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  • Dick writes about Earth and planetary science for Science magazine.
 

U.K. Parliament Committee Gently Chides Climate Scientists

30 March 2010 8:01 pm
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A new report on the brouhaha over the hacking of e-mails at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom is generally sympathetic toward climate scientists accused of withholding data and subverting the peer review process. But the U.K. House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee also says that the researchers should make all of their evidence for climate change available to global-warming skeptics and the public.

Today's report by the Commons' committee—the second of five bodies that has completed an investigation into the November incident—finds no wrongdoing per se by the scientists involved. While "the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others," the report states, "we can sympathise with" Philip Jones, director of the CRU. He "must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew-or perceived-were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work." After all, the report continues, Jones was only following standard practice in climate science. It also says that those seemingly incriminating e-mail phrases such as "trick" and "hiding the decline" were innocuous colloquial terms appropriately used in informal e-mails. No one was attempting to mislead or to undermine the peer review, it concludes.

*This article has been corrected.

Still, both scientists and their institutions could do better, according to the committee. Echoing the report, committee Chair Phil Willis said that "climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes." And, concurring with Britain's Information Commissioner's Office, the Commons report finds evidence in the e-mails of "a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure."

The Information Commissioner's Office found that the probable infractions occurred more than 6 months earlier and therefore, that the statute of limitations for prosecuting them had expired. The Commons' committee, however, found that UEA at least tacitly supported CRU in its resistance to releasing information to climate change skeptics. So UEA needs to review its relevant policies and "re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited," states the report.

Neither climate scientists nor their institutions are out of the woods yet. Two investigations commissioned by UEA are just getting underway. One will be a "reappraisal of the science" in CRU's key publications. The other will investigate whether the e-mails reveal evidence of poor scientific practices.

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