Review Panel: "Climategate" Was Overblown

by Bradford Plumer | April 15, 2010

You know, anyone who feels strongly about those e-mails that leaked out of East Anglia last November probably isn't going to change their mind about "Climategate" no matter what various outside investigations conclude. But for the record, a committee of independent experts commissioned by the UK Royal Society has just concluded that there's no scandal here. Some of the key 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. ...

--After reading publications and interviewing the senior staff of CRU [Climatic Research Unit] in depth, we are satisfied 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.

--We believe that CRU did a public service of great value by carrying out much time-consuming meticulous work on temperature records at a time when it was unfashionable and attracted the interest of a rather small section of the scientific community. CRU has been among the leaders in international efforts to determining the overall uncertainty in the derived temperature records and where work is best focused to improve them.

Andy Revkin has some additional commentary at The New York Times. I would've also pointed out, as I have before, that even if the East Anglia scientists had been behaving as shabbily as their critics imagined, that still wouldn't put a dent in the vast array of evidence showing that humans are warming the planet at a rapid clip. This is a well-developed scientific field and it simply doesn't hinge on the integrity of a handful of researchers.

That said, the committee did lob a few criticisms at the climate community. First: "It is regrettable that so few professional statisticians have been involved in this work because it is fundamentally statistical." Fair enough, and I believe Penn State's Michael Mann was dinged on this very point for his "hockey stick" work (although, in the end, his conclusions still held up). Secondly, as Kate McKenzie highlights, the UK has pioneered the practice of restricting access to data sets collected by government agencies—and that practice has since spread around the world. More openness here could certainly go a long way.

(Flickr photo credit: Iqbal Alaam. And yes, that seems to be a pic of a building at East Anglia's Climate Research Unit...)

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