Published November 21, 2009
Hackers broke into the servers at a prominent British climate research center and leaked years worth of e-mail messages onto the Web, including one with a reference to a plan to "hide the decline" in temperatures.
The Internet is abuzz about the leaked data from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (commonly called Hadley CRU), which has acknowledged the theft of 61MB of confidential data.
Climate change skeptics describe the leaked data as a "smoking gun," evidence of collusion among climatologists and manipulation of data to support the widely held view that climate change is caused by the actions of mankind. The authors of some of the e-mails, however, accuse the skeptics of taking the messages out of context, adding that the evidence still clearly shows a warming trend.
The files were reportedly released on a Russian file-serve by an anonymous poster calling himself "FOIA."
In an exclusive interview in Investigate magazine's TGIF Edition, Phil Jones, the head of the Hadley CRU, confirmed that the leaked data is real.
"It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago," he told the magazine, noting that the center has yet to contact the police about the data breach.
TGIF Edition asked Jones about the controversial "hide the decline" comment from an e-mail he wrote in 1999: "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."
He told the magazine that there was no intention to mislead, but he had "no idea" what he meant by those words.
"That was an e-mail from ten years ago. Can you remember the exact context of what you wrote ten years ago?" he said.
"Mike" refers to Jones' colleague Michael Mann, who told the New York Times that the "trick" was simply a way of solving a data problem. In this case, the warming trend of the last century was detected in tree-ring samples only until 1960, but it continued in thermometer readings.
Jones' word choice was poor, Mann told the Times, but the calculations were "not something secret."
The Telegraph has posted some of the more scathing excerpts from these emails, which the newspaper suggests points to manipulation of evidence and private doubts about the reality of global warming, though the much of the scientific language in the e-mails is esoteric and hard to interpret.
Others suggest the comments are simply "scientists talking about science." In an interview with Wired, Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, points out that "if you read all of these e-mails, you will be surprised at the integrity of these scientists."
Still, one notable e-mail from the hacked files clearly describes how to squeeze dissenting scientists from the peer review process:
"I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board…What do others think?"