Penn State prof welcomes climate flap inquiry

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Penn State professor and climate researcher said he welcomes scrutiny into leaked e-mails at the center of an international controversy over what's causing global warming after the university said it would look into the issue.

Hackers breached servers at a climate change research center in London two weeks ago, stealing thousands of e-mails and other documents and posting them on the Internet.

The correspondence covered more than a decade of communication between leading British and U.S. scientists, including Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann. His research has been a target of criticism for years from skeptics of man-made global warming theories.

Penn State formed a committee this week to look into the matter after its College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, in which Mann works, announced in a statement last week that it would conduct an inquiry.

The statement called Mann a "highly regarded" faculty member whose work had been reviewed and deemed sound in a National Academy of Sciences report in 2006.

Some questions raised through leaked e-mails "may have been addressed already by the NAS investigation but others may not have been considered. The University is looking into this matter further, following a well defined policy used in such cases," the statement said.

'In support' of review
Mann said he welcomed the inquiry.

"They are just reviewing the facts and (looking) into whether there is any validity to the specious claims, in my view, that are being made," he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "That's exactly what they should be doing, and I am fully in support of that."

The security breach at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia leaked correspondence that critics have said proves scientists may have hidden evidence and overstated the case for man-made global warming.

The British university on Thursday said it also will investigate whether scientists fudged data on global warming. The unit's director stepped down earlier this week pending the result of the investigation.

Skeptics have long targeted Mann's research into what is known as the "hockey stick" theory, which suggests the past five decades had been the hottest in at least several centuries, and that man-made global warming was to blame.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., singled out Mann at a Congressional hearing Wednesday, saying the 2006 NAS study showed Mann's hockey stick was incorrect and that his theory was discredited.

In testimony, John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, responded the NAS had some issues with Mann's methods, but agreed with the results.

Reached Wednesday by The Associated Press, the chairman of the Academy of Science panel, Texas A&M University atmospheric scientist Gerald North, said that Holdren was right. North said the world would still be warming — and scientists still able to prove it — if Mann and others had done no prior research.

Mann was not asked to testify at the hearing, though he has previously appeared before Congress. He said he had not watched Wednesday's hearing, but read accounts online.

A 'teaching moment?'
Mann said he wasn't surprised by criticism during the hearing.

"I hope this provides a teaching moment, even though this whole affair is being used by climate-change deniers to try to attack the science," Mann said.

A Penn State spokeswoman said a committee formed this week formed to conduct the research "inquiry." School guidelines deem an inquiry as "information-gathering and preliminary fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of research misconduct" warrants a larger, formal investigation.

It is unclear how long the process could take. Research guidelines say the school is not obligated to release results unless they choose to notify research sponsors, but does not rule out a public release of findings.

"I've been working overtime to clarify the record. None of us like to have our personal e-mails shared," Mann said. "But there's nothing in there I'm ashamed of ... or any improper behavior."