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'Climate-gate' review member resigns

By Tom Clarke

Updated on 11 February 2010

Within hours of the launch of an independent panel to investigate claims that climate scientists covered up flawed data on temperature rises, one member has been forced to resign after sceptics questioned his impartiality. 

Climate change: a droplet of water.

In an interview last year with Chinese State Radio, enquiry panel member Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature said: "The scientists have not hidden the data. If you look at the emails there is one or two bits of language that are jargon used between professionals that suggest something to outsiders that is wrong."

He went on: "In fact the only problem there has been is on some official restrictions on their ability to disseminate data otherwise they have behaved as researchers should."

Dr Campbell, was invited to sit on the enquiry panel because of his expertise in the peer review process as editor of one of the world’s leading science journals.

The journal has published some of the leading papers on climate change research, including those supporting the now famous "hockey stick" graph, the subject of intense criticism by climate sceptics.

Dr Campbell has now withdrawn his membership of the panel, telling Channel 4 News: "I made the remarks in good faith on the basis of media reports of the leaks.

"As I have made clear subsequently, I support the need to for a full review of the facts behind the leaked e-mails.

"There must be nothing that calls into question the ability of the independent Review to complete this task, and therefore I have decided to withdraw from the team."

The interview, posted on the Bishop Hill blog, run by climate sceptic Andrew Montford, will come as an embarrassment to the enquiry's chair Sir Muir Russell.

At a press conference this morning to launch the panel, the experienced civil servant and former vice-chancellor of Glasgow University, emphasised his hand-picked panel's impartiality.

A press release about the panel read: "They were selected on the basis that they have no prejudicial interest in climate change and climate science and for the contribution they can make to the issues of the review."

Speaking this evening, Muir Russell said "I have spoken to Philip Campbell, and I understand why he has withdrawn. I regret the loss of his expertise, but I respect his decision."

The revelation is evidence of the well-organised and highly-motivated campaign by climate change sceptics that has already used the emails leaked from University of East Anglia to make allegations about the validity of climate change science.

They have also been swift to attack errors in the influential United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) report on the science of climate change, published in 2007.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Changement said: "Some commentators have already taken on the role of judge and jury, pronouncing on the guilt of those involved and calling for their resignations.

"The Review team need to be fair to all concerned, but they may ultimately have difficulty persuading people to accept a verdict that does not match the conclusions that they have already reached themselves."

According to Ward, those with dissenting views about the dangers of climate change feel they have not been represented on the enquiry’s panel.

"They’re motivation here is probably because Nature published most of the papers on climate change that they are trying to discredit," he said.

"Who is actually carrying out this review?" leading climate sceptic Steve McIntyre told Channel 4 News.

"I think you need to have some truly independent statisticians or even people who are from unrelated fields."

"Some of the habits in the field are quite deeply rooted, and people have lost perspective on the type of assumptions and statistical bodges that are being done in this particular field," he said.

The Independent Climate Change Email Review will only be assessing the conduct of researchers at the UEA, not the conclusions of their scientific research.

They will examine the 1000 emails and 3000 other files hacked from the University, 160MB of data in total.

Under scrutiny will be analyses based on tree ring data, weather stations and reference to a "trick" and "hiding the decline" included in the emails.

The panel will also examine how the UEA researchers conducted peer review and whether they manipulated or suppressed information or whether, as one of the leaked emails suggests, controversial data was deliberately deleted.

"This review is about scientific rigour and honesty," Sir Muir said.

"We will investigate whether there is evidence of poor scientific practice and data management, which could call the CRU research into question.

However, the University of East Anglia also announced today that they would be working with the esteemed Royal Society to reassess the scientific conclusions of researchers working at the university's Climatic Research Unit.

"Published papers from CRU have gone through the rigorous and intensive peer review process, which is the keystone for maintaining the integrity of scientific research," said Professor Trevor Davies, the University's Pro-Vice- Chancellor for Research.

"Colleagues in the CRU have strenuously defended their conduct and the published work and we believe it is in the interests of all concerned that there should be an additional assessment considering the science itself."

The six-member panel now has a vacancy and will examine whether researchers abused the scientific process or deliberately withheld information from the public after emails were hacked from the University’s servers.

Like Sir Muir's enquiry, the East Anglia review is due to report "sometime in the spring"

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