East Anglia Climate Scientists Largely Cleared in Final Major Investigation

Dan is a deputy news editor for Science.

The fifth and, so far, most thorough major investigation into the published mails from the University of East Angia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has given the CRU a relatively clean bill of health. (See the full report.) The independent inquiry into so-called "Climategate", instigated by UEA and headed by former civil servant Muir Russell, examined the conduct of the CRU scientists following allegations sparked by the so-called “Climategate” e-mails. It looked at selective use of data, subverting of peer review, and failure to respond fully to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The report was unequivocal in its backing of the scientists in terms of research integrity, though it did criticize their openness. “Their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” it said. In response to the assertion that CRU had withheld data, the report found that it was mostly not theirs to withhold but was easily accessible in public databases. One of the report's authors, physicist Peter Clarke of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, told a press briefing today that they were able to download the relevant data “in a few minutes” and then process it in the same way as CRU had done, producing similar final results. “It took a couple of days of code writing,” he said. The authors found no evidence of bias by CRU in its selection of data. Allegations of misuse of tree ring data were also put aside.

Some of the 1000 e-mails that appeared on the Internet suggested that CRU Director Phil Jones had tried to influence peer review of papers he disagreed with and prevented them from being cited by reviews of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

On the subject of peer review, Russell said that expressing “robust opinions [about papers] was typical during peer review.” And after consulting with editors of the IPCC report, the panel concluded that the CRU scientists were “parts of teams and not individuals responsible for the wording of the reports,” Russell says.

Where the CRU scientists did fall down was in their openness to requests for data. “There was a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness,” Russell says. And the report criticizes UEA for failing to recognize its statutory requirements under FOIA. That failure, it said, could harm the reputation of the university, as well as the credibility of U.K. climate science. Panel member James Norton said that “now more than ever scientists need to be open. Scientists don't own their own data and at most have a temporary lease.”

UEA Vice Chancellor Edward Acton welcomed the report. “I accept that we could and should have been more open,” he says. He says that Phil Jones, who stood down as CRU director during the enquiry, had accepted the new post of director of research at CRU. This would allow him to concentrate more on his and the unit's research output while taking away some of his administrative burden. CRU as a whole would become more closely integrated into the university's School of Environmental Science.

Posted in Climate