Muir Russell report says scientists did not fudge data, but they should have been more open about their work.
Credit: UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras
The climate scientists at the centre of a media storm over leaked emails were yesterday cleared of accusations that they fudged their results and silenced critics, but a review found they had failed to be open enough about their work.
Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led a six-month inquiry into the affair, said the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) were not in doubt. His investigation concluded they did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism and that key data was freely available and could be used by any "competent" researcher.
But the panel said the scientists' responses to "reasonable requests for information" had been "unhelpful and defensive". The inquiry found "emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them" and that there had been "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness". Scientists also failed to appreciate the risk their lack of transparency posed to the university and "indeed to the credibility of UK climate science".
The controversy began when 13 years of emails from CRU scientists were released online last year. Climate change sceptics claimed they showed scientists manipulating and suppressing data to back up a theory of manmade climate change. Critics also alleged the scientists abused their positions to cover up flaws and distort the peer review process that determines which studies are published in journals, and so enter the scientific record. Some alleged the emails cast doubt on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Announcing the findings, Russell said: "Ultimately this has to be about what they did, not what they said. The honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt ... We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments."
The review is the third and final inquiry into the email affair, and effectively clears Professor Phil Jones, head of the CRU, and his colleagues of the most serious charges. Questions remain over the way they responded to requests for information from people outside the conventional scientific arena, some of whom were critics of Jones. "We do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA," said the report, commissioned by UEA at a cost of £200,000.
Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of UEA, said the university accepted the report's conclusion that it should have been more open. "The need to develop a culture of greater openness and transparency in CRU is something we faced up to internally some months ago and we are already working to put right."
He hoped the review would "finally lay to rest conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings" that had been circulating, and that the "wilder assertions" about the climate science community would now stop.
Jones issued a statement which said: "I am, of course, extremely relieved that this review has now been completed. We have maintained all along that our science is honest and sound and this has been vindicated now by three different independent external bodies. There are lessons to be learned and I need time to reflect on them." Jones is to be director of research at CRU. Acton said this was "not a demotion but a shift in emphasis of role."
Ed Miliband, the former climate change secretary, said: "Muir Russell has given the world a clear message: we should not believe those who tell us that one string of emails undermines years of climate science. We should also learn lessons because maximum openness and transparency is the best weapon against those who want us to stick our heads in the sand as if climate change isn't happening. Now the world needs to step up the momentum again and get the deal that eluded us at Copenhagen."
The full article is available on the Guardian website.