Scientist steps down during e-mail probe

By Juliet Eilperin
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A scientist who is one of the central figures in the uproar over pirated e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as the unit's director while the university investigates the incident.

Climate skeptics have seized on several e-mails from Phil Jones to other researchers as evidence that prominent scientists have sought to silence their voices in the debate over global warming. Jones's e-mail account was apparently hacked and his e-mails were posted online last month.

"What is most important is that CRU continues its world leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible," Jones said in a statement. "After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the Director's role during the course of the independent review and am grateful to the University for agreeing to this. The Review process will have my full support."

Several of Jones's e-mails to colleagues have sparked controversy, including his comment that he had used "a trick" to "hide the decline" in a chart showing global temperatures, and his request to "delete any emails" regarding a specific topic. Another e-mail suggested that he and other respected scientists boycott an academic journal called Climate Research because it had agreed to publish a paper they viewed as flawed.

"I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor," he wrote to other researchers.

Jones denied repeated requests for interviews by The Washington Post, but he issued a statement last month saying his words had been taken out of context, a position echoed by other academics on the e-mail chain, including Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Jones denied deleting any e-mails, and said he meant to imply the way he arranged the temperature chart was "a clever thing to do" rather than an effort to distort the science.

Trevor Davies, pro vice chancellor for research at East Anglia, in Norwich, England, said the inquiry will examine whether the university responded properly to Freedom of Information Act inquiries, the status of its data security and "any other relevant issues." He added that nothing in the pirated e-mails suggested that the unit's work was "not the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation."

Marc Morano, who edits the climate skeptic blog, welcomed the news in an e-mail: "This is a positive development in the battle against politicized science. Jones was at the epicenter of the UN's efforts to hype man-made climate fears. His stepping down is a victory for science."

Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said opponents of action on climate change are using the hacked e-mails "to spread disinformation."

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