The disclosure and dissection of the thousands of e-mail messages hacked from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit is an act of deplorable vandalism. Nevertheless, it exposes poor judgment and behavior on the part of some of the most visible and outspoken climate scientists.
The disclosed e-mails suggest that some scientists, in the United States as well as the United Kingdom, tried to suppress dissenting opinions about global warming and exaggerated data to support their view that human activity contributes to climate change.
This is seen as a black eye to many who work in the climate sciences, but it represents an extremely small fraction of those who work in climate science worldwide. It does not negate the hundreds, if not thousands, of published studies that document climate change and its significance.
Attempts to label or manipulate information about climate change for political purposes have been with us for decades.
The frequent public debates and discussions, especially in the popular media, have brought many scientists to the table as adversaries. And in some of the written and verbal exchanges there have been personal affronts, degrading remarks and outright anger. Such exchanges have existed in the science professions for centuries, though not often in such a public manner.
After all, science is about hypothesis testing, challenging the results and retesting until the truth is no longer disputable. In this public context, some individuals have found their personal integrity and pride shaken. Emotions rise to the surface. Certain words and actions that reflect bad judgment may come out.
In the context of the body of evidence used to conclude that climate change is happening and that the human fingerprint is upon it, "climategate" does not negate the science that has been done. As a statement from scientists in the United Kingdom points out, the science is too voluminous, diverse and significant to ignore.
I am a slow learner, and it took me a long time to be convinced of this. But there are three forms of evidence that I cannot dismiss:
Nearly all of the world's climate data, gathered and analyzed by many (not just those at University of East Anglia or Penn State University), shows significant climate change is going on, especially at mid to high latitude positions on Earth.
The climate models all more accurately mimic the measured climate attributes of Earth's system if they include human activity in their parameters. Driven only by physical and natural parameters that have affected the Earth's climate for over 4 billion years -- solar radiation, orbital features, ocean currents, arctic ice, etc. -- the models do not fit the measurements very well.
Observations of the physical and biological changes and consequences around us (lakes, terrestrial ecosystems, storm patterns, wildlife behaviors) are consistent with the measured and estimated climate changes that scientists have documented.
We have allowed our climate system to become broken. Individual human flaws and misjudgments should not dissuade us as a community from working to fix it.
Mark Seeley is a professor and extension climatologist/meteorologist at the University of Minnesota, as well as a frequent commentator for MPR.