Published March 31, 2010
LONDON -- A first investigation into e-mails leaked from one of the world's leading climate research centers has largely vindicated the scientists involved -- although it was based on just a single day of testimony.
The House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they'd seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming -- two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues.
In their report, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, "the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact," adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that "global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity."
However, lawmakers stressed that their report -- which was written after only a single day of oral testimony -- did not cover all the issues and would not be as in-depth as the two other inquiries into the e-mail scandal that are still pending. Phil Willis, the committee's chairman, said the lawmakers had been in a rush to publish something before Britain's next national election, which is widely expected in just over a month's time.
"Clearly we would have liked to spend more time of this," he said, before adding jokingly: "We had to get something out before we were sent packing."
Scientists skeptical of the theory that man's actions have led to global warming were upset by the decision. Steve McIntyre, who also worked at the IPCC and submitted notes to the Science and Technology Committee for its investigation, wrote a lengthy rebuttal of the decision on his blog Climate Audit.
McIntyre was upset with the way the committee characterized Jones' famous comment about "hiding the decline" in tree-ring weather data -- that the trick "appears to be a colloquialism for a 'neat' method of handling data."
"Contrary to [the University of East Anglia's] claims, there is no valid statistical procedure supporting the substitution of tree ring proxy," said McIntyre, calling the panel's conclusions "absurd."
"The trick was not a 'neat' way of handling data, nor a recognized form of statistical analysis. The trick was a clever way of tricking the readers of the IPCC 2001 graphic into receiving a false rhetorical impression" of the coherency of the climate data.
The pinched Climate-gate e-mails also show scientists berating skeptics in sometimes intensely personal attacks, discussing ways to shield their data from public records laws, and discussing ways to keep skeptics' research out of peer-reviewed journals.
Willis said that the inquiry had failed to establish whether Professor Jones had deleted information to prevent requests to publish it. In one of the e-mails he asked a colleague to delete correspondence relating to evidence submitted to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
An MP on the committee told The Times of London that, before this month’s public hearing, the members had agreed not to question Professor Jones too closely because of his fragile condition.
Jones had stepped down temporarily as chief of the climate research unit about a week after the e-mail scandal broke. The committee expressed sympathy with him, whom Willis said had been made a scapegoat for larger problems within the climate science community. "The focus on Professor Jones and the CRU has been largely misplaced," the report said.
But the lawmakers did criticize the way Jones and his colleagues handled freedom of information requests, saying scientists could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by aggressively publishing all their data instead of worrying about how to stonewall their critics.
The committee said that climate scientists had to be much more open in future -- for example by publishing all their data, including raw data and the software programs used to interpret them, to the Internet. Willis said there was far too much money at stake not to be completely transparent.
One of the two pending inquiries is being headed by Scottish academic Muir Russell, who is looking into whether scientists, including Jones, fudged data or manipulated the peer review process. It also is examining the extent to which university followed applicable freedom of information laws. That report is due to report sometime this spring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.