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                                    SCIENCE AND SOCIETY

                                    Stolen E-mails Turn Up Heat on Climate Change Rhetoric
                                    The theft and unauthorized release last month       data recorded by stations on
                                    of 1000 private e-mail messages from the            land and sea, as analyzed inde-
                                    servers of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at      pendently by g roups at East
                                    the University of East Anglia in the United         Anglia, NASA, and the U.S.
                                    Kingdom has provided a glimpse into the frac-       National Oceanic and Atmo-
                                    tious world of climate science. The public air-     spheric Administration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Downloaded from on December 3, 2009
                                    ing of frank conversations among powerful sci-          Referring to requests for cli-
                                    entists about sensitive topics such as possible     mate data from critics, CRU Direc-
                                    holes in their data and the use of contrarian       tor Phil Jones wrote in 2005 that “I
                                    papers in major reports comes at a pivotal time     think I’ll delete the file rather than
                                    for climate science, just days before a meeting     send to anyone.” In May 2009,
                                    of world leaders in Copenhagen.                     Jones told Michael Mann of Penn-
                                        The messages—whether hacked or                  sylvania State University, Univer-
                                    released by a disgruntled insider—have              sity Park, to “delete any emails” to Ever upward? One pilfered e-mail described how climate scien-
                                    raised thorny questions about the proper            a colleague about their work on the tists decided to graft measured temperatures after 1960 onto ear-
                                    behavior of researchers who feel under siege        Intergovernmental Panel on Cli- lier data from proxies to “hide” a decline in the proxy data.
                                    for their science. How willing should they be       mate Change (IPCC) report and to
                                    to share their raw data with their staunchest       ask a third colleague to do the same. (Mann was actually bemoaning something else. “The
                                    critics? “It’s very difficult to admit that your    says he conveyed the message but deleted no observing system we have is inadequate for
                                    data are not as strong as you wish it were,         messages himself.) Through a spokesperson, tracking energy flow through the climate sys-
                                    especially if you know that will be used            Jones declined an interview request. But in a tem,” he observed, affecting the forecasting of
                                    against you,” says Nicholas Steneck, an             statement he said that “no record” has been year-to-year climate changes.
                                    expert on research integrity at the University      deleted amid a bombardment of “Freedom of              A fourth message, about assembling a dia-
                                    of Michigan, Ann Arbor. And yet the “circle         Information requests.” CRU acknowledged in gram for a 1999 World Meteorological Organi-
                                    the wagons” mentality conveyed in num-              August that it deleted old data on digital tapes zation report, has been misinterpreted, says
                                                                  erous messages        to make space for a move.                          Trenberth (see graphic). Scientists believe
                                                                  could inflict last-       A second message relates to a chapter in the proxy data such as tree rings are valuable for
                                                                  ing “damage to        2007 IPCC report that Jones edited. In 2004, he reconstructing past climates, but certain tree-
                                                                  the public credi-     suggested that two recent papers on tempera- ring data became unreliable midway through
                                                                  bility of climate     ture trends didn’t deserve to be published in a the century. So scientists used proxy data for all
                                                                  research,” warns      peer-reviewed journal. “I can’t see either of but the final 40 years of the millennium before
                                                                  climate scientist     these papers being in the next IPCC report,” he switching to instrumental data in 1961. “Rea-
                                                                  Judith Curry of       wrote Mann. “Kevin [Trenberth] and I will sonable people,” writes Stephen McIntyre, a
                                                                  the Georgia Insti-    keep them out somehow - even if we have to retired industry consultant and prominent blog-
                                                                  tute of Technol-      redefine what the peer-review literature is.” But ger, might conclude that the decision not to
                                                                  ogy in Atlanta.       Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmo- show the divergence of the two data sets was
                                                                      But openness      spheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says “simply a trick” to avoid giving fuel to skeptics.
                                     In limbo. CRU’s Jones has just leads to twist-     the papers were indeed considered. Thomas              Whatever their meaning, the messages have
                                     stepped down as director ed interpretations,       Karl, director of the National Climatic Data emboldened opponents. Some are calling for
                                     while a review is under way. says NASA climate     Center in Asheville, North Carolina, an official congressional hearings and, possibly, lawsuits.
                                                                  researcher Gavin      reviewer for the chapter, says the IPCC’s peer- Penn State says that it is “looking into” the mat-
                                    Schmidt. “You can’t have a spelling mistake         review procedures “were sacrosanct.” Both ter, and the University of East Anglia has
                                    in a paper without it being evidence on the         papers wound up being cited.                       announced an investigation into the theft and

                                    floor of the Senate that the system is cor-             A third message is viewed by critics as an contents of the e-mails.
                                    rupt,” says Schmidt.                                acknowledgement that global warming has                Scientists know they will need every bit of
                                        Four e-mail exchanges have received most        ceased. “The fact is that we can’t account for credibility to defend their findings from future
                                    of the media attention. The first regards a         the lack of warming at the moment and it is a attacks. But Curry suggests that it would be bet-
                                    research finding considered by most scientists      travesty that we can’t,” wrote Trenberth in ter to bring the skeptics into the fold than to
                                    as a canonical fact: that the globe warmed by       October. Contrarians have noted the lack of keep them out. That way, she says, the critics
                                    roughly 0.7°C in the 20th century. That fact        record new highs in global temperature since will “quickly run out of steam and become
                                    derives in large part from global temperature       1998 (Science, 2 October, p. 28). But Trenberth irrelevant.”                           –ELI KINTISCH

                                                                         SCIENCE       VOL 326      4 DECEMBER 2009                                                 1329
                                                                                                        Published by AAAS

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