Several months ago, DailyTech covered news of "climategate", a massive email leak from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. In many of the leaked emails researchers discussed global warming research and made comments that sounded suspiciously close to academic misconduct.
The leak began with a bang and went out with a whimper. The University of East Anglia reported in mid-April that Phil Jones, the climatologist who headed the CRU, was forced to temporarily step down during the investigation. However, Jones was found innocent of any wrongdoing by both a government panel and an independent panel of scientists.
The government panel, conducted by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (part of the British Parliament), concluded that the problems were more a result of poor documentation than misconduct. Describes Committee Chair Phil Willis MP, "What this inquiry revealed was that climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes. Had both been available, many of the problems at CRU could have been avoided."
The investigation panel, which consisted of six scientists, looked into the leaked emails as well. Their conclusions, found here, also show that no wrongdoing occurred. Writes the panel, "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."
That's not to say that the scandal hasn't had a serious impact on the field. The independent panel admonished the researchers for not employing professional statisticians, writing, "We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of temperature specialists."
If there's one clear message from the to panels, it's a direct challenge to climatologists: pursue outside expertise and carefully document your work (and make said work available to the public).
Even as Phil Jones prepares to resume his post, at the recommendation of the independent panel, the echoes of the leak are still being heard. The State of Virginia just launched an investigation [PDF] into the work of Michael Mann, a researcher at the University of Virginia that was involved in the emails.
Mann's "hockey stick" graph became an icon for the global warming movement. Now the state is pursuing an investigation over whether Mann engaged in fraud and deception to obtain $500,000 in state funding.
One can only hope that legitimate climatologists heed the advice of the British panels and conduct thorough and unbiased research, setting aside their personal opinions on the topic of global warming.
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