The Reviews into the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit's E-mails - Science and Technology Committee Contents

1 Introduction


1. On 31 March 2010, the former Science and Technology Committee published its report on the disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA).[1] Due to the approaching general election, the former Committee had to complete its work before two reviews that UEA itself had set up reported. The former Committee's report contained a number of recommendations aimed at these two reviews. The first of the reviews was the Independent Climate Change E-mails Review (ICCER), headed by Sir Muir Russell, a former civil servant and former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow.[2] The second was the independent Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP) review, headed by Lord Oxburgh, an eminent geologist and former Rector of Imperial College London.[3] Both reviews have now reported and we as the newly formed Science and Technology Committee have assessed how they responded to the former Committee's recommendations and the concerns that it raised.


2. In mid-November 2009 it was widely reported that a server used by CRU at UEA had been accessed, with 160 MB of data, containing more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 other documents, being copied and released on the internet.[4] Media interest was immense, as the story broke in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference, which took place in December 2009. It is not known exactly how and when the breach occurred; the RealClimate website, indicated that UEA had been notified of the possible security breach on 17 November 2009.[5]

3. UEA issued a statement on 23 November 2009:

It is a matter of concern that data, including personal information about individuals, appears to have been illegally taken from the university and elements published selectively on a number of websites.

The volume of material published and its piecemeal nature makes it impossible to confirm what proportion is genuine. We took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation and have involved the police in what we consider to be a criminal investigation.[6]

4. Contributors to climate change debate websites and written submissions to the former Science and Technology Committee claimed that the leaked material 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.[7] It was also alleged that UEA may not have complied with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA), 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.[8]


5. On 3 December 2009, in the light of the serious allegations against CRU staff and the resulting damaging press coverage against UEA, the university announced that an independent review (ICCER) into the allegations against CRU would be carried out by Sir Muir Russell.[9] Professor Edward Acton, UEA Vice-Chancellor, explained that Sir Muir was asked to head the review because he had "an understanding of the conduct of universities and research" but was "entirely independent of any association" with UEA and the climate change debate.[10]

6. UEA subsequently announced a second review—an independent external reappraisal of the science in key CRU publications—to complement the ICCER.[11] On 22 March 2010, UEA appointed Lord Oxburgh as chair of the SAP that would carry out this review.[12]


7. In December 2009 the former Science and Technology Committee was concerned by the press reports about the disclosure of the e-mails at CRU and on 1 December 2009 the Chair of the former Committee wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of UEA. The letter explained that the Committee 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.[13]

The former Committee also asked for an assurance that none of the data referred to in the e-mails that had been publicised had been destroyed.[14] UEA replied on 10 December 2009.[15] 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 the former Committee decided to hold an inquiry into the disclosure of the data at CRU.[16] One issue which the former Committee raised during the oral evidence session was the weight UEA attached to restoring its reputation[17] in contrast to the other issues raised such as investigating the truth about the allegations made against the CRU.[18]

8. The former Committee decided to hold an inquiry into the disclosure of data from CRU and issued a call for evidence on 22 January 2010, with a deadline of 10 February for submissions. One oral evidence session was held on 1 March, when evidence was taken from:

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

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 ICCER; 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.

9. In the time available before the end of the Parliament, the former Committee's Report focussed on: the accuracy and availability of CRU's data, datasets and computer programming; the application of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA); and the two independent inquiries announced by UEA.

10. The former Committee's main conclusions were set out in the Report summary:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 had the potential to damage the reputation of the climate science and the scientists involved.

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones's actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided.

We are content that the phrases such as "trick" or "hiding the decline" were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise 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.

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. 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.

The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was timebarred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

We accept the independence of the Climate Change E-mail Review and recommend that the Review be open and transparent, taking oral evidence and conducting interviews in public wherever possible.

On 22 March UEA announced the Scientific Appraisal Panel to be chaired by Lord Oxburgh. This Panel should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge its work.[19]

11. The Report included a number of specific recommendations to the ICCER; a full list of these recommendations and the ICCER response is annexed to this report.[20]

12. The Government also produced a response to the Committee's Report; this was published in September 2010.[21]

Our follow-up inquiry

13. The report by the SAP, chaired by Lord Oxburgh, was published on 14 April 2010. Although welcomed by most of the scientific community,[22] it received some criticism for being rushed as the review took less than a month to complete.[23]

14. The ICCER followed on 7 July 2010. The ICCER team, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, rejected two of the former Committee's recommendations; that he should hold oral evidence sessions in public and that UEA should not have advance knowledge of his conclusions before publication.[24] As with the SAP, there has been criticism in the press of the ICCER that:

  • it did not adequately test the science;
  • it only examined three instances of possible abuse of peer review, and just two cases when CRU researchers may have abused their roles as authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports;
  • it did not study hundreds of thousands more unpublished e-mails from the CRU;
  • it failed to investigate whether e-mails were deleted to prevent their release under freedom of information laws;
  • none of CRU's critics were interviewed by the two enquiries; and
  • the membership of the Panel had excluded reputable critics of climate science.[25]

15. We decided to carry out a short follow-up inquiry looking at how the SAP and ICCER addressed the points raised by the former Committee. Our primary objective was to focus on the adequacy of the two independent inquiries against the former Committee's original conclusions and recommendations. For this reason, we chose not to issue a call for evidence. We received, however, a number of unsolicited written submissions, which were taken into account, all of which have been published and are available online.[26]

16. Two oral evidence sessions were held, the first with Lord Oxburgh on 8 September and the second on 27 October with Sir Muir Russell alongside Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Trevor Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, UEA.

17. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry through written submissions or oral evidence.

18. Our Report examines the way in which the two independent reviews were set up, how each team went about its task, and the key findings relating to:

  1. disclosure of data and methodologies;
  2. peer review; and
  3. freedom of information.

19. Finally, we have set out areas where further work is in progress.

1   Eighth Report from the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2009-10, The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, HC 387-I Back

2   "Sir Muir Russell to head the Independent Review into the allegations against the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)", UEA press notice, 3 December 2009; the ICCER was published 7 July 2010; the review was chaired by Sir Muir Russell and the review team consisted of Professor Geoffrey Boulton, Professor Peter Clarke, David Eyton and Professor James Norton. Back

3   "New scientific assessment of climatic research publications announced", UEA press notice, 11 February 2010; the Report of the International Panel set up by the University of East Anglia to examine the research of the Climatic Research Unit published its report ("SAP report") on 14 April 2010; it was chaired by Lord Oxburgh and the members were Professor Huw Davies, Professor Kerry Emanuel, Professor Lisa Graumlich, Professor David Hand, Professor Herbert Huppert and Professor Michael Kelly. Back

4   "Climate sceptics claim leaked emails are evidence of collusion among scientists", The Guardian, 20 November 2009; and "Hackers steal electronic data from top climate research center", The Washington Post, 21 November 2009 Back

5   RealClimate website, Back

6   "CRU update 1", UEA press notice, 23 November 2009 Back

7   HC (2009-10) 387-I, para 6 and HC (2009-10) 387-II, Ev 85 [Roger Helmer MEP], Ev 92 [Godfrey Bloom MEP], and Ev 144 [Stephen McIntyre] Back

8   HC (2009-10) 387-I, para 6 and HC (2009-10) 387-II, Ev 90 [Phillip Bratby], Ev 115 [David Holland], para 2, Ev 144 [Stephen McIntyre], Ev 195 [Peabody Energy Company], para 24 Back

9   "Sir Muir Russell to head the Independent Review into the allegations against the Climatic Research Unit", UEA press notice, 3 December 2009 Back

10   HC (2009-10) 387-II, Ev 16 Back

11   "New scientific assessment of climatic research publications announced", UEA press notice, 11 February 2010 Back

12   "CRU Scientific Assessment Panel announced", UEA press notice, 22 March 2010 Back

13   HC (2009-10) 387-I, para 11 Back

14   HC (2009-10) 387-I, para 11 Back

15   HC (2009-10) 387-II, Ev 17 Back

16   HC (2009-10) 387-I, para 12 Back

17   HC (2009-10) 387-II, Q 152 Back

18   The Committee noted the statement of the Vice-Chancellor of UEA made on 3 December 2009 in announcing the Independent Review that: "The reputation and integrity of UEA is of the upmost importance to us all. We want these allegations about CRU to be examined fully and independently. That is why I am delighted that Sir Muir has agreed to lead the Independent Review and he will have my and the rest of University's full support.", "Sir Muir Russell to head the Independent Review into the allegations against the Climatic Research Unit", UEA press notice, 3 December 2009 Back

19   HC (2009-10) 387-I, pp 3-4 Back

20   Ev 35; and Annex: The former Committee's recommendations and the ICCER response Back

21   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Government Response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee 8th Report of Session 2009-10: The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Cm 7934, September 2010 Back

22   For example, "Expert reaction to the Oxburgh report on UEA Climate Research Unit", Science Media Centre press notice, 14 April 2010 Back

23   "Scientists cleared of malpractice in UEA's hacked emails inquiry", The Guardian, 14 April 2010, "'No malpractice' by climate unit", BBC website, 14 April 2010 Back

24   Ev 35; and Annex: The former Committee's recommendations and the ICCER response Back

25   For example, some of these criticisms are set out in "Without candour, we can't trust climate science", New Scientist, 14 July 2010 and Andrew Montford, "The Climategate Inquiries", GWPF Report 1, 2010. Back

26   Previously at; upon publication of this report at  Back

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Prepared 25 January 2011