Review: No Evidence that NOAA Climate Scientists Mishandled Information

The Department of Commerce's Inspector General provided an independent review on how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reacted to the leak of e-mail messages from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

At the request of U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the e-mails stolen in November 2009 from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and found no evidence of impropriety or reason to doubt NOAA’s handling of its climate data.

The Inspector General was asked to look into how NOAA reacted to the leak and to determine if there was evidence of improper manipulation of data, failure to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures, or failure to comply with Information Quality Act and Freedom of Information Act guidelines.

The Inspector General’s report states that there was no evidence in the CRU e-mails:

  • that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the [Global Historical Climatology Network – monthly] GHCN-M dataset.”
  • to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures prior to its dissemination of information.”
  • to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the IQA.”
  • to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the Shelby Amendment.”

The report notes a careful review of eight e-mails that it said "warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA's data,” that was completed and did not reveal reason to doubt the scientific integrity of NOAA scientists or data.

The report questions the way NOAA handled a response to four FOIA requests in 2007. The FOIA requests sought documents related to the review and comments of part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists belong to IPCC, not NOAA. The requesters were directed to IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments, and responses which are online at: www.ipcc-wg1.unibe.ch/publications/wg1-ar4/wg1-ar4.html and http://hcl.harvard.edu/collections/ipcc/index.html.

“We welcome the Inspector General’s report, which is the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information,” said Mary Glackin, NOAA’s deputy under secretary for operations. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science.”

“The NOAA scientists responded in good faith to the FOIA requests based on their understanding of the request and in accordance with the legal guidance provided in 2007,” Glackin said. “NOAA’s policies, practices, and the integrity and commitment of our scientists have resulted in NOAA’s climate records being the gold-standard that our nation and the world has come to rely on for authoritative information about the climate.”

The findings in the Inspector General’s investigation are similar to the conclusions reached in a number of other independent investigations into climate data stewardship and research that were conducted by the UK House of Commons, Penn State University, the InterAcademy Council, and the National Research Council, after the release of the stolen e-mails. All of the reports exonerated climate scientists from allegations of wrong-doing.

The report also asks NOAA to review two instances in which it transferred funds to CRU. NOAA is conducting a review of funding to the University of East Anglia and as recommended by Zinser’s letter, will be providing a report to his office. NOAA’s review to date indicates that the funding supported workshops in 2002 and 2003 that helped the governments of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam improve their climate forecasting abilities.

The report further provides information about the review NOAA undertook of the e-mails, and notes that NOAA did not conduct a review of its data set as a result of the e-mails because it too determined that the e-mails did not indicate any impropriety and because its data sets and techniques are already regularly reviewed as part of ongoing quality control measures and are subject to formal peer review.

NOAA’s national and global climate data are available to the public in raw and adjusted form. The algorithms used to adjust the data sets to ensure high quality, useful records, are peer-reviewed and available to the public.

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