The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia - Science and Technology Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. On Friday 20 November 2009 it was reported across the world that hackers had targeted a "leading climate research unit"[1] and that e-mails from the University of East Anglia's (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU), one of the world's foremost centres of climate science, had been published in the internet.[2] The story of the substantial file of private e-mails, documents and data that had been leaked helped ignite the global warming debate in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference in December 2009. As reported by the press, exchanges on the internet alleged that data had been manipulated or deleted, in order to support evidence on global warming.

The Climatic Research Unit at UEA

2. UEA was founded in 1963 and in 1972 UEA established CRU.[3] CRU's website describes the Unit as being "widely recognised as one of the world's leading institutions concerned with the study of natural and anthropogenic [human caused] climate change".[4] CRU has a staff of around thirty research scientists and students.[5] But as we heard in oral evidence, it is in fact "a very small Unit [with only] three full-time members of academic staff".[6]

3. CRU has developed a number of the datasets widely used in climate research, including the global temperature record used to monitor the state of the climate system, as well as statistical software packages and climate models. In its written submission to the inquiry UEA outlined CRU's "pioneering role" in the science of understanding the world's changing climate. CRU's contributions included the compilation of a global land temperature record and the development of increasingly sophisticated methods by which to represent the average temperature of the globe and changes in that average over time.[7] Professor Edward Acton, the Vice-Chancellor of UEA, indicated that he was "immensely proud of what they have done; [as] without them humanity would be vastly less able to understand climate change."[8]


4. In mid November 2009 it appeared that a server used by CRU had been accessed with 160 MB of data containing more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 other documents being copied.[9] A UEA spokeswoman confirmed that the information was not available on a server that could be easily accessed and could not have been inadvertently released.[10] It is not known exactly when the breach occurred; the RealClimate website, "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists",[11] indicated that UEA had been notified of the possible security breach on 17 November.[12] The following was posted anonymously on the climate-sceptic blog, The Air Vent:

    November 17, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps.

    We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents.
    Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.[13]

From here the debate was "blown wide open".[14] The Guardian ran the story on 20 November with the headline: "Climate sceptics claim leaked e-mails are evidence of collusion among scientists".[15]

5. UEA issued a statement on 20 November: "This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation. We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this inquiry."[16] The e-mails contained technical and routine aspects of climate research, including data analysis and details of scientific conferences. The controversy has focused on a small number of e-mails, particularly those sent to, or written by, climatologist Professor Phil Jones, the Director of CRU.


6. Condemnation of alleged malpractices found within the leaked CRU e-mails was quickly disseminated on the internet. Contributors to climate change debate websites and written submissions to us claimed that these e-mails showed a deliberate and systematic attempt by leading climate scientists to manipulate climate data, arbitrarily adjusting and "cherry-picking" data that supported their global warming claims and deleting adverse data that questioned their theories.[17] It was alleged that UEA may not have complied with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, that inappropriate statistical methods and defective computer programmes may have been used to analyse data and that CRU may have attempted to abuse the process of peer review to prevent the publication of research papers with conflicting opinions about climate change.[18]

7. In a statement released on 24 November, Professor Trevor Davies, UEA pro-Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for research, rejected calls for Professor Jones's resignation: "We see no reason for Professor Jones to resign and, indeed, we would not accept his resignation. He is a valued and important scientist."[19] He also contested several of the claims of malpractice: "It is well known within the scientific community and particularly those who are sceptical of climate change that over 95% of the raw station data has been accessible through the Global Historical Climatology Network for several years. We are quite clearly not hiding information which seems to be the speculation on some blogs and by some media commentators". He added:

There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation. CRU's peer-reviewed publications are consistent with, and have contributed to, the overwhelming scientific consensus that the climate is being strongly influenced by human activity.[20]

8. On 1 December, Professor Jones announced that he would step aside from the Director's role during the course of the independent review.[21]


9. On 3 December UEA announced that an independent review—the Independent Climate Change Email Review—into the allegations made against CRU would be carried out by Sir Muir Russell.[22] Professor Acton explained in a letter to us why Sir Muir was chosen to head the review:

    Sir Muir is extremely experienced in public life, has an understanding of the conduct of universities and research, and is entirely independent of any association with this University and with the climate change debate.[23]

10. Alongside the Independent Climate Change E-Mails Review, UEA decided on a separate scientific assessment of CRU's key scientific publications; an external reappraisal of the science itself. The Royal Society agreed to assist UEA in identifying assessors with the requisite experience, standing and independence.[24] UEA announced on 22 March that Lord Oxburgh FRS would "chair an independent Scientific Assessment Panel to examine important elements of the published science of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia".[25]

Our inquiry

11. We were concerned by the press reports and on 1 December 2009 the Chair of the Committee wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of UEA. The letter explained that we took a close interest in academic integrity and the systems in place to ensure the quality of evidence from research and evidence-based policy making. The letter requested a note on the recent events setting out:

a)  what had taken place;

b)  the steps that had been taken to investigate the allegations and to test the integrity of the data held and used by CRU;

c)  how CRU justified its commitment to academic transparency; and

d)  how the Vice-Chancellor proposed to restore confidence in CRU and its handling of data.

We also asked for an assurance that none of the data referred to in the e-mails that had been publicised had been destroyed.[26]

12. UEA replied on 10 December 2009. It explained that "a significant amount of material including emails and documents appears to have been accessed illegally from a back-up server in CRU and downloaded in whole, or possibly in part, on to the RealClimate website."[27] This incident was the subject of a police enquiry and the Norfolk Constabulary investigation was expected to take some time. UEA was keen to stress that this "episode is being treated very seriously" and announced that it had set up the independent inquiry, headed by Sir Muir Russell, to investigate the allegations against CRU. UEA said that "none of the adjusted station data referred to in the emails that have been published has been destroyed."[28]

13. In the light of the gravity of the allegations against CRU, the growing weight of damaging press coverage, on-going concerns about the deletion of data and the serious implications for UK science we decided to hold an inquiry into the disclosure of the data at CRU. On 22 January 2010 we therefore announced the inquiry inviting submissions on three key issues:

·  What were the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?

·  Were the terms of reference and scope of the Independent Review announced on 3 December 2009 by UEA adequate?

·  How independent were the other two international data sets (see paragraph 23)?

14. If there had been more time available before the end of this Parliament we would have preferred to carry out a wider inquiry into the science of global warming itself. In response to enquiries we issued a statement on 1 February making it clear that the inquiry would focus on the terms of reference announced on 22 January and that this was not an inquiry into global warming.[29]

15. We set a deadline of 10 February for the submission of memoranda and we have received 58 submissions, not including supplementary memoranda. We held one oral evidence session on 1 March, when we took evidence from five panels:

a)  Rt Hon Lord Lawson of Blaby, Chairman, and Dr Benny Peiser, Director, Global Warming Policy Foundation;

b)  Richard Thomas CBE, former Information Commissioner;

c)  Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor, UEA and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU;

d)  Sir Muir Russell, Head of the Independent Climate Change E-Mails Review; and

e)  Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Julia Slingo OBE, Chief Scientist, Met Office, and Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientist, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

16. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry through written submissions or oral evidence. We also received unsolicited copies of a number of books challenging anthropogenic global warming and reviewing events at CRU and the disclosed e-mails.[30]

Our Report

17. In the time left before the end of this Parliament we will not be able to cover all the issues raised by the events at UEA, nor cover all the ground that would be covered by the Independent Climate Change Email Review and the Scientific Appraisal Panel. We have therefore concentrated on what we believe to be key issues. Of central concern is the accuracy and availability of CRU's data, datasets and computer programming, which we address in Chapter 2 of this Report; and related to the data and methodology is the question of access, or the withholding of access, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which we cover in Chapter 3. Finally, in Chapter 4 we comment on the independent reviews that UEA has announced.

1   "Hackers target leading climate research unit", BBC News website, 20 November 2009 Back

2   For example: "Hacked E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute", New York Times website, 21 November 2009 and "Hackers leak emails, stoking climate debate", Sydney Morning Herald website, 23 November 2009, Back

3   Ev 17, paras 1.2 and 1.5 Back

4   "About the Climatic Research Unit", CRU website, Back

5   As above Back

6   Q 92 Back

7   Ev 17, paras 1.5-1.6 Back

8   Q 152 Back

9   RealClimate website archive, November 2009, Back

10   "Scotland Yard call in to probe climate data leak from UEA in Norwich", Norwich Evening News, 1 December 2009  Back

11   RealClimate website 'about' page, Back

12   RealClimate website archive, November 2009,; the data may have been downloaded on to the RealClimate-see paragraph 12. Back

13   The Air Vent website, November 2009 archive,  Back

14   As above Back

15   "Climate sceptics claim leaked emails are evidence of collusion among scientists", The Guardian, 20 November 2009  Back

16   "Sceptics publish climate e-mails 'stolen from East Anglia University'", The Times, 21 November 2009 Back

17   For examples see Ev 85 [Roger Helmer MEP], Ev 92 [Godfrey Bloom MEP], and Ev 144 [Stephen McIntyre]  Back

18   For examples see Ev 90 [Phillip Bratby]; Ev 115 [David Holland], para 2; Ev 144 [Stephen McIntyre]; Ev 194 [Peabody Energy Company], para 24. Back

19   "Climate scientist at centre of leaked email row dismisses conspiracy claims", The Guardian, 24 November 2009 Back

20   UEA, "CRU update 2", 24 November 2009, Back

21   UEA, "CRU update 3", 1 December 2009, Back

22   "Sir Muir Russell to head the Independent Review into the allegations against the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)", UEA Press Release, 3 December 2009, Back

23   Ev 16 Back

24   Ev 18, para 2.3 Back

25   "CRU Scientific Assessment Panel announced", UEA Press Release, 22 March 2010, Back

26   House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Press Notice 04, 7 December 2009, Session 2009-10  Back

27   Ev 16 Back

28   Ev 17 Back

29   House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Press Notice 11, 1 February 2010, Session 2009-10 Back

30   The Committee received the following books:
Christopher Booker, The Real Global Warming Disaster, Continuum, 2009
A.W. Montford, The Hockey Stick Illusion, Stacey International, 2010
Steven Mosher and Tom Fuller, Climategate, St Matthew Publishing, 2010
Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth, Quartet Books Limited, 2009 

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