Independent Panel Led by Former Non-Executive Chairman of Shell Clears UEA Climatic Research Unit of Any Scientific Impropriety and Dishonesty
An Independent Panel in the UK led by Lord Oxburgh, who among his other prior duties was the non-executive chairman of Shell, has cleared the University of East Anglia of any scientific impropriety and dishonesty. The Panel’s report made suggestions for improvement in some other areas.
The Oxburgh Panel was set up by the University in consultation with the Royal Society to address the criticism that climatic data had been dishonestly selected, manipulated and/or presented to arrive at pre-determined conclusions that were not compatible with a fair interpretation of the original data.
The Oxburgh findings are the second of three efforts scrutinizing CRU’s research, triggered by the hacking of personal email from there, revealed in November 2009. Three independent reviews into the affair were initiated in the UK, two of which have now concluded.
The first to conclude was a review conducted by the House of Commons’s Science and Technology Select Committee, which published its report on 31 March. While the Committee called for the climate science community to become more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies, the report found the focus on Professor Jones and the CRU “largely misplaced”.
On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’ refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considered that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change. Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considered that there is no case to answer.
An independent review of the email exchanges and the CRU’s policies and working practices is also being carried out by Sir Muir Russell at the request of the University of East Anglia.
After its review, the Oxburgh panel came to four main conclusions:
We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganized researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.
We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of temperature specialists.
It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is unfortunate and seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in government.
A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties should stay with those who collected it.