SCIENCE:

'Climategate' scientist admits 'awful e-mails,' but peers say IPCC conclusions remain sound

The head of a British climate research unit under fire after thousands of stolen e-mails were made public last year said yesterday that he had "obviously written some very awful e-mails."

But the scientist, Phil Jones, defended his work and that of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, which he headed, in testimony yesterday before a House of Commons panel.

"You've only seen a tenth of 1 percent of my e-mails in this group," he told the Science and Technology Committee. "I don't think anything in those e-mails supports any view that I'm trying to, or CRU has been trying to, pervert the peer review process in any way."

Lawmakers delved into whether Jones and his colleagues had responded appropriately to requests to disclose their raw data and computer codes that underlie CRU analyses of global temperature trends.

Critics have alleged that the CRU e-mails posted on the Internet in November suggest Jones and his colleagues sought to inappropriately manipulate and suppress climate data and silence climate skeptics (ClimateWire, Nov. 24, 2009). Jones temporarily stepped down from his post as CRU's head in December.

Jones said yesterday that "much of the same basic data" is available from the U.S. Global Historical Climate Network and NASA. CRU's practice, he said, was to release "gridded data" -- raw information that had been processed for analysis. The scientist also said he included his methods in published scientific papers "and there's nothing rocket science in them."

But CRU has struggled to respond to numerous requests filed under Britain's Freedom of Information Act that seek raw temperature data from weather stations, including observations obtained from other countries under promise of confidentiality.

Jones said yesterday that CRU withheld raw data in part because "most scientists don't want to deal with raw station data, they want to deal with the derived product."

Some nations reluctant to release climate data

The University of East Anglia, with the assistance of the U.K. Met Office, is now trying to get countries that had provided weather station data under confidential agreements to release the information to the public.

So far, 58 of 170 meteorological services worldwide have given permission to do so, said Julia Slingo, the Met Office's chief scientist. Seven countries have said "no," including Canada, Russia, Poland and Sweden.

In some cases, Slingo said, "governments see this data as having commercial value" that may make them reluctant to make it available to the general public. But such explanations did not satisfy a pair of climate skeptics who also testified yesterday.

"Proper scientists, scientists of integrity, wish to reveal all of their data and all their methods," said former U.K. Finance Minister Nigel Lawson. "They don't need the Freedom of Information Act requests to force it out of them."

Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said, "Science lives and dies with the issue of testability, replication, verification, falsification."

But asked whether he would use CRU's raw data and computer codes to do his own modeling, Peiser said he was "not in the modeling business -- my concern is the availability of all the information needed to replicate their conclusions."

And one scientific group, the U.K.-based Institute of Physics, submitted evidence to the House of Commons panel also expressing concern about the CRU's scientific integrity.

"Unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context," the Institute said.

"The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital."

Uncertainty remains in projections of future warming

Meanwhile, climate scientists summoned by the panel defended the idea that human activities are driving observed warming.

"I think the general issue that global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activities is also correct," said the United Kingdom's chief scientific adviser, John Beddington. "I think this is unchallenged."

Slingo, head of the Met Office, said the the main conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report -- that evidence of climate change was "unequivocal" -- "is definitely the case."

"It hasn't been challenged by any evidence that has emerged since then," she said. "We know that not just from the land surface [temperature] record but from many other variables that it is unequivocal and that as the IPCC report said, over 90 percent, it's very likely due to human activities."

Where the uncertainty comes in, she said, is in projections of future warming -- which depend in part on the world's future greenhouse gas emissions, as well as scientists' understanding of the physics of warming and the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth.

"The media has certainly portrayed the University of East Anglia situation as a crisis," said Bob Watson, a former IPCC chairman who is now the chief scientist for the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. "In my opinion, there is absolutely no adverse effect on any of the conclusions of the IPCC."

2 investigations continue

Research groups at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA perform the same kind of temperature analyses as CRU, though they employ slightly different methods, and their conclusions "are absolutely solid," Watson said.

Lawmakers also questioned Sir Muir Russell, the former civil servant who is leading an independent review charged with determining whether CRU researchers violated the norms of scientific practice.

Russell said he was not sure when his panel would complete that task.

"We've produced our initial set of papers and given interested parties a wide opportunity to comment on whether the issues we've identified based on all the comments we've collected ... are the right ones," Russell said.

That process "could lead to quite a range of follow-up questions and investigation to do," Russell added. "My ambition is not to have this run all over the place ... that's why we're not saying anything more [for a deadline] than 'spring.'"

Meanwhile, University of East Anglia Vice Chancellor Edward Acton told lawmakers that he expects to announce later this week the name of the person who will head a second inquiry "to reassess the science" produced by the Climatic Research Unit. That effort is being organized with the help of the U.K. Royal Society, Acton said.

"Sir Muir Russell's independent review is not looking at the science, it's looking at allegations of malpractice," Acton said. "As for the science, I haven't seen any evidence of any flaw in the science. ... It is among the most thoroughly endorsed and co-authored science there is."

Want to read more stories like this?

E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.

Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.

Latest Selected Headlines

More headlines&nbspMore headlines

More headlines&nbspMore headlines

More headlines&nbspMore headlines

More headlines&nbspMore headlines

Latest E&ETV Videos