"Climategate" Scientists Exonerated

I posted previously on the controversy surrounding emails that were hacked from a computer server at the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in the U.K. The emails revealed the private exchanges of several prominent climate scientists dealing with their science and their reactions to climate change deniers who requested access to their private computer files and intellectual property. The contents of the emails suggested to the untrained eye that the scientists had manipulated data and tried to undermine the scientific peer-review process. From my reading of the emails, I judged that nothing of the sort had happened. Since my last writing on the topic, five separate independent investigations (3 in the United Kingdom and 2 in the U.S.) of the matter have concluded that there was no mishandling of data or other wrongdoing beyond some foot-dragging in response to Freedom of Information requests by climate change deniers. The clear message from these investigations is that proper scientific methods were followed and the integrity of climate science remains solid as a rock. 

  • An inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that the CRU scientists’ “actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community” and that “the scientific reputation of [former CRU director] Professor Jones and CRU remains intact.” Further, the committee “found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus … that ‘global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity.’" While the CRU’s scientific practices were “in line with common practice in the scientific community,” the committee “suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies.” While I would say that climatology is already one of the most transparent fields of science, the committee makes the point that, “A great responsibility rests on the shoulders of climate science [since it must] provide the planet's decision makers with the knowledge they need to secure our future.” With so much at stake, climate scientists naturally face more scrutiny than those in other fields and should strive to be beyond reproach for their own protection and to avoid the appearance of misconduct.
  • A report by an international Science Assessment Panel requested by the UEA found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work” and “that the CRU tree-ring work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation and unjustified selection of data are not valid.” That said, the panel described the CRU researchers as “slightly disorganized” and complained that they did not consult adequately with professional statisticians in analyzing temperature data.
  • An independent review of the contents of the emails, also requested by the UEA, said of the CRU scientists, “Their rigour and honesty as scientists is not in doubt.” The review found no evidence that the scientists had manipulated their research to support any preconceived notions about climate change. Nor did the scientists withhold data necessary to validate their findings or attempt to subvert the peer-review process. The panel did criticize individual scientists for refusing to release their personal computer files in response to Freedom of Information requests. In reference to a graph that CRU scientists produced for a non-peer-reviewed climate report of the World Meteorological Organization, the review found the graph to be “misleading” because it was not clear that the authors had truncated a tree-ring data set and spliced tree-ring data to thermometer data. They did not find that these procedures were inappropriate, but only that they should have been disclosed clearly to the reader.
  • A summary of two investigations by Penn State University Professor Michael Mann – a frequent correspondent with CRU scientists in the hacked emails – concludes “that there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann” that he engaged or participated in, “directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.” The one caveat is that the investigative committee found that Dr. Mann sent unpublished manuscripts by other authors who were his close colleagues to other close colleagues without obtaining the express consent of the authors. He said he believed that the authors would not mind, but the committee concluded that he should have obtained express permission in any case.

WRI has also posted a summary of the recent climate science investigations.

Jay Gulledge is Senior Scientist and Director of the Science & Impacts Program