Review finds no ‘malpractice’ by UEA climate scientists

Investigation notes weak statistical work and misrepresentations of results but finds ‘no evidence of any impropriety’ by researchers. Zoë Corbyn reports

April 14, 2010

An independent review has cleared scientists at the centre of the Climategate scandal of allegations that they manipulated data and tailored research results to support an agenda predicated on the existence of man-made climate change.

But the review, which reported today, does suggest that they could have used better statistical techniques to analyse their results. It also criticises the way their science has been popularised, saying too many caveats had been glossed over.

The review led by Lord Oxburgh, a former rector of Imperial College London, examined the science published by the University of East Anglia’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.

Lord Oxburgh examined 11 key peer-reviewed papers from the unit spanning a period of more than 20 years and interviewed CRU staff to investigate whether climate data had been manipulated or presented unfairly.

“We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit,” says the report, which looks in detail at the CRU’s work analysing tree-ring data and land temperature records.

But the report does suggest that the researchers could have used better statistical techniques.

“We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians,” it notes.

It adds that there would be “mutual benefit” if the CRU collaborated and interacted with a “much wider scientific group”.

Lord Oxburgh said that he had found “absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever”, adding that while there “may well have been better statistical methods that could have been used”, this “probably would not have made any significant difference to the results”.

The report also suggests that CRU scientists could have done more to document their judgements and archive data and algorithms, a finding accepted by the CRU.

It adds that the scientists were “ill prepared” for the public attention their work generated.

In a wider criticism, the review report says that the uncertainties emphasised by the CRU authors in their publications had been lost in the “popularisation” of their science.

In particular, it points the finger at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which it says has “sometimes neglected” to make clear the researchers’ reservations.

“When the unit publishes its work, there are enormous numbers of caveats about the uncertainties and doubts and assumptions,” Lord Oxburgh said.

“Unfortunately when this work is popularised by the media or other more scientific organisations, the caveats tend to be forgotten. The blame for this misrepresentation is actually pretty widely spread.”

The review’s findings were welcomed by the University of East Anglia.

A separate review of the leaked CRU emails, which is being conducted by Sir Muir Russell, is expected to report at the end of May.

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