Enviro-hackers leak emails, stoke climate debate
Nov 22, 2009
Computer hackers have broken into a server at a well-respected climate change research centre in Britain.
LONDON - Computer hackers have broken into a server at a well-respected climate change research centre in Britain and posted hundreds of private emails and documents online - stoking debate over whether some scientists have overstated the case for man-made climate change.
The University of East Anglia, in eastern England, said in a statement yesterday that the hackers had entered the server and stolen data at its Climatic Research Unit, a leading global research centre on climate change.
The university said police are investigating the theft of the information, but could not confirm if all the materials posted online are genuine.
More than a decade of correspondence between leading British and US scientists is included in about 1,000 emails and 3,000 documents posted on websites following the security breach last week.
Some climate change sceptics and bloggers claim the information shows scientists have overstated the case for global warming, and allege the documents contain proof that some researchers have attempted to manipulate data.
The furore over the leaked data comes weeks before the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, when 192 nations will seek to reach a binding treaty to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases worldwide.
Many officials - including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - regard the prospects of a pact being sealed at the meeting as bleak.
In one leaked email, the research centre's director, Phil Jones, writes to colleagues about graphs showing climate statistics over the last millennium. He alludes to a technique used by a fellow scientist to "hide the decline" in recent global temperatures.
Some evidence appears to show a halt in a rise of global temperatures from about 1960, but is contradicted by other evidence which appears to show a rise in temperatures is continuing.
Jones wrote that, in compiling new data, he had "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," according to a leaked email, which the author confirmed was genuine.
The scientist's use of the word "trick" has been seized on by sceptics - who say his email offers proof of collusion between scientists to distort evidence to support their assertion that human activity is influencing climate change.
"Words fail me," Stephen McIntyre - a blogger whose climateaudit.org website challenges popular thinking on climate change - wrote on the site following the leak of the messages.
However, Jones denied manipulating evidence and insisted his comment had been taken out of context. "The word 'trick' was used here colloquially, as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward," he said in a statement.
The University of East Anglica said that information published on the internet had been selected deliberately to undermine "the strong consensus that human activity is affecting the world's climate in ways that are potentially dangerous."
"The selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way," the university said in a statement.
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