An anonymous hacker has posted private e-mails, files and other documents belonging to a noted climate researcher, sparking an international debate between skeptics of global warming and those who see it as an urgent problem.
The files include about a decade of e-mail correspondence belonging to Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Shortly after news of the leak began circulating Thursday, critics of global warming science zeroed in on some of the messages as evidence of bias in the climate research community.
Jones' e-mails offer some candid insight into the thoughts of a noted climate researcher and his peers.
A spokeswoman with the University of East Anglia confirmed that the data was taken from a university server, but noted that because "of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm what proportion of this material is genuine."
"We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this enquiry," she added.
On Friday, the research unit's Web site had been moved to an emergency Web server, presumably as a result of the breach.
The e-mail, which includes Jones' correspondence with other researchers and journalists, can be searched here.
The RealClimate Web site, a forum for climate change scientists, disputed skeptics' claims that the e-mails showed any attempt to manipulate results. "More interesting is what is not contained in the emails," the site noted. "There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’ [Medieval Warm Period], no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords."
Judging from the data posted, the hack was done either by an insider or by someone inside the climate community who was familiar with the debate, said Robert Graham, CEO with the consultancy Errata Security. Whenever this type of incident occurs, "80 percent of the time it's an insider," he said.
E-mail data dumps are a familiar way of settling grudges in the hacker community, but they happen in the political world too. Last year, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's Yahoo Mail correspondence was published after a hacker managed to reset her account password.