Hackers steal electronic data from top climate research center
Scientists’ e-mails deriding skeptics of warming become public
The Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2009
Hackers broke into the electronic files of one of the world's foremost climate research centers this week and posted an array of e-mails in which prominent scientists engaged in a blunt discussion of global warming research and disparaged climate-change skeptics.
The skeptics have seized upon e-mails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain as evidence that scientific data have been rigged to make it appear as if humans are causing global warming.
The researchers, however, say the e-mails have been taken out of context and merely reflect an honest exchange of ideas.
University officials confirmed the data breach, which involves more than 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents, but said they could not say how many of the stolen items were authentic.
"We are aware that information from a server in one area of the university has been made available on public websites," the statement says. "We are extremely concerned that personal information about individuals may have been compromised. Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm what proportion of this material is genuine."
Michael E. Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said in a telephone interview from Paris that skeptics are "taking these words totally out of context to make something trivial appear nefarious."
In one e-mail from 1999, the center's director, Phil Jones, alludes to one of Mann's articles in the journal Nature and writes, "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."
Mann said the "trick" Jones referred to was placing a chart of proxy temperature records, which ended in 1980, next to a line showing the temperature record collected by instruments from that time onward. "It's hardly anything you would call a trick," Mann said, adding that both charts were differentiated and clearly marked.
But Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said this and other exchanges show researchers have colluded to establish the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change.
"It is clear that some of the 'world's leading climate scientists,' as they are always described, are more dedicated to promoting the alarmist political agenda than in scientific research," said Ebell, whose group is funded in part by energy companies. "Some of the e-mails that I have read are blatant displays of personal pettiness, unethical conniving, and twisting the science to support their political position."
In one e-mail, Ben Santer, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, offered to beat up skeptic Pat Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, out of sympathy for Jones.
Neither Jones nor Santer could be reached for comment.
Hacked E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute
The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2009
Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.
The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views. Drafts of scientific papers and a photo collage that portrays climate skeptics on an ice floe were also among the hacked data, some of which dates back 13 years.
In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”
Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.
Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by the skeptics’ camp and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them.
The evidence pointing to a growing human contribution to global warming is so widely accepted that the hacked material is unlikely to erode the overall argument. However, the documents will undoubtedly raise questions about the quality of research on some specific questions and the actions of some scientists.
In several e-mail exchanges, Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and other scientists discuss gaps in understanding of recent variations in temperature. Skeptic Web sites pointed out one line in particular: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t,” Dr. Trenberth wrote.
The cache of e-mail messages also includes references to journalists, including this reporter, and queries from journalists related to articles they were reporting.
Officials at the University of East Anglia confirmed in a statement on Friday that files had been stolen from a university server and that the police had been brought in to investigate the breach. They added, however, that they could not confirm that all the material circulating on the Internet was authentic.
But several scientists and others contacted by The New York Times confirmed that they were the authors or recipients of specific e-mail messages included in the file. The revelations are bound to inflame the public debate as hundreds of negotiators prepare to negotiate an international climate accord at meetings in Copenhagen next month, and at least one scientist speculated that the timing was not coincidental.
Dr. Trenberth said Friday that he was appalled at the release of the e-mail messages.
But he added that he thought the revelations might backfire against climate skeptics. He said that he thought that the messages showed “the integrity of scientists.” Still, some of the comments might lend themselves to being interpreted as sinister.
In a 1999 e-mail exchange about charts showing climate patterns over the last two millenniums, Phil Jones, a longtime climate researcher at the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, said he had used a “trick” employed by another scientist, Michael Mann, to “hide the decline” in temperatures.
Dr. Mann, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, confirmed in an interview that the e-mail message was real.
He said the choice of words by his colleague was poor but noted that scientists often used the word “trick” to refer to a good way to solve a problem, “and not something secret.”
At issue were sets of data, both employed in two studies. One data set showed long-term temperature effects on tree rings; the other, thermometer readings for the past 100 years.
Through the last century, tree rings and thermometers show a consistent rise in temperature until 1960, when some tree rings, for unknown reasons, no longer show that rise, while the thermometers continue to do so until the present.
Dr. Mann explained that the reliability of the tree-ring data was called into question, so they were no longer used to track temperature fluctuations. But he said dropping the use of the tree rings was never something that was hidden, and had been in the scientific literature for more than a decade. “It sounds incriminating, but when you look at what you’re talking about, there’s nothing there,” Dr. Mann said.
In addition, other independent but indirect measurements of temperature fluctuations in the studies broadly agreed with the thermometer data showing rising temperatures.
Dr. Jones, writing in an e-mail message, declined to be interviewed.
Stephen McIntyre, a blogger who on his Web site, climateaudit.org, has for years been challenging data used to chart climate patterns, and who came in for heated criticism in some e-mail messages, called the revelations “quite breathtaking.”
But several scientists whose names appear in the e-mail messages said they merely revealed that scientists were human, and did nothing to undercut the body of research on global warming. “Science doesn’t work because we’re all nice,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA whose e-mail exchanges with colleagues over a variety of climate studies were in the cache. “Newton may have been an ass, but the theory of gravity still works.”
He said the breach at the University of East Anglia was discovered after hackers who had gained access to the correspondence sought Tuesday to hack into a different server supporting realclimate.org, a blog unrelated to NASA that he runs with several other scientists pressing the case that global warming is true.
The intruders sought to create a mock blog post there and to upload the full batch of files from Britain. That effort was thwarted, Dr. Schmidt said, and scientists immediately notified colleagues at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. The first posts that revealed details from the files appeared Thursday at The Air Vent, a Web site devoted to skeptics’ arguments.
At first, said Dr. Michaels, the climatologist who has faulted some of the science of the global warming consensus, his instinct was to ignore the correspondence as “just the way scientists talk.”
But on Friday, he said that after reading more deeply, he felt that some exchanges reflected an effort to block the release of data for independent review.
He said some messages mused about discrediting him by challenging the veracity of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin by claiming he knew his research was wrong. “This shows these are people willing to bend rules and go after other people’s reputations in very serious ways,” he said.
Spencer R. Weart, a physicist and historian who is charting the course of research on global warming, said the hacked material would serve as “great material for historians.”