Phil Jones, the head of the Climactic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said on Tuesday that he will relinquish his post while the U.K. school conducts an investigation into allegations of scientific and professional misconduct.
Jones' announcement comes as he and his allies, who published some of the foundational data used to support the claim that global warming exists, have been pummeled by waves of criticism. As CBSNews.com reported last week, the leaked files show that prominent scientists were so wedded to theories of man-made global warming that they ridiculed dissenters who asked for copies of their data, plotted how to keep researchers who reached different conclusions from publishing, and concealed apparently buggy computer code from being disclosed under the Freedom of Information law.
The reverberations have extended beyond the campus of the University of East Anglia and the CRU. E-mail messages from Michael Mann, a professor in the meteorology department at Penn State University who has argued that mankind is threatening "entire ecosystems with extinction in the decades ahead if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates," appeared in the leaked files. Now Penn State has opened an investigation into Mann's work, and the U.K.'s weather agency has been forced on the defensive as well.
Some mainstream academics working in the area have distanced themselves from Mann, Jones, and other researchers whose correspondence has drawn allegations of impropriety. Aynsley Kellow, a professor at the University of Tasmania who was an expert reviewer for a U.N. global warming report, told ABC Radio there was evidence of a "willingness to manipulate raw data to suit predetermined results, you've got a resistance to any notion of transparency, an active resistance to freedom of information requests or quite reasonable requests from scientists to have a look at data so that it can be verified."
Hans von Storch, director of the Director of Institute for Coastal Research who was assailed by Mann in one e-mail message, calls the CRU axis a "cartel" and suggests that Jones and others avoid reviewing papers. A colleague, Eduardo Zorita, went further and said Mann and his allies "should be barred" from future United Nations proceedings and warned that "the scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas."
With the Copenhagen summit just days away, the leaked files have extruded themselves into the political fray in Washington, D.C. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday that he believes "climate change is happening" and is not "in dispute anymore," while Republican Senator James Inhofe called for "Climategate" hearings.
To be sure, many -- perhaps even most -- climate scientists still seem to agree that the evidence for global warming is substantial. Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, calls it "overwhelming." Thomas Crowley, professor of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, told the Washington Post that the CRU-leaked-files episode "reflects badly on the people who are so desperate to discredit global warming." (That would come as a surprise to MIT's Richard Lindzen, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week stressing the unsettled state of climate science.)
Look for the topic to come up at a previously-scheduled hearing Wednesday morning convened by the U.S. Congress's select committee on global warming. Two supporters of the theory of man-made global warming -- including NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, who has called for immediate government action -- are set to testify. Republicans surely have their questions already written down.
The reason the East Anglia data matter is that computer models have been erected upon them, which have been incorporated into governmental and U.N. reports, which in turn have become the basis for actual and proposed government policies. So all this amounts to a prelude: the important questions domestically are whether the Senate approves the cap and trade bill next year and what happens with the EPA's efforts to regulate carbon dioxide. Internationally, the question centers on the fate of the Copenhagen summit.
Even before the massive East Anglia document leak, the odds of an agreement being reached at Copenhagen appear to have been narrowing. Throw in a Fox News report about the U.N. and global governance and some black YouTube humor, and it looks like climate change skeptics have finally found their voice. And scientists and politicians endorsing dramatic limits on economic growth to limit carbon dioxide have been reminded where the burden of proof properly lies.
Update 4:42 p.m. ET: Check out a followup story, titled "Democrats: 'ClimateGate' Leak A Non-Scandal," which I wrote this afternoon. It's about Wednesday's House committee hearing. Also, I fixed the misspelling of Richard Lindzen's name, above. (My apologizes to the good professor.)
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.