Phil Jones (left) is under fire for leaked emails about his global warming research. He denies wrongdoing and has refuted several of the claims made against him in a new interview.  (Source: Canada Free Press)
Climate expert asserts he did not knowingly publish false data

In November, emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, which offered what appeared to be damning falsification of data and manipulation of the peer review process.  The emails resulted in the center's director, senior climatologist Phil Jones, to step down.

Mr. Jones, who was a frequent party in the leaked emails, is currently being investigated by several academic misconduct committees, including Muir Russell, former vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, UK.  However, he insists he did nothing wrong.

While he could not comment on whether he withheld or destroyed data from his critics, he did open up about the validity of his group's studies in an interview with the UK publication The Guardian.  Specifically the accuracy of Jones's famous paper on the urban heat island effect (raised temperatures around cities skewing global temperatures), in which he found it to be secondary to global warming was questioned.

The paper was published in 1990 and almost two decades later would draw fire from Doug Keenan, an amateur climatologist, in 2007.  Unfortunately, at that point Jones's co-author, Wei-Chyung Wang of the University at Albany in New York, had lost the list of climate stations used in the study, so the results could not be validated.  Jones admits that the loss was "not acceptable."

The weather stations used were in China and reportedly moved during the study's period.  Mr. Jones previously wrote, "We chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times."

Now he acknowledges that the stations did move during the study and that the paper may need a correction.  He states, "I will give that some thought. It's worthy of consideration."

However, he points out that the conclusions drawn appear to be correct.  In a much later paper published in 2008, he verifies the conclusions with a much broader set of Chinese data ranging from 1954 to 1983.  That paper, for which the station info is available, indicates that the need for correction in the 1990 work is not necessary on accuracy basis, but rather on a clarity basis.

For those who are quick to yell fraud, the standards of publication in 1990 were significantly lower than they are today, especially in the field of climatology.  It now appears that Jones did nothing explicitly wrong, merely published with the data he had, inadvertently overlooking that several of the stations had changed location.  Today, such a mistake would lead to a rejection, but in that era, such errors were relatively commonplace.

He says the flaws were ultimately the result of him trying to get data that wasn't easily available at the time to bolster and verify his conclusions.  He states, "I thought it was the right way to get the data. I was specifically trying to get more rural station data that wasn't routinely available in real time from [meteorological] services."

He ardently denies his critics claims that he fiddled with the peer review process or downplayed the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), an unseasonably warm stretch that occurred around 1000 A.D., which some suggest could be evidence that current warming is merely a cyclic trend.  He says that his critics are "trying to pick out minor things in the data and blow them out of all proportion."

He points out that the infamous email in which he wrote "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin [Trenberth] and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" was not about a peer reviewed publication, which many have mistaken stated, but rather an IPCC assessment.  Assessments typically are more subjective in content and are not subject to the same level of scrutiny.  States Jones, "The IPCC is an assessment, it's not a review, so the authors have to know something about the subject to assess which are the important papers."

As for the MWP he comments, "We need more reconstructions from different parts of the world to reproduce a better history of the past thousand years.  Why don't they do their own reconstructions ... the work that's been published has been through the peer-review process. If they want to criticize that, they should write their own papers."

Jones certainly seems to be in a bad spot, following the leak and his temporary resignation, however many of his claims do seem to have feet.  Many of his remarks were taken out of context (e.g. mistaking comments on assessment for comments on a peer review).  Further, anyone who works in research today is well aware that the standards of publication were much lower in 1990 than they were today.  Thus, some of the inaccuracies can be explained by that.

Still, more questions do remain and Jones will have to account for them if he wants to restore his good name.

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