ShareThis Page

PSU professor feels fallout of e-mails

| Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

Answering critics questioning the integrity of his research he says shows planetary temperatures are rising, Penn State University's Michael Mann said Wednesday he never manipulated data.

"Any attempt to accuse me of this is false and a deliberate smear," said Mann, a meteorology professor and director of the university's Earth System Science Center. He was a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize -- with several hundred scientists -- for work on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Critics last month began attacking Mann for e-mails he received and wrote during at least a 10-year period with Phil Jones, former director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England. Penn State officials began an inquiry into the allegations, said Lisa Powers, a school spokeswoman, but she would not say whether university officials are investigating the integrity of Mann's research.

Global-warming skeptics charge the e-mails show climate-change scientists falsified data, colluded to control scientific information the public sees, and restricted skeptical researchers from publishing in peer-review journals.

"Mann has been dogged for years about his scientific work. (This) exposes his glaring weaknesses as a scientist," said Marc Morano, executive editor of Climate Depot, a Web site published in Washington. "Mann should face the full academic fallout resulting from his failings. This scandal lays bare the corruption of science that has been going on for decades since the U.N. IPCC got involved."

Many scientists dismiss the skeptics. They say the language used in some of the e-mails was unfortunate; in one, Mann referred to global-warming critics as "idiots."

But with three centers using various methodologies to measure temperature, each concluding the Earth's temperature is rising, those scientists claim the evidence supporting global warming is overwhelming.

"All three centers found the same trends," said Brenda Ekwurzel, a federal climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. The centers are based at East Anglia, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., Ekwurzel said.

"The e-mails have no impact on our understanding that our globe is warming due to trapped emissions caused by human activity," said Ekwurzel, who grew up in Allison Park and Squirrel Hill. "Sea levels are rising, and oceans are warming up. The ice sheets in Greenland are melting. And the snowcaps on Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Fuji are melting."

Scrutiny welcomed

Mann said Penn State officials are asking questions about the ethical standards of his past and present work -- and he's glad.

"They're doing exactly what I would do," Mann said. "I'm cooperating with them. It's important that I have the opportunity to defend myself and to clear my name."

Jones resigned from his East Anglia position Tuesday after enduring more than a week of international criticism for writing e-mails that included instructions to Mann and others to delete certain electronic messages.

East Anglia officials are reviewing the situation, according to a statement on the school's Web site. Jones is not available for interviews, university spokesman Simon Dunford said in e-mail.

Arguing definitions

The firestorm erupted Nov. 20, when someone hacked into East Anglia computers and published hundreds of e-mails online.

Among the most explosive was one Jones wrote Nov. 16, 1999, to five colleagues, including Mann. It referred to some of Mann's research: "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."

Another is one Jones wrote to Mann on May 29, 2008: "Mike, Can you delete any e-mails you may have had with Keith re: AR4?"

Those messages "show how tortured some of them have been, trying to force the science and make it be what they want it to be," said Joe D'Aleo, a New Hampshire-based meteorologist who was The Weather Channel's first director of meteorology and worked there from 1981-88.

D'Aleo runs the Web site for the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project, a nonprofit organization that attributes climate change to human and natural causes.

Mann and Ekwurzel insist the word "trick" in the first e-mail did not mean "to fool." Instead, the word was used in a context meaning "approach."

Mann said "hide the decline" did not mean concealing data. Instead, it referred to not using data from tree rings that paleoclimatologists Mann works with know to be an inaccurate measure of temperatures, Mann said.

Peer pressure

Mann said he did not delete e-mails and regrets that he did not reply to Jones with an e-mail telling him that was an inappropriate request.

"It put us in an awkward position," Mann said. Instead, Mann forwarded that e-mail to a colleague to alert him to what Jones wanted the scientists to do.

Still, none of the scientists' defenses are good enough for some fellow researchers.

Eduardo Zorita, a scientist at the Institute for Coastal Research in Geesthacht, Germany, posted on his Web site that Mann and Jones "should be barred from the IPCC process ... because the scientific assessments in which they may take part are not credible anymore."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.