Climategate inquiries criticised

The University of East Anglia’s Climategate inquiries were not sufficiently transparent and failed to properly investigate some key issues, the Commons Science and Technology Committee has concluded.

January 25, 2011

UEA initiated two independent inquiries after hacked emails released in November 2009 led to allegations that researchers at the university’s Climatic Research Unit had attempted to manipulate data and subvert the peer review process to support their claims about global warming.

One inquiry – the Independent Climate Change Email Review headed by Sir Muir Russell – reported last July after a seven-month investigation, and the Scientific Appraisal Panel, headed by Lord Oxburgh, reported last April after a month of scrutiny.

Both inquiries followed the previous Science and Technology Committee in largely exonerating the CRU researchers. The current committee has considered how closely the UEA inquiries followed the previous committee’s recommendations.

The resulting report, published today, is particularly critical of the Oxburgh panel, whose five-page report “reads like an executive summary”, fostering the impression it was “produced quickly in an attempt to be helpful to UEA”.

The panel’s failure to explain why it selected to review only certain documents also left it open, in the committee’s view, to allegations that certain areas of climate science were “purposely overlooked”.

The committee also criticises the Russell panel for failing to investigate fully the “serious allegation” that CRU researchers had deleted emails to avoid their being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

“We find it unsatisfactory that we are left with a verbal reassurance from the vice-chancellor [of UEA] that the emails still exist,” the committee says.

The Russell panel was also remiss for not holding its evidence sessions in public and for allowing UEA to read its report before it was published – a move that left the inquiry open to allegations that it was not sufficiently independent.

The committee calls on researchers to release “sufficient detail of computer programs, specific methodology or techniques used” to allow others to check their analysis of data. This will “help guard against not only scientific fraud but also the spread of misinformation and unsustainable allegations”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office should also release “clear guidance” on how FoI legislation should be applied to scientific research by the start of the next academic year.

But the committee endorses the UEA reports’ “clear and sensible” recommendations. “It is time to make the changes and improvements recommended and, with greater openness and transparency, move on,” the committee concludes.

The only surviving member of the previous Science and Technology Committee, Graham Stringer, was unsuccessful in a bid to introduce into the report a passage criticising the exclusion from the UEA panels of any “reputable scientist who was critical of CRU’s work” and the inclusion of some members with possible conflicts of interest due to connections with the CRU and the alternative energy industry.

He also wanted to criticise the Oxburgh panel for not looking into the CRU’s “controversial” work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which “is what has attracted most series allegations”.

“The release of the e-mails…and the accusations that followed demanded independent and objective scrutiny by independent panels. This has not happened…We are now left after three investigations without a clear understanding of whether or not the CRU science is compromised,” Mr Stringer wanted to say.

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