'Climategate' fallout: shadow of suspicion falls across East Anglia

Mood darkens as online critics question work because it emanates from UEA. Zoë Corbyn writes

February 18, 2010

Academics at the University of East Anglia who have nothing to do with the study of climate change are being affected by the fallout from the "Climategate" scandal, as unfair questions are asked about the veracity of their work.

Last week, a research paper by Thomas Nann, a professor in UEA's School of Chemistry, was covered by the popular science magazine New Scientist.

The story was based on a paper co-authored by Professor Nann, "Water splitting by visible light: A nanophotocathode for hydrogen production", which outlines a new technique for converting photoelectrons to hydrogen with a 60 per cent efficiency rate.

But comments posted online suggest that although the research has nothing to do with the work of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which is at the centre of the Climategate controversy, it is being questioned because it emanates from UEA.

"I am suspicious about the 60 per cent figure (because) it comes from UEA, which ... has suffered from the recent CRU scandal," one reader writes.

Another says: "For me, at least, whenever anyone mentions research from UEA, the Climategate scandal and bad scientific practices will come to mind ... I feel bad for the students now that the institution is somewhat of a national joke."

Professor Nann said he was resigned to being a target for such comments.

"Given the high profile of UEA in current climate issues, it is perhaps not surprising," he said.

But Andrew Watson, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences, said the posts were "grossly unfair" and warned that the attitudes displayed were a problem.

"They just see 'UEA' and only think of one thing," he said.

Another researcher at the university, who asked not to be named, said the mood was gloomy, adding that since the scandal UEA "has negative connotations".

Last week, the institution announced a new independent review of the Climategate affair.

The CRU has been under intense scrutiny since hacked documents led to allegations that scientists at the unit had manipulated data to strengthen the case for man-made climate change, and had failed to co-operate with requests to release raw data for public scrutiny.

The latest review will reassess the science behind the unit's key climate change publications.

Trevor Davies, pro vice-chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement, said it was "in the interests of all concerned that there should be an additional assessment considering the science itself".

The announcement came as Sir Muir Russell, former principal of the University of Glasgow, who is leading a separate inquiry into the behaviour and ethics of CRU scientists, unveiled his team and the questions they will address.

Within hours, however, one of the five panel members, Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of the journal Nature, was forced to resign after doubts were raised about his impartiality. It emerged he had given a media interview in December 2009 in which he said there was nothing to suggest a CRU cover-up.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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