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Climate Scientist Steps Down While Data Is Investigated

December 2, 2009

The University of East Anglia said Tuesday that the chief of a prestigious British research center caught in a storm of controversy over claims that he and others suppressed data about climate change has stepped down pending an investigation, The Associated Press reported.

Phil Jones, whose e-mails were among the thousands of pieces of correspondence leaked to the Internet late last month, will relinquish his position as director of the Climatic Research Unit until the completion of an independent review, according to a statement released by the university.

“The investigation will cover data security, whether the university responded properly to Freedom of Information requests, and any other relevant issues,” said Trevor Davies, the university’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research.

The statement said the specific terms of the review would be announced later in the week.

Skeptics of man-made climate change have accused Jones of manipulating data to support his research. Some have pointed to a leaked e-mail in which Jones writes that he had used a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a chart detailing recent global temperatures.

However, Jones has denied manipulating evidence and insisted his comment had been misunderstood, explaining that he’d used the word trick “as in a clever thing to do.”

“There was nothing in the stolen material to suggest the peer-reviewed publications by the unit are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation,” Davies said.

But those who are fighting efforts to impose caps on emissions of carbon dioxide as evidence of a scientific conspiracy argue that the correspondence from Jones and others – which appears to include discussions of how to keep critical work out of peer-reviewed journals and efforts to shield scientists’ data and methodology from outside scrutiny ““ make a strong case for their opposition.

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and a vocal skeptic of global warming, called Tuesday for Senate hearings on the e-mails.

Inhofe wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the environment committee, that the e-mails could have far-reaching policy implications for the United States.

Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency have used data produced by the Climate Research Unit in efforts to take action to curb global warming.

A hearing Wednesday over the status of climate science will question two prominent Obama administration scientists – White House science adviser John Holdren and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco ““ over their involvement in the e-mail controversy.

Davies said the publication of Jones and his colleagues’ e-mails is “the latest example of a sustained and, in some instances, a vexatious campaign” to undermine climate science.

Nicholas Stern, a leading climate change economist, said the person or people who posted the leaked e-mails had muddled the debate at a critical moment.

“It has created confusion and confusion never helps scientific discussions. The degree of skepticism among real scientists is very small,” Stern told reporters in London Tuesday.

The final days of preparations are drawing near for the Copenhagen conference, which is due to outline a new climate change agreement.

Stern said that if countries did not manage to reach an agreement, world temperatures could rise by nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, making much of the world uninhabitable.

“We have a moment now when we could get a strategy agreed. If it were to dissolve in disarray it would not be easy to put this momentum back together again,” Stern said.

In the stated interest of making their science as open and transparent as possible, a group of scientists who run the RealClimate Web site – including Gavin Schmidt at the NASA space agency and Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University – have now begun posting links to their data sources online.

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