LONDON—There's nothing really new in a second massive cache of e-mails that hackers have released from the University of East Anglia's (UEA's) Climate Research Unit, U.K. scientists at the center of the controversy said today. The university hasn't finished going through the 5000 e-mails, but "nothing so far leads me to believe it raises issues not raised 2 years ago," UEA Vice-Chancellor Edward Acton said at a London press conference. "Different phrases, same issues."
And research unit director Phil Jones said that he was "not embarrassed" by anything so far, but might be as more tidbits of his discussions with colleagues come out.
The new cache of 5000 e-mails (apparently 39,000 pages when printed) was released yesterday as a torrent hosted anonymously on a Russian server and is now available on a searchable database. It's being touted as more smoking gun evidence that UEA's Jones and colleagues working in climate science conspired to cover up data, engineer which papers made it through peer review, and, most damningly, avoid Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. But Jones described the released e-mails as "heavily cherrypicked." And the hackers, still unknown after 2 years of police investigation, aren't quite scraping the bottom of the barrel yet; there are reportedly 220,000 e-mails left in their hoard, and they appear to be promising to release more. They released a first batch in 2009, sparking a furor dubbed "Climategate" that has sparked a number of investigations, all of which have cleared the researchers of wrongdoing.
Crowdsourcing climate bloggers have flagged phrases from the new e-mails that appear to show the scientists massaging data, such as this one:
<2775> Jones: I too don't see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we're choosing the periods to show warming.
Jones, however, says that the conversation refers to color schemes, highlighting trend data dating back from 1901 that had already been published in a previous report.
Other e-mails deal with the more serious issue of Jones telling his colleagues to delete their e-mails in advance of a FOI request. (He has previously been exonerated of wrongdoing in this regard.) One of the most damning:
<2440> Jones: I've been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process.
Asked about that, Jones said someone had told him that IPCC was immune to FOI rules but he now acknowledges that as "wrong" (as in incorrect). He said he was just "sending concerns I had with FOI." He added that outsiders didn't need to see the excruciating detail that goes into writing a multiauthor report, arguing that skeptics of climate science could misuse the back-and-forth. "Why do they need to know who wrote each sentence in each paragraph?" he said. "They're scientific discussions."
Although the various investigations after the 2009 leak cleared Jones and UEA of wrongdoing, Acton admitted that "our knuckles were collectively rapped over FOI." The university has since addressed the recommendations made by multiple inquiries, and turned over data to requesters. But under current U.K. FOI law, "there are no guidelines on info that might be in public interest," he said. Acton said a current working group in Parliament is trying to draw a line between what information in a university employee's e-mail account is considered subject to FOI requests and what is considered personal.
Numerous e-mails in the new batch, particularly from Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, make reference to a "cause:" apparently, persuading the public and policy makers of the reality of global warming. Jones said those weren't from him. "There are those who think there is a cause," he said. "I can see where Mike Mann is coming from. It's not something I agree with him on."
But the rumor mill may be disappointed to learn that e-mails purported to show a deteriorating relationship between Jones and Mann don't. One e-mail, reading "We don't really want the bullshit and optimistic stuff that Michael has written," was actually in reference to another scientist named Michael Schulz, said Jones
Apparently hoping for a silver lining in the latest dump (and the promised future ones), Acton says that he hopes that it will "throw more light on the perpetrator." But he was unable to say what the Norfolk police have come up with so far. The police statement itself simply said that it was "of interest" to their investigation.
In other parts of the world, concerns are rising about the police investigation. "If this happened surrounding nuclear arms talks, we would have the full force of the Western world's intelligence community pursuing the perpetrators. And yet, with the stability of our climate hanging in the balance with these international climate treaty negotiations, these hackers and their supporters are still on the loose. It is time to bring them to justice," U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) said in a statement yesterday. And information obtained by the BBC under a FOI request showed that "over the past 12 months, [police] have spent precisely £5,649.09 on the investigation. … All of that was disbursed back in February; and all but £80.05 went on 'invoices for work in the last six months.' "
In a statement, UEA made its own suspicions clear:
These emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks [the U.N. conference in Durban, South Africa, next week].