LONDON - An independent report into the leak of
hundreds of e-mails from one of the world's leading climate research
centers on Wednesday largely vindicated the scientists involved, saying they acted honestly and that
their research was reliable.
But the panel of inquiry, led by former U.K. civil
servant Muir Russell, did chide scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit
for failing to share their data with critics.
"We find that their rigor and honesty as scientists
are not in doubt," Russell
said. "But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of
failing to display the proper degree of openness."
Russell's inquiry is the third major investigation
into the theft and dissemination of more than 1,000 e-mails taken from a
back-up server at the university.
They caused a sensation when they were published
online in November: They captured researchers speaking in scathing terms
about their critics, discussing ways to stonewall skeptics of man-made climate change, and
talking about how to freeze opponents out of peer-reviewed journals.
The ensuing scandal energized skeptics and
destabilized the U.N.
climate change conference at Copenhagen. The research center's
chief, Phil Jones,
stepped down while Russell, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow in
Scotland, was brought in to investigate.
Russell's carefully worded report said there was no
evidence Jones had destroyed evidence that he knew critics were seeking
under the Freedom of
Information Act. But it did say he had pushed colleagues to
delete e-mails that he thought might provide ammunition to skeptics.
It also criticized the university for being "unhelpful" in
dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests - an issue Britain's
data-protection watchdog has already flagged.
The inquiry also revisited the now infamous e-mail
exchange between Jones and a colleague in which the climatologist refers
to a "trick" used to "hide the decline" in a variable used to track
Some skeptics took that as proof that scientists were
faking global temperature trends. Russell's report rejected that
conclusion, but did say that the resulting graph - which graced the
front cover of the World
Meteorological Organization's 1999 report on climate change - was
"misleading" because it wasn't explicit enough about the way in which
the underlying data had been chopped and spliced together.
Finally, the report largely forgave the intemperate
language in many of the e-mails. Exchanges widely reported in the media
had one scientist
cheering the death of a prominent skeptic and another jokingly referring to
the possibility of taking out a mafia hit on a colleague.
Russell said the extreme comments and jokes were
typical of e-mail communications - and understandable given the
politicized nature of climate research.
of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton dismissed concerns about
possible deleted e-mails, saying that the report had "completely
exonerated" Jones, who would now return to the Climatic Research Unit as director of
research - a new position that Acton said would free him from
Acton also said the university has since overhauled
the way it dealt with requests for data.
Russell's report follows a British parliamentary
inquiry that largely backed the scientists involved and another
independent investigation that gave a clean bill of health to the
The reports have been criticized by skeptics who
alleged they were incomplete or biased.
It has been difficult to gauge the impact of the
scandal, which played widely in the British and U.S. media. In Britain, there is some
evidence that public concern over global warming has been diluted, although
not by much.
MORI poll published last month suggested that 78 percent of
Britons believed that the world's climate was changing, compared with 91
percent five years earlier. Seventy-one percent of respondents expressed
concern about global warming, versus 82 percent in 2005. The pollster
surveyed 1,822 people aged 15 and over in interviews between January and
have said the scandal has made it impossible for researchers to hide
data from their critics and pushed those who do believe in the dangers
of man-made global warming to be more vocal about their doubts.
"The release of the e-mails was a turning point, a game-changer," Mike
Hulme, a professor of climate
change at the University
of East Anglia, told The Guardian newspaper before the Russell
report was released. "Already there is a new tone. Researchers are more
upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties, for instance."
Bob Ward, the policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate
Change at the London
School of Economics, agreed that openness was the now order of
"There is a need to re-establish trust," he said.