The University of East Anglia was responsible for creating an environment of opacity which preceded the “Climategate” scandal, however the “rigour and honesty” of the scientists involved is beyond question, a long-awaited review has concluded.
The final report of the Independent Climate Change E-mails Review, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, former vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, found that UEA’s Climatic Research Unit was “unhelpful and defensive” when faced with reasonable requests for information through the Freedom of Information Act.
“CRU helped create the conditions for this campaign by being unhelpful in its earlier responses to individual requests,” says the report, published today.
The review also states that UEA did not act in a way “consistent with the spirit or intent” of FoI laws, and cites evidence that emails exchanged by scientists within the CRU may have been deleted to make them unavailable should future requests be made.
The report concludes that UEA “failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the university and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science”.
Sir Muir told reporters in a press briefing today that many UK universities could face a similar threat to their reputation if they failed to respond to the demands placed on them by the culture of openness demanded by the FoI Act and the power of the blogosphere.
The panel called on the Information Commissioner’s Office to provide better information for universities about how the FoI Act should be applied to the higher education sector and in particular to sensitive research data.
The report urges scientists in the UK to learn to communicate their work in a way that is accessible to the public, and to engage with detractors at the earliest possible moment.
It concludes that the “rigour and honesty” of scientists working within the CRU was not in doubt, but that the provision of data without context for a 1999 World Meteorological Organisation report was “misleading”.
It recommends that universities should engage their senior management teams in risk management, and says that compliance with the FoI Act should ultimately be the responsibility of the vice-chancellor. Any failure to comply could lead to “immense reputational damage fuelling allegations of a cover-up”, it warns.
Research funders, such as the research councils, should also be clear about their requirements for the release and archiving of data, the report suggests.
Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of UEA, said the report would “finally lay to rest the conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings that have circulated” since emails and documents relating to the work of the CRU were stolen from the university last year.
But he agreed that the university should have been more open than it had been, pointing out that it had “nothing to hide”. “The need to develop a culture of greater openness and transparency in the CRU is something that we faced up to internally some months ago and we are already working to put right,” he added.