The vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia gave “inaccurate” information to MPs when he told them that the university was setting up an inquiry into the reliability of key scientific climate change papers produced by his researchers, according to the man who led the inquiry.
Lord Oxburgh told MPs on the science and technology select committee today that Edward Acton had been wrong to tell the same committee in March that his inquiry would look into the science itself.
“I think that was inaccurate,” he told the MPs. “This had to be done rapidly. This was their concern. They really wanted something within a month. There was no way our panel could evaluate the science.”
Committee member Graham Stringer MP said this went against what the university had said at the time.
“We were told very clearly both by press releases and by Acton when he came [before the committee] that this was going to be an investigation into the science. Oxburgh made it very clear that it was an investigation into the integrity of the scientists,” he said.
Oxburgh was appointed in March to head the second of two inquiries initiated by the university to look into the fallout from the online release of emails and documents from its Climatic Research Unit (CRU).
When announcing that inquiry during a grilling by MPs on 1 March, Acton said “[The main inquiry led by Sir Muir Russell] is not looking at the science. It is looking at allegations about malpractice. I am hoping later this week to announce the chair of a panel to reassess the science and make sure there’s nothing wrong.”
When it was formally announced, Professor Trevor Davies, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research, described the Oxburgh inquiry as an “independent assessment of CRU’s key publications in the areas which have been most subject to comment”.
Dr Evan Harris, who was on the science and technology select committee before losing his seat as a Lib Dem MP in May, said that a full evaluation of the science produced by the CRU was impractical.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that inquiry to repeat a peer review analysis of the papers themselves,” he said.
“That is the responsibility of the journals that published them. I think the science community is satisfied and therefore parliament should be as well that the scientific reputations of the individuals and the unit remain intact.”