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Summarizing the Investigations on Climate Science

A series of international investigations into recent climate science controversies are now publishing their findings, and so far, they have cleared climate scientists of manipulating the evidence, and reaffirmed the integrity of the basic science. The investigations arose from two separate incidents that both occurred in late 2009, one involving stolen emails at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU), and the other involving queries regarding the evidence for regional impacts of climate change in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.

Here is a quick summary of the investigations and their findings to date:

Investigations into the University of East Anglia

The University of East Anglia (UEA) investigations were prompted by the leak of private emails between climate scientists that were stolen from the University’s server and posted publicly. The emails raised concerns that scientific data on climate change had been manipulated. Four independent reviews are now complete, and collectively they have exonerated the scientists in question, leaving their major research findings intact.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee review focused on the accuracy, access to, and availability of CRU’s data and programming. The Committee published its findings in March, concluding:

  • The focus on CRU and its Director, Phil Jones, has “largely been misplaced.”
  • CRU’s Director shared data and methodologies are “in line with common practice.”
  • Findings in CRU publications are credible.
  • CRU did not attempt to “subvert the peer review process.”
  • There is no reason to challenge the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and is human-induced.
  • The Review calls for UEA to review its policies towards disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and suggests that climate scientists make underlying data supporting their work available to avoid the type of problems CRU faced.

The UEA’s Scientific Assessment Panel was established in consultation with the Royal Society and chaired by Lord Oxburgh. The Panel investigated the integrity of CRU’s research and publications and conducted interviews with the scientists. The findings, published in April, conclude:

  • There is “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice” in any of CRU’s work.
  • Closer collaboration with statisticians would be beneficial, but CRU did not mislead or intentionally exaggerate its findings.
  • The Panel agreed with the CRU that the authority to release raw data to third parties is that of the collectors of the data.

The Independent Climate Change Email Review, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred, and reviewed CRU’s policies and practices for peer review and dissemination of data and findings. It also examined CRU’s compliance with requests to release data. The Review’s findings, released in July, state:

  • The scientists’ rigor and honesty are not in doubt.
  • The scientists did not attempt to undermine the IPCC Assessments’ conclusions.
  • Both CRU and UAE fail to “display the proper degree of openness.”
  • The integrity of the peer review process is intact.
  • CRU did not withhold access, bias, or tamper with land station temperature data.
  • The data on temperature reconstructions from tree ring analysis are not misleading or hidden.
  • A 1999 World Meteorological Organization figure is “misleading.” The review challenges the absence of information explaining the methodologies for developing the figure but not the methodologies themselves.
  • University leadership should support and reinforce information requests and make sufficient information available.

The Pennsylvania State University Reviews arose out of allegations of research impropriety on the part of the University’s Dr. Michael Mann, based on the stolen CRU emails. The Dean of the Graduate School launched an investigation in November into whether Dr. Mann’s actions may have: (1) suppressed or falsified data; (2) deleted emails and information; (3) misused confidential information; and/or (4) deviated from accepted research practices. An Inquiry Committee reviewed emails and related documents, and conducted interviews. In February 2010, the Inquiry Committee concluded that there was “no substance” to the first three allegations. The University’s investigatory phase began in March to assess the fourth allegation. In June, the Investigatory Committee released its report concluding that:

  • Dr. Mann’s success as a researcher places him “among the most respected scientists” and such success depends upon adhering to “the highest standards.”
  • Dr. Mann has followed accepted practices on conducting research in his field.
  • Dr. Mann acted in a “careless and inappropriate” manner when sharing unpublished manuscripts with third parties without consent from the authors.

In closing, the Committee concluded unanimously that there is “no substance” to the fourth allegation that he engaged in actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices.

Investigations Into the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report

The IPCC investigations were prompted by a controversy over certain conclusions in the Fourth Assessment Report—especially regarding Himalayan glacier melt—and the evidence to support those conclusions. (The IPCC has acknowledged that its evidence procedures “were not applied properly” concerning the glacier data in question, but maintains that the underlying conclusions are robust. Read the IPCC statement here.)

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) Review began in January after the Dutch Parliament passed a resolution mandating the Agency to assess the perceived errors in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Their analysis is focused on the chapters assessing the future regional consequences of climate change. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences oversaw the review and PBL released its findings in July.

  • None of the 32 findings reviewed undermine the main conclusions of the IPCC Report.
  • The Report’s depiction of past climate change impacts are conclusive.
  • The specific findings reviewed by the Agency do not affect the main conclusions of the IPCC Report.
  • The review uncovers one error regarding the level of populations in Africa at risk of water stress by 2020, revising the estimated 75-250 million to 90-220 million, within the uncertainty margin.
  • PBL agrees with the IPCC’s correction that the date of 2035 for the loss of the Himalaya glaciers is an error.
  • PBL identifies an inaccurate statement that it provided to the IPCC for the Report. The statements should read that 55 percent of the Netherlands is “prone to flooding” rather than 55 percent of the Netherlands is found below sea level. PBL advises the IPCC to invest in greater quality control, make conclusions more transparent, and provide a “summary of the full spectrum of regional impacts.” This would include uncertainties, the less severe and positive effects of climate impacts, as well as worst-case scenarios of events that are associated with high consequence impacts but have a low probability of occurring.

The InterAcademy Council Review was launched in response to the IPCC Secretariat’s call for an independent committee to review its procedures. A few weeks later in March 2010, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon charged the InterAcademy Council, which represents twenty national academies and other scientific organizations, to perform an independent review of the IPCC’s procedures. The purpose of the review is to develop recommendations for IPCC’s processes and procedures on data quality, acceptable literature for citation, review procedures, and error corrections. The Panel is being led by former Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro. A progress report is expected in August and final recommendations will be presented at the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report meeting in October.

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