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'Is this science, or literature?'

MPs mull 'climate enquiries' that failed to enquire

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Might the University of East Anglia now rue its handling of the Climategate affair? An MP tells us that the University has ignored instructions given to it by the House of Commons Science Committee earlier this year, and MPs were given misleading impressions.

"Everybody on the Committee last time asked that there be no gaps between our report, and the Muir Russell report and the Oxburgh Report - but there are huge gaps. The Muir Russell people and the Oxburgh people didn't talk to each other, so there were bound to be gaps," says Committee veteran Graham Stringer MP. "We are left with the science left unlooked at."

The allegations of misconduct and intellectual corruption raised by the release of the emails, data and source code last November are amongst the most serious British academia has ever heard. UEA responded with two internal enquiries, but MPs won't let it lie. Members on the Commons Science Select Committee have summoned the two chairmen of the UEA enquiries back for further interrogation. At the first of these yesterday, the chairman of the Science Assessment Panel, Lord Ron Oxburgh, puzzled Committee MPs with his answers.

How the Panel was formed

When the University announced the composition and role of the Science Assessment Panel, it billed it as an "independent internal reappraisal of the science". In March the University's Vice Chancellor Lord Acton confirmed the impression, telling the select committee that Oxburgh's enquiry would "reassess the science and make sure there is nothing wrong".

That was misleading, Oxburgh told MPs yesterday.

"I think that was inaccurate ... You have to bear in mind the Vice Chancellor had been in the post for a month or so. It came as rather a deluge."

Oxburgh pleaded time pressure.

"They wanted something within a month. There was no way our panel could in that time validate the science. If you wanted the science validated, you'd appoint another panel.

"We were meeting a deadline to help the University with a particular problem. Given our particular remit I don't think we needed any more time."

Oxburgh was proud that he'd used a non-confrontational approach. The CRU academics were interviewed just once, collectively, in private, and he'd rejected calls for televised proceedings. As Oxburgh described it, the enquiry sounded more like a health spa program for stressed executives.

"People wanted to bring television cameras in. Given the nature of the individuals concerned, we felt that we would get much more out of them, and get them to unwind and relax, and if indeed if they had chinks in their armour, to expose them, that if we did this in a much more relaxed way.

"Certainly one of the key people there is someone who is pretty highly-strung - and I think we were able to get him to relax and explain things."

MPs were stone-faced at this. Oxburgh developed a nasty cough. So what had been the purpose of his enquiry?

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Next page: Oxburgh at work

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