And Then There Were Five: New Inquiry Into Climate Science Unit

The Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) may by the end of this year be the most investigated scientific body around. UEA today announced that there would be an independent, external “reappraisal of the science” in CRU’s key publications, creating the fifth group to look at CRU since private e-mails by and to its climate scientists were revealed last year and sparked a fierce debate over the validity of global warming research.

The newly announced inquiry threatened to steal the spotlight from a media briefing in London by another panel UEA has commissioned to examine whether those e-mails offer evidence of poor scientific practices. Among the allegations are improperly withholding data, which could call into question the integrity of CRU scientists and their science. Muir Russell, a higher education official who was most recently the principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, leads that panel, and today he introduced its members, requested evidence to be submitted by 1 March at, and described the issues his group planned to address in a report due out this spring.

Russell says his group plans to “investigate the scientific rigor, integrity, and honesty” of CRU. He noted that the panel had already interviewed scientists at UEA and had conversations with other investigators. The local police are looking to see whether laws were broken by the release of the emails. The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office has already declared that UEA violated certain Freedom of Information act requirements and the British House of Commons is also studying the affair.

Russell received a grilling from reporters, who questioned whether a panel funded by UEA could truly be independent. Another reporter asked each panel member whether they accepted the conclusion that man-made global warming is occurring. All but Russell, who deflected the question, generally agreed it was. The panel’s inclusion of Phillip Campbell, editor of chief of Nature, raised some eyebrows as well, with one reporter asking if Campbell could be impartial, given CRU scientists, including Phil Jones who has been under the most scrutiny, have been authors of Nature papers and likely done peer-review for the journal. Nature also recently editorialized about the climate e-mail affair, calling the FOI requests "harassment" from climate changes "denialists." Campbell, who was asked to be on the panel for his experience with issues of data-sharing, defended his participation, at one point saying he would consider recusing himself during some discussions if Nature publications became an issue.

Russell said that the second UEA inquiry would be "complementary" to what his panel is doing. “We are not appraising the scientific work of CRU,” he emphasized several times. UEA released few details about the additional inquiry other than to note the Royal Society would assist in picking the appropriate scientists to conduct the research review.

*This item has been corrected.

John Travis

John Travis is the News Managing Editor at Science and also plans and edits news coverage of biology and biomedical topics.