London E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don’t support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The scientists were keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. Sometimes, they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets.
The scientists were so convinced by their own science and so driven by a cause “that unless you’re with them, you’re against them,” said Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also reviewed the communications.
Frankel saw “no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very ‘generous interpretations.”’
The e-mails were stolen from the computer network server of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in southeast England, an influential source of climate science, and were posted online last month. The university shut down the server and contacted the police.
The AP studied all the e-mails for context, with five reporters reading and rereading them — about 1 million words in total.
One of the most disturbing elements suggests an effort to avoid sharing scientific data with critics skeptical of global warming. It is not clear if any data was destroyed; two U.S. researchers denied it.
The e-mails show that several mainstream scientists repeatedly suggested keeping their research materials away from opponents who sought it under American and British public records law. It raises a science ethics question because free access to data is important so others can repeat experiments as part of the scientific method. The University of East Anglia is investigating the blocking of information requests.
“I believe none of us should submit to these ‘requests,”’ declared the university’s Keith Briffa. The center’s chief, Phil Jones, wrote: “Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people, so I will be hiding behind them.”
When one skeptic kept filing FOI requests, Jones, who didn’t return AP requests for comment, told another scientist, Michael Mann: “You can delete this attachment if you want. Keep this quiet also, but this is the person who is putting FOI requests for all e-mails Keith (Briffa) and Tim (Osborn) have written.”
Mann, a researcher at Penn State University, told The Associated Press: “I didn’t delete any e-mails as Phil asked me to. I don’t believe anybody else did.”
‘Normal science politics’
The e-mails also show how professional attacks turned very personal. When former London financial trader Douglas J. Keenan combed through the data used in a 1990 research paper Jones had co-authored, Keenan claimed to have found evidence of fakery by Jones’ co-author. Keenan threatened to have the FBI arrest University at Albany scientist Wei-Chyung Wang for fraud. (A university investigation later cleared him of any wrongdoing.)
As part of the AP review, summaries of the e-mails that raised issues from the potential manipulation of data to intensely personal attacks were sent to seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.
“This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds,” said Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University. “We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here.”