Page last updated at 19:41 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Climategate e-mails inquiry under way

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Keyboard (Autocat)
The e-mails were stolen or leaked from the University of East Anglia

A panel of independent experts has officially begun its inquiry into the "Climategate" affair.

The experts, headed by Sir Muir Russell, will investigate how e-mails from the UK's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) appeared on the web.

They will also consider if the e-mail exchanges between researchers show an attempt to manipulate or suppress data "at odds" with scientific practice.

But even before the panel could start work, one of its members resigned.

Dr Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief for Nature journal, stood down late on Thursday because of remarks he had made last year in the Chinese media in which he said the scientists mentioned in the e-mails had "behaved as researchers should".

"I made the remarks in good faith on the basis of media reports of the leaks. As I have made clear subsequently, I support the need for a full review of the facts behind the leaked e-mails," he said in a statement.

"There must be nothing that calls into question the ability of the independent review to complete this task, and therefore I have decided to withdraw from the team."

Sir Muir said he understood why Dr Campbell had withdrawn. "I regret the loss of his expertise, but I respect his decision," he said.

Sir Muir's panel hopes to present "preliminary conclusions by spring 2010".

Speaking at the launch of the inquiry, Sir Muir, who is chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, said: "We are free to pursue and follow any line of inquiry that we wish.

"Our job is to investigate the scientific rigour, honesty, openness and due process of what CRU's approach has been," he told reporters.

"We will be calling for evidence, for submissions and comments on the issues that we will be putting to the members of CRU and others.

"We are also launching a website, and that will be the primary way in which people will be able to follow our progress."

E-mail allegations

In November, more than 1,000 messages between scientists at the CRU, based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and their peers around the world were posted on the web, along with other documents.

Climate inquiry independent vow

CRU maintains one of the world's most important datasets on how global temperatures have changed.

Professor Phil Jones, the director of the unit, has stepped down pending the review, and has said he stands by his data.

UEA appointed Sir Muir in December to head an inquiry into a series of allegations that arose from the stolen e-mails.

As well as more than 1,000 e-mails, the hack took 3,000 documents. The overall size of data amounted to 160MB.

The panel are also tasked with considering whether the unit failed to observe Freedom of Information requests properly.

Critics said that the e-mail exchanges reveal an attempt by the researchers involved to manipulate data.

Panel announced

Climate sceptics suggest that the affair shows that either human activities are not affecting the planet's climate system, or that the impacts are not as bad as many climate scientists suggest.

The panel's investigation will:

• "Examine the hacked e-mail exchanges, other relevant e-mail exchanges and any other information held at CRU to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice."

• "Review CRU's policies and practices for acquiring, assembling, subjecting to peer review and disseminating data and research findings."

• "Review CRU's compliance or otherwise with the university's policies and practices regarding requests under the Freedom of Information Act."

• "Review and make recommendations as to the appropriate management, governance and security structures for CRU and the security, integrity and release of the data it holds."

However, the panel will not review the past scientific work of the CRU, as this will be re-appraised by a UEA-commissioned study that will involve the Royal Society in an advisory role.

"Colleagues in CRU have strenuously defended their conduct and the published work and we believe it is in the interest of all concerned that there should be an additional assessment considering the science itself," Professor Trevor Davies, UEA's pro-vice-chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement, said in a statement.

Royal Society President Lord Rees said that it was important that the public had the utmost confidence in the science of climate change.

"Where legitimate doubts are raised about any piece of science they must be fully investigated - that is how science works," he explained.

"The Royal Society will provide advice to the University of East Anglia in identifying independent assessors to conduct this reappraisal."

A spokewoman for UEA told BBC News that a chairperson would be appointed "at the earliest opportunity".

But she added that the remit of the re-appraisal, such as how many past CRU publications would be assessed, would be decided by the panel.

As well as Sir Muir, the other members the Climate Change E-mail Review team, which is being funded by UEA, are Geoffrey Boulton, general secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; Professor Peter Clarke of the University of Edinburgh; David Eyton, head of research and technology at BP; and Professor Jim Norton, vice president for the Chartered Institute for IT.

The deadline for submissions to the review is 1 March 2010.

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