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Questions for Climategate boss facing MPs

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 01 March 2010

Environmental writer and blogger Andrew Montford looks at some of the questions the University of East Anglia's climate boss could face from MPs over the climate data row.

Global warming figures are under the microscope

The director of the university research unit at the centre of the "climategate" row over global warming data is due to be quizzed by MPs today. Watch a live stream of the hearing at 4pm here.

Andrew Montford, author of The Hockey Stick Illusion, a book covering some of the events leading up to so-called Climategate, looks at some of the questions professor Phil Jones should be asked.

Now the written submissions to the Parliamentary inquiry into the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have been published it is possible to see where differences of opinion are arising, and it is these that Phil Willis and his team should probe.

Sceptic opinion will be focused on the appearance of the Information Commissioner and, shortly afterwards, the questioning of the director of the CRU, professor Jones.

Recent claims by the Information Commissioner (ICO) that there is strong evidence that CRU staff breached the Freedom of Information Act has already been immensely damaging to the reputations of both UEA, and of science in general.

Sceptics have already noted the strongly critical submission from the Institute of Physics, which suggests the knock-on effect of the emails on the wider scientific community may be causing ructions.

This controversy has been heightened by the publication of UEA’s submission to the committee, in which the university's vice-chancellor, Sir Edward Acton, and his staff which could be said to have tried to paint their correspondence with the Information Commissioner’s office in a more favourable light than is warranted by the ICO's actual words.

The story has already reached the newspapers and the committee are sure to want to get to the bottom of whether there was a breach of the law. In the forty minutes allowed for the evidence from CRU, there is a lot of ground to cover.

There are, however, some simple issues that could still be addressed. One such question is the allegation of illegitimate pressurising of scientific journals.

The committee might ask about what role CRU staff played in attempts to precipitate the resignation of editorial staff at the journal Climatic Research, or what is meant by another statement in the emails, 'it was easy to keep the worst papers out of Journal of Climate', to mention just two such incidents.

And there are many other allegations, including claims that: organising of soft reviews for some papers and hard ones for others, CRU scientists working side-by-side with environmental activists, the pressure to show current temperatures as "unprecedented" and where this pressure was coming from, the discussion of 'dirty laundry', and so on.

But in the short time available it is unlikely the committee will spend much time on the complex scientific questions. We may therefore not learn much about Jones' explanation of the notorious 'Nature trick' email remark, a story which sceptics see as grossly misleading.

This is probably just as well, since the committee have chosen not to hear evidence from Steve McIntyre, the sceptic best equipped to give the other side of this story.

This failure puts the committee on dangerous ground. By not hearing McIntyre, the man outside CRU who knows most about the content and context of the emails, the committee risks appearing negligent or even worse, of refusing to hear the truth.

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