Climate emails inquiry: Fossil fuel industry consultant linked to physics body’s submission

Evidence from Institute of Physics drawn from energy industry consultant who argues global warming is a religion
David Adams, Guardian , Thursday 4 March 2010 21.00 GMT

Evidence from a respected scientific body to a parliamentary inquiry examining the behaviour of climate-change scientists, was drawn from an energy industry consultant who argues that global warming is a religion, the Guardian can reveal.

The submission, from the Institute of Physics (IOP), suggested that scientists at the University of East Anglia had cherry-picked data to support conclusions and that key reconstructions of past temperature could not be relied upon.

The evidence was given to the select committee on science and technology, which is investigating emails from climate experts at the University of East Anglia that were released online last year.

The committee interviewed witnesses on Monday, including Phil Jones, the scientist from the university’s climatic research unit (CRU), who is at the heart of the controversy.

The Guardian has established that the institute prepared its evidence, which was highly critical of the CRU scientists, after inviting views from Peter Gill, an IOP official who is head of a company in Surrey called Crestport Services.

According to Gill, Crestport offers “consultancy and management support services … particularly within the energy and energy intensive industries worldwide”, and says that it has worked with “oil and gas production companies including Shell, British Gas, and Petroleum Development Oman”.

In an article in the newsletter of the IOP south central branch in April 2008, which attempted to downplay the role carbon dioxide plays in global warming, Gill wrote: “If you don’t ‘believe’ in anthropogenic climate change, you risk at best ridicule, but more likely vitriolic comments or even character assassination. Unfortunately, for many people the subject has become a religion, so facts and analysis have become largely irrelevant.”

In November Gill commented, on the Times Higher Education website: “Poor old CRU have been seriously hacked. The emails and other files are all over the internet and include how to hide atmospheric cooling.”

The institute submission accused the East Anglia university scientists of “apparent suppression, in graphics widely used by the IPCC, of proxy results for recent decades that do not agree with contemporary instrumental temperature measurements”. This appears to refer to an email sent by Jones in which he said he had used a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a temperature series derived from tree-ring data, but which refers to a widely known feature of that data.

The IOP evidence concluded that the emails had “worrying implications for the integrity of scientific research in this field”. That was used by climate sceptics to bolster claims that the email affair, dubbed “climategate”, showed the scientists did not behave properly and that the problem of global warming was exaggerated.

The IOP has already been forced to issue a clarification that the evidence does not undermine the scientific basis for climate change. But many experts think this does not go far enough.

In an open letter to the institute, Andy Russell, an IOP member who works on climate at the University of Manchester, says: “If the IOP continues to stand by this statement then I will have no other option but to reconsider my membership.” He says the allegation of data suppression is “incorrect and irresponsible”.

The institute says its evidence was based on suggestions from the energy subcommittee of its science board. It would not reveal who sat on this sub-commitee, but confirmed that Gill was a member.

A spokeswoman for the institute said Gill was not the main source of information nor did the evidence primarily reflect his views; other members of the sub-commitee were also critical of CRU. However the IOP would not reveal names because they would get “dragged into a very public and highly politicised debate”.

Gill told the Guardian he helped prepare the submission but many of his suggestions were not in the final document.

The IOP added that the submission was approved by three members of its science board, but would not reveal their names. The Guardian contacted several members of the board, including its chairman, Denis Weaire, a physicist at Trinity College Dublin. All said that they had little direct role in the submission.

The institute supplied a statement from an anonymous member of its science board, which said: “The institute should feel relaxed about the process by which it generated what is, anyway, a statement of the obvious.” It added: “The points [the submission] makes are ones which we continue to support, that science should be practised openly and in an unbiased way. However much we sympathise with the way in which CRU researchers have been confronted with hostile requests for information, we believe the case for openness remains just as strong.”

Evan Harris, a member of the science and technology select committee, said: “Members of the Institute of Physics … may be concerned that the IOP is not as transparent as those it wishes to criticise.”

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