatched.

ITEM X really should have been …

“Where possible, stations were chosen on the basis of station histories and/or local knowledge: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times”

Of course the real get out is the final “or”. A station could be selected if either it had relatively few “changes in instrumentation”

OR “changes in location” OR “changes in observation times”. Not all three, simply any one of the three. One could argue about the science here — it would be better to have all three — but this is not what the statement says.

Why, why, why did you and W-C W not simply say this right at the start?

Perhaps it’s not too late?

—–

I realise that Keenan is just a trouble maker and out to waste time, so I apologize for continuing to waste your time on this, Phil. However, I *am* concerned because all this happened under my watch as Director of CRU and, although this is unlikely, the buck eventually should stop with me.”

So it should, Tom, so it should. Why did you say nothing of this publicly at the time? Is that not collusion to cover up scientific fraud? It’s sad, because of all the people buried deep in the scandal here, Tom seems to be the most honest. It would be a shame if he were to take the rap for all the others. But if these emails are genuine, it would appear that unlike the wild-eyed zealots he did at least recognise what was happening, and he remained silent. Tut, Tut, Tom. Tut, Tut.

13 Comments

  1. Ayrdale says:

    Excellent post.

    “So it should, Tom, so it should. Why did you say nothing of this publicly at the time? Is that not collusion to cover up scientific fraud? It’s sad, because of all the people buried deep in the scandal here, Tom seems to be the most honest. It would be a shame if he were to take the rap for all the others. But if these emails are genuine, it would appear that unlike the wild-eyed zealots he did at least recognise what was happening, and he remained silent…”

    There are no doubt some very good people at CRU (the whistleblower among them perhaps) who are so deeply enmeshed in cover up and fraud they just can’t stop. rather like a victim of a Nigerian scam.

    Are you able to contact Tom Wigley direct ?

  2. Nick M says:

    PA,
    You do appreciate that posting under the title, “The Wang Affair” will get us er… traffic.

  3. John B says:

    Could someone approach Tom Wigley direct and ask him for comment?
    As I have commented, the only reason that Watergate in the US and Muldergate in South Africa were successful in toppling governments was because they were prosecuted relentlessly by a hostile media.
    I know professional scientists can bury anything they really don’t like if they are motivated to so do and have the clout. (See Prof Lecatsus and the Origin of Aids theory, and how that was squashed.)
    A storm needs to be brewed!
    Congratulations on your work.

  4. John B says:

    Apologies for duplications and going a bit off thread. If anyone wants an example of the politics of science on the Aids matter I offer the link below:

    http://www.uow.edu.au/~bmartin/pubs/05pls.pdf

    But regarding the global warming matter, where there may be lies and distortions I am concerned that this climate science issue must not be allowed to fade away!

  5. Pa Annoyed says:

    Nick,

    Is traffic bad?

    I hope not too many people will be disappointed. It’s a serious affair, and a little levity lightens the mood. But given that I’m bringing up that nasty scientific misconduct business, it would be cruel to make fun of his name, too. So I’ll leave it to people to interpret as they will.

    And do you think that the sort of people who would search for “The Wang Affair” might also be interested in issues to do with liberty? We had the guy who invented the “gay hobbit porn” meme. (Is that a few more I hear arriving?) It takes all sorts.

  6. Pa Annoyed says:

    Ayrdale,

    I’d be surprised if Tom Wigley was currently answering casual enquiries. It will take a few days for the initial storm to blow over, and then maybe they’ll be more willing to provide answers. At the moment, I think that whatever they say will add more fuel to the fire, so they’d be well-advised to keep their heads down. And I think it would make more impact from our side if there were fewer other issues to distract.

    If nobody else takes up the question (and I rather suspect they’ll get round to it soon – one of the Wigley emails had been noticed, although I’m not sure if its full implications were) then I might well make an enquiry at some point. But we’ve got enough material here to keep us going for months. No hurry.

  7. RAB says:

    Yeah Nick, just because people may be libidinous preverts, doesn’t mean they may not be interested in what we have to say on matters such as this.

    More the merrier I say!

  8. Hunter says:

    here’s some fun:

    Pair this statement:

    ———————————————————-

    —– Original Message —–
    From: [7]
    To: “‘D.J. Keenan’” [8]
    Cc: “‘Phil Jones’” [9]; [10];
    “‘Wei-Chyung Wang’” [11]; “‘Zeng Zhaomei’”
    [12]
    Sent: Monday, 30 April, 2007 6:14
    Subject: Re: retraction request
    > Dr. Keenan,
    >
    > The discussion with Ms. Zeng last week in Beijing have re-affirmed
    > that she used the hard copies of station histories to make sure that
    > the selected stations for the study of urban warming in China have
    > relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or
    > observation times over the study period (1954-1983).
    >
    > Regards,
    >
    > WCW
    —————————————————————————
    from this email:

    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=802&filename=1182255717.txt

    with these statements:
    —————————————————————————

    X-YMail-OSG: wrT8WAEVM1myBGklj9hAiLvnYW9GqqFcbArMYvXDn17EHo1e0Vf5eSQ4WIGJljnsEw–
    From: “Steve McIntyre” [1]
    To: “Phil Jones” [2]
    Subject: Jones et al 1990
    Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2007 13:44:58 -0400
    X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook, Build 10.0.2627
    X-UEA-Spam-Score: 0.0
    X-UEA-Spam-Level: /
    X-UEA-Spam-Flag: NO
    Dear Phil,

    Jones et al 1990 cited a 260-station temperature set jointly collected by the US
    Deparment of Energy and the PRC Academy of Sciences, stating in respect to the Chinese
    stations:

    The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if
    any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times.

    This data set was later published as NDP-039
    [3]http://cdiac.ornl.gov/epubs/ndp/ndp039/ndp039.html , coauthored by Zeng Zhaomei,
    providing station histories only for their 65-station network, stating that station
    histories for their 205-station network (which includes many of the sites in Jones et al
    1990) were not available:

    (s. 5) Unfortunately, station histories are not currently available for any of the
    stations in the 205-station network; therefore, details regarding instrumentation,
    collection methods, changes in station location or observing times, and official data
    sources are not known.

    (s. 7) Few station records included in the PRC data sets can be considered truly
    homogeneous. Even the best stations were subject to minor relocations or changes in
    observing times, and many have undoubtedly experienced large increases in urbanization.
    Fortunately, for 59 of the stations in the 65-station network, station histories (see
    Table 1) are available to assist in proper interpretation of trends or jumps in the
    data; however, station histories for the 205-station network are not available. In
    addition, examination of the data from the 65-station data set has uncovered evidence of
    several undocumented station moves (Sects. 6 and 10). Users should therefore exercise
    caution when using the data.

    —————————————————

    in this email:

    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=803&filename=1182342470.txt

    —————————————————

    So Dr. Wang was cleared in his university investigations based on the word of a colleague which directly contradicts the published notes on the data?

    here’s another gem from the last email:
    —————————————————-
    Phil Jones said the following on 6/20/2007 3:59 AM:

    Tom P.
    Just for interest. Don’t pass on.
    Might be a precedent for your paper to J. Climate when
    it comes out.
    There are a few interesting comments on the CA web site.
    One says it is up to me to prove the paper from 1990 was correct,
    not for Keenan to prove we’re wrong. Interesting logic.
    Cheers
    Phil
    Wei-Chyung, Tom,
    I won’t be replying to either of the emails below, nor to any
    of the accusations on the Climate Audit website.
    I’ve sent them on to someone here at UEA to see if we
    should be discussing anything with our legal staff.
    The second letter seems an attempt to be nice to me,
    and somehow split up the original author team.
    I do now wish I’d never sent them the data after their FOIA
    request!
    Cheers
    Phil
    ——————————–

    Yes, Dr. Jones, the credibility of your data has been challenged. “Peer-reviewed” status is not a magic talisman against incomplete or inaccurate data. And if the UK law works like the US law, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets answers to FOIA requests. You take taxpayer money, you are answerable to the taxpayer.

  9. Hunter says:

    and for an encore, here is where Wang tells Jones what to say in response to the accusations:

    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=812&filename=1188508827.txt

  10. Pa Annoyed says:

    Hunter,

    Thanks for that. That was fascinating.

  11. marie elks says:

    Hi–

    I read about Wang in a document marked “confidential” that is in the leaked .zip file. It’s name is 080214_SUNYA_draft.pdf, under FOIA/documents.

    According to this document, the inquiry committee referred the case to an investigative committee. I’ve not found any other document that continues to resolution.

    Did you mean that the investigative committee absolved him?

    Thanks,

    MElks

  12. marie elks says:

    Also, if the investigation was confidential, how did this document end up on a hard drive at CRU? Were the CRU people considered jurors? Were they not also defendants?

  13. TheSkyIsFalling says:

    Wow – great post! It seems to me also from the emails that Wigley seems to be the most troubled with the deception going on out of an admittedly bad bunch of scientists. Now he should go public or be forever shamed by the cover up and his failure to act ethically in the public interest. After all he at least recognised it was wrong and chose not to act. Now that it is out will he continue not to act? It is not yet too late for Wigley but little time remains for him. As Wigley says the buck stops with him on that particular matter:

    “I realise that Keenan is just a trouble maker and out to waste time, so I apologize for continuing to waste your time on this, Phil. However, I *am* concerned because all this happened under my watch as Director of CRU and, although this is unlikely, the buck eventually should stop with me.”

    Come clean Tom Wigley or you will be eaten alive professionally.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: