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Climategate - the Select Committee reports

Peer review or Pal review? MPs don't want to know

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A Parliamentary committee has found the University of East Anglia's two "independent" enquiries into Climategate mildly troubling in parts – but says everyone should keep calm and carry on, only with a little more transparency.

The MPs on the Select Committee on Science acknowledge they were misled by University of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor Lord Acton.

When they appeared in November 2009, the collection of emails and source code from the UEA's Climatic Research Unit showed prima facie evidence of serious scientific misconduct – including subverting the peer-review process, deletion of emails in response to FOIA requests, withholding data, and the inability to reproduce their own results. In one email, CRU's director Phil Jones vowed to keep two opposing papers out of the scientific literature, "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !".

Following the scandal, UEA set up two "independent" enquiries, one into the issues of conduct raised (the Independent Climate Change Email Review, or ICCER) headed by Sir Muir Russell, and one into the science (the Scientific Assessment Panel, or SAP) headed by Lord Ron Oxburgh.

(Oxburgh's appointment raised eyebrows at the time, you may recall – an investor in renewable energy, he failed to disclose all his interests in his Parliamentary register.)

The two reports varied in length, with SAP running to just five pages. The longer ICCER report found some troubling issues, but gave the academics the benefit of the doubt. Neither committee sought to interview any of the subjects of the emails. Even the Guardian newspaper called Russell and Oxburgh's reports "badly flawed". Russell's team said they could find no evidence of deleting emails in response to FOIA requests, for example, and it transpired the University had failed to send the damning emails requesting staff to delete emails (subject line: FOIA) to Russell's team. The Global Warming Policy Foundation's review of the reviews accusing Oxburgh and Russell's work was "rushed and seriously inadequate". This is reflected in a minority opinion by Select Committee member Graham Stringer MP, in text that was rejected from the final report by majority opinion. More on that below.

One of the strongest criticisms is aimed at Oxburgh's five-pager. What Oxburgh told the press and Parliament he was going to do, differs from later accounts, as the UEA admitted. As the Committee notes, "the scope and purpose of the SAP review appeared to change from an examination of the integrity of the science to the integrity of the scientists – and as a results there has been some confusion".

Oxburgh blamed the change of tack on time pressure from the University – which "really wanted something within a month," said Oxburgh – and MPs were not impressed by this explanation.

"Had the SAP been in less of a rush, they could have investigated the integrity of the science with more rigour, particularly with regard to scientists’ ability to repeat their own experimental work ... When compared to the ICCER, the SAP report – a mere five pages – reads like an executive summary, with none of the detail of the ICCER," they note. "It does foster an impression that it was not as thorough as the ICCER and was produced quickly in an attempt to be helpful to UEA."

Ouch.

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Next page: Deleted email-gate

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