At issue is Britain's Climatic Research Unit, which has admitted disposing of a substantial amount of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.
The unit is a premier center for reconstructing past climate and temperatures, and its conclusions are heavily instrumental in the policies adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading body for the assessment of climate change.
In response to an inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act, the CRU disclosed in October that the materials were dumped to save space when it moved to a new building in the 1980s, a time when climate change was not as prominent a topic. The data had been gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to account for variables, the Times of London reported. Revised figures were kept, but the originals, which were stored on paper and magnetic tape, were dumped, erasing an accountability trail.
In late November, a computer hacker posted hundreds of e-mails and other data obtained from the CRU, material which skeptics say proves scientists conspired to hide evidence that global warming is not as significant a danger as the IPCC and others contend.
One of the leaked e-mails from Climatic Research Unit director Phil Jones mentions "a trick" to "hide the decline" in a chart showing global temperatures and his request to "delete any e-mails" regarding a specific topic, The Washington Post reported.
Another e-mail, The Post said, suggested that Jones and another respected scientist might boycott an academic journal called Climate Research because it agreed to publish a paper that was skeptical of manmade climate change.
"I will be emailing the journal to tell them I'm having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor," Jones wrote.
After the release of the e-mails, Jones said his words in some cases were taken out of context, he did not delete e-mails and his use of the word 'trick' was meant as "a clever thing to do" rather than a distortion.
News of the scandal comes as leaders of 192 nations prepare to meet Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen to outline a new climate change agreement and as the U.S. Congress and Environmental Protection Agency are taking action to curb global warming based on the ICPP report that uses data produced by the CRU.
"At a minimum, some of these e-mails reveal an undercurrent of elitism that many of us have always claimed existed in the IPCC," Roy Spencer, a former NASA climatologist, wrote in a blog post Nov. 21.
"These scientists look upon us skeptics with scorn. It is well known that the IPCC machine is made up of bureaucrats and scientists who think they know how the world should be run. The language contained in a draft of the latest climate treaty (meant to replace the Kyoto treaty) involves global governance and the most authoritarian means by which people's energy use will be restricted and monitored by the government.
"Even if this language does not survive in the treaty's final form, it illustrates the kind of people we are dealing with," Spencer wrote. "The IPCC folks jet around the world to all kinds of exotic locations for their UN-organized meetings where they eat the finest food. Their gigantic carbon footprints stomp around the planet as they deride poor Brazilian farmers who convert jungle into farmland simply to survive."
E. Calvin Beisner, a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, told Baptist Press that Christians should recognize Climategate is an illustration of the biblical doctrine that all men are sinners.
"What we see in Climategate is many instances of people being less than fully honest with data and with their interactions with other people," Beisner said. "You see people trying to hide their own failures and, having pre-committed to a position, closing their eyes to some evidence while exaggerating -- even sometimes fabricating -- other evidence."
What is particularly alarming about this case, Beisner said, is that "the people who have fabricated or twisted or massaged the data are public servants using public funding and in the process promoting public policies in which trillions of dollars and millions of jobs and the livelihood of billions of people are at stake."
"One good result of Climategate should be to help sweep away the very common idea among many people that scientists are somehow extraordinarily objective and not so vulnerable to the temptations toward bias and prejudice as the rest of the population. They're just like the rest of us," Beisner said.
"What is needed to balance that natural bias that all people have is completely open and free debate in professional circles, in the public media, in schools and in government agencies," Beisner added. "The sad thing about Climategate is that it reveals systematic efforts by some of the world's leading global warming alarmist scientists to prevent that debate and to keep the information that is crucial to well-informed debate from being disseminated."
Spencer explained that interpretation of data seldom is as simple as making measurements and then determining whether the data support hypothesis A or B.
"There are all kinds of subjective decisions that must be made along the way, and the scientist must remain vigilant that he or she is not making those decisions based upon preconceived notions," Spencer wrote. "Data are almost always dirty, with errors of various kinds. Which data will be ignored? Which data will be emphasized? How will the data be processed to tease out the signal we think we see?
"Hopefully, the scientist is more interested in discovering how nature really works, rather than twisting the data to support some other agenda. It took me years to develop the discipline to question every research result I got," Spencer wrote. "It is really easy to be wrong in this business, and very difficult to be right. Skepticism really is at the core of scientific progress. I'm willing to admit that I could be wrong about all my views on manmade global warming. Can the IPCC scientists admit the same thing?"
Because of the magnitude of the uproar over the e-mails and the document dump, the United Nations as well as the University of East Anglia, which houses the CRU, each announced they will conduct investigations into alleged wrongdoing.
The university said it will "determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice and may therefore call into question any of the research outcomes." The university's investigation is expected to be complete by next spring, when it will be made public. Jones, meanwhile, has stepped aside as director while the investigation proceeds.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
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