Climate unit criticized for stonewalling skeptics

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists at a leading British climate research center had a culture of withholding information from global warming skeptics but did not deliberately manipulate data to support their case, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

In the first official report into the theft of emails from the unit last year, a British parliamentary committee said the messages did not contradict the mainstream scientific view that man-made emissions have contributed to rising temperatures.

Thousands of emails exchanged between scientists were published on the Internet days before world leaders met in Copenhagen for climate change talks last December.

The government has acknowledged that the ensuing row dented public confidence in the evidence underpinning man’s role in raising global temperatures.

Campaigners who doubt the science behind man-made global warming said the messages showed researchers hid, exaggerated or fiddled the data to support the consensus view.

Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee rejected that assessment of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), but sharply condemned the unit for withholding information requested by outsiders under Britain’s freedom of information laws.

“The culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure, particularly to climate change skeptics, we felt was reprehensible,” Committee Chairman Phil Willis told a news conference.

Professor Phil Jones, head of the unit, was cleared of dishonestly fiddling the data to strengthen his evidence.

“The scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact,” the report said. “We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus.”

The committee found nothing sinister in Jones’ use of the words “hide the decline” and “trick” in two emails about temperature changes that attracted the most public attention.

“Hide the decline” was not an attempt to conceal data but was scientific shorthand for discarding erroneous data, the committee concluded. Similarly, Jones intended “trick” to mean a neat way of handling evidence, rather than anything underhanded.

The university has set up two separate inquiries into the email affair and British police are investigating the hacking.

Editing by Noah Barkin