Leaked E-mails Still At Center Of Climate Change Debate


E-mails and files stolen from the prestigious Climate Research Unit out of the University of East Anglia in Britain, and published online ultimately facilitated what is now known as "Climate Gate," leading to an international discussion that questions the very foundation of climate science. And to this day, the supposedly private e-mails remain at the center of the ensuing debate climate change.

The controversy erupted when hackers broke into the e-mail server of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, one of the United Kingdom's premier climate research institutes, on Friday, stealing a 61-MB file that contained 1,079 e-mails and more than 3,800 documents. Hackers then posted the e-mails and documents onto an anonymous FTP server in Russia, as well as a link to the 61-MB file on the blog Air Vent, accompanied by a note that read, "We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection for correspondence, code and documents."

The e-mails did not contain proof that man-made climate change is a fabrication or an outright deception. However, climate change skeptics cited the portions of the posted e-mail messages to reinforce assertions that climate change scientists had suppressed information contradictory to their findings and manipulated data in an effort to garner public support for their conclusions.

Meanwhile, climate change scientists called the breach a deliberate smear campaign due to the fact that the hackers selected words or phrases that took the original messages out of context.

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The scandal created around the published e-mails led to the temporary resignation of CRU Director Phil Jones and provoked a firestorm of criticism around U.S. climate change research funding. It also spurred investigations into CRU research practices, including one by the University of Pennsylvania, which is examining whether the published e-mails, some of which were written by one of the institutions' professors Michael Mann, indicate a trend of fraud or conspiracy.

The hack couldn't have been more well-timed as it occurred in the weeks preceding an international climate change conference in Copenhagen, in which leaders from all over the world were to convene to discuss issues surrounding man-made global warming, among other things.

In light of the success of the "Climate Gate" phenomenon, security experts have suggested that data breaches and cybercrime will increasingly be used to fuel contentious debates and forward hot-button political agendas.