The British university at the center of the "Climategate" affair must allow independent researchers access to its closely guarded archive of global temperature records, Britain's information watchdog has ruled — a postscript to the scandal which rocked the world of climate science.
The University of East Anglia was obliged to hand over some of the raw data used to generate a map of world temperatures dating back more than 160 years, the Information Commissioner's Office said.
The database, called CRUTEM3, is one of several used by researchers to understand how world temperatures have varied over time, helping inform contemporary debates over how quickly — and why — the earth's climate is changing.
Skeptics have long demanded that they be allowed to review the readings, arguing that the database is being interpreted too generously by climate researchers eager to show that world's atmosphere is warming. The University of East Anglia batted away their Freedom of Information requests, saying that most of the information in the database was already in the public domain and that sharing the data might upset relations with foreign weather agencies who'd supplied it in the first place.
'We have nothing to fear from scrutiny.' —University of East Anglia
The back-and-forth between skeptics and the university was overshadowed by the eruption of Climategate, the publication of some 1,000 emails stolen from a university server in late 2009. The leaked correspondence caught prominent scientists at the University of East Anglia and elsewhere stonewalling critics and discussing ways to keep opponents' research out of peer-reviewed journals.
Those hostile to mainstream climate science claimed the exchanges as proof that the threat of global warming was being hyped.
Science cleared, practices criticized
Several reviews have since vindicated the researchers' science, although some of their practices — in particular efforts to hide data from critics — were criticized.
Few of the leaked emails dealt directly with CRUTEM3, but the scrutiny caused by the scandal led some to question the integrity of the university's historic temperature data.
Jonathan Jones, one of two U.K. academics who successfully won the right to see the raw data behind CRUTEM3, said he was acting out of principle.
"Openness should be the norm," he said in a telephone interview.
The University of East Anglia said in a statement that the work of its Climatic Research Unit, which helped produce CRUTEM3, had been backed by research groups across the globe.
It added that its attitude had changed since the Freedom of Information requests were first refused back in 2009.
"The university's determination to be proactive in making data public has strengthened," it said. "We have nothing to fear from scrutiny."