Climate researchers were “dedicated if slightly disorganised”

The results of an inquiry into the conduct of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were released overnight in Britain and cleared the scientists of “deliberate scientific malpractice”.

University of East Anglia
University of East Anglia

The independent inquiry panel set up by the University of East Anglia in the wake of the “climategate” email leaks, was led by Ron Oxburgh, the former chair of the House of Lords science and technology committee.

The panel reported that it found no evidence of impropriety in the work of the scientists at UAE’s Climate Research Unit.

It concluded:

“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. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.”

However, it did raise some questions about research methods, stating:

“We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.”

The report is available here.

Dr Jim Salinger, honorary research associate, School of Environment, University of Auckland comments:

“This controversy and the rise of climate denial is the first time in several centuries that a whole community of scientists has been accused of fraudulent activity. The development has been one where some groups choose to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Climate deniers refuse to accept an empirically verifiable reality: that global warming is unequivocal and that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. The science is now very contentious in civil society. The lesson we have learnt is that the science must be elucidated clearly and transparently to both policy makers and civil society because of the urgency that confronts humanity. I welcome the result in upholding the science of Phil Jones and his colleagues at the Climatic Research Unit and beyond.”

Professor Martin Manning, Director, Climate Change Research Institute, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“The review by the Oxburgh panel raises some areas where further improvements could be made to the science that digs into how temperatures have changed over the last century and longer. However, it makes the key points that the UEA group has covered this in an unbiased way and that they have played a lead role in identifying areas where uncertainties can arise, such as in how to interpret past tree ring records.

“The review shows that the temperature records from UEA do need to be taken seriously and that the planet is warming. It also needs to become better recognised that there are independent temperature records from other research groups and which reach results very similar to those of the UEA. Then there are the many other indicators of long term global warming like the retreat of glaciers and the new things happening on the edges of major ice sheets.

“Much of the media coverage in recent months has been critical of climate change science. It is a field that needs careful scrutiny, but the UK review shows that this can also become biased and the implications of continuing climate change are too serious for that.”

Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist, Climate Variability & Change, NIWA comments:

“It is no surprise at all to me that Phil Jones and the Climatic Research Unit have been exonerated by the Oxburgh report. Climate science (and science generally) is carried out by individuals who have a passion for understanding how the world operates, a motivation totally at odds with ideas of a “cover up” or a conspiracy. Climate change is a huge and urgent issue for humanity, and the sooner we can get away from sideshows like “climategate”, and on to actually doing something, the better.”

Ralph Sims, Professor of Sustainable Energy, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University comments:

“Science has always been a process of rigorous debate and the science of climate change is no exception. But the University of East Anglia’s E-mail “Climategate” headlines were not part of a scientific debate. They were part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the current scientific knowledge of climate change (as also presented in the reports of the IPCC) in order to confuse the understanding of this complex issue in the minds of policy-makers and the general public. The perpetrators are unknown, although Greenpeace claims to have identified some elements of the powerful fossil fuel industry as generous funders of climate skeptics.

“Both the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee and an independent International Panel chaired by Lord Oxburgh in association with the Royal Society have exonerated Prof Phil Jones and the research methodology of the University’s Climate Change Research Unit. It will now be interesting to see if the world’s media will pay as much attention to these unbiased outcomes as they did when the series of original headline-grabbing controversies were first promoted. This is unlikely; the science undermining campaign has therefore been successful; public concerns at the perceived threat of climate change have diminished as a result; meanwhile global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to accelerate. Science faces a huge challenge to get its messages across when the findings could have a negative impact on people’s lifestyles. The IPCC is currently reviewing how it can better achieve this through its future assessment reports.

Professor Tim Naish, Director Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“The findings of the Oxburgh panel, while not unexpected, will do much to restore public confidence in climate scientists and the IPCC, which has been unnecessarily tarnished by the unsubstantiated allegations of “a cover up” made by some climate change sceptics. Now this dedicated community of scientists get can focus back on the important business of objectively documenting and understanding our planets climate.”

Comments below gathered by the UK SMC:

Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society of London, comments:

“We should all be grateful to Lord Oxburgh and his expert colleagues for a thorough report offering an authoritative assessment of the CRU’s research and making clear recommendations. Climate science currently attracts enormous public interest. It is therefore crucial that research sustains the highest standards of rigour and openness.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, comments:

“These are very important findings that should be conveyed around the world. The Panel has conducted a rigorous investigation and found no evidence to support the allegations made by some climate change ‘sceptics’ that the research carried out by the Climatic Research Unit is fraudulent. In short, the emails that were posted on the internet in November do not represent the ‘smoking gun’ that was claimed by so-called sceptics.

“The Panel has carried out a thorough investigation of the evidence, and anybody who simply rejects these findings will show that they are motivated by prejudice and ideology rather than by scepticism and a desire to uncover the truth. I think those so-called sceptics and commentators in the media who have attempted to undermine the credibility of climate change science on the basis of the hacked emails now need to apologise for misleading the public about their significance.”

Dr Myles Allen, Head of the Climate Dynamics Group at the University of Oxford, comments:

“It comes as no surprise that the panel found no evidence of a conspiracy – anyone familiar with the way science works would know it would be quite impossible for a group of scientists to maintain a conspiracy for 20 minutes, never mind 20 years.

“While we’d all agree that it is a good idea to document and archive computer code as thoroughly as possible, people should appreciate that science generally progresses by taking different approaches to problems, and either confirming or refuting published results, not by “auditing” old calculations. There is a danger, if climate science starts to be treated as a bookkeeping exercise, that this would actually impede progress in understanding how the real Earth system works.”

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, comments:

“I welcome this thorough and fair review. The picture painted by it of a dedicated small group trying to do the best science and with no hidden agenda to their work is consistent with my knowledge of the people involved at CRU and of their research. The review should help shape aspects of the continuing progress of climate science, in particular the need to make use of the latest statistical techniques.”