Fiona Harvey UEA emails – scientific panel announced

The independent panel set up to examine the science produced by the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia has been named. The panel was commissioned by the UEA in response to the “climategate” emails scandal, and the Royal Society – the UK’s national science academy – advised on its make-up.

It will be chaired by Lord Oxburgh, a prominent British scientist. The other members will be: Prof Huw Davies, Professor of Physics at the Institute for Atmospheric & Climate Science at ETH Zürich; Prof Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Prof Lisa Graumlich, Director of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at The University of Arizona; Prof David Hand, Professor of Statistics in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College; Prof Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics at the University of Cambridge; and Prof Michael Kelly, Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge.

But if the UEA or the Royal Society thought they would deflect criticism by choosing the former chairman of Shell as its chair, they were wrong.

Lord Oxburgh has impeccable scientific credentials, as a fellow of the Royal Society, and a geologist and geophysicist who has worked in prestigious universities around the world, including Oxford and Cambridge. He is a former rector of Imperial College London, and a former chair of the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology.

He also has a history in the oil industry, having been chairman of Shell from 2004 to 2005 and a non-executive director at the company before that.

But already his appointment has been attacked by climate sceptics, as he has strong business interests in biofuels, is chairman of the wind company Falck Renewables, and a board member of Climate Change Capital, a major investor in carbon credits.

Critics say this is enough to ensure his view of the science is biased, and have called for his removal.

This is the second of two parallel inquiries into the email scandal, both independent but commissioned by the UEA. The other inquiry, led by the former civil servant Sir Muir Russell, is into alleged wrongdoing by the scientists, intended to establish whether they concealed data.

Climate sceptics claimed an important scalp from that inquiry, too, when Phil Campbell, editor-in-chief of the journal Nature, was forced to resign from the panel only hours after taking up his post.

The same bloggers are now aiming for Lord Oxburgh, and even if they do not manage to unseat him, when his committee reports they will undoubtedly claim that the conclusions are invalid.

But then, who would be good enough to head up such an inquiry, in the eyes of the sceptic community? Lord Lawson?