Climategate Investigation Off To A Rocky Start

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Climategate scrutiny

Yesterday, Muir Russell, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, who was appointed to head up th investigation into the Unversity of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit which is at the center of the Climategate email affair, announced his six member panel. One member, Philip Campbell, editor of the science journal Nature, has already stepped down due to questions about his impartiality. According to report by U.K.'s Channel 4 News, Campbell apparently told Chinese State Radio in December:

The scientists have not hidden the data. If you look at the e-mails there are one or two bits of language that are jargon used between professionals that suggest something to outsiders that is wrong. In fact, the only problem there has been is on some official restrictions on their ability to disseminate data. Otherwise they have behaved as researchers should.

The impartiality of another member, Geoffrey Boulton, a distinguished glaciologist who is a member of the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology, is also being questioned. Among other things, Boulton signed a statement in December from the U.K.'s Met Office which declared:

We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. The evidence and the science are deep and extensive. They come from decades of painstaking and meticulous research, by many thousands of scientists across the world who adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity. That research has been subject to peer review and publication, providing traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method.

The science of climate change draws on fundamental research from an increasing number of disciplines, many of which are represented here. As professional scientists, from students to senior professors, we uphold the findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which concludes that 'Warming of the climate system is unequivocal' and that 'Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations'.

Oddly, Boulton's bio at the independent commission website fails to mention that he was employed for 18 years at the University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences. The UEA's School of Environmental Sciences houses the CRU. In any case, Boulton might argue that his views on the certainty of man-made climate change are irrelevant and that he is capable of dispassionately evaluating the scientific failings (if any) of the CRU.

Another panel member is David Eyton, the Group Head of Research and Technology at the oil and gas company BP. BP has been actively funding climate change research at major universities around the world for many years. Such support is to be commended since climate information, such as projected changes in Arctic Sea ice, would be valuable in devising BP's future resource exploration plans. However in the context of his membership on the independent panel, it is perhaps noteworthy that Eyton made the following statement of company policy when announcing a $20 million grant to Princeton University in 2008:

"The challenge of climate change requires policy development at all levels: global, national and local. Our work with Princeton is an example of BP's commitment to collaborative research, and has already provided a vital contribution to the pace of policy development. We trust that governments will be successful in reaching a consensus for significant action, and we are working to inform their actions based on our experience of low-carbon technologies and businesses."

With regard to the panel's membership, climate change skeptic Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and who now heads up the Global Warming Policy Foundation in Britain, issued this statement:

As the first person to call for an independent inquiry into 'climategate', I regret that what has been announced today is defective in a number of ways. The inquiry will wholly lack transparency, with the hearings held in private, and no transcripts to be published.

The terms of reference, while better than nothing, are inadequate in a number of ways, not least the failure to include the question of the efforts made by CRU scientists to prevent the publication of papers by dissenting scientists and others, contrary to the canons of scientific integrity. And the objectivity and independence of the inquiry is seriously called into question by the composition of Sir Muir Russell's team, in particular the Editor in Chief of Nature, who has already published an editorial on the matter strongly supportive of the CRU scientists and accusing their critics of being 'paranoid' 

We will, of course, suspend final judgment until we see the report of the inquiry.

Indeed, we should all suspend judgment until the independent commission's report is issued sometime this spring, but this beginning is somewhat less than promising. Not to be "paranoid" or anything.