Five months after its proposed field test was cancelled (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17), the SPICE project has been cleared of conflict of interest charges. Allegations centered on patent applications that were filed by SPICE personnel prior to the project but not disclosed as part of the "sandpit" project origination process. Following cancellation of the field trial, the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a primary funding source for SPICE, conducted an after action review to sort out the mess. EPSRC has now released its findings:
The review has concluded that the sandpit was carried out in accordance with standard EPSRC guidelines and the funding decisions taken at the sandpit were sound. The review noted that, as a result of the patent applications, it was possible for an observer to develop a perception that conflicts of interest could exist but found that there was no evidence to suggest any individual used their position to influence the commitment of public funds for their own benefit.
This is good news, however, the damage is already done. The lesson of this affair is that in a field as high-profile and controversial as geoengineering, perception can be as important as reality. Going forward, it is important for researchers otherwise unaccustomed to intense public scrutiny and strong political cross-currents to keep this in mind.