Page last updated at 19:22 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Inquiry into stolen climate e-mails

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Keyboard (EyeWire)
The supposed e-mails have been widely circulated on the web

Details of a university inquiry into e-mails stolen from scientists at one of the UK's leading climate research units are likely to be made public next week.

Announcement of a chair of the inquiry and terms of reference will probably be made on Monday, a source says.

The University of East Anglia's (UEA) press office did not confirm the date.

But a spokesperson said information about the investigation into the hack at UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) would be made public very soon.

Scientists will be scrutinising the choice of chair and the terms of reference.

One senior climate scientist told me that the chair would have to be a person accepted by both mainstream climate scientists and sceptics as a highly respected figure without strong connections to either group.

BBC News understands that senior individuals at UEA have acknowledged the potential damage to the university's reputation from the CRU affair and are anxious to clear the institution's name.

But there is a risk that some people will not accept the findings of any inquiry unless it is fully independent, as demanded by the former UK Chancellor Lord Lawson earlier in the week.

A petition is running on the 10 Downing Street website calling for CRU to be suspended from preparation of any government climate statistics until the allegations have been fully investigated.

Some researchers would not comment until they had seen UEA's nominated chairman and terms of reference.

But Professor Sir John Houghton, chair of the IPCC's first science panel, said he would not support an inquiry as many of those demanding one were biased.

Phil Willis MP said the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee - of which he is chair - had written to UEA asking for copies of the e-mails and an explanation. Depending on the response, the committee will decide whether to proceed further.

Professor Sir David King, the former government chief scientist, told BBC News there are three key issues:

  • how did the leakage occur - was there any payment in the process?
  • the alleged behaviour of the scientists indicated by the e-mails
  • does this have any impact on the scientific conclusion?

If an independent inquiry encompassed all three aspects, Professor Sir David said he would support it.



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