‘Climategate’ laid to rest

cru_bldgThe Independent Climate Change Email Review — a.k.a. the Muir Russell review — into over 1000 hacked emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climate Research Unit (CRU) announced its findings today.

The review, which was the second commissioned by the UEA, focused on the conduct of the scientists involved and assessed allegations of professional impropriety.

The UK Science Media Centre hosted a press conference announcing the results. Listen to an audio recording (mp3).

Among the review’s findings:

  • “Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt
  • “In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.
  • But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science. …
  • “On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a “trick? and to “hide the decline? in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.”

The full 160 page report can be found here (pdf).

The UK Science Media Centre gathered the following comments from scientists:

Prof Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Advisor, said:

“I welcome that Muir Russell’s review finds the rigour and honesty of UEA scientists to be in no doubt. This is the third review to find no evidence of scientific malpractice at the University. The scientific case that climate change represents a major threat to our world and our societies is clear and compelling.

“The report makes some important points about the need for openness and transparency both for the scientific method and the public perception of science. Science depends on openness and challenge.”

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

“What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective. Again and again, stories are sexed up with arch hints that these “revelations” might somehow impact on the evidence for human impact on climate. Yet the only error in the actual data used for climate change detection to have emerged from this whole affair amounted to a few hundredths of a degree in the estimated global temperature of a couple of years in the late 1870s. Having worked in this area for over a decade, I have never used data prior to the 1890s, not because I don’t like what it tells me, but because the data is so sparse it really doesn’t tell us anything at all. Contrary to popular myth, the original “hockey stick” reconstructions of temperatures over the past millennium played no role in the IPCC’s 2001 assessment that most of the warming over the past 50 years was likely to have been caused by rising greenhouse gas levels.

“Possibly the most important criticism in the Muir-Russell review is their finding (26) that “given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the TAR), the [hockey-stick] figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading” for not making clear that the tree-ring series had been truncated and instrumental data spliced on. They correctly point out that the WMO report “does not have the status or significance of IPCC reports”. What they fail to mention is that the “iconic” version of the figure subsequently produced for the IPCC Third Assessment made it perfectly clear that the tree-ring series was truncated and the instrumental data was spliced on — the two data-types were shown in different colours!”

Dr Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said:

“Climate change has the potential to impact on the lives of millions of people. These may include major changes to our energy usage and sources, or the need in some regions to adapt to unwelcome alterations of the weather systems. Although the basic science of climate change can be trusted, it must be totally transparent, stating what we know for certain, and be very clear indeed where uncertainties remain. The methods used to make predictions of future change will have to withstand extreme levels of scrutiny, whether that is from colleagues, policymakers or the general public. So whilst the process following on from the CRU email leak has been painful, there is absolutely clear that this new level of accountability should be very much welcomed.

“Most of the research to date has been performed with integrity. For example, every line of computer code in the numerical models of climate built by the Met Office is checked and double-checked by an independent countersigning scientist. The UK research centres and universities work with these simulations, and through our feedback aid in their development. The names of those accountable are clearly visible at each point in the computer models. This mindset and associated protocols now need to permeate across all aspects of climate change research. Some will no doubt complain that it takes up too much time. But my betting is that once it becomes a habit, the time overhead will be less than expected. When under pressure to reply to Freedom-of-Information requests, that additional built-in transparency means we can forward all such documentation. So ultimately enhanced openness could actually save time and comes with the added benefit of retaining trust in the science of climate change.

“The last twenty years has seen a shift, from research in to the global environment being an intellectual curiosity to one of utmost importance. For those working in the field, this is both rewarding but it also brings new responsibilities. I’m quietly confident the research community will rise to this challenge, being kept “on our toes” by the ever increasing levels of examination.”

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“The inquiry has cleared the climate scientists of any allegations of dishonesty or corruption, and has lifted the cloud of suspicion that has hung over the research community for the past seven months. The reputation of the whole of climate research has been tarnished by speculation over the e-mails, but the inquiry’s findings demonstrate that the integrity of climate science is intact. It is clear that greater transparency is required in climate research because of the intense public interest in it, and its profound implications for society. However, it is also now very apparent that many so-called ‘sceptics’ owe a huge apology to the public for having wrongly presented the e-mail messages as evidence that climate change is a hoax carried out by a conspiracy of dishonest scientists.”

Dr Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, said:

“What is quite clear from this, and earlier inquiries, is that the integrity of the fundamental science of climate change is unquestioned – our climate is changing and we have shown beyond reasonable doubt that humans are in part responsible.

“Climate change has huge implications societal and economically, so it is right that the science is subject to the closest scrutiny and we fully support the need for greater openness and clarity. We are already taking action by making data and codes available, and we have led an international proposal for a new global daily land surface temperature dataset, which has the backing of the World Meteorological Organization and has open access as its key element.”

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Director, Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, said:

“Climate science has remained robust in the face of this and all the other reviews. The evidence that we are performing a dangerous experiment with planet Earth is still strong. However it is clear that the increasing importance of the implications of the science mean that high standards of openness have to be kept to.

We now have to move on. As a climate scientist I believe it is imperative to renew our focus on determining with more confidence the implications of continuing greenhouse gas emissions. As a member of the UK Climate Change Committee I urge a focus on the step change we need in moving towards a low carbon society.”