Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 00:50 UK

'Climategate' panel set to report

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Keyboard (Autocat)
The row surrounds e-mails hacked from the University of East Anglia

The second of three reviews into hacked climate e-mails from the University of East Anglia (UEA) is set to be released later.

It has examined scientific papers published over 20 years by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the heart of the e-mail controversy.

The panel was nominated by the Royal Society, and climate sceptics forecast it would defend establishment science.

But the BBC understands the panel has taken a hard look at CRU methodology.

It is thought to have focused on statistical methods used by the CRU and the way uncertainties inherent in climate science may have been down-played by government bodies.

Global picture

The review has been funded by UEA and chaired by Lord Oxburgh, a former academic and industry scientist.

The chair has been challenged over his other interests. Lord Oxburgh is currently president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and chairman of wind energy firm Falck Renewables.

Critics say clean energy companies would benefit from policies to tackle climate change. But Lord Oxburgh insists the panel did not have a pre-conceived view.

The panel includes Professor David Hand, president of the Royal Statistical Society, who has been examining the way CRU used statistical methodology to develop an average annual global temperature.

It is easy to get a measurement precise in space and time from an individual weather station - albeit with uncertainties attached.

But some countries have many weather stations while others have very few, and there are large areas of the Earth with no surface measurements at all.

So to build up a global picture by assigning a proper statistical weighting to the importance of the various measurements is a notoriously challenging task.

Climate sceptics say CRU's statistical methods have been inadequate, and it is thought the Oxburgh panel will look at this issue.

However, if the panel follows the recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the e-mails it will conclude that the scientists involved had no intention to deceive.

Different practices

The Oxburgh panel also studied how the CRU acknowledged unavoidable scientific uncertainties in its work, especially over research into the Medieval Warm Period.

Climate sceptics complain that the summary reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not always properly reflect the uncertainties defined in the underlying science, and the panel may comment on this.

It is also understood that members of the panel have remarked on the difference in practice between university science and industry science.

Many climate sceptics in the blogosphere are former industry scientists. In industry it is routine for original scientific research data to be archived by a records team and kept safe for as long as it might prove useful.

University scientists, on the other hand, are said to be have been more used to a culture in which notes are kept until papers are peer-reviewed - but then are filed in a less rigorous fashion.

This is an area where the House of Commons committee said that academic science needed to improve - particularly in an issue as contentious as climate change.

Members of the panel are said to have cross-examined CRU researchers for a total of 15 man-days.

The final review to be published will be the review headed by Sir Muir Russell, which will, among other things investigate whether the scientists manipulated data.

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