The scientist at the centre of the “climategate” scandal has made his strongest admission yet of errors in sending e-mails that were subsequently seized on as evidence of malpractice.
“I have obviously written some very awful e-mails,” Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia, told a parliamentary select committee on Monday.
Prof Jones was the author of hundreds of the e-mails hacked from UEA servers last November, some of which show him and some other scientists refusing to release information and apparently manipulating data. Prof Jones and UEA strenuously deny both charges.
The leaked e-mails are now the subject of several inquiries, including two independent committees commissioned by UEA and a police investigation into the hacking incident.
The furore surrounding the e-mails has been heightened by a scandal involving the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change. It said earlier this year that the IPCC erroneously stated in its landmark 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by 2035.
Sceptics cite the two incidents as evidence of a lack of credibility of climate science, a claim rejected by the scientists involved and most prominent climate researchers.
Prof Jones said it was not “standard practice” to release all data immediately upon gathering it, but instead the results and conclusions drawn from it and the methods used to do so were publicised.
When asked for certain raw data used in his research, Prof Jones said he was not obliged to release it as “much of it was already in the public domain”.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, requests for data can be refused if the data is publicly available, a provision intended to protect public bodies from wasting time on requests and from duplicating responses to information requests.
Prof Jones said much of the data used in pieces of his research was already available. He added that other data could not be released legally because it did not belong to UEA, and the original owners had refused permission for it to be given out.
The former Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, was also questioned, and told the committee that it was permissible to withhold data in response to FOI requests if it was owned by another party.
He said that making a judgment on the case would have required an investigation, which his office was unable to undertake because under current law any such inquiry would have had to take place within six months of the alleged offence.
Lord Lawson, former chancellor of the exchequer and author of a book sceptical of global warming science, attempted to claim the scalp of a member of one of the UEA investigating committees. Lord Lawson said committee member Prof Geoffrey Boulton was not suitable to be on the committee because he was a “committed climate alarmist” and had spent 18 years at UEA.
Sceptics have already unseated another committee member, Philip Campbell, editor of the academic journal Nature, which they said disqualified him because the journal had published many articles on climate change. He resigned within a few hours of the committee being named.