Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 08:27 UK

Climate science must be more open, say MPs

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA
Professor Phil Jones' scientific reputation is "intact"

MPs investigating the climate change row at the UK's University of East Anglia (UEA) have demanded greater transparency from climate scientists.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee criticised UEA authorities for failing to respond to requests for data from climate change sceptics.

But it found no evidence Professor Phil Jones, whose e-mails were hacked and published online, had manipulated data.

It said his reputation, and that of his climate research unit, remained intact.

The e-mails were hacked from the university's computer network and were published on the internet just before the Copenhagen climate conference in December 2009.


Climate sceptics claimed that the e-mails provided evidence that scientists at the university's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were hiding data and falsifying scientific evidence on global warming.

The committee said much of the data that critics claimed Prof Jones had hidden, was in fact already publicly available.

But they said Prof Jones had aroused understandable suspicion by blocking requests for data.

The MPs' report acknowledged that Prof Jones "must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew - or perceived - were motivated by a desire to seek to undermine his work".

The committee also said that the responsibility for data requests made under the Freedom of Information Act lay with UEA authorities, rather than with Prof Jones or the CRU.


It said that university authorities should have supplied the data to those who requested it, referred them to where it could be found, or where appropriate, argued that the multiple requests were deliberately vexatious.

Instead, the MPs concluded, the UEA appeared to support a culture of "resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics".

The committee chairman, Phil Willis, described this as "reprehensible".

Climate science must be transparent and irreproachable, the committee said.

"When the prices to pay are so large, the knowledge on which these kinds of decisions are taken had better be right," the report stated.

The MPs have urged the Information Commissioner's Office to make a formal ruling as to whether the university's failure to disclose information was a breach of the law.

Former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby, a critic of the way climate science is conducted, said it was important that further inquires into the matter were held in public.

He also said he had no sympathy for Prof Jones and the avalanche of FOI requests to which he was subjected.

"Any good scientist always is prepared to reveal his data and his methods, and he does not need to have it extracted by FOI requests. It was only the concealment by the scientist that led to the FOI Act requests," said the chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

'Common practice'

The committee was satisfied that, with regard to the sharing of data and methodologies, "Professor Jones's actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community".

"It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers," its report said.

We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and is induced by human activity
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

But the committee added that this practice could be "problematic".

"We consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work, including raw data... and full methodological workings, including the computer codes."

Mr Willis said he hoped that science would emerge stronger from the controversy.

He said that if the data from government-funded research were made automatically available, unless there were a good reason to keep it confidential, "the winners would be scientists themselves".

The committee expressed regret that its inquiry had been cut short because of the end of the Parliamentary term.

But it said that according to the evidence it had received, Prof Jones's e-mails did not reveal scientific malpractice.

It pointed to controversial phrases used in the published e-mail correspondence, including the terms "trick" and "hide the decline".

The report stated: "We are content that the phrases were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

There should be a reputable scientist on the panel [who is] sceptical about man-made global warming
Graham Stringer MP

"Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Prof Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process.

"Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

"Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the reputation of Professor Jones and the CRU remains intact.

"We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and is induced by human activity."

Credibility call

UEA vice-chancellor Edward Acton said he was "delighted" by this conclusion.

"We are pleased too that [this report] has dispelled and rejected many of the myths over the matter, while accepting that we have been taken to task on a number of issues which we are determined to address."

The committee stressed that the two other independent reviews that were currently being carried out into the science at CRU must not overlap, in order to avoid undermining the review process.


One dissenting member of the committee, Labour MP Graham Stringer, said he was unhappy that neither of the independent reviews had a climate sceptic member.

"There should be a reputable scientist on the panel [who is] sceptical about man-made global warming," he said.

"If we are trying to establish credibility this would be preferable."

But Dr Evan Harris, science spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, disagreed and said that scientific inquiries were, by their nature, sceptical.

Setting up oppositional positions within a committee tended to hinder its work, he said.

'Scientists are human'

Labour MP Doug Naysmith said he hoped the committee's report would prove to be a "corrective" to climate sceptic hysteria.

"Before becoming an MP, I earned a living as a scientist," he said.

"Scientists are human. Most scientists I know when off duty say things that wouldn't be said when writing a scientific paper.

"E-mails are the modern method of chatting to colleagues around the world."

The committee's report said it hoped future inquiries would be able to investigate further into the controversial issue of why Prof Jones had asked for e-mails to be deleted.

Climate sceptics on the sceptic website Bishop Hill ridiculed the MPs' findings. One asked: "Is it April fools already?" Another commented: "No-one with half [a] brain cell will view this conclusion as anything other than a hasty and not very subtle establishment cover-up."

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