Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, had a life-changing event occur almost one year ago.   On November 19th, 2009, a thousand e-mail messages and documents, many his correspondence, were released to the public.

Many stressed that those messages were stolen(1), as if the process vindicated the content (would it do so if damning emails had been from Exxon or BP?) but that was small solace because climate science was already suffering backlash and climate science detractors had a field day alleging the entire process was tainted.

In his emails, he was happy about the death of a prominent climate skeptic and suggested to others they delete e-mails so skeptics could not get access to climate information.   What resonated most with skeptics who claimed that was happening all along was his boast  that he had used a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' in a temperature chart.

Several official investigations determined that Jones had not committed any serious offenses.  

How did a tiny three-person group get so much importance, and such disdain, and what impact has it had?   Approaching the one-year anniversary of the so-called "ClimateGate" scandal, Jones is unapologetic, telling Nature in an interview, "I'm a little more guarded about what I say in e-mails now" and about his emails "People would be saying much the same things at scientific meetings and discussed [them] over dinner."

This is true, though if anyone is involved in a political issue they should assume nothing is private.    As Nature notes, Jones may also be a bit in denial.   The inquiry led by Alastair Muir Russell said there had been a "consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness" and former CRU researcher Mike Hulme said the culture there was "unwise and unhealthy" and used the term "intense tribalism".

Still, that is a style issue, not fraudulent or unethical, and data rules.  Investigations said the data was clean - though one pesky exception remains unaddressed below.   And ignoring requests for information can be understood when the volume becomes overwhelming and, perhaps, detractors did so with the intent to bog researchers down in bureaucracy using perfectly legal means.

He does admit in the interview that he set out to make sure that manuscripts he did not like were not published but that is not any different from other reviewers all across science and the notion that he could somehow pervert the peer review process, as alleged, always seemed a little off the mark.   There are 25,000 journals out there so someone will publish quality work eventually.  

One sticky point remains about his work, as I mentioned above.    The claim that his use of data from weather stations in China for a seminal 1990 paper was incorrect is a little harder to shake.  Critics discovered a number of the stations had moved, while he said the location, methods, etc. had been consistent, and Jones earlier this year told Nature (Heffernan, O. Nature doi:10.1038/news.2010.71 2010) that he was considering a correction.  Now he says he was medicated at the time of the earlier interview and felt pressure to concede mistakes but now stands by the claims in the original paper - yet the scientist in China who supplied the station information has retired and Chinese authorities have not released the full station-history data, which means he lacks the evidence to support the claims that data was not used from stations that moved - though it is known they moved.   People can take that either way.

Jones will discover that any thread, no matter how tenuous, tends to remain attached and it takes a long time to sever it.  Richard Lindzen's entire atmospheric career (at MIT, no less) has been declared invalid by global warming activists because 20 years ago he took $5,000 from Exxon while James Hansen is invalidated by global warming skeptics today because of financial ties to George Soros.  

At least it seems like Jones is back in the climate science fight, though less inclined to engage in the culture war aspect of it.


(1) As with Wikileaks more recently, ends 'justifying the means' largely comes down to whether or not you dislike the target of the exposed material.