One of the most troubling aspects of the scientific inquiry into the Climatic Research Unit was the appointment of Lord Oxburgh as chairman. Oxburgh's many links to the renewables industry and to green campaigning organisations (disclosed or otherwise) are now common knowledge among followers of the climate debate.
How Oxburgh came to be chairman of the panel is an interesting question that has been bothering me since his appointment was announced. It was clear from newspaper reports that Oxburgh recognised that he had a conflict of interest, but he was apparently prevailed upon to take up the position regardless. As Ben Webster reported at the time, there was no doubt in Oxburgh's mind that his independence would be questioned.
Lord Oxburgh says he told the university, when it approached him, that people might question his independence.
“I said undoubtedly people will point at this and their answer was, after they consulted, that I was the best person to do it.”
Having been looking into this question for a few weeks, I am now able to reveal who it was that suggested Oxburgh as panel chairman. The answer comes in the response to an FoI request I made to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It reveals that Oxburgh's name was put forward by John Beddington, the government's chief scientist.
The appointment process and selection conducted by UEA was informed by advice from the Royal Society, to ensure appropriate rigour, expertise and objectivity. As part of proper practice, in putting together a high quality panel the UEA leadership also took soundings on potential members, including candidates for the role of chair, from senior figures in the scientific community.
As the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Beddington was one of those consulted. Professor Beddington offered two names of possible candidates to lead the Review, one of which was Lord Oxburgh.
I note in passing that Oxburgh and Beddington used to be colleagues at Imperial College, London, although I don't think this this signifies anything more than some "old school tie" networking. It does all become rather amusing when one considers the other name proposed by Professor Beddington:
He also proposed the inclusion of Prof David Hands [sic], President of the Royal Statistical Society, as someone well qualified to contribute
And where does Professor Hand work? Yup, Imperial.
But this is by the by. Here's something more interesting. It looks as if Professor Beddington may also have been responsible for overcoming Oxburgh's concerns at his conflict of interest - there is at least a hint that this may have been the case later on in the response:
In addition, at UEA's subsequent request, Prof Beddington provided his good offices to encourage these candidates to give positive consideration to an approach by UEA.
(Minor update:12/6/10 to remove a spurious "Sir" from JB. He wasn't knighted at the time.)
Steve M has more.