Police Close 'Climategate' Investigation into Hacked Emails with Mystery Unsolved
The closing of a criminal investigation into the unresolved theft of emails from a British research facility is disappointing and should compel scientific institutions to better protect their employees, especially given the growing politicization of views regarding scientific research on climate change and other issues, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said on July 18.
The UK-based Norfolk Constabulary announced on July 18 that it is closing its investigation into emails stolen from scientists at the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in November 2009. According to a statement from Norfolk Constabulary Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Julian Gregory, “the investigation has concluded that the data breach was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU data files, carried out remotely via the Internet. The offenders used methods common in unlawful Internet activity to obstruct inquiries.” The police said they do not have a “realistic prospect” of identifying who stole the emails.
It remains unclear whether or not the Department of Justice is continuing its own investigation into the hacking incident.
“It’s a big shame that whoever stole these emails from scientists has apparently gotten away with it,” said Michael Halpern, program manager for UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program. “The lesson here is that scientists who work in a field with significant relevance to public policy should be prepared for unethical attacks like these. Universities and government agencies need to do more to protect the scientists they employ so scientists can continue to make new discoveries that help us make informed decisions about our health, our environment and our economy.”
Halpern has tracked the British police investigation for the past few years and has questioned whether or not the police had the resources to bring those who perpetrated the hacking to justice. He added that the attacks on scientists are a symptom of growing polarization in the discussion regarding how to adapt to and mitigate climate change. “Attacks on science and scientists are nothing new, but the lengths to which ideologues will go to disparage researchers over the past few years has been startling,” he said. “While we may never know who was involved, we now know that this attack was carried out by experienced criminals using sophisticated methods. It is clear that some people will do almost anything to try to discredit scientists whose research they find inconvenient.”
Since the emails were stolen, scientists have faced renewed attacks from politicians and ideological groups, including Virginia’s Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a group with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) also has called for investigations going after several of the scientists who had their emails stolen.
Scientists also report that they received harassing emails and phone calls and death threats following the release of the hacked emails and subsequent promotion of misleading claims by a series of think tanks that reject major findings from climate science.
UEA has issued a response to the closing of the investigation. UEA and the Norfolk Constabulary held a press conference today at 5:30 a.m. EST (10:30 a.m. local time). According to the Norfolk Constabulary, the event is only open to UK-based press, but it will be able to release more information about the case tomorrow.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.