Changing Planet

The weird incident of ‘climategate’

By Daniel Grossman

Hundreds of climate negotiators have flown home. Thousands of police officers have put away riot gear and returned to routine patrols. Copenhagen’s only and newly-acquired water cannon is no longer on alert. The Copenhagen Conference is over. And, around the world, exhausted scientists, activists, diplomats and members of the press, among others, ponder: what happened and why? It’s hard to find anyone among those who wanted Copenhagen to produce a tough new agreement is happy. Thomas Lovejoy–formerly the president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and Biological Diversity; and, before that, the chief biodiversity adviser to the World Bank–summed it up: “You have to look at it as modest progress at best.”

One of the strangest subplots of the conference has been nicknamed–most likely by those who want to inflate its importance–”climategate.” For those who have not heard of this kerfuffle: hundreds of emails between some of the world’s leading climate scientists were “hacked”–copied off a server at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom–and publicly posted on the Web. Most of the emails show nothing more than scientists discussing mundane technical details of research. Others show scientists displaying the unremarkable, human side of people who are all-too-often portrayed as models of dispassion. Some messages, however, portray researchers with their pocket protectors down, attempting to manipulate the peer-review process that scientists consider the underpinning of the scientific enterprise. When asked about the emails, some scientists privately acknowledge that the first thing they did when they heard about the leak was to download the set to see if it contains correspondence of theirs. Climate researchers not implicated by the emails say some messages seem to show researchers engaging in unseemly behavior; attempting to exclude findings that appeared to contradict a simple message about a warming world. That’s “very dangerous,” says Jørgen Peder Steffensen, an ice core researcher at the University of Copenhagen, who says skepticism and doubt are the foundation of scientific research. He says behavior like that uncovered in the emails is, “compromising the nature of science.”

Neither Steffensen nor other leading scientists untainted by the scandal say the stolen emails reveal anything that raises fundamental questions about the facts of global warming: that Earth’s temperature has gone up by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century and that humans are largely responsible. Such scientists say these conclusions, outlined in four comprehensive, multivolume reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–and supported by thousands of scientific studies–are as defensible as ever. Nonetheless, scientists and negotiators at Copenhagen were put on the defensive by people who claim the emails call into question nearly everything the IPCC has done. The negotiator from Saudi Arabia–a country ever hostile to global action in response to warming–called for an investigation into whether the scientific basis for cutting back carbon dioxide emissions was invalidated. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, was grilled about the emails by journalists. “If your credibility is under questions, why don’t you ask for an investigation?,” asked one journalist in a crowd mobbing the Indian scientist. “Our credibility is not in questions,” insisted the harried official, as he strode toward his temporary office at the conference. He added, “We are totally confident in the system under which we produce our reports.”


Daniel Grossman records the press questioning Rajendra Kumar Pachauri. Photo by Gary Braasch.

Some scientists speculate darkly about the timing of the release of the emails–two weeks before the conference. “It looks like a planned attack to bring the IPCC process into doubt,” said Steffensen, the Danish ice-core researcher. Stephen Schneider, a Stanford Professor of climate research and a lead author of the most recent IPCC report, says even the nickname sometimes appended to the scandal–”climategate”–twists the facts. He notes that the “gate” part refers to Watergate, where Republican operatives stole Democratic Party documents. In that scandal, the operatives, not the aggrieved Democrats, got in trouble. With the climate emails, the opposite is true: attention seems focused on the documents and their owners, not the theft and who the thieves might be. Schneider has come up with his own nickname: “climate-denier-gate.” (Schneider’s own name is in some of the hacked emails, though there doesn’t appear to be anything in the contents for him to regret.)

The news is not all bad. Some people are pleased with the contents of the hacked emails and the controversy they have engendered. Patrick Michaels, for example. A senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for a free market, and the former state climatologist for Virginia, Michael has devoted much of his career denying the results of the IPCC and opposing international action to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He wrote in a December 17, 2009, Wall Street Journal op-ed that the hacked emails “have dramatically weakened the case for emissions reductions.” In a small way, the weak nature of the Copenhagen Accord produced by the conference may have borne out Michaels’ prediction.


Daniel Grossman has been a print journalist and radio and web producer for 20 years. He has reported from all seven continents including from within 800 miles of both the south and north poles. He has produced radio stories and documentaries on science and the environment for National Public Radio’s show Weekend Edition; Public Radio International’s show on the environment Living on Earth and news magazine, The World and many other international broadcasters. Among others, he has written for the New York Times, The Boston Globe, Discover, Audubon and Scientific American.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • NEIL

    Why do you cal Rajendra Kumar Pachauri an Indian scientist? He is a railroad engineer with extensive financial interests in Carbon Cap Trading. This enormously complicates the issue.
    Without denying that the temperature has risen within historic norms, the link to the human production of carbon dioxide is a completely separate issue.
    Did Vikings farm on Greenland or did they not?
    If the were able to again farm Greenland would that be necessarily bad?
    Has it been established that warming is bad for the ecology.

  • David H

    I was pleased to see that National Geographic acknowledged the existence of climategate even though this article substantially underplayed the importance of the leaked emails.
    For the record, I am a scientist and while I don’t classify myself as a paleoclimatologist, I have done research and published in that field.
    What the general public does not realise is that there has never been a debate about whether AGW is happening and whether there is a link between CO2 and perceived global warming. The whole concept of AGW was hijacked early on by the alarmists, the mainstream media and the politicians and scientists with contrary views found it very hard to (a) get their findings published and (b) get research grants. Climategate has totally changed that. Any paleoclimatologist worth his salt will tell you that it is impossible to tell whether the current state of the world’s climate is human induced or natural. There are fundamental assumptions that have been made by the alarmists that they refuse to debate.
    If you have been following the millions of internet articles on climategate (as I have), you will realise that there is a tremendous groundswell of opinion by scientists like myself who just simply want the truth. Nothing infuriates us more than comments like “the science is settled” when it patently is not.
    I have been a member of National Geographic now for 35 years. Once my current subscription ends, I will not be renewing it. The Society has changed and I no longer find the magazine informative. More often than not articles in it tend to push causes rather than report facts.

  • Steven Douglas

    Let’s reason together, shall we? With a modicum of reason, logic and common sense, some things will just debunk themselves. This is one of them.
    “…the facts of global warming: that Earth’s temperature has gone up by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century and that humans are largely responsible.”
    A dissection of that three-tiered assertion:
    1) Earth’s temperature has gone up by about 1 degree Fahrenheit…
    TRUE, or at least STIPULATED
    2) …in the last century…
    3)…and that humans are largely responsible.
    FALSE – on its face.
    A simple qualifier injected into the entire statement, with facts that are not in controversy, illustrates clearly why number 3 is patently FALSE.
    Here’s the statement, but rewritten to interject the missing qualifier (for the critically thinking challenged of the world):
    “…the facts of global warming: that Earth’s temperature has gone up by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century…”
    INTERJECT: “…warming in the period leading up to about 1970 of which (according to the IPCC) could NOT be attributed to human activity, which means that virtually ALL observed warming prior to 1970 can ONLY be attributed to natural climate variability or other, non-anthropogenic, causes.
    Furthermore, NONE of the pre-1970 climate dynamics simply ceased to function after 1970, which means that all claims “…that humans are largely responsible.” for post-1970 climate change are dubious at best.

  • Eric C

    Climategate – more of the same peer review infighting. T.H. Huxley would feel right at home.
    March 5, 1852
    [To Mrs. Elizabeth Scott]
    I told you I was very busy, and I must tell you what I am about and you will believe me. I have just finished a Memoir for the Royal Society [“On the Morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca”], which has taken me a world of time, thought, and reading, and is, perhaps, the best thing I have done yet. It will not be read till May, and I do not know whether they will print it or not afterwards; that will require care and a little manœuvering on my part. You have no notion of the intrigues that go on in this blessed world of science. Science is, I fear, no purer than any other region of human activity; though it should be. Merit alone is very little good; it must be backed by tact and knowledge of the world to do very much.
    For instance, I know that the paper I have just sent in is very original and of some importance, and I am equally sure that if it is referred to the judgment of my “particular friend” [Owen] that it will not be published. He won’t be able to say a world against it, but he will pooh-pooh it to a dead certainty.
    You will ask with some wonderment, Why? Because for the last twenty years [Owen] has been regarded as the great authority on these matters, and has had no one to tread on his heels, until at last, I think, he has come to look upon the Natural World as his special preserve, and “no poachers allowed.” So I must manœuvre a little to get my poor memoir kept out of his hands.
    The necessity for these little strategems utterly disgusts me. I would so willingly reverence and trust any man of high standing and ability. I am so utterly unable to comprehend this petty greediness. And yet withal you will smile at my perversity. I have a certain pleasure in overcoming these obstacles, and fighting these folks with their own weapons. I do so long to be able to trust men implicitly. I have such a horror of all this literary pettifogging. I could be so content myself, if the necessity of making a position would allow it, to work on anonymously, but [Owen] I see is determined not to let either me or any one else rise if he can help it. Let him beware. On my own subjects I am his master, and am quite ready to fight half a dozen dragons. And although he has a bitter pen, I flatter myself that on occasions I can match him in that department also.
    But I was telling you how busy I am. I am getting a memoir ready for the Zoological Society, and working at my lecture for the Royal Institution, which I want to make striking and original, as it is a good opportunity, besides doing a translation now and then for one of the Journals. Besides this, I am working at the British Museum to make a catalogue of some creatures there. All these things take a world of time and labour; and yield next to no direct profit; but they bring me into contact with all sorts of men, in a very independent position, and I am told, and indeed hope, that something must arise from it. So fair a prospect opens out before me if I can only wait. I am beginning to know what work means, and see how much mroe may be done by steady, unceasing, and well-directed efforts. I thrive upon it too. I am as well as ever I was in my life, and the more I work the better my temper seems to be.

  • mpaul

    What the emails show is that some climate scientist were willing to commit felonies (obstruction of FOIA) in order to avoid disclosing how they adjust the raw station data. Jones is shown direction other to destroy emails that were part of an active FOIA. Jones talks about destroying the raw station data — arguably, the world’s most valuable data — so as not to have to produce it under FOIA. It requires an extraordinary suspension of curiosity for a journalist not to ask a very simple question: why?
    Daniel, try to reconnect with the curious young man that you were in journalism school. Before you go to bed tonight, ask yourself this one simple question — why?

  • RealTH

    The following is from an IPCC lead author and aLthough it doesn’t deal with climategate directly, the post (source noted in it) rightly concludes (and climate gate certaily suggests) that the IPCC is too tainted to continue. What is needed is a truly independent body to evaluate all data that hasn;t been lost, homogenized or value added, and the models used.
    The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be dismissed as an authority on global warming, according to a scientist associated with the IPCC.
    In an article that appeared on South Africa’s BusinessDay Web site, Dr. Philip Lloyd, who has been a coordinating lead author for the IPCC, writes about the “flaws behind the whole process” of the IPCC.
    The IPCC “claims that it has thousands of scientists and almost as many reviewers of the scientists’ work to produce their reports,” noted Lloyd, an honorary research fellow at the Energy Research Center at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
    However, Lloyd says the reviewers of IPCC reports have been neither independent nor anonymous, as they should be. In Lloyd’s experience there has been no review “in the accepted sense of the word — there was no independence of review, and the reviewers were anything but anonymous. The result is not scientific.”
    Another problem cited by Lloyd is that the IPCC issues a Summary for Policy Makers four months or more before a scientific report is published.
    Lloyd concludes: “It isn’t necessary to list all the changes I have identified between what the scientists actually said and what the policymakers who wrote the Summary for Policy Makers said they said. The process is so flawed that the result is tantamount to fraud. As an authority, the IPCC should be consigned to the scrapheap without delay.”
    Lloyd’s article makes no mention of the so-called climategate scandal, which has called into question the validity of some of the IPCC’s science supporting man-made global warming.
    In a related note, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, following the eruption of the climategate controversy, acknowledged that the science supporting man-made global warming may not be “as certain as its proponents allege.”
    But The Telegraph in Britain reported that Blair believes the world should take action on climate change “even if the science is not correct.”

  • Eric C

    WHY? Because the more things change the more they stay the same:
    “Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet – and this is its horror! – it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.”
    Amos Elon in the introduction to Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
    WHY? Thoughtless is the word that comes to mind.

  • globalwarminghoax

    Please be clear that Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, is not a scientist. This man only cares about TERI, a company he is director-general and is a partner of privately-owned Chicago Climate Exchange, this is the scam behind the global warming hoax. It is a hoax because it has not be proven. There are thousands upon thousands of honest scientists disagree with IPCC findings.
    Cop 15 is an attempt to push Cap and Trade bill through the Senate so that Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Gore and the rest of his cronies can profit from this scam.

  • Dougetit

    Because CRU/NASA/NOAA/NCDC use ground/sea based thermometer data is more susceptible to scientists prostituting data and conclusions for fame, fortune or funding in the field of a politicalized inexact science, (as we are finding out through climategate), even putting aside simple errors, (i.e. placement, under or over reporting stations, environment changes etc.), that can occur. Because of these factors, this data should be considered low resolution. Because a higher resolution source exist, I believe that there is no need for these datasets at all, at least not as a primary source. These potentially falsified/manipulated datasets are tantamount to influence scientific research or conclusion, pro or con.
    High resolution satellite data is balloon checked regularly to be within 3 one hundredths (3/100) of a degree accuracy. So why the need for ground/sea thermometer data?
    If you were to linear straight line (with the function f(x) = a*x+b, where a and b are constants calculated so the line is the best fit to the point series. The trendline is calculated so the sum of squares (SSQ) S(yi-f(xi))^2), plot all of the thermometer datasets from January 1998 to November 2009, you would find an UPWARD warming trend.
    If you were to plot, (same as above), the satellite dataset, you would find that temperatures have trended DOWN with a DIFFERENCE from ground based data of about .33 C per decade. So why would you trust thermometer over the more accurate satellite based data?
    This “more than a decade” cooling trend is eluded to in the EMAIL Oct. 12, 2009. From Kevin Trenberth to Michael Mann and colleagues. “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t,”…. Here, it looks like Trenberth is expressing concern that none of their (21+) models had, or could, predict this.
    My point is that, in the absence of thermometer data, we would be left with only satellite data and the term “AGW” would likely not exist. This could have saved us billions of dollars on duplicate/wasted temperature data collection of which could have been better spent on real environmental issues.

  • David44

    David H.
    From one David H. to another, I agree wholeheartedly. I too am a scientist, but biological not physical. Historians of science will study this shameful episode for decades and future teachers will hold it up as an example of how not to do science and how not to let science be corrupted by politics. It is also an example of how eager the public is to uncritically believe in catastrophe predictions, and how eager the media is to promote them. It’s what (used to) sell newspapers and now sells cable news. Speaking of, I suspect there is a correlation between the falling revenue of our national newspapers of record and the failure of investigative journalism to ferret out these charlatans. Instead of Woodward and Bernstein, we’ve had Monbiot and Revkin cheer-leading for “political scientists”. However, it is the primary scientific journals, editors, and warmist-packed editorial boards, and leaderships of the professional societies which have been most culpable in failing to exercise due diligence and yes, skepticism.

  • Tucci78

    In truth, the endless Watermelon (“Green on the outside, Red to the core”) focus upon the criminality of the alleged hacking has gotten threadbare and ridiculous from the moment it was groped at to hand-wave away the viciousness of the AGW fraud.
    First, the e-mails in the “” archive released on 18 November are a minor portion of the whole information package. They are focused upon by the chattering root-weevils of journalism because these J-school clowns have precisely zero grounding in the sciences.
    The meat of Climategate is found in the data files and in the climate modeling software code, which is where the educated observer finds evidence of blatant tampering and hideous prevarication on the part of the CRU e-mail correspondents.
    Second, for the idiot notion that the “” archive was the work of an outside hacker, we have only the frantic squeals of the same CRU officers and RealClimate blog proprietors who are – surprise! – implicated in the AGW fraud by those Climategate files.
    Notice that the e-mails included in the archive have been conscientiously redacted to remove e-mail addresses, and that there is nothing there of personal chit-chat or the sorts of other unprofessional communications for which people improperly use their business e-mail accounts.
    An outside hacker is going to do this? Nah. Somebody on the inside – a whistlblower – put this together. He even named it for the UK Freedom of Information Act which Prof. Jones and his buddies were criminally conspiring to violate.
    Finally, “Climategate” is not the term for a hacking incident but rather the Nixonian conspiracy into which Prof. Jones and Dr. Mann and Dr. Trenberth and the rest of their scum-sucking “Hockey Team” had entered to peddle (for millions of bucks, pounds, and euros in grants, speaking fees, book royalties, etc.) the flaming bushwah of their “global warming” alarm.
    Plenty of reason for the “-gate” suffix, and that’s how it’s going down in history, damage control by Mr. Grossman and his fellow peddlers of “the Big Lie” notwithstnding.

  • JSavage

    MMGW developments have been proceeding in accordance with the agenda conceived of by the ‘Club of Rome’ (premier think-tank to the UN) way back in the seventies as admitted to in their own book ‘The First Global Revolution’ 1991 (p75):-
    “The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be
    overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself.”
    Al Gore and Maurice Strong either are or at least have been members of this think tank.
    Download a free pdf of the book and check for yourselves:

  • Loch Gorman

    I am not a scientist and this is my 1st time to comment on a Nat Geo blog.
    I was a committed follower of the global warming cause until 3 months ago, when I heard a debate on a local radio staion between to scientists. Prior to the debate I was naturally plugging for the AGW proponent and automatically thought of the skeptic as one with an agenda paid for by big oil. As someone who is involved in politics I was paying close attention to this subject which influences policies at all levels.
    To my utter amazment the skeptic provided several interesting facts and followed with logical argument, but the proponent stayed clear of the scientific debate instead preferring to constantly repeat ‘the science is settled’ and regularly insult his opponent.
    It left me shocked and I immediately started to do my own research in the hope that my original feeling on the subject could be substantiated.
    What I found however has shattered my belief in AGW and has left me disgusted with how main stream media, politicians, and some so called scientists are dealing with the issue.
    I am still and always will be a committed environmentalist, but I am only interested in the truth. My fear is the environmentalist movement has turned it’s back on the truth and when this debate tips over they will find it very difficult in convincing people to support worthy causes.
    Be careful Mr. Grossman, because your credibility as a seeker for the truth is on trial and the publics sentence may be severe.

  • gallopingcamel

    The title looked promising but it turned out that Grossman swallowed the IPCC story hook line and sinker. The Climategate emails go to the heart of the fraudulent “science” underpinning the IPCC’s recommendations.
    Judging from the comments, National Geographic’s readership is not so gullible.

  • jeffsmathers

    I will firmly agree to argue in defense of many of the environmentalists and ecological conservationists, as they are willing to be ‘conservative’ in usage and application of our non-renewable resources. This makes great sense in all manner of behavior.
    My issues are those which apply ‘scientific’ facades to promote a concept so that governments or ‘groups’ of persons with ideological goals may manipulate another group. This is of course, the same as any religious group applying an ideological pressure on another group as to motivate their behavior in a certain moral direction. And even more reprehensible is the modification of data to make the ‘agenda’ more palatable and believable to those who are not scientists.
    This reminds me of the ‘fudged’ experiments that MIT responded with to the anomalous effects of the ‘Cold Fusion’ debacle. The unknown effect was there and evident, however there were those at MIT that didn’t want to pursue it and thus altered their testing data and results to make the results fit their expectations. f one could reconcile truth as a tool for behavior modification then perhaps, we could construct a conditional response to millions of people to behave in a desired way to promote an agenda that is morally ‘good’ for the earth.
    If by an ethical standard we could say that our present human behavior is not conducive to long term benefits based on consumption and waste I would heartily agree. Idealized ratios of : Energy in and Crap out, are always in need of optimized systems. Some companies , people and groups in general are always seeking this as a goal, either as a quotient of energy, product, yields, money or happiness.
    Human behavior unfortunately is a poor scale for balanced objectivity and metrics. And, the larger the population, the larger the span for diametric opposition to logic and the shorter the fuse to become satisfied with anything. Hence, the resolve to want the truth becomes a need for an answer, which is not the same.
    If you want to argue that an idea or goal has benefit and or merit then by all means let’s discuss the issues and show the logic of a decision to change a goal or outcome. But, let’s act upon the virtue of the ‘merit of truth’ and not the rectification of an answer. Sometimes the answer is not immediately available based on a limited set of facts and at times it may be important to make decisions without all the facts as a first ‘best guess’.
    This perhaps is the case in the ‘Global Warming’ issue. This is evident among the ‘believers and non-believers’ on any platform of contention.
    Working in engineering and science I will wholeheartedly resist the many that are on this populist train of believers that continue to cherry pick evidence of Global Warming (aka Climate Change). Even with this latest verified evidence of collusion and fraud in our CRU faction of data collection at East Anglia University’s , there is an unscientific trend once again to deny that evidence that ‘they don’t want to believe in’ …… The church of what ?

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