But Democrats put a brave face on it on Wednesday, with Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey saying that the leaked files and allegations of scientific misconduct should not stand in the way of the U.S. Congress swiftly enacting cap and trade legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. (See earlier CBSNews.com coverage of ClimateGate and the costs of cap and trade.)
Markey, the head of a House global warming committee, said during a hearing that his Republican colleagues "sit over here using a couple of e-mails to (tell us) how to deal with a catastrophic threat to our planet." And: "There is no alternative theory that the minority is proposing, other than that we know has been funded by the oil, by the coal industries that want to continue business as usual."
That's a bit of an overstatement. The leak includes over 1,000 e-mail messages, and another 2,500 or so computer files, many of which are still being analyzed. And the burden of proof should properly be on anyone -- even a House committee chairman -- proposing new taxes and extensive regulations, especially when climate science is anything but settled.
It is true that, if other independent data sets confirm what the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit claimed, ClimateGate's effect on the view of climate trends may be minimal. Then again, as Reason's Ron Bailey notes, University of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke Sr. says the CRU data is not independent of NASA and other temperature data sets. Pielke had previously written that the CRU and its political allies have been trying to "manipulate the science, so that their viewpoints are the only ones that reach the policymakers."
Markets benefit from competition, not monopolization, and so do markets in ideas. That's the argument that Republicans advanced during Wednesday's hearing, with Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner saying that "the controversy over the leaked e-mails, and their contents, cannot be ignored because it goes to the very basis of the debate" over global warming and what laws are necessary as a result.
"We're being asked as a Congress to make major changes in American society, in energy use and how much the out-of-pocket cost is to everyone in this country, as a result of this debate," the Wisconsin Republican said. "We'd better get it right. The scientists may be able to change their story (but it's) as difficult to repeal the consequences of that law as it is to get milk back in the cow."
Fellow GOP Rep. Candace Miller of Michigan, who has called for hearings into ClimateGate: "I recognize that the e-mails are an inconvenient truth, perhaps, an embarrassment on the brink of Copenhagen... There is at least a debate on whether or not climate change is human-induced."
Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who's a high-profile critic of the theory of global warming caused by mankind, has instructed the University of Arizona's Malcolm Hughes -- whose correspondence appears in the disclosed files -- not to delete any of those e-mail messages. Investigations into climate change researchers are already underway at Penn State and East Anglia, home of the CRU.
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, didn't mention the leaked files in his prepared testimony, which said the U.S. must "act promptly to reduce global emissions to the atmosphere of carbon dioxide" or face "extreme" and "damaging" consequences.
But when Holdren showed up at the Rayburn House Office Building, he end up being pressed on ClimateGate and little else. He denied its significance, calling the embarrassing disclosures "not remotely sufficient to demonstrate a culture of corruption" and said "as to exactly what went on in the way of manipulation of data, that remains to be seen." He objected to the idea of an independent probe -- the CRU received U.S. government grants -- on grounds that he's not sure an "independent investigation by the Congress of the United States is a way to get at the truth."
Moderate Republicans who helped Ed Markey and Nancy Pelosi push through the cap and trade bill by a narrow vote are backing away from anything to do with the measure. Politico reports that Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois (who supported the idea) and Sen. John McCain of Arizona (ditto) have now become critics.
Does anyone really think that, in the wake of the CRU disclosures, cap and trade would clear the House of Representatives if put to a vote today? It certainly didn't this week in Australia's Parliament, where a vote to reject the idea garnered a 41-33 majority. What a difference only a few months, and a few thousand computer files, makes.
Update 9:21 p.m. ET: Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, says ClimateGate hackers should face criminal penalties. (Then again, if we're talking about an anonymous whistleblower, there's no hacking involved.) Ian Plimer, a professor who teaches earth science at Australia's University of Adelaide, has reiterated his criticism of the climate change lobby in no uncertain terms, calling it a "load of hot air underpinned by fraud."
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Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CBSNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter as declanm. You can bookmark Declan's Taking Liberties site here, or subscribe to the RSS feed.