Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Prof Phil Jones, climate scientist, admits sending ‘awful’ e-mails

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

The integrity of climate change research is in doubt after the disclosure of e-mails that attempt to suppress data, a leading scientific institute has said.
The Institute of Physics said that e-mails sent by Professor Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, had broken “honourable scientific traditions” about disclosing raw data and methods and allowing them to be checked by critics.
Professor Jones admitted to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee yesterday that he had “written some very awful e-mails”, including one in which he rejected a request for information on the ground that the person receiving it might criticise his work.
In a written submission to the committee, the institute said that, assuming the e-mails were genuine, “worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context”.

The e-mails contained “prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law”, it added.
The institute said that it was concerned by suggestions in the e-mails that Professor Jones and other scientists had worked together to prevent alternative views on global warming from being published. It said: “The e-mails illustrate the possibility of networks of like-minded researchers effectively excluding newcomers.”
The institute said that doubts about the veracity of climate science could be overcome if scientists were required to make all their data “electronically accessible for all at the time of publication [of their reports]”.
Professor Jones stood down from his post during an independent inquiry into allegations that he manipulated data and attempted to evade legitimate requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act.
The committee did not ask him about several of the most damaging e-mails he had sent, including one in which he asked a colleague to delete information that had been requested. The committee had been asked not to press him too closely because he was close to a nervous breakdown.
Professor Jones denied that he had tried to prevent alternative views being published by influencing the process of peer review under which scientific papers are scrutinised.
He said: “I don’t think there is anything in those e-mails that supports any view that I have been trying to pervert the peer review process . . .” He added that it “hasn’t been standard practice” in climate science for all data to be disclosed.
Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Conservative Chancellor and a leading climate sceptic, said that those who wanted to check the university’s research should not have been forced to resort to making requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
He said: “Proper scientists, scientists of integrity, wish to reveal all of their data and all of their methods. They don’t need freedom of information requests to force it out of them.”