Leading article: Climate change fightback, part 1

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Professor Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has been vilified for allegedly hiding scientific data on "global cooling" and subverting the peer-review process. These allegations emerged from the selective leak of hundreds of emails he had sent from his university computer. The controversy resulting from the publication of these emails on the internet has now led to four different official investigations.

The first of these inquiries, by the House of Commons all-party Science and Technology Committee, has now reported and it states that the reputation of Professor Jones and the three full-time scientists who make up his unit remains intact. He did not hide or manipulate scientific data and he did not subvert the peer-review process, the committee of MPs has concluded.

Where there is criticism, it is a general one, connected with the tendency of climate scientists worldwide to be too possessive of their raw scientific data and computer codes. It was Professor Jones's reluctance to release this information to those he believed wanted to undermine his life's work that led him to drag his feet on Freedom of Information requests.

The University of East Anglia did not help matters in this regard. According to the MPs, the university fostered a culture of non-disclosure, evidently believing this was in the interests of its staff – scientists such as Professor Jones. But this policy backfired spectacularly, once the emails were leaked. They depicted a scientist under intense pressure from dozens of Freedom of Information requests. The wording of some of the emails was also unfortunate – "awful" was the word Professor Jones has used.

This short report is not the end of the matter. Wider investigations by Sir Muir Russell and into the science by Lord Oxburgh are set to report in a few weeks' time. We do not know what conclusions they will reach. But one thing is certain, judging from the select committee's report: the consensus on global warming remains. It is a reality, and human activities are more than likely to be largely responsible. We owe scientists like Professor Jones a debt of gratitude for pointing this out.