University pledges independent review of climate research

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The man in charge of the scientific investigation into the stolen “climategate” emails has vigorously defended his inquiry against suggestions that it might not be seen as being truly independent by an increasingly sceptical public.

Sir Muir Russell, a former senior civil servant and university vice chancellor, said that his review into the scientific implications of the stolen emails has complete freedom of inquiry and will be fiercely independent despite the fact that its costs are being met by the university under investigation.

The review, conducted by a panel of six experts, including Sir Muir, will investigate the key allegations that have arisen from a series of emails hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. The emails suggested that some climate scientists may have engaged in a concerted effort to withhold scientific data and subvert the peer-review process at the heart of scientific publication.

One member of the Muir review, Philip Campbell, is also editor-in-chief of the journal Nature, where many of the climate studies have been published, including those written by the suspended head of the research unit, Professor Phil Jones, who has also served as an anonymous peer-reviewer for the journal.

Sir Muir said at today’s launch of the review’s terms of reference that he will not shirk from in-depth probing of the content of the emails and this will not be influenced by the fact that the UEA will be meeting the inquiry’s costs. Dr Campbell’s involvement is not a conflict of interest, he insisted.

“We are completely independent and have a free hand to pick our team and we have a free hand to pursue any line of research. Our job is to investigate scientific rigour, honesty, openness and due process,” Sir Muir said.

“We will investigate whether there is evidence of poor scientific practice and data management which could call the Climatic Research Unit’s research into question. The review is about scientific rigour and honesty, freedom of information procedures and data handling,” he said.

Anyone can submit evidence to the review but only people with a scientific or professional interest are expected to do so, Sir Muir said. All submissions must be made before the end of February and the review is hoping to publish preliminary findings before the end of May, he added.

At the same time, the UEA has asked the Royal Society for help in setting up a separate investigation that will test the scientific conclusions of the Climatic Research Unit. A team of independent experts will trawl through the unit’s scientific conclusions to establish their validity.

“It is important that people have the utmost confidence in the science of climate change. Where legitimate doubts are raised about any piece of science they must be fully investigated, that is how science works,” said Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society.

Sir Muir said that it has taken some time for him to assemble his team but that he intends to work as quickly as possible to establish the truth. As much information as possible will be placed on the review’s website as soon as it becomes available, he said.

“We will be as open and transparent as we can be...[but] we don’t intend to be a noticeboard for a debate that goes far beyond what we are about...This is a deep and technical job,” Sir Muir said.

The review has already interviewed some of the scientists involved in the emails, including Professor Jones, and has made a preliminary assessment of the 1,000 emails and 3,000 other documents stolen from one of the UEA’s backup computers. Tens of thousands of other emails belonging to the Climatic Research Unit might also be caught up in the investigation, although there is no plan to read each one line by line, Sir Muir said.

Among the key allegations the review will investigate are suggestions that the scientists used improper bias in selecting and adjusting data to favour man-made global warming. The review will also analyse background behind emails suggesting that scientists colluded in warping the peer-review process and conspired to withhold data from freedom of information requests.

Other members of the review are: Professor Geoffrey Boulton, a glaciologist, Professor Peter Clarke, a particle physicist, David Eyton, an industrial technologist, and Professor Jim Norton, an expert in computing and corporate governance.