Did Nature misreport fraud issue with Jones?

Yesterday, I linked to a NewScientist blog post noting the rather weak challenge from former East Anglia CRU chief Dr. Phil Jones demanding that bloggers conduct a scientific debunking of AGW rather than point out the myriad errors and bad science conducted by its advocates.  Jones originally issued the challenge in an interview with Nature that outlined Jones’ response to the heavy criticism of his work, including the allegation that Jones knowingly published flawed data in order to support his AGW theories.  Nature explains the claim of Douglas Keenan and presses Jones for a response:


Central to the Russell investigation is the issue of whether he or his CRU colleagues ever published data that they knew were potentially flawed, in order to bolster the evidence for man-made global warming. The claim specifically relates to one of Jones’s research papers1 on whether the urban heat island effect — in which cities tend to be warmer than the surrounding countryside — could be responsible for the apparent rise in temperature readings from thermometers in the late twentieth century. Jones’s study concluded that this local effect was negligible, and that the dominant effect was global climate change.

In the paper1, the authors used data from weather stations around the world; those in China “were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times”, they wrote.

But in 2007, amateur climate-data analyst Doug Keenan alleged that this claim was false, citing evidence that many of the stations in eastern China had been moved throughout the period of study. Because the raw data had been obtained from a Chinese contact of one of Jones’s co-authors, Wei-Chyung Wang of the University at Albany in New York, and details of their location had subsequently been lost, there was no way of verifying or refuting Keenan’s claim.

“Presses” may be the wrong word here, as Nature allows Jones off the hook with this response:

Jones says that approaching Wang for the Chinese data seemed sensible at the time. “I thought it was the right way to get the data. I was specifically trying to get more rural station data that wasn’t routinely available in real time from [meteorological] services,” says Jones, who asserts that standards for data collection have changed considerably in the past twenty years. He now acknowledges that “the stations probably did move”, and that the subsequent loss of the details of the locations was sloppy. “It’s not acceptable,” says Jones. “[It’s] not best practice.” CRU denies any involvement in losing these records.

Jones says that he did not know that the weather stations’ locations were questionable when they were included in the paper, but as the study’s lead author he acknowledges his responsibility for ensuring the quality of the data. So will he submit a correction to Nature? “I will give that some thought. It’s worthy of consideration,” he says.

“The science still holds up” though, he adds. A follow-up study2 verified the original conclusions for the Chinese data for the period 1954–1983, showing that the precise location of weather stations was unimportant. “They are trying to pick out minor things in the data and blow them out of all proportion,” says Jones of his critics.


Keenan e-mailed me this morning to correct the record as presented by Nature in this passage.  First, while Keenan may be an “amateur climate-data analyst,” his paper on this topic was peer reviewed and accepted.  In fact, one of the three scientists in the peer review process (and the one who voted against acceptance) was a Dr. Phil Jones of the East Anglia CRU, as Keenan informed Nature in a comment attached to their story, emphases mine:

This news report discusses my work on the Chinese weather-station data, but provides no references for that work. The main reference is this: Keenan, D. J. Energy & Environment, 18, 985-995 (2007). It is freely available on the web.

The news report also misrepresents my allegations.

My principal allegation is that some of the data on station histories never existed. Specifically, Jones et al. (1990) claim to have sourced their data from a report that was published by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Yet for 49 of the 84 meteorological stations that Jones et al. relied upon, the DOE/CAS Report states “station histories are not currently available” and “details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times … are not known“. Those statements imply that the quoted claim from Jones et al. is impossible: “stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times”. My paper presents more details; some updates are available via http://www.informath.org/apprise/a5620.htm .

I have also alleged that, by 2001, Jones knew there were severe problems with the Chinese research and yet he continued using that research–including allowing it to be relied on by the IPCC 2007 Assessment Report. Evidence is in Section 2.4 of my 2007 paper. Jones was one of the reviewers for my paper (the reviewer tally was 2-1 for acceptance, with Jones being the 1). Although Jones had many comments, he did not attempt to dispute this allegation.

Additional support for the latter allegation is given in my submission to the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. A copy of my submission is available via http://www.informath.org/apprise/a5610.htm . The submission additionally alleges that Jones acted unscrupulously when he was reviewing my paper.

The news report further claims that “e-mails and documents were illegally obtained from the university”. In fact, it is not known whether the leak of the e-mails and documents was illegal: the leak might be covered under whistle-blower legislation.

Lastly, with regard to Jones’ question “Why don’t they do their own reconstructions?”, the answer is that the data has not been released. In particular, regarding the Medieval Warm Period, what is arguably the most valuable tree-ring data extant remains unavailable. Details on that are at http://www.informath.org/apprise/a3900.htm .


Given that Keenan’s work has been peer reviewed and freely available, it seems at least curious that Nature apparently never attempted to contact Keenan about the allegations he has made in those papers.  The description of Keenan as an “amateur” also seems somewhat misleading, given that he has written at least one peer-reviewed paper directly on the subject of misuse of data in climate-change research.  Had Nature actually done a little research themselves, they would have known that Jones has not been accused of doing sloppy work, but of deliberately and knowingly using faulty (or at least unsupported) data to support his theories.

Keenan wrote this morning in his e-mail:

It is notable how Nature went about reporting the story of the dispute between me and Jones.  The dispute essentially boils down to this: one party accused another party of fraud.  Nature’s reporting consisted of asking the accused party if he was guilty, and finding that the accused declared himself innocent.  The reporting did not include examining any evidence for the accusation, nor interviewing the accuser.  (Inadequate resources could not be the problem, because the journalist traveled to Jones’ university in Norwich, to do the interview.)  Even without assessing the merits of the accusation, then, I believe it is fair to say that the reporting on this was a failure.

Indeed — as has been most of the reporting on AGW advocacy for a long time.  Ironically, Nature uses a picture of Jones with the caption, Phil Jones: facing up to his critics.  Not if Nature’s approach continues to be used by the media.


Update: Doug Keenan e-mails me with an update:

Just saw your post–I am very glad for this!  It is excellent to see the story getting out.

Your post mentions that the “description of Keenan as an “amateur” also seems somewhat misleading, given that he has written at least one peer-reviewed paper directly on the subject of misuse of data in climate-change research”.  We agree.  Moreover, I have actually published two such peer-reviewed papers.  This is a bit off-topic, but there is a write-up about the other paper at http://www.informath.org/apprise/a3200.htm –the paper is about another failure by Nature.

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