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British climate researchers had high scientific standards, review finds

Scientists in the 'Climategate' affair failed to respond to critics in an open manner, but did not manipulate climate data, panel says.

July 08, 2010|By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from London — Climate-change researchers at a British university failed to respond to critics in an open manner but hewed to high standards in their science and did not manipulate their data, according to findings released Wednesday of an independent review of hundreds of hacked e-mails.

The e-mails were taken from the server of the University of East Anglia late last year and caused an international stir just before a global environment summit in Copenhagen. Skeptics of human-caused climate change alleged that the e-mails showed scientists deliberately trying to suppress certain data about global warming or slanting it to support their conclusions.

But an outside review commissioned by the university rejected those claims Wednesday. The report said that, despite some injudicious comments about skeptics, the scientists' "honesty and rigor" were "not in doubt." It also dismissed allegations of data-tampering, saying there was no "evidence of behavior that might undermine the conclusions" of manmade climate change.

At the same time, the review committee chastised the university's Climatic Research Unit for reacting unprofessionally to criticism by dragging its feet in sharing its data and in responding to freedom-of-information requests.

"There has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness," both on the part of the scientists themselves and the university as an institution, said the committee, which was chaired by Muir Russell, a former civil servant.

The conclusions echoed the findings of two previous independent investigations into the affair that came to be known as "Climategate." Those inquiries, by the British Parliament and another university-sponsored panel, also found the science to be sound, if not the researchers' sloppy record-keeping and defensive response to criticism.

The e-mails caused a sensation when they were hacked from the university and published last November. Skeptics cited them as proof that scientists had willfully misinterpreted data and exaggerated the effects of global warming.

The scandal has been blamed — rightly or wrongly — for fueling the lukewarm commitments by various nations at December's summit to combat climate change and for a drop in public acceptance of the international scientific consensus that such change is caused by human activity.

One e-mail that became emblematic of the debate spoke of using a "trick" to hide an apparent decline in recent global temperatures. The author of the e-mail, Phil Jones, who headed the Climatic Research Unit, was removed from his post.

The review released Wednesday said the figures supplied by Jones to a meteorological publication were indeed "misleading" and should have been more fully explained, but were not part of a malicious coverup attempt.

Whether climate-change skeptics will be satisfied by the latest investigation is doubtful.

After the report's release, the University of East Anglia announced that Jones would be hired back in its climate-change unit in the new post of director of research.

"We have maintained all along that our science is honest and sound, and this has been vindicated now by three different independent external bodies," Jones said in a statement.

Edward Acton, the head of the university, called the report an "exoneration of UEA climate scientists and their research collaborators around the world, some of whom have suffered considerably during this experience."

henry.chu@latimes.com

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