Is ‘Climategate’ Really the Game-Changer Skeptics Say It Is?

Created: November 23, 2009 17:33 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

On Friday, the news broke that hackers had obtained and released thousands of email exchanges between climate scientists at England’s University of East Anglia. Climate change skeptics pounced on the leak, dubbing it “Climategate” and proclaiming that the questionable communications between the scientists proved that global warming was based on cooked data.

“Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?” asked one headline. Another piece called the scandal “one of the greatest in modern science.” Today, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called for an investigation.

So what exactly in these emails is causing such celebration among the deniers? The Daily Telegraph compiled “the most contentious quotes,” and while they’re certainly embarrassing for their authors, they don’t come close to undermining the very basis of climate science. Here are three of the six they list:

From: Michael Mann. To: Phil Jones and Gabi Hegerl (University of Edinburgh). Date: Aug 10, 2004

“Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the [global warming-denying] idiots in the near future.”

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. March 11, 2003

“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome [global warming-denying] editor.”

From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004

“I can’t see either of these [global warming-denying] papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

These emails demonstrate a deep disdain for global warming skepticism that does not befit scientists in objective pursuit of the truth. But disdain is a far cry from intentional falsification, which is what they’re being accused of. These scientists could — and maybe should — suffer consequences for presenting their findings, and those of their colleagues, in a way that jibes with their broader agenda. But that this leak threatens to undermine next month’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen strikes me as more than a bit excessive.