'Climategate': Scientists, Politicians War Over Hacked E-Mails

Do e-mails show a 'conspiracy' on global warming? Or honest discussion?

ByABC News
December 4, 2009, 4:26 PM

Dec. 4, 2009 — -- Henry Stimson, secretary of war under Franklin D. Roosevelt, famously said, "Gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail."

He would never last in the rough-and-tumble world of climate politics. The heat is still rising over the hacked e-mails from scientists at the University of East Anglia in Britain, in which scientists argue -- at times rudely -- over research on civilization's effect on the world's temperatures.

Political conservatives say the e-mails, in the words of blogger Michelle Malkin, "promise to be the global warming scandal of the century," proving that scientists were trying to exaggerate their findings and quiet their critics.

Liberals say the files only show honest debate among experts, and that the truth remains that human industry is warming the global climate. There are more than 1,000 e-mails, some dating back to 1999, that were taken -- some say stolen -- from the university's computer system and posted widely on the Internet.

Today, the head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K. Pachauri, said the issue was serious and the I.P.C.C. would be looking into it in detail. Phil Jones, head of the climate unit at East Anglia, stepped aside temporarily this week pending an investigation there.

"We will certainly go into the whole lot and then we will take a position on it," Pachauri said in an interview with the BBC. "We certainly don't want to brush anything under the carpet."

The controversy has erupted just as world leaders are converging on Copenhagen for a major summit on what actions to take on climate. President Obama has said he will attend; the White House said today he would be there for the conclusion, in the hope that there will be an international agreement.

Was the appearance of the hacked e-mails conveniently timed to steal attention from the Copenhagen conference? There's no saying, since the hacker or hackers have not been identified, but many of the outed scientists say they are outraged.

"Imagine someone going through all the e-mails you've ever sent, said Michael Mann of Penn State University, "looking for a single word or phrase that could be twisted."