MPs Say Climate Unit Blocked Data Requests

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Most Climategate allegations are false, although Professor Phil Jones failed to answer all requests for information, an MPs’ committee has said

Professor Phil Jones failed to respond to all the requests for data he received, according to a committee of MPs investigating the so-called Climategate emails, which were leaked or stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and used in a bid to discredit climate change science in November 2009. Despite the criticism, climate science – and Professor Jones’ scientific standing – remain solid, the MPs found.

The investigation by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee followed earlier criticism of UEA by the Information Commissioner, saying the university had not responded to all requests for data, which they were were required to do under Freedom of Information rules. However, the requests were coming in at a rate of one per day from climate deniers, and much of the data requested was already publicly available, the committee said.

University should take blame for blocking information

The MPs put some of the blame onto the university authorities, which should have responded to the requests or referred them to published sources, instead of supporting a culture of “resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics”, which the committee chair Phil Willis described as “reprehensible”. Professor Jones’ handling of the queries was understandable, as he “must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew – or perceived – were motivated by a desire to seek to undermine his work”, the committee said.

The university had previously denied any obstruction of information requests, and has now published all its data, but yesterday the vice-chanceller Edward Acton accepted UEA had been “taken to task on a number of issues we are determined to address.”

The committee said that climate science should share its data more willingly and openly in future, but said Professor Jones had not manipulated data to create spurious warming, or tried to subvert the peer review process for publication of scientific papers in favour of man-made climate change.

The “trick” discussed in the emails, which has been seized on by climate change deniers as evidence of faking, is in fact a way to handle data to make it more reliable not less, said the committee. And Jones’ comments on scientific papers were outside the actual peer review process.  “Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers,” said the report.

The emails, which were released illegally in November are still being scrutinised by two more independent reviews, one of which was set up by the university and is being chaired by Sir Muir Russell, the other set up by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Should inquiries include sceptics?

One member of the committee said he thought the other inquiries ought to include a climate sceptic to get a balanced view, according to the BBC. “There should be a reputable scientist on the panel [who is] sceptical about man-made global warming,” said Labour’s Graham Stringer. “If we are trying to establish credibility this would be preferable.”

The liberal democrat science spokesman Dr Evan Harris, said that scientific inquiries are inherently sceptical and adding an opponent to the mix would hinder the inquiries’ work.

Overall, the Climategate storm has failed to expose any significant problems with climate science, and the CRU’s work is duplicated by two other laboratories. However, observers have suggested it helped produce a change in public opinion which was a major factor in the failure of the UN’s Copenhagen summit on climate change. Although the UK is bringing in emissions trading this week in the CRC regulations, similar legislation has been stalled in the US.

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