A British university said Thursday it would investigate whether scientists at its prestigious Climatic Research Unit fudged data on global warming.
Thousands of pieces of correspondence between some of the world's leading climate scientists were stolen from the unit at the University of East Anglia and leaked to the Internet late last month. Skeptics of man-made global warming say the e-mails are proof that scientists have been conspiring to hide evidence showing that global warming was not as strong as generally believed.
Phil Jones, the director of the unit, stepped down Tuesday pending the result of the investigation.
The university had promised a probe when Jones stepped down, but didn't specify what the investigation would encompass. Thursday's announcement was the first acknowledgment that the research itself would be under scrutiny.
East Anglia said its review will examine the e-mails and other information "to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice."
The theft of the e-mails and their publication online only weeks before the U.N. summit on global warming has been politically explosive, even if researchers say their content has no bearing on the principles of climate change itself.
There was further criticism following the revelation that the university had thrown out much of the raw temperature data on which some of its global warming research was based. The university said in a statement last week that the data, stored on paper and magnetic tape, was dumped in the 1980s to save space when the unit moved to a new location.
The release of the data has prompted some lawmakers in Britain to warn that critics of climate change want to wreck any global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that could be achieved at the Dec. 7-18 U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen.
Ed Miliband, Britain's climate change secretary, on Thursday called those challenging the mainstream scientific view on climate change irresponsible and dangerous.
"We have to beware of the climate saboteurs, the people who want to say this is somehow in doubt, and want to cast aspersions on the whole process," Miliband told reporters.
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have grilled government scientists on the matter, with U.S. lawmaker James Sensenbrenner arguing that the e-mails show the world needs to re-examine experts' claims that the science on warming is settled.
Sensenbrenner, a Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin, read out loud some of Jones' e-mail messages at a hearing Wednesday in Washington, including one in which Jones wrote about a "trick of adding in the real temps" in an exchange about long-term climate trends. Another of Jones' e-mails reads, "I would like to see the climate change happen so the science could be proved right."
Scientists called before House's climate change committee countered that the e-mails don't change the fact that the earth is warming.
"The e-mails do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus ... that tells us the earth is warming, that warming is largely a result of human activity," said Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
She said the e-mails don't negate or even deal with data from her agency or the U.S. space agency NASA, which keep independent climate records that show dramatic global warming.
In London, Miliband said he had read some of the leaked East Anglia e-mails, but insisted sections which appear to show that scientists had manipulated data, or attempted to suppress contradictory evidence, had been largely taken out of context.
"One chain of e-mails does not undo scientific consensus which is broadly based and relatively universal," Miliband said.
The University of East Anglia's investigation comes in addition to a probe by Penn State University, which is also examining e-mails by its own researcher, Michael Mann.
East Anglia said former civil servant Muir Russell would lead the inquiry. Russell said he "has no links to either the university or the climate science community."
The university has asked that the review be completed by spring 2010.