British lawmakers issue mixed report on 'Climategate'

By Karla Adam
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; 5:31 PM

LONDON -- In the first of three investigations into the scandal some have dubbed "Climategate," lawmakers here sharply criticized a British university Wednesday for what they said was a culture of withholding information, but they added that the integrity of its climate change research was not in doubt.

The 14-member parliamentary committee said in its report it had found nothing to challenge the "scientific consensus" that global warming is occurring and influenced by human activity. It also declared that the scientific reputation of Phil Jones, the head of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), remains "intact."

In late November, days before a climate change summit in Copenhagen, more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents were allegedly leaked or hacked from the CRU and posted online. Climate-change skeptics said the documents provided evidence that scientific data had been tampered with or buried in an effort to silence alternative views on global warming.

Much of the attention has focused on the correspondence by Jones, who admitted to the committee last month that he had written some "awful" e-mails. In December, Jones stepped down from his director's role pending the university's investigations.

In one of the several e-mails by Jones that have come under scrutiny, he wrote to a colleague that he had used a "trick" of adding in temperatures to "hide the decline" -- phrases some said proved that Jones was deliberately conspiring to suppress information that did not fit his view of global warming.

The House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee said that the word "trick" in this context "appears to be a colloquialism for a 'neat' method of handling data" and that the phrase "hide the decline" was meant as "shorthand for the practice of discarding data known to be erroneous."

But although the committee expressed sympathy for Jones, saying he was a scapegoat for other clashes within the scientific community, they condemned the university for mishandling requests under Britain's freedom-of-information rules from climate-change skeptics.

"The leaked e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure, particularly to climate-change skeptics. The failure of the university to grasp fully the potential damage this could do and did was regrettable," Phil Willis, the committee chairman, said in a statement.

The panel members said their report was rushed because they wanted it released before the upcoming general election; however, the university has commissioned two other investigations that are expected to be more in-depth. One, headed by Muir Russell, a former civil servant, is investigating allegations of malpractice, while the other, lead by Ernest Oxburgh, a geologist, is reviewing CRU's scientific publications.

Willis urged climate scientists at the University of East Anglia and around the world to practice greater transparency, including publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.

"Governments across the world will be spending trillions of pounds on climate change mitigation," Willis said. "The quality of the science therefore has to be irreproachable."

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