The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1-19)

RT HON LORD LAWSON OF BLABY AND DR BENNY PEISER

1 MARCH 2010

  Q1  Chairman: Could I welcome our first panel of witnesses to this one-off evidence session on the disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Lord Lawson of Blaby and Dr Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and to say to yourself, Lord Lawson and Dr Peiser, that the whole purpose of this session, given the shortage of time of the Committee, is to examine the events surrounding the disclosure of climate data from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, to examine the implications of the disclosure on scientific integrity and to examine the independent review and the steps taken by the University since the disclosure. We are not here to discuss whether climate change is real or not, we are here to talk about what has happened at the CRU. I wonder if I could start, therefore, with you, Lord Lawson, and thank you very much indeed for coming this afternoon. The Independent Inquiry, which has been set up under the leadership of Sir Muir Russell, has now published its membership and terms of reference. Do you have confidence in it? Do you think that is about right?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I am sorry, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me to this session.

  Q2  Chairman: Not at all.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I absolutely realise that the pressure of time, because the dissolution of Parliament is not that far away, means that you have had to cut this inquiry much shorter than you would otherwise have done. I think it is a pity, because I think there are some other people who have given you some excellent evidence.

  Q3  Chairman: We have had 55 pieces of evidence. We would have liked to invite them all, but you are here, so can you answer that specific question?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I will be very short. I sent Sir Muir Russell a letter on behalf of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in January saying that I thought, on the whole, the terms of reference were reasonably okay, that they needed to be extended to include more fully the issue of the dissenting scientists who had been allegedly prevented from having their papers published. That was a very, very serious part of the charges that were laid and they needed to look into that more than what actually simply emerged from the CRU. I was more concerned about the openness and transparency. I said there should be public hearings, like you are having here—I think that is very, very important—and I regret the fact that it appears that they do not intend to do this. I am now much more concerned when we see the membership of the Inquiry. As you know, already one member has had to resign because he had already prejudged the issue. It was the editor-in-chief of Nature, who had written an editorial saying these people are absolutely in the clear and those who criticise them are paranoid; that was the word that was used in that leading article. To have him as an impartial member of the committee was ridiculous, so he was out.

  Q4  Chairman: He has gone.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: He has gone, but there is still Sir Geoffrey Bolton, who is an extremely eminent geologist; but he is a committed climate alarmist, and Sir Muir Russell said that he did not want anybody who had a firm view on the issue. He is a committed climate alarmist. He is perfectly entitled to his view, but he has written and spoken on that. He is also, of course, a very distinguished alumnus of the University of East Anglia and the environmental section of that where the CRU comes from. The first 18 years of his career, his formative years, were there. All I would say is I think that it shows us, at the very least, a certain carelessness to have packed the committee in this way, and it does not create confidence.

  Q5  Chairman: Is that what you meant by "it was CRU centric"?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: No, that was a different point. That was before I knew the composition of the committee. By "CRU centric" what I meant was it was too much concerned about the CRU scientists and not perhaps, I feared, enough attention paid to other scientists who were trying to get their views published on this.

  Q6  Chairman: Some would say, Lord Lawson, it is because you are perhaps losing the argument here in terms of the panel that you are criticising them, is that fair?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: No, the criticisms I made of the composition of the panel are a matter for regret that I had to make these criticisms, because I think it will reduce the authority of anything which emerges from that independent review. I was the first person to call for an independent inquiry, I think.

  Q7  Chairman: You are happy with the Chairman?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I have nothing against the Chairman, no.

  Q8  Chairman: He will do a good job.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I hope so. We shall see.

  Q9  Mr Boswell: Can I crack straight on perhaps to the proximate cause of all this, which was the events of July 2009 when UEA, on behalf of CRU, received an unprecedented and, arguably, administratively overwhelming, 61 FOI requests relating to the work of the Climate Research Unit. I think in the previous year there had been just two. Do you consider, Lord Lawson, that it is understandable that the CRU might struggle to handle this volume of requests?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: Absolutely, but you have to stand back. Why was there this volume of requests? If you look at what actually happened, the sequence of events, what had happened was there had been a very, very small number of FOI Act requests to begin with and it was in response to those that there was all the evasion, the lack of disclosure and all the other things which we have seen in the emails: discussions about possibly destroying evidence and so on. All that came well before the 2009 flood of stuff. The 2009 flood, if you look at the sequence of events, was a response to the refusal to give disclosure of various things before. That was what came first. All the things that are in the emails, that read very badly—obviously your Committee will have to decide how to interpret them and so will the Muir Russell Committee—occurred before this 2009 flood. May I say this, which is, I think, very important? It goes to the heart your inquiry. The Freedom of Information Act should not have been brought into this thing at all. Proper scientists, scientists of integrity, they reveal, and voluntarily they wish to reveal, all their data and all their methods; they do not need a Freedom of Information Act request to force it out of them. If I may say so, I think you have had some very, very good submissions, a particularly good one, I thought, from the Institute of Physics, which explains really how scientists should operate, scientists of integrity, and an appalling one from the University of East Anglia, encapsulating the Climatic Research Unit, where they say, for example, "Peer review is the keystone for maintaining the integrity of scientific research." That is not true. Ask any decent scientist and they will say the keystone for integrity in scientific research is full and transparent disclosure of data and methods, and while peer review can be helpful; it can be actually abused.

  Q10  Mr Boswell: Just to summarise, so I am clear about this, Lord Lawson, what you are effectively saying is that it was the intransigence of the CRU scientists within UEA which triggered conduct which might, in certain circumstances, be regarded as intrinsically rather unreasonable, but it would not have been necessary to have been unreasonable if the initial matter had been helped.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: If the scientists at the CRU had behaved properly.

  Q11  Mr Boswell: It is not an unfamiliar situation in true politics.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: That is right, yes.

  Q12  Mr Boswell: Is that Dr Peiser's view as well? You were nodding, I think.

  Dr Peiser: Yes, the whole problem is quite unusual in the world of science, because, obviously, science lives and dies with the issue of testability, replication, verification, falsification, and, of course, if you have not got the data set or the methods, then you have to trust the word of a scientist, you cannot even see whether he has done these calculations correctly on the basis of solid data, and that is the core of this problem. It is not about the overall science, it is about the process of how science works, and I think we are facing a very, very severe problem with the failure to share that data and the methodologies with researchers.

  Q13  Mr Boswell: Just to be absolutely clear, carrying on with Dr Peiser, it would be your view that the sharing of data in relation to the initial approaches would have been doable and available?

  Dr Peiser: Well, it was. We know that the data was shared, but just with sympathetic researchers, not with the critics.

  Q14  Chairman: That is the fundamental point that you want to make.

  Dr Peiser: Yes.

  Q15  Graham Stringer: I am following you very closely, Lord Lawson, and I think all the Members of this Committee would agree with what you are saying about transparency and openness and checkability. Can you tell us how your organisation is funded? We have had an email this morning saying that you have not been transparent in the funding of your organisation.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: I do not think that is within your terms of reference. I am happy to answer it, but we have got quite a lot to do which is within the terms of reference.

  Q16  Chairman: Could you just answer it very briefly?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: We have donations from private individuals and private charitable trusts. That is how we are financed. We have one absolutely strict rule: we will not accept any money at all from the energy industry or anyone who has any significant interest in the energy industry.

  Q17  Graham Stringer: In one sense you are right, it is not within our terms of reference, but this is a very fraught and vexed question and there is distrust on both sides, so it is better to be clear. Is there a list of your donors available?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: No, like most thinktanks, not all but like most, we do not publish a list, because if donors wish to remain anonymous, for whatever reasons, perfectly good reasons, then it is their privilege. I am very happy for them to be published.

  Q18  Dr Harris: That is strange, because Sense about Science, which is an organisation we hear from a lot, publish all their donors, because they are often accused of being partisan. Would it not be a good idea for you to adopt that rule; otherwise people might have concerns?

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: We are absolutely clean. I would be very happy to see the names of all our donors published, I can assure you, it would be very, very good, but if they wish to remain anonymous, for whatever reason, maybe they have other family members who take a different view and they do not want to have a row within the family, maybe they do not want a whole lot of other people asking them for money—

  Q19  Chairman: The short answer is you are not giving us the names.

  Lord Lawson of Blaby: In football this is called playing the man and not the ball. You get a yellow card for that.


 
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