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

Memorandum submitted by Andrew Montford (CRU 36)


  1.  The author, Andrew W Montford, BSc, CA, works in scientific publishing and is the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion, a book about some of the events leading up to the Climategate affair.1 He is the author of Bishop Hill, one of the main websites for global warming sceptics in the UK.2 He has no financial or other vested interest in the outcome of the inquiry.


  2.  Many apparent problems with the conduct of climate science have arisen from the CRU emails—withholding of data and code, unethical pressuring of journals, gatekeeping by journal editors and on one occasion the misrepresentation of the reliability of scientific data.

  3.  These revelations have implications both for our assessment of climate science as a whole and for the way science policy operates in the future. The main purpose of this note is to state the key lessons that should learned from this matter—lessons that are necessary if the reputation of science is to be restored and such incidents are not to happen again.

What are the implications of the disclosures for the integrity of scientific research?

Scientific data and code must be publicly available

  4.  The scientific method demands that findings be subject to testing and verification by others. The refusal of CRU scientists to release information to those who they felt might question or threaten their findings have led many to conclude that the CRU's work is not trustworthy. While the some responsibility for ensuring the availability of researchers' data and code rests with the scientific journals, government, as a major funder of research activity in the UK can help ensure the integrity of the scientific record by making disclosure of these materials mandatory and taking action against those who fail to do so.

  5.  Research materials, in this context, should include raw data and fully functional computer code where applicable.

  6.  Research materials should be made available to outsiders as a requirement of the scientific method. That scientists have failed to do so is reprehensible, but the fact that they have apparently also resorted to breaches of the Freedom of Information Act in order to do so requires urgent attention from policymakers. As has been widely publicized, no prosecutions under the Freedom of Information Act have been possible because of a six month statute of limitations for prosecutions in magistrates' courts. Parliament will no doubt wish to amend the act accordingly, to ensure that it is no longer possible for civil servants to flout the law with impunity.

  7.  It has been asserted by CRU staff that they were overwhelmed by Freedom of Information requests. This is not the case. Most of these requests were prompted by the refusal of CRU to release its data for verification. CRU were unable to take advantage of the clause in the FOI Act permitting them to charge for burdensome requests, because in fact there was virtually no information to disclose.

Peer review is inadequate to the task of assessing scientific findings for policymakers

  8.  Academic studies on peer review to identify fraud and error have not painted a good picture of its ability to detect fraud and error. In the words of Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal:

    "We have little evidence on the effectiveness of peer review, but we have considerable evidence of its defects. In addition to being poor at detecting gross defects and almost useless for detecting fraud, it is slow, expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, something of a lottery, prone to bias and easily abused".

  9.  The CRU disclosures demonstrate that the peer review process can be subverted by a small but influential group of scientists. In the emails we see that there were at least four attempts to subvert journals[54] by putting pressure on editors to reject or delay submissions that were critical of mainstream climatology or to otherwise hinder sceptics. Editors who stood in the way of this group appear to have been forced from their posts. Articles by activist scientists were sent to sympathetic reviewers. Articles by sceptics were sent to hostile reviewers.

  10.  Policymakers need to be clear that peer review does not normally involve obtaining the scientific data and code used in a study and reproducing the findings. It is normally simply a read-through of a paper. This is adequate for finding glaring errors or non-original work. It is an absurdly inadequate process for justifying multi-billion pound decisions. As McCullough and McKitrick put it, "some government staff are surprised to find out that peer review does not involve checking data and calculations, while some academics are surprised that anyone thought it did".3

  11.  With scientists assessed on their productivity, in terms of numbers of papers published and citations achieved, there is little time for replication of the work of others. However, with peer review being such a weak check on scientific correctness, replication is the only way to ensure that decisions are taken on a sound scientific basis. Policymakers need to consider how they will ensure that scientific findings on which they base their decisions have been adequately replicated.

Climate scientists are too close to environmental groups

  12.  The disclosures reveal several instances of government funded scientists working with environmental pressure groups. In one case, Greenpeace activists are seen helping CRU scientists to draft a letter to the Times and in another working closely with the World Wildlife Fund to put pressure on governments regarding climate change.

  13.  Since the CRU disclosures, it has become clear that some of the findings of the IPCC reports have been based on publications of green groups like WWF and Greenpeace rather than peer-reviewed journals. The use of publications by advocacy groups occurred during both the Fourth Assessment Report, under Rajendra Pachauri, and the Third Assessment Report, under Professor Bob Watson.

  14.  The head of the Met Office board, Robert Napier, is a environmental activist.

Scientists advising government have conflicting interests

  15.  It is likely that, if global warming were determined to be a minor problem, most of the scientists who appear in the emails would either be unemployed or at least much less generously funded from the public purse. This inevitably creates huge pressure to "bid up" the importance of findings that support the global warming hypothesis and to play down those that question it. The failure of policymakers to ensure that those assessing the state of climatology and providing advice accordingly represents a significant failure.

  16.  Scientists closely involved in the promotion of the global warming movement are also in key positions in the National Environmental Research Council (NERC). This gives them the ability to direct funding towards research that supports their case and to starve skeptical scientists of money. For example, NERC council member Professor Bob Watson has toured the country promoting the existence of manmade global warming and regularly appears on television in support of the scientists implicated in the Climategate emails. This kind of advocacy role is incompatible with responsibility for directing funding. Another NERC council member and Chief Scientist at the Met Office, Prof Julia Slingo, circulated a letter seeking scientists who would publicly support the claims of the IPCC in the wake of the revelations in the Climategate emails. It would have been hard for many scientists to resist such a request from someone with the power to shut off their funding. Several other members of the NERC council are similarly involved in advocacy roles.

  17.  The state near-monopoly on research into the atmospheric sciences means that conflicts of interest and gatekeeping by scientists are hard to avoid. The so-called funding effect in science, whereby the results of scientific research seem to align with the financial incentives of the researchers, is normally associated with research funded by commercial businesses, but the same incentive structures exist for state-funded researchers and government advisers. Public choice theory—the idea that bureaucracies react to financial incentives in the same way as anyone else—may well explain much of the overheated tone in the utterances of climatologists in recent years. Policymakers should recognise this incentive and guard against it.

Climatology has lost its objectivity

  18.  The interests of the scientists appears to have revealed itself in the way science is conducted. The prominent climatologist Hans von Storch (who is not a sceptic) has spoken of a "spiral of exaggeration" in his specialism, with scientists seeking to make each new announcement more dramatic than the last one, in order to further what they see as their virtuous cause.

  19.  The IPCC reports appear to be in large measure a political project. The CRU's Keith Briffa is seen in the emails saying that "I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same".4 In another, he speaks of pressure to report that twentieth century temperatures are unprecedented.5 One climatologist has spoken of IPCC authors openly discussing writing their report so that the USA would be convinced to sign the Kyoto protocol.6

  20.  Von Storch also notes scientists "succumbing to a form of fanaticism almost reminiscent of the McCarthy era. In their minds, criticism of methodology is nothing but the monstrous product of `conservative think-tanks and misinformation campaigns by the oil and coal lobby', which they believe is their duty to expose. In contrast, dramatization of climate shift is defended as being useful from the standpoint of educating the public".

  21.  Climatologists apparently felt under pressure to produce particular results. In one email, the UEA's Keith Briffa says "I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards `apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data' but in reality the situation is not quite so simple". It is not clear who is putting pressure on these scientists, but it is clearly inappropriate to do so.

Are the terms of reference and scope of the Independent Review announced on 3 December 2009 by UEA adequate?

The independence of the review is not assured

  22.  Sir Muir Russell was appointed to head the review by the vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, Sir Edward Acton. However, the emails disclosed implicate Sir Edward's predecessor in an apparent breach of the Freedom of Information Act and there is therefore a prime-facie case that the review is not sufficiently independent.

The review must be held in public

  23.  Sir Muir Russell has stated that he wants to retain the confidence of global warming sceptics. However, in his letter to Mr Willis of 10 December 2009, Sir Edward Acton, the vice-chancellor of UEA, states that Sir Muir will present his findings to Sir Edward, who will in turn present a report to the council of the university. We are asked to believe that Sir Muir will properly investigate Sir Edward's role in the alleged FoI breaches, and that Sir Edward will pass on the findings that Sir Muir makes on this subject to the university council.

The review must take evidence from sceptics

  24.  At time of writing it appears that no prominent sceptic has been contacted by Sir Muir with a view to providing evidence. Without complainants being able to make their case to the review, it is unlikely that the findings will be sound or accepted by the sceptic community.

How independent are the other two international data sets?

The datasets are not independent

  25.  The three major international surface temperature datasets are not independent all relying heavily on the Global Historic Climate Network of temperature measuring stations.

REFERENCES1  Montford AW. The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the corruption of science. London: Stacey International 2010.


3  McCullough B and McKitrick R. Follow the numbers: the case for due diligence in policy formation. The Fraser Institute 2009.

4  See

5  See

6  John Christy of the University of Alabama. See

February 2010

54   Climatic Research, Geophysical Research Letters, and on two separate occasions, International Journal of ClimatologyBack

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 31 March 2010