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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Some ‘Climategate’ Conclusions

In November 2009, private e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were stolen and made public. Climate change disbelievers called it “Climategate,” saying that the e-mails proved collusion and conspiracies that would discredit man-made global warming. We found that there was no solid evidence of wrongdoing in the e-mails, but noted that a detailed investigation by the university was underway.

As it turns out, this investigation came to more or less the same conclusion we did. The report reads, in part: “We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention.” Researchers should have worked more closely with professional statisticians, the university said, but the investigation did not find evidence that they were using misleading statistical methods.

This follows a Parliamentary hearing of former CRU head Phil Jones, in which the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said that climate scientists should be more forthright in publishing data and methodologies, but concluded that Jones should be allowed to return to his post at CRU. Jones had stepped aside after the e-mails came to light. The committee found no evidence for unusual obstructionism or peer review mishandling on the part of Jones:

Committee Report: We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. …

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. …

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers.

There is another investigation pending, this one an independent review led by civil servant Sir Muir Russell. Russell, who is not a scientist, was appointed by the university to look into allegations that CRU manipulated or suppressed data. His report is due next month.