July 7, 2010
Climate Review Finds Scientists Not Guilty Of Dishonesty
Climate scientists have emerged from an inquiry with their reputations still intact.
The Independent Climate Change Email Review was set up by the University of East Anglia (UEA) after over 1,000 emails were hacked into through its servers.Climate "skeptics" claimed that the emails proved that UEA scientists manipulated key climate data involving climate change.
However, these accusations are largely dismissed by the report.
The review did not discover anything in the emails to undermine Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
The review consisted of months of reading submissions sent in by climate scientists and their critics and interviewing key players, notably scientists within the university's Climatic Research Unit (CRU).
The review concluded "their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt." This was one of the main charges that skeptics had brought against CRU researchers.
However, the review says that "there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness," notable over complying with Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
It says that CRU scientists were too quick to dismiss critics from outside their own circles.
Muir said that the methods the inquiry team used ought to alleviate fears that this was a whitewash.
"It's inevitable that people who've made up their minds (beforehand) have made up their minds," he said.
"But we haven't ducked the issues... we've gone to the heart of the issues to resolve them as best we can."
Edward Acton, UEA vice-chancellor, told BBC News the review should "finally lay to rest the conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings that have circulated."
"We hope this exoneration of UEA climate scientists and their research collaborators around the world, some of whom have suffered considerably during this experience, will be widely reported."
He told BBC that the university accepted the inquiry's criticisms on lack of openness and compliance with FoI legislation, and that he wrote to all staff at the university reminding them of their responsibilities.
Professor Phil Jones, the former CRU director at the center of many of the allegations, took up the new position of director of research within the unit.
Acton said this move would allow him to continue his research while others shouldered more of the administrative burden, such as taking on primary responsibility for FoI requests.
Dr. Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, told BBC that the report was a "damning indictment of the university's handling of freedom of information requests."
He added, "There is clearly strong evidence of mishandling of the requests [by the CRU] and strong criticism of its failure to provide legitimate information.
"I don't think the university can just claim that this is a vindication."
Dr Peiser added that that the issue would "not go away with this report".
"We (the Global Warming Policy Foundation) have now commissioned our own inquiry into the way these three inquiries have been set up and run," he said. "I don't know anyone among the critics who has been swayed by the first two."
The panel said that the emails released last November amounted to about 0.3% of the material on the hacked UEA server.
They said that the remainder was in the hands of the police investigating the breach. However, conditions imposed by the police made it impossible for the panel to go through the rest of the material.
The emails cover a period dating back to 1997 and were released into the public domain just before the Copenhagen climate summit last year, with some seeing it as an attempt to try and destabilize the summit.
CRU produces one of the most widely used records of global temperature, which have been key to the IPCC's conclusions that the planet's surface is warming and that human emissions are likely to be the culprit.
Critics say that the unit's scientists withheld temperature data from weather stations and also kept secret the computer algorithms that are needed to process the data into a record of global temperature.
The review found that these allegations had no grounds.
"We find that CRU was not in a position to withhold access to such data or tamper with it," the report stated.
"We demonstrated that any independent researcher can download station data directly from primary sources and undertake their own temperature trend analysis".
Writing computer code to process the data "took less than two days and produced results similar to other independent analyses. No information from CRU was needed to do this".
Muir told BBC, "So we conclude that the argument that CRU has something to hide does not stand up".
Professor Peter Clark from Edinburgh University said when asked whether it would be reasonable to conclude that anyone claiming instrumental records were unavailable for vital code missing was incompetent that "it's very clear that anyone who'd be competent enough to analyze the data would know where to find it.
"It's also clear that anyone competent could perform their own analysis without let or hindrance."
The inquiry concluded that the university also did not withhold temperature data derived from tree rings.
However, access to the data "was not simple until it was archived in 2009."
The panel did not find evidence that CRU researchers distorted the peer review process employed by scientific journals, or unduly influenced IPCC reports by ignoring research papers that contradicted their own findings.
Former UK chancellor Lord Lawson said that if scientists wanted to have respect from politicians, they should be "very open."
"And these people were not open," he told BBC News. "It's quite inexcusable, when governments are being asked to make policy decisions that will affect everybody - hugely expensive policy decisions, if the science on which they are based is covered up."
Climate researcher Dr. Chris Huntingford from the UK's Center for Ecology and Hydrology told BBC that he was "quietly confident" that the research community would rise to the challenge ever increasing levels of scrutiny.
"The last 20 years has seen a shift, from research in to the global environment being an intellectual curiosity to one of utmost importance," he said.
"For those working in the field, this is rewarding but it also brings new responsibilities."
On the Net:
- Climatic Research Unit - East Anglia University
- Independent Climate Change Email Review
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change