UEA mishandled ‘Climategate’ Freedom of Information requests, say MPs

Science and Technology Committee report finds no dishonest behaviour by Climatic Research Unit or its head, but urges greater transparency. Zoë Corbyn reports

March 31, 2010

The University of East Anglia bears “much of the responsibility” for the mishandling of Freedom of Information requests in relation to the so-called “Climategate” email scandal, a cross-party panel of MPs has ruled.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report into the disclosure of climate data from UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) on 31 March.

The unit found itself at the centre of controversy after the publication last year of private emails sent by some of its scientists. It led to allegations that material was deliberately withheld in the face of requests for its release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The MPs’ report concludes that neither Phil Jones, head of the CRU, nor the unit itself has a case to answer over accusations of dishonest behaviour.

“The focus on Professor Jones and the CRU has been largely misplaced,” it says, adding that Professor Jones’ “blunt refusal” to share scientific data and methodologies was “in line with common practice in the climate-science community”.

It is these practices that need to change, the report says, urging climate scientists to adopt greater transparency by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.

“We can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew – or perceived – were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work,” it says.

It adds that the evidence “does not suggest” that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer-review process and says that academics “should not be criticised” for making informal comments on academic papers.

However, UEA comes in for criticism for the way in which it allowed the CRU to handle FoI requests from climate-change sceptics. The MPs on the committee suggest that the university should have done more to support its academics in this area.

“We cannot reach a firm conclusion on the basis of the evidence we took but we must put on record our concern about the manner in which UEA allowed the CRU to handle FoI requests,” the report says.

It adds that the committee found “prima facie” evidence to suggest that UEA “found ways to support the culture at the CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate-change sceptics”.

“The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to the CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FoI requests was regrettable,” it says.

“UEA needs to review its policy towards FoIA and reassess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.”


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