Climate e-mail reviews 'leave science sound'

Computer simulation of global humidity The basic picture of a planet warmed by fossil fuel emissions is not challenged, the government says

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Successive reviews into the University of East Anglia (UEA) climate e-mail hack cast no doubt on the basic picture of global warming, the government says.

In its response to an inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, the government agrees there were failings at the university.

And the reviews could have been conducted more openly, it says.

The government says it wants to clarify how Freedom of Information laws apply to scientific research in future.

The committee's report, and the government's response to it, refer back to two reviews carried out into issues arising from the theft and online publication of thousands of e-mails from a server at the university's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in November 2009.

The e-mails emerged shortly before the potentially pivotal UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

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The reviews have made a number of useful recommendations to improve transparency in climate science”

End Quote Government response

The reviews, headed by Lord Oxburgh and Sir Muir Russell, found that the episode did raise questions about the conduct of climate science and about universities' compliance with Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.

But, they said, individual researchers had not tried to subvert the scientific process, and the fundamental picture of a planet warming under the impact of fossil-fuel burning was basically unchallenged.

The government agrees, saying: "we find no evidence to question the scientific basis of human influence on the climate".

"Sceptical" bloggers have also challenged the conduct of the reviews, which led to the Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry.

Integrity of science

The committee's report, published in January, agreed that the ways in which the reviews were set up and run did raise issues of concern.

The "scope and purpose" of Lord Oxburgh's review "appeared to change from an examination of the integrity of the science to the integrity of the scientists", they said.

Professor Phil Jones CRU scientist Phil Jones, one of the world authorities on temperature records, was at the centre of the sceptics' storm

That same review "should have been more open and transparent", while "the process by which it selected the documents for review could have been more open".

The government's reponse basically endorses the committee's conclusions, and looks forward.

"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," it says.

"We welcome - and agree with - the finding of the committee that it is time 'with greater openness and transparency, to move on'."

As part of that moving-on process, it points to on-going discussions within the national research councils and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

"A set of common data access principles is being developed across the research councils: these principles start with a presumption in favour of openness and transparency, whilst ensuring appropriate protection and safeguards are in place to protect commercially sensitive and personal data," it says.

The ICO, meanwhile, is working with other government agencies and outside bodies such as the Royal Society to devise guidelines on how FoI laws should apply to research, with the aim of having them in place by September.

UEA, which has already reformed processes for handling FoI requests, welcomed the government response, in particular "the finding that there is no evidence to question the validity of research conducted by the Climatic Research Unit.

"We welcome the government's acknowledgement of the constraints related to data-sharing and its work with research councils to strengthen the transparency of scientific research, to which the university is wholly committed and on which it has acted, putting a number of measures in place."

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