THE CREDIBILITY of scientists studying global climate change has received a severe, unfortunate and preventable blow with revelations of hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia in England.
The university's Climate Research Unit is a leading global warming study center and contributor to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. It blames global warming primarily on human activity, particularly the emission of carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, the e-mails indicate that there was an overly ambitious attempt by CRU scientists to present a unified position on global warming by keeping contrary views out of journals and skewing data to fit their theory.
Some e-mails also discuss ways to "hide the decline" of global temperature over the past decade.
More damaging are CRU's apparent attempts to keep basic climatological data from public view.
One e-mail attributed to Phil Jones, director of the CRU, states "The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K., I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone. . . . We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind."
The "two MMs" are likely Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, two Canadians who sought access to raw data and codes used in compiling climate models.
Adding to East Anglia's woes is its admission that it threw away much of the raw temperature data upon which the CRU's prediction of global warming are based. It is not likely that the admission would have been made without requests for the data under Britain's Freedom of Information law.
The extensive temperature records were compiled from weather stations all over the globe and adjusted to account for variables in the way the data were collected. The CRU kept the "value added" figures, but the original, raw information was dumped to save space, according to the CRU.
Now it is impossible for scientists to study the raw data to determine the accuracy of the adjustments. Minor alterations in the raw data can have major impacts on global warming predictions. After all, the changes in temperatures are measured in a few tenths of a degree over a generation.
Although the integrity of East Anglia's CRU has been damaged, that does not mean its conclusions are wrong, as some right-wing critics claim. But it does diminish one's confidence that the CRU is entirely right about the extent of human-caused global warming.
Jones has stepped aside as director of the CRU while the university conducts an investigation. We hope it is a thorough and honest assessment of exactly how climate scientists have been operating and why they did not save vital raw data.
It seems that what the CRU scientists feared most was the misuse of data by global warming skeptics and deniers, who are also quite capable of skewing data to fit their purposes.
But secrecy and jettisoning data are hardly the right ways to prevent distortions of global warming science. In fact, just the opposite has occurred.
The East Anglia e-mail revelations are being used by many global warming deniers and skeptics to "prove" that there is no global warming or that it is entirely caused by natural climatic cycles. They also are saying scientists studying global climate change are motivated primarily by government grant money and not the facts.
The lesson to be learned is that scientific inquiry must be completely transparent, regardless of what data is found and even if it is misused by those with political or economic agendas.