Dec. 9, 2009 -- A collection of e-mails, dating back more than a dozen years, is giving climate change skeptics plenty of new fodder -- just as international officials are gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss the issue of climate change.
The e-mails, stolen last month from a top climate research center in Britain and posted on the Internet, are dismissive of naysayers and discuss manipulating information to exaggerate the findings about global warming.
In one, Penn State's Michael Mann suggests hiding certain data from dissenters: "This is the sort of 'dirty laundry' one doesn't want to fall into the [wrong] hands."
In another, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore Labs offers to "beat the crap out of" a leading skeptic.
Skeptics of climate change are outraged.
"There is increasing evidence of scientific fascism going on!" Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., recently told a congressional hearing.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has called for a full congressional investigation.
Not surprisingly, former Vice President Al Gore already has felt the heat from this latest controversy. He was heckled at a recent book signing in Chicago with yells of "Research climategate! This guy's a fraud!" and, "It's a scam!"
The authors of the e-mails insist that a few poorly worded sentences should not be allowed to threaten what so much research has already proven.
"Imagine someone going through all the e-mails you've ever sent looking for a single word or phrase that could be twisted," said Mann, who is credited in one of the most damning e-mails with using a "trick" to "hide the decline" in temperatures.
In yet another e-mail, the head of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Kevin Trenberth, writes a colleague: "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."
"It shows human nature at work," said Trenberth, "but I don't think it casts any aspersion on the science whatsoever."
Climate change is not just a scientific issue. It's part of the political debate, as lawmakers consider unpopular and potentially expensive choices necessary to curb carbon emissions. So political figures are on the defensive too.
"There is nothing in the hacked e-mails that undermines the science on which this is based," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said this week.
U.N. Faces Backlash in Copenhagen
In Copenhagen, where representatives of 200 nations are meeting to address climate change, the United Nations is dealing with the backlash.
"Nothing that has come out in the public as a result of the recent e-mail hackings has cast doubt on the basic scientific message on climate change and that message is quite clear -- that climate change is happening much, much faster than we realized and we human beings are the primary cause," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in a statement Tuesday.
But not everyone is convinced. On opening day of the highly anticipated climate conference, the issue was raised by one nation with a vested interest in preserving the status quo. Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, told delegates that the e-mail scandal had undermined the case for action in the U.S.
Global warming doubters have fought science that proves otherwise for years. But now, with the spotlight on climate change, their message has gained a whole new momentum.