The science is solid, it is time to move on - the UK government view on climategate

  • 06 May 2011, 13:20
  • Christian

The government have just formally responded to the Science and Technology committee's review of the reviews of the UEA emails - a response that they have to provide as part of the committee process. The short version of their response is that they accept the findings of the Science and Technology committee, which had broadly found that most of the charges brought against UEA and the review processes were baseless.

If you're interested in more detail, you've probably been following this for a while (for those less interested an outline of the whole process is here), so forgive me if I don't explain every last point in intricate detail.

So, the government response, point by point. The top line:

 The findings of the Committee give us confidence in our judgement that the conclusions are well thought through and that no events at CRU undermine the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.The recommendations of the reviews are also useful for advising future research policies and practices.[our emphasis]

On the question of whether the reviews did a good job of being transparent the government suggest that more transparency in - particularly in relation to the enquiry headed up by Lord Oxburgh - would have been a good thing, to avoid misinterpretation and 'guard against deliberate misrepresentation':

The Government notes the recommendations of the Committee in relation to the SAP [Scientific Assessment Panel - Oxburgh's enquiry], noting that it has not questioned the validity of its findings, but rather suggested that the manner in which the Panel made information available, including in relation to the scope of its work, had allowed some to question its approach. We consider that this highlights the Government response to the Science and Technology Committee's First Report of Session 2010-12 importance of transparency in communication-both to avoid misinterpretation and to guard against deliberate misrepresentation.

On the selection of scientific papers by the Oxburgh enquiry the question was were areas of CRU's work excluded from review deliberately? The enquiries concluded that this wasn't the case, and the Sci/Tech committee didn't think so. Now the government don't think so either:

We note the Committee's conclusion that the selection of papers examined by the SAP was representative of the work of CRU in all areas in which allegations had been made. We note that once again the primary concern of the Committee related to transparency and communication-in this case with regard to the process for selecting the sample of papers considered by the SAP-rather than any conscious decision to purposely overlook certain areas of work.

Some had complained that showing the results of the Muir-Russell enquiry to UEA before publication suggested collusion. The government however are having none of it, with a one line response:

The Government notes that providing advance copies of reports to stakeholders is common practice in public and parliamentary life.

On the subject of whether the UEA/CRU team had been inappropriately subverting the peer review process:

The Sci/Tech Committee said:

The conclusions reached by the Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (ICCER) are in line with our predecessor Committee's findings that "the evidence they saw did not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process and that academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers". We stand by this conclusion and are satisfied with the detailed analysis of the allegations by the ICCER.

The government responds

The Government notes the Committee's conclusion that there was no evidence of attempts to subvert the peer review process, and agrees that academics should not be criticised for commenting informally on academic papers, noting that constructive criticism and challenge is fundamental to ensuring a robust scientific approach.

On the charge that the academics had not properly complied with FoI legislation by deleting emails or asking for emails to be deleted in a way which would leave them open to prosecution, interestingly the government note that this is something they will continue to examine (even though the statute of limitation has passed)- to clarify, the government are looking at whether a six month statute of limitation is generally acceptable, not further examining this specific case.

The Government will continue to work with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to determine the extent that alleged offences, under section 77 of the FOI Act and Regulation 19 of the EIR, have not been prosecuted as a result of the current provisions.

Finally the Committee notes - in what is the most important part of their response -

much rests on the accuracy and integrity of climate science. It is vital that the wider public and Government can take confidence in the evidence that underpins public policies.

Evidence from multiple disciplines and sources strongly indicates that climate change, driven by human activities, poses real risks for our future. This evidence is comprehensively captured in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and in more recent analyses including from the US National Research Council of the National Academies. It is also clear from an almost continuous body of publications in the academic literature that the evidence for human induced climate change continues to grow and that the perceptions of future climate risk are not diminishing.

The Government welcomes the scrutiny that has been provided by two independent reviews, plus two sessions of the Science and Technology Committee, to investigate the allegations arising from the unauthorised release of data at the University of East Anglia. As well as establishing that events at the University do not undermine the scientific basis of human-driven climate change, the reviews have made a number of useful recommendations to improve transparency in climate science.

Such recommendations will continue to strengthen climate science. Important work remains better to understand the risks of climate change, and how to manage them. We welcome-and agree with-the finding of the Committee that it is time 'with greater openness and transparency, to move on'.

The clear message from this response is presumably this: If there is a conspiracy to cover up malpractice throughout this affair, it has successfully enmeshed UEA, three reviews (Sci/Tech, Muir Russell and Oxburgh), two review panels in the UK, the Science and Technology Committee, twice, and the UK government, as well as multiple reviews of the affair in the US.

While there are commentators who have no problem believing that all of these institutions are engaged in a conspiracy to deceive us (a conspiracy which includes every other part of the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue), it seems, as it has always done, pretty unlikely.

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