Memorandum submitted by Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser (CRU 49)

 

 

What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?

 

1. Whilst no system can be perfect, I believe the integrity of British science stands of the highest order, with a strong framework in place to ensure this. It would not be appropriate to comment on the specific circumstances at the University of East Anglia (UEA) before the Independent Review led by Sir Muir Russell has reported. However, the fact that UEA has asked for the Review to be carried out itself demonstrates the importance that the University places on demonstrating the integrity of research, and on addressing any issues that might be identified in an open manner.

 

2. In general, the high quality of British science is reflected in the fact that the UK has a 12% share of world citations and 14.4% of the top 1% of the most highly cited papers[1]. Within environmental science, the UK is second only to the US in its share of world citations (13.6%) and is ranked first in the G8 for impact (citations/paper). The high esteem in which UK-based researchers are held is pointed to by the fact that almost half of UK peer-reviewed publications have a non-UK co-author (47% in 2007; latest data available).

 

3. The UK has a number of codes of practice aimed at promoting integrity in scientific research. The Government Office for Science, working with key research contacts across Government, promotes the Universal Ethical Code for Scientists, developed by Sir David King and a range of external experts in 2005. It promotes seven key tenets of behaviour under the themes of Rigour, Respect and Responsibility, and aims to embed integrity and a respect for the scientific process.

 

4. The UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) has produced a 'Code of Practice for Research'[2] that provides general principles and standards for good practice in research to support both researchers and research organisations, and Research Councils UK (RCUK) published the 'RCUK Policy and Code of Conduct on the Governance of Good Research Conduct'[3] in August 2009. Many organisations also have their own organisational codes, some of which are based upon or informed by the aforementioned documents.

 

5. Not withstanding the need for scientists to maintain a competitive position amongst their peers, protect intellectual property and in some cases protect confidentiality, scientists should, as a general principle, aim to ensure openness and transparency of their data, methods and results at the point of peer-reviewed publication. This allows independent expert scrutiny, challenge and repetition to confirm the validity of findings, all of which are fundamental to furthering scientific understanding. Equally, scientists should feel free to openly debate their work, as this process is also essential for the furthering of robust research.

 

6. In the field of environmental science, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) requires grant-holders to lodge with it the data resulting from research supported by the grant, together with documentation / metadata describing that data, after it is completed. The data would normally be offered to one of NERC's designated data centres.

 

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

 

7. The terms of reference for the review give sufficient scope for the issue to be investigated in full. It is a matter for Sir Muir Russell to decide exactly how he will investigate.

 

8. In addition, I understand that UEA are planning an independent, external assessment of the science in key publications by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU).  Details of this assessment have yet to be confirmed and I am therefore not in a position to comment on it at present.

 

How independent are the other two international data sets?

 

9. Over the past century, the three global temperature analyses (from the Hadley Centre/CRU, NASA and NOAA) all show overall warming, moderated by year-to-year and decadal variations caused by natural variability in the climate system.

 

10. The global records use three distinct data sets - land observations, night time marine air temperature, and sea surface temperature. All three show a consistent warming trend. Marine temperatures show a smaller rise than land temperatures, as expected due to the greater thermal inertia of the oceans.

 

11. The three analyses make use of the same pool of raw temperature measurements. However, they draw from this pool and analyse the data in different ways. Specifically, they use different methods to correct for sources of error (such as changes in the location of stations, observational procedures, instruments and the character of station sites), and to account for the uneven distribution of measurements around the world. For example, the NASA team interpolates over data-poor regions such as the Arctic, the UK team does not fill in data gaps, and the NOAA team takes an approach between the two.

 

12. Since 1980, the teams of researchers in the U.S. (at NASA and NOAA) and in the UK (at the CRU and Met Office) have worked separately to develop these methods, each with the aim of generating robust monthly and annual global surface temperature estimates. The methods used by each team are presented in peer-reviewed papers.[4]

 

13. The use of different methods to construct the three records explains why, although all three analyses show a clear warming trend, the details of temperature change vary between them. The Hadley Centre/CRU temperature series is issued with error bars which factor in uncertainties due to incomplete coverage and measurement errors. The NASA and NOAA annual temperatures are within these error bars.

 

14. It is important to emphasise that the evidence that the world is warming and that human activities are driving this change does not rest on the robustness or otherwise of a single temperature record. Basic physics shows that greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit long wave radiation emitted by the Earth, which warms the surface and lower atmosphere. The science underpinning this knowledge was performed over a century ago. We also know that human activities are releasing billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases - including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons - each year, which is increasing their concentration in the atmosphere. Since pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide[5] has increased by approximately 38%, the concentration of nitrous oxide[6] has increased by approximately 18%, and the concentration of methane has more than doubled6. The increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has had the direct effect of increasing the acidity of the surface ocean by 30% since pre-industrial times (a decrease in the average pH of the surface ocean of 0.1 units6).

 

15. As greenhouse gas concentrations increase, it follows that temperatures will rise, and this is exactly what has been observed. The warming is evident in temperature records, but it can also be seen in other variables: the extent of summer minimum Arctic sea ice has decreased by 0.6 million kmē each decade since the 1970s, spring now arrives on average about ten days earlier in the UK than it did in the early 1970s, and global sea level has increased by about 10 cm in the last 50 years. In climate models developed to date the increase in greenhouse gases is the only forcing factor that can fully explain the magnitude and the spatial pattern of the warming.

 

 

Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser

February 2010



[1] International comparative performance of the UK research base, Evidence UK, September 2009.

[2] http://www.ukrio.org/resources/UKRIO%20Code%20of%20Practice%20for%20Research.pdf

[3] http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/cmsweb/downloads/rcuk/reviews/grc/goodresearchconductcode.pdf

[4] P. Brohan, J.J. Kennedy, I. Harris, S.F.B. Tett and P.D. Jones, Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850. J. Geophys. Res, 111, D12106, doi:10.1029/2005JD006548; Smith, T. M., and R. W. Reynolds (2005), A global merged land air and sea surface temperature reconstruction based on historical observations (1880-1997)J. Climate, 18, 2021-2036; Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, M. Imhoff, W. Lawrence, D. Easterling, T. Peterson, and T. Karl, 2001: A closer look at United States and global surface temperature changeJ. Geophys. Res. 106, 23947-23963.

 

[5] Calculated using data from (i) NOAA/ESRL (available at: www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends) for 2008 and (ii) reference in footnote 6 for pre-industrial.

[6] IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 996 pp. [Concentration data are from 2005].