British Panel Largely Clears 'ClimateGate' Scientists of Misconduct Charges

July 07, 2010

Climate scientists were cleared of charges of scientific misconduct but criticized for a lack of openness in a report released on Wednesday by a panel in Britain.

The panel was set up by the University of East Anglia, which found itself at the center of the so-called ClimateGate scandal after more than 1,000 private e-mail messages by climate researchers there were made public without authorization last November. Some of the e-mails suggested that scientists had attempted to exaggerate their findings, hide data from critics, and pressure journal editors to suppress information in an effort to strengthen arguments that global warming requires political action.

The investigation largely cleared the scientists of wrongdoing.

"We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt," Muir Russel, who led the panel, said at a news conference. "In addition, we do not find that their behavior prejudices the balance of advice given to policy makers."

As a result, the university announced that it had reinstated Phil Jones, the leader of the university's climate-research unit, who temporarily stepped down while the investigation was under way. Mr. Jones refused to comment but said in a written statement that he felt "vindicated" by the results of the investigation.

But in a 160-page report, the investigators faulted the scientists for attempting to dodge potential open-records requests by deleting some e-mail messages, and said the University of East Anglia management "should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FOIA and EIR compliance," referring to Freedom of Information Act requests and Environmental Information Regulations.

As Mr. Russel put it during the news conference, "we do find there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness."

University officials declined requests for an interview, but said in a written statement that the university accepted the report's conclusions. "We could and should have been more proactively open, not least because — as this exhaustive report makes abundantly clear — we have nothing to hide," said the statement, by Edward Action, the university's vice chancellor.

Several other investigations have found the researchers innocent of scientific misconduct, including one last week by Pennsylvania State University, where another of the climate scientists implicated in the e-mails works.

Kevin E. Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, whose e-mails were among those made public, said that he thought the latest report should have done more to criticize those who made the e-mails public without authorization, which he characterized as harassment.

"I would have liked to see more comments on the unjustified critics and the widespread abuse and misuse of the e-mails," he said in an e-mail interview, arguing that critics took the e-mail messages out of context in their attacks on climate scientists.

The report does not seem to have satisfied those critics. Steve McIntyre, who runs the blog Climate Audit, called the report an "apologia" for the university, and criticized the investigators for interviewing only scientists, not their critics.