Professor Phil Jones, the scientist at the centre of the "Climategate" leaked email scandal, has told how he considered suicide over the affair.
By Aislinn Laing
07 Feb 2010
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
Phil Jones, the academic at the centre of the climate change data row
Prof Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, said his "David Kelly moment"– a reference to the Government scientist who killed himself over WMD claims in the lead up to the Iraq war – came as death threats poured in from around the world.
Since the scandal broke on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December, he has lost a stone in weight and is on beta-blockers and sleeping pills.
However, the 57-year-old told The Sunday Times that suicide is now out of his mind.
“There were death threats,” he said. “People said I should go and kill myself. They said they knew where I lived. I did think about it, yes. About suicide. I thought about it several times, but I think I’ve got past that stage now.”
He said that his five-year-old granddaughter was instrumental in helping him through.
“I wanted to see her grow up," he said.
Prof Jones has stood aside as head of the CRU while a Norfolk police inquiry investigates thousands of emails and other documents stolen from the university's computer server and published on the internet.
Climate change sceptics point to an email written by one scientist in November 1999 as evidence of manipulation of the figures to mask falling global temperatures.
"I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline," the email said.
In another email, the death of a leading climate change sceptic is described as "cheering news".
They have also been used by climate change sceptics to allege that attempts were made to manipulate data to "prove" the existence of man-made climate change.
Prof Jones said he was knocked sideways by the worldwide outrage that followed the leaking of the emails.
“I am just a scientist. I have no training in PR or dealing with crises," he said.
Although he has received some high-profile support for his work, he is still receiving death threats, with two more arriving last week after the deputy information commissioner delivered his verdict.
He ruled that UEA was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to disclose information, but added that it was unable to prosecute the people involved because the complaint was made too late.
Prof Jones now accepts that he did not treat the FOI requests as seriously as he should have done.
“I regret that I did not deal with them in the right way,” he told The Sunday Times. “In a way, I misjudged the situation.”
But he remains convinced that the unit was maliciously targeted by a deluge of requests – many from abroad and for information which he claims was often already online – specifically designed to disrupt its work.
He said that last year, in July alone, it received 60 FOI requests and, with a staff of just 13 to deal with them, could not deal with them fast enough.
“I think they just wanted to waste our time, they wanted to slow us down," he said.
He admitted that emails he sent which appeared to suggest to colleagues that they delete data so it could not be made public were ill-advised but said they were written out of pure "frustration" at the flood of requests.
“I thought the requests were just distractions. It was taking us away from our day jobs. It was written in anger,” he said.
“I am obviously going to be much more careful about my emails in future. I will write every email as if it is for publication. But I stand 100 per cent behind the science. I did not manipulate or fabricate any data, and I look forward to proving that to the Sir Muir Russell inquiry [the UEA’s independent review into allegations against the unit].”
He intends to continue with his career but said he intends to remain out of the spotlight in future. “I wish people would read my scientific papers rather than my emails," he said.
* It has also emerged that the research institute run by the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has given a series of awards to companies that have provided it with financial support.
The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) has given awards for environmental excellence, corporate social responsibility and handling of Aids to Honda, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, and PepsiCo India, all of which are either major sponsors or have provided funding for environmental projects.
Dr Pachauri has previously denied any conflict of interest between his work for Teri and his role as IPCC chairman, but the funding links will raise further questions at a time when the UN organisation is already under pressure over alleged errors in its reports.