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Climate scientists exonerated in 'climategate' but public trust damaged

The leaked 'climategate' e-mails showed lack of transparency, plus some politicking. But while scientists have been largely cleared of wrongdoing, the impact has shaken climate science.

By Staff writer / July 7, 2010

Sir Muir Russell talks to the media on the review group’s findings at the Royal Institution in London. The inquiry into the scandal at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit found there was no evidence of dishonesty or corruption contained in the more than 1,000 e-mails stolen and posted to the Internet late last year. But Russell did chide the scientists for failing to share their data with critics.

Sang Tan/AP

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Most climate scientists back the theory of man-made global warming. But somewhere along the line – as revealed by last year's "climategate" scandal – some key scientists became cocky and defensive.

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A six-month investigation into the leaked e-mails that formed the "climategate" scandal has largely exonerated key scientists, including Phil Jones, the former – and now reinstated – director of the University of East Anglia's (UEA) Climate Research Unit (CRU). The CRU's key findings have a major impact on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in turn influences climate policy on a global scale, including pending cap-and-trade carbon offset legislation in the US. Critics charged that the "climategate" e-mails proved that researchers were gaming the science to win public support for the idea that countries need to act to correct global warming.

In his report, British civil servant Sir Muir Russell found that the climategate e-mails don't undermine the basic science behind man-made global warming. Nevertheless, the impact of the leaked e-mails has been to push scientists toward the realization that talking about punching climate skeptics and being coy about releasing data hardly build public trust in their work.

"What is the future of climate science and climate policy after the final inquiry into the released e-mails from CRU?" wonders Mike Hulme, a professor of climate change at the UEA, in a statement. "I believe the CRU e-mails have been a game-changer for science – but has done little to alter the policy conundrums raised by climate change."

Insights into an insular world

The e-mails provided insights into what turned out to be an insular world, where one scientist threatened to beat up skeptical colleagues and others seemed to collude against skeptics in the peer review process.

The most damaging e-mail, perhaps, came from Mr. Jones, who wrote in reference to Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann's famous "hockey stick" graph showing increased global warming, " ...I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onward) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

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