THE "rigour and honesty" of climate scientists at the centre of a scandal involving leaked e-mails is not in doubt but they failed in "openness", a major inquiry has found.
• Climate change sceptics had leapt on the e-mails as showing that scientists had exaggerated the evidence for manmade climate change. Picture: Getty
The independent review led by Sir Muir Russell found no basis for most of the criticism by climate change sceptics against a team at the University of East Anglia.
However, it criticised the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) for "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness".
The 160-page inquiry report on the so-called "climategate" scandal went on to say that the scientists failed to recognise the risk of their lack of openness to the credibility of UK climate science.
Sir Muir, chairman of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and a former University of Glasgow principal, said: "Climate science is a matter of such global importance that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct … On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt."
The row was sparked when 13 years' worth of e-mails were hacked from the server at the university and posted online.
They were seized upon by global warming sceptics who claimed they showed scientists manipulating and suppressing data to back up a theory of man-made climate change.
Yesterday the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Edward Acton, said the review was an "exoneration" of the scientists that had "exposed as unfounded the overwhelming thrust of the allegations against our science".
He said: "The overwhelming conclusion of this report is clear - that the scientific integrity of UEA, its CRU and its scientists is beyond reproach."
And he revealed that Professor Phil Jones, who temporarily stood down as head of the CRU, had been given a new role as director of research.
Prof Acton hit out at the "unjustified attack" on the researchers and climate science and said he hoped the review would "finally lay to rest the conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings that have circulated".
However, he added: "We accept the report's conclusion that we could and should have been more proactively open, not least because - as this exhaustive report makes abundantly clear - we have nothing to hide.
"The need to develop a culture of greater openness and transparency in CRU is something that we faced up to internally some months ago and we are already working to put right."
Tthe review failed to quell the concerns of sceptics.
Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a sceptical think-tank, said the report was a "damning indictment of the university's handling of Freedom of Information requests".
"There is clearly strong evidence of mishandling of the requests (by the CRU] and strong criticism of its failure to provide legitimate information," he said. "I don't think the university can just claim that this is a vindication."
Dr Peiser added that the issue would "not go away with this report".
The 200,000 investigation cleared the researchers of the suggestion the e-mails showed researchers were subverting the scientific peer review process to ensure papers they disagreed with were not published.
But Sir Muir's inquiry found there was "unhelpfulness" in CRU's response to Freedom of Information requests, and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted to make them unavailable for any subsequent request.
The CRU was "unhelpful and defensive" in response to reasonable requests for information about the weather stations used to gather the temperature records, it said.
But the review found that raw data frequently requested by sceptics from which global land temperatures were calculated was directly available from other sources.
Sir Muir urged scientists: "Don't fall into the habit of not being open or concealing things, and try to find ways of engaging people on ground that generally advance science."
Fellow review panel member Professor Geoffrey Boulton, general secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said it was no longer acceptable for groups of scientists to debate theories among themselves and then make Papal-style pronouncements that people would be expected to accept.
"We have to move science from a private enterprise to a public enterprise," he said.
Government chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington said: "This is the third review to find no evidence of scientific malpractice at the university.
"The scientific case that climate change represents a major threat to our world and our societies is clear and compelling."
And he said: "The report makes some important points about the need for openness and transparency. Science depends on openness and challenge."
How hacked e-mail records rocked global thinking on the science of warming
The "climategate" affair began online on a global warming sceptics' website and became a controversy that threatened to engulf international climate science.
Last November 13 years' worth of e-mails stolen by hackers from servers at the University of East Anglia's world-renowned Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were published online.
It was claimed by sceptics that the e-mails, which were made fully searchable, contained evidence that leading climate scientists were manipulating data to back up a theory of man-made global warming.
CRU researchers collate one of the main series of global temperature records dating back to the 1850s, publish annual temperature data each year for the UK, conduct paleoclimatic research into measurements of temperature derived from sources such as tree rings and undertake climate modelling for the future.
The e-mails were leaked just a few weeks before the UN climate talks kicked off in Copenhagen with the aim of securing a new global deal on cutting emissions, raising suspicions that their emergence was timed to derail the negotiations.z