Lord Oxburgh to lead review of UEA’s climate work

Head of panel says ‘we will report as soon as possible’ because of ‘shadow hanging over science’. Zoë Corbyn reports

March 22, 2010

The University of East Anglia has announced who will lead an independent review of the quality of the science in the “Climategate” email affair.

Lord Oxburgh, a former rector of Imperial College London and former chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, will chair a panel that will examine “important elements” of the science published by the university’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

The unit found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy after the publication last year of private emails sent by some of its scientists.

The new probe complements a separate independent review already under way in which Sir Muir Russell is studying whether researchers in the unit manipulated data to strengthen the case for man-made climate change and failed to cooperate with requests to release raw data for public scrutiny.

Trevor Davies, the university’s pro vice-chancellor for research, said the CRU’s scientific papers had been examined by scientists from other institutions through the peer-review process before being accepted for publication by journals and that the university had “no reason” to question the effectiveness of this process.

“Nevertheless, given the concerns about climate research expressed by some in the media, we decided to augment the Sir Muir Russell review with an independent assessment of the CRU’s key publications in the areas that have been most subject to comment,” he said.

Lord Oxburgh’s appointment, announced today, follows a recommendation from the Royal Society, which also advised on the appointment of six other panel members.

The six are: Huw Davies, professor of physics at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich; Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lisa Graumlich, director of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona; David Hand, professor of statistics in the department of mathematics at Imperial; Herbert Huppert, professor of theoretical geophysics at the University of Cambridge; and Michael Kelly, Prince Philip professor of technology at Cambridge.

Lord Oxburgh is a former chair of the Lords Science and Technology Committee. Between 1987 and 1993, he was chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and from 1993 to 2001 he was rector of Imperial.

He said: “The shadow hanging over climate change and science more generally at present makes it a matter of urgency that we get on with this assessment. We will undertake this work and report as soon as possible.”

The panel, which will convene for the first time next month, will have the opportunity to see original data and speak to those who did the research.

UEA said that it and the Royal Society both expected the review to focus on key publications, although the panel will have access to any publications or materials it wants.

The complete findings and the university’s response to them will be published in full.

Professor Davies acknowledged that the panel was “sure to be the subject of discussion”.

“Experience would suggest that it is impossible to find a group of eminent scientists to look at this issue who are acceptable to every interest group that has expressed a view in the past few months. Similarly, it is unlikely that a group of people who have the necessary experience to assess the science but have formed no view of their own on global warming could be found,” he said.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

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