Ben Webster, Environment Editor
The climate scientist at the centre of the row over stolen e-mails has no case to answer and should be reinstated, a crossparty group of MPs says.
Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia, was acting “in line with common practice in the climate science community” when he refused to share his raw data and computer codes with critics.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said that the focus on Professor Jones, director of the university’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), had been “largely misplaced”. It said that there were innocent explanations for his use of the word “trick” and the phrase “hide the decline” in e-mails concerning global temperatures.
He stepped down in December pending the outcome of an inquiry by the university into more than 1,000 e-mails sent by him and colleagues.
The committee said that the blame for the mishandling of requests under the Freedom of Information Act lay with the university, which had “found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics”.
The report said it was “regrettable” that the university had failed to understand the damage that would be done to the reputation of climate science by rejecting requests for data. The MPs called on scientists to “become more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies”. They recommended that the Government review the rules on the accessibility of data.
Phil Willis, the committee’s Liberal Democrat chairman, told The Times: “There is no reason why Professor Jones should not resume his post. He was certainly not co-operative with those seeking to get data, but that was true of all the climate scientists.”
Mr Willis said that the inquiry had failed to establish whether Professor Jones had deleted information to prevent requests to publish it. In one of the e-mails he asked a colleague to delete correspondence relating to evidence submitted to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
An MP on the committee told The Times that, before this month’s public hearing, the members had agreed not to question Professor Jones too closely because of his fragile condition.
Mr Willis rejected evidence submitted by Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, editor of the journal Energy & Environment, that Professor Jones had tried to undermine the journal because it had published reports that appeared to question his conclusion that man-made emissions were causing global warming. She wrote: “Dr Jones even tried to put pressure on my university department. The e-mailers expressed anger over my publication of several papers that questioned the . . . reliability of CRU temperature data. The desire to control the peer review process in their favour is expressed several times. CRU clearly disliked my journal and believed that ‘good’ climate scientists do not read it.”
Mr Willis said that he would have taken Dr Boehmer-Christiansen’s evidence “more seriously” if other scientists had made similar complaints.
The report called on Sir Muir Russell, the Scottish public servant who is chairing the inquiry commissioned by the university, to question witnesses in public. The MPs criticised the Information Commissioner’s Office for suggesting that the university had breached the Freedom of Information Act. The report said the question of whether there had been a breach needed to be resolved, with a full investigation by Sir Muir or the Information Commissioner.
The committee called for the time bar, which prevents prosecutions for breaches of the Act being brought more than six months after the alleged offence, to be removed.