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

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  We recognise that some of the e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share data, even unrestricted data, with others. We acknowledge that Professor Jones must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to seek to undermine his work. But Professor Jones's failure to handle helpfully requests for data in a field as important and controversial as climate science was bound to be viewed with suspicion. He was obviously frustrated by other workers in the field trying to "undermine" his work, but his actions were inevitably counterproductive. Professor Jones told us that the published e-mails represented only "one tenth of 1%" of his output, which amounts to one million e-mails, and that we were only seeing the end of a protracted series of e-mail exchanges. We consider that further suspicion could have been allayed by releasing all the e-mails. In addition, we consider that had the available raw data been available online from an early stage, these kinds of unfortunate e-mail exchanges would not have occurred. In our view, CRU should have been more open with its raw data and followed the more open approach of NASA to making data available. (Paragraph 38)

2.  We are not in a position to set out any further the extent, if any, to which CRU should have made the data available in the interests of transparency, and we hope that the Independent Climate Change Email Review will reach specific conclusions on this point. However, transparency and accountability are of are increasing importance to the public, so we recommend that the Government reviews the rules for the accessibility of data sets collected and analysed with UK public money. (Paragraph 39)

3.   We note that the research passed the peer review process of some highly reputable journals. However, we note that CRU could have been more open at that time in providing the detailed methodological working on its website. We recommend that all publicly funded research groups consider whether they are being as open as they can be, and ought to be, with the details of their methodologies. (Paragraph 45)

4.  We therefore conclude that there is independent verification, through the use of other methodologies and other sources of data, of the results and conclusions of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. (Paragraph 49)

5.  Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified. (Paragraph 51)

6.  It is not standard practice in climate science and many other fields to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. We think that this is problematic because climate science is a matter of global importance and of public interest, and therefore the quality and transparency of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data used to generate their published work, including raw data; and it should also be made clear and referenced where data has been used but, because of commercial or national security reasons is not available. Scientists are also, under Freedom of Information laws and under the rules of normal scientific conduct, entitled to withhold data which is due to be published under the peer-review process. In addition, scientists should take steps to make available in full their methodological workings, including the computer codes. Data and methodological workings should be provided via the internet. There should be enough information published to allow verification. (Paragraph 54)

7.  Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones's use of the word "trick" is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominately caused by human activity. The balance of evidence patently fails to support this view. It appears to be a colloquialism for a "neat" method of handling data. (Paragraph 60)

8.  Critics of CRU have suggested that Professor Jones's use of the words "hide the decline" is evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not fit his view that recent global warming is predominantly caused by human activity. That he has published papers—including a paper in Nature—dealing with this aspect of the science clearly refutes this allegation. In our view, it was shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous. We expect that this is a matter the Scientific Appraisal Panel will address. (Paragraph 66)

9.  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. The Independent Climate Change Email Review should look in detail at all of these claims. (Paragraph 73)

Freedom of Information issues

10.  We regret that the ICO made a statement to the press that went beyond that which it could substantiate and that it took over a month for the ICO properly to put the record straight. We recommend that the ICO develop procedures to ensure that its public comments are checked and that mechanisms exist to swiftly correct any mis-statements or misinterpretations of such statements. (Paragraph 91)

11.  There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six-month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner. (Paragraph 93)

12.  If the Minister was correct to assert in July 2009 that the Government had no evidence that the current six-month time limit presents a systemic problem, then it is now clear that such evidence exists. Irrespective of whether or not CRU breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we recommend that the Government review the operation of section 77 of the 2000 Act and the six month limit on the initiation of prosecutions provided by section 127(1) of the Magistrates Court Act 1980. (Paragraph 95)

13.  We have already recommended in paragraph 54 above that in future information, including data and methodology, should be published proactively on the internet wherever possible. However, a culture of withholding information—from those perceived by CRU to be hostile to global warming—appears to have pervaded CRU's approach to FOIA requests from the outset. We consider this to be unacceptable. (Paragraph 103)

14.  We cannot reach a firm conclusion on the basis of the evidence we took but we must put on record our concern about the manner in which UEA allowed CRU to handle FOIA requests. Further, we found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited. (Paragraph 104)

The Independent Climate Change Email Review

15.  We accept the assurances that Sir Muir Russell has given about the independence of the Independent Climate Change Email Review and we expect him to be scrupulous in preserving its impartiality. We see no reason why the Review's conclusions and UEA's response have to be published together. Indeed, it could give the impression that UEA was being given an advantage when it comes to responding. We consider that the Review's conclusions and recommendations should not be conveyed to UEA in advance of publication. (Paragraph 113)

16.  With regards to the terms of reference of the Review, we consider that as well as measuring CRU against current acceptable scientific practice, the Review should also make recommendations on best practice to be followed by CRU in the future. We invite Sir Muir Russell to respond formally to our Report to the extent that he sets out whether, on the basis of its contents, he finds the Terms of Reference of his inquiry need to be changed. (Paragraph 114)

17.  It is unfortunate that the Independent Review got off to a bad start with the necessary resignation of Dr Campbell. The question of the operation of peer review is going to be a critical issue in the inquiry and the Review Team needs to take steps to ensure the insight and experience he would have brought are replaced. (Paragraph 119)

18.  We conclude that, when the Independent Review holds oral hearings or interviews, they should be carried out in public wherever possible and that it should publish all the written evidence it receives on its website as soon as possible. (Paragraph 122)

The Scientific Appraisal Panel

19.  In our view, reputation has to be built on the solid foundation of excellent, peer-reviewed science. The review of the science to be carried out by the Scientific Appraisal Panel, which UEA announced on 22 March, should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge that review. (Paragraph 131)

20.  Reputation does not, however, rest solely on the quality of work as it should. It also depends on perception. It is self-evident that the disclosure of the CRU e-mails has damaged the reputation of UK climate science and, as views on global warming have become polarised, any deviation from the highest scientific standards will be pounced on. As we explained in chapter 2, the practices and methods of climate science are a key issue. If the practices of CRU are found to be in line with the rest of climate science, the question would arise whether climate science methods of operation need to change. In this event we would recommend that the scientific community should consider changing those practices to ensure greater transparency. (Paragraph 132)

The two inquiries

21.  The two reviews or inquiries need to map their activities to ensure that there are no unmanaged overlaps or gaps. If there are, the whole process could be undermined. (Paragraph 134)


22.  The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones's refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU. (Paragraph 136)

23.  In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones's alleged attempt to "hide the decline"—we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that "global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity". It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid. (Paragraph 137)

24.  A great responsibility rests on the shoulders of climate science: to provide the planet's decision makers with the knowledge they need to secure our future. The challenge that this poses is extensive and some of these decisions risk our standard of living. When the prices to pay are so large, the knowledge on which these kinds of decisions are taken had better be right. The science must be irreproachable. (Paragraph 138)

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