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Climate scientists exonerated in 'climategate' but public trust damaged

The leaked 'climategate' e-mails showed lack of transparency, plus some politicking. But while scientists have been largely cleared of wrongdoing, the impact has shaken climate science.

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In a report commissioned by UEA, Russell found no fault with the "rigor and honesty" of scientists. But he faulted CRU scientists for not using proper labels on the 1999 graph referenced by Jones. The report concluded the result was misleading, but found it was not deliberate since the research caveats were included in the text next to the graph.

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Failure to release requested data was ultimately not an issue, Russell found, because qualified researchers could easily find global warming data in other places. And while several e-mails revealed at least an intent to subvert the peer review process in order to exclude skeptical research, the report found that CRU scientists did not ultimately undermine the IPCC's peer review process.

Scandal fueled public distrust

But the report found that the scientists' failure to address climate change uncertainties may have fueled public "distrust" of global warming, especially of the man-made kind.

"We do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA," the report said.

The report blames the informality of e-mail as well as the echo chamber of Internet blogs as driving forces of "climategate." While public opinion had steadily moved away from belief in man-made global warming before the leaked CRU emails, that trend has only accelerated. A Yale University survey earlier this year found that the percentage of Americans who say global warming is real declined 14 points, to 57 percent, since 2008.

"The damage done to the credibility of the anthropogenic climate change argument will remain, as much for the tone of those notorious e-mails as for their precise details," writes Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.

But others said Russell's findings vindicate climate scientists.

“We accept the report’s conclusion that we could and should have been more proactively open, not least because – as this exhaustive report makes abundantly clear – we have nothing to hide,” UAE's vice chancellor, Edward Acton, wrote on the university's website.

Related:

'Climategate': leaked emails push scientists toward transparency

Storm continues to swirl around Climategate, as multiple investigations get under way

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