'Time to move on': government committee on email hack enquiries reports

  • 25 Jan 2011, 16:36
  • The Carbon Brief

A new metadata repository is being created at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia to make global temperature statistics available to the public in the wake of the "Climategate" controversy.

Members of staff are now being hired to place more than 20 years of collected data available in one place to support UEA's drive to better respond to freedom of information requests relating to its work on climate change.

The repository was a key recommendation following the "Climategate" controversy and has been supported by the House of Commons Science and Technology which today published its report, "The Reviews into the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit's E-mails."

Professor Trevor Davies, pro vice-chancellor of UEA, was a witness before the committee in October along with Professor Edward Acton, the vice chancellor, and Sir Muir Russell who headed one of the inquiries.

Professor Davis said the university "is investing in posts to help CRU endure that its data archive is efficient - that all of the previous versions of data series are in a readily accessible form so that when requests do come through for data series or for meta data as supporting data they will be more readily accessible and available."

Professor Acton has also confirmed that the CRU will "draw more closely on some of our professional statisticians and we may well be investing in further posts in this area."

The Science and Technology Committee report concluded: "The disclosure of data from the Climatic Research Unit has been a traumatic and challenging experience… In our view it is time to make the changes and improvements recommended and with greater openness and transparency move on."

The report examined the robustness of two inquiries commissioned by the university itself into the wider implications of the content of emails written by CRU staff over a 13 year period which were hacked and published online in 2009: the Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (ICCER) headed by Sir Muir Russell and Lord Oxburgh's Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP).

The report said the new metadata archive now under construction at the UEA and greater transparency would prevent allegations being made against climate scientists.

This conclusion was reached with reference to the allegation that Professor Wei-Chyung Wang of the University of Albany had committed "scientific fraud" in relation to the 1990 paper on urban heat islands in China. Today's report quoted Professor Davies who repeated that the investigation by the State University of New York "fully investigated this allegation and that Professor Wang had been entirely exonerated".

Climate sceptics have repeatedly cited the CRU emails as evidence that scientists have conspired to inflate the dangers of global warming and marginalize "non-consensus" views. However, many of the allegations made against the CRU scientists are dismissed by the committee report.

It found there is no truth in an allegation by the blogger Andrew Montford that the inquiry headed by Lord Oxburgh failed to examine peer review papers concerning multi-proxy temperature records, concluding "there is no doubt that the papers chosen were central to CRU's work and went to the heart of criticisms directed at CRU…"

The parliamentary committee noted that the ICCER found that the evidence "did not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process" adding: "We … are satisfied with the detailed analysis of the allegations by the ICCER."

The latest report did criticize the earlier inquiries for failing to fully investigate potential breaches of the freedom of information (FOI) act and environment information regulations (EIR) following allegations staff deleted emails. Professor Acton said the emails had not been deleted and could still be produced.

However, the report states: "We find it unsatisfactory that we are left with a verbal reassurance from the vice-chancellor that the emails still exist… On the allegation that emails were deleted to frustrate requests for information, a firm conclusion has proved elusive."

The report confirms that representatives from higher education and the Information Commissioners Office have agreed to meet to set new standards on which data and research should be released by universities under the freedom of information act. It states: "The broader confusion about how FoI legislation should be applied to scientific research must be resolved."

The science and technology committee criticised the fact the SAP panel narrowed the terms of its inquiry and was unable to reconstruct some of the scientific work of the CRU. It also said working papers should be published and expressed a preference for oral evidence to be held in public.

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