President Obama's climate czar, Carol M. Browner, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs might think that Climate-gate is a nonevent, but on Monday Pennsylvania State University announced that it was launching an investigation into the academic conduct of Michael Mann, the school's Director of the Earth System Science Center. And Tuesday, Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia, announced that he would stand aside as director while his university conducted an investigation.
Dozens of researchers at other institutions could soon face similar investigations. While Dr. Jones has been the center of much of the discussion because the e-mails were obtained from the server at his university, Mann is named in about 270 of the over 1,000 e-mails, many of which detail disturbing and improper academic behavior.
Last week, Mann told USA Today that the controversy over the leaked e-mails was simply a "smear campaign to distract the public from the reality of the problem and the need to confront it head-on in Copenhagen" next week at the climate summit.
Take one of Mann's e-mail exchanges with Jones. In an e-mail entitled "IPCC & FOI" (referring to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Freedom of Information Act) Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, wrote Dr. Mann: "Mike: Can you delete any e-mails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re [the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report]? Keith will do likewise. . . . Can you also e-mail Gene and get him to do the same? I don't have his new e-mail address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise."
Mann acknowledges that he received the e-mail, but he claims that neither he nor anyone else actually deleted any e-mails to hide information from a Freedom of Information Act request on how the U.N.'s IPCC report was written. Yet, his response is quite damning as it seems that he goes along with Dr. Jones. Far from criticizing the request, Dr. Mann wrote back: "I'll contact Gene about this ASAP. His new e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org. talk to you later, Mike."
After the first week of revelations of academic fraud and intellectual wrongdoing, the University of East Anglia denied there was a problem. Professor Trevor Davies, the school's pro vice chancellor for research, issued a statement on Tuesday claiming: "The publication of a selection of the e-mails and data stolen from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has led to some questioning of the climate science research published by CRU and others. There is nothing in the stolen material which indicates that peer-reviewed publications by CRU, and others, on the nature of global warming and related climate change are not of the highest-quality of scientific investigation and interpretation."
The move to investigate the destruction of information requested under the Freedom of Information Act is a big change. In Britain, the destruction of such documents is a criminal offense and the e-mails indicate that Jones had been warned at least once against destroying such information.
On Monday, Mann tried to justify the damaging e-mails by telling the Penn State college newspaper: "Someone being constantly under attack could be what causes them to make a poor decision." On the one hand, he denies that anything improper happened, but he then seems to accept that improper actions did occur. Regarding pressure, possibly, Mann should ask what the academics, who Mann and others involved in Climate-gate tried to prevent them from publishing in academic journals, think about these events. The e-mails discussed above involve the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's controversial assessment report and raise additional questions about what subterfuge might have been involved in its production.
The big question is whether universities have too much at stake, both ideologically and financially, to impartially investigate what has happened with Climate-gate. Given the amount of taxpayer money at stake, Congress should follow Sen. Inofe's suggestion and investigate these charges issues of destroyed documents and data as well as the general unwillingness to share the raw data paid for by taxpayers.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. An economist and former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission, he is also a leading expert on guns. He is the author of several books, including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge? (Regnery Publishing 2013)." Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.