Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Chair for climate e-mail review

Laptop keyboard (Image: PA)
Experts warn that universities' e-mail systems are vulnerable to attacks

Sir Muir Russell will head an independent review into the e-mails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in Norwich, UK.

Sir Muir, a former civil servant, will look into allegations that have arisen from the security breach.

The review will examine whether there is evidence of manipulation or suppression of data "at odds with acceptable scientific practice".

The CRU is based at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The e-mails issue arose two weeks ago when hundreds of messages between scientists at the CRU and their peers around the world were posted on the world wide web, along with other documents.

It appears that the material was hacked or leaked; a police investigation has yet to reveal which.

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

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

At the time that the theft of the data was revealed, some climate sceptic websites picked up on the word "trick" in one e-mail from 1999 and talk of "hiding the decline".

Professor Jones said the e-mail was genuine but taken "completely out of context".

He added: "The first thing to point out is that this refers to one diagram - not a scientific paper.

"The word 'trick' was used here colloquially as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward."

UEA has said the review will:

  • Examine e-mail exchanges to determine whether there is evidence of suppression or manipulation of data at odds with acceptable scientific practice which "may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes".
  • Review CRU's policies and practices for acquiring, assembling, subjecting to peer review and disseminating data and research findings, and "their compliance or otherwise with best scientific practice".
  • Review CRU's compliance or otherwise with the UEA's policies and practices regarding requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) for the release of data.
  • Review and make recommendations about the management, governance and security structures for CRU and the security, integrity and release of the data it holds.

Sir Muir commented: "Given the nature of the allegations it is right that someone who has no links to either the university or the climate science community looks at the evidence and makes recommendations based on what they find.

"My first task is to scope the project, gather the information I need and source the additional expertise that will be required in order to investigate fully the allegations that have been made."

In another development, Saudi Arabia's chief climate negotiator, Mohammad Al-Sabban said that the CRU e-mail issue will have a "huge impact" on next week's UN climate summit.

Mr Al-Sabban made clear that he expects it to derail the single biggest objective of the summit - to agree limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.

"It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change," he told BBC News.

"Climate is changing for thousands of years, but for natural and not human-induced reasons."

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, welcomed the appointment. But he said: "One concern is that the results may not be published until the Spring.

"This is probably necessary to allow a thorough investigation, but it does mean that those who are using 'climategate' as a propaganda tool for their own political ends might be able to enjoy many more weeks of mischief-making.

"The big question is whether so-called 'sceptics' will complain because the investigation will not be headed by one of their own, and whether they will suspend their campaigns of disinformation about this affair until the investigation is completed."

UEA has asked for the review to be completed by the Spring of 2010 and this will be made public along with the university's response.

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