The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.
Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.
Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.
The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.
Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.
And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.
Professor Jones has been in the spotlight since he stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit after the leaking of emails that sceptics claim show scientists were manipulating data.
The raw data, collected from hundreds of weather stations around the world and analysed by his unit, has been used for years to bolster efforts by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to press governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Following the leak of the emails, Professor Jones has been accused of ‘scientific fraud’ for allegedly deliberately suppressing information and refusing to share vital data with critics.
Discussing the interview, the BBC’s environmental analyst Roger Harrabin said he had spoken to colleagues of Professor Jones who had told him that his strengths included integrity and doggedness but not record-keeping and office tidying.
Mr Harrabin, who conducted the interview for the BBC’s website, said the professor had been collating tens of thousands of pieces of data from around the world to produce a coherent record of temperature change.
That material has been used to produce the ‘hockey stick graph’ which is relatively flat for centuries before rising steeply in recent decades.
According to Mr Harrabin, colleagues of Professor Jones said ‘his office is piled high with paper, fragments from over the years, tens of thousands of pieces of paper, and they suspect what happened was he took in the raw data to a central database and then let the pieces of paper go because he never realised that 20 years later he would be held to account over them’.
Asked by Mr Harrabin about these issues, Professor Jones admitted the lack of organisation in the system had contributed to his reluctance to share data with critics, which he regretted.
But he denied he had cheated over the data or unfairly influenced the scientific process, and said he still believed recent temperature rises were predominantly man-made.
Asked about whether he lost track of data, Professor Jones said: ‘There is some truth in that. We do have a trail of where the weather stations have come from but it’s probably not as good as it should be.
‘There’s a continual updating of the dataset. Keeping track of everything is difficult. Some countries will do lots of checking on their data then issue improved data, so it can be very difficult. We have improved but we have to improve more.’
He also agreed that there had been two periods which experienced similar warming, from 1910 to 1940 and from 1975 to 1998, but said these could be explained by natural phenomena whereas more recent warming could not.
He further admitted that in the last 15 years there had been no ‘statistically significant’ warming, although he argued this was a blip rather than the long-term trend.
And he said that the debate over whether the world could have been even warmer than now during the medieval period, when there is evidence of high temperatures in northern countries, was far from settled.
Sceptics believe there is strong evidence that the world was warmer between about 800 and 1300 AD than now because of evidence of high temperatures in northern countries.
But climate change advocates have dismissed this as false or only applying to the northern part of the world.
Professor Jones departed from this consensus when he said: ‘There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia.
‘For it to be global in extent, the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.
‘Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today, then obviously the late 20th Century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm than today, then the current warmth would be unprecedented.’
Sceptics said this was the first time a senior scientist working with the IPCC had admitted to the possibility that the Medieval Warming Period could have been global, and therefore the world could have been hotter then than now.
Professor Jones criticised those who complained he had not shared his data with them, saying they could always collate their own from publicly available material in the US. And he said the climate had not cooled ‘until recently – and then barely at all. The trend is a warming trend’.
Mr Harrabin told Radio 4’s Today programme that, despite the controversies, there still appeared to be no fundamental flaws in the majority scientific view that climate change was largely man-made.
But Dr Benny Pieser, director of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said Professor Jones’s ‘excuses’ for his failure to share data were hollow as he had shared it with colleagues and ‘mates’.
He said that until all the data was released, sceptics could not test it to see if it supported the conclusions claimed by climate change advocates.
He added that the professor’s concessions over medieval warming were ‘significant’ because they were his first public admission that the science was not settled.