Thousands of files recently stolen from the University of East Anglia’s climate-research unit have the world buzzing ahead of December’s summit in Copenhagen. Some have alleged that the documents and e-mails contain evidence of a conspiracy orchestrated by the scientific community to silence those who refute links between climate change and human activity.
But the University of Victoria’s Andrew Weaver, a prominent climatologist, dismissed the entire matter outright and said that it does not change a thing about humanity’s understanding of the environment.
“People don’t like the freaking numbers,” Weaver said from Victoria. “So what they are trying to do is create all sorts of controversy when controversy doesn’t exist.”
One e-mail receiving more attention than any other is a November 1999 message attributed to Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at UEA. Jones wrote: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature [the scientific journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Jones has since denied manipulating any data and said he regrets using “poorly chosen words” written during a moment of frustration.
Weaver maintained that thousands of scientists from around the world are in agreement on climate change, and noted that the UEA researchers are not the only climate scientists under attack.
He claimed to have knowledge of repeated attempts to hack into computers used by Environment Canada’s Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, which has offices in the same building as Weaver’s.
“There are people who don’t like that message and they are trying to undercut that message by selectively targeting individuals,” Weaver said.
Tracy Lacroix-Wilson, a spokesperson for the department, said that it had no evidence of computer attacks and refused to comment further.
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, told the Straight that she wouldn’t be surprised if someone was trying to steal documents from other research centres.
“This is about the biggest, best-funded industry on the planet—the fossil-fuel industry,” May said from Ottawa. “It is fighting for its life and using every dirty trick it can find.”
She argued that the volume of climate science presented in peer-reviewed journals is now "incontrovertible".
On the stolen e-mails, May said: “Someone expressed themselves in ways that are intemperate. But it doesn’t affect the fundamentals of the science nor the very, very rigorous process of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
Ian Rutherford is a meteorologist and the executive director of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. He told the Straight that members of his organization have been “harassed” by individuals associated with groups that deny climate change is related to human activity. “Individual members of CMOS have received ugly phone calls and that kind of thing,” Rutherford said.
He singled out a Calgary-based organization called Friends of Science as being of particular concern. According to Rutherford, the group is largely composed of geologists, many of whom have ties to the petroleum industry.
CMOS is preparing a letter for delivery to Parliament that will urge the federal government to “do something concrete” at Copenhagen, Rutherford said. As this message was being drafted, e-mails debating its contents were leaked to Friends of Science. The result was a wave of critical e-mails from members of that group to CMOS council and staff members.
“If you call that harassment, I guess that’s harassment,” Rutherford said. He went on to take issue with the tactics of groups such as Friends of Science and the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition, which, according to Rutherford, make their arguments in the media.
“They present themselves as climate scientists and climate experts and the public knows no better,” Rutherford said. “The proper place for debate is in the scientific literature and its scientific meetings.”
Friends of Science did not respond to an interview request.
An abbreviated version of this story appeared in print on November 26, 2009.
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.