As the global warming debate crawls along, heads in the skeptic community are definitely steaming.
They have a right to be, after some troublesome e-mails by scientists at a British university were exposed last month. Hackers outed messages sent over a 13-year period, which depict climate researchers at the University of East Anglia discussing how to suppress the views of scientists who dispute the legitimacy of global warming.
Phil Jones, director of the school's Climatic Research Unit, has already agreed to step down while the university digs deeper into this scandal. One of his own e-mails was among the most disturbing, pledging to block opposing viewpoints from a major 2007 international report on climate change.
Once again, the nation's attention has been distracted from the real debate. Instead of candid discussions about whether the planet is in danger and what, if anything, nations can do about it, politicians have another excuse to sniff for a conspiracy. Sadly, this has become the norm with environmental issues.
First it was President George W. Bush's administration that played the heavy, as bureaucrats with little scientific background made a habit of telling scientists what information to include and omit from reports. Researchers convinced of the human impact on climate change were outraged.
Now they're the ones left to fumble for answers as "Climategate" spirals into a hurricane of doubt. A conservative think tank has even taken aim at the University of Wisconsin, which reportedly had several scientists in the infamous e-mail loop.
A major international conference on climate change begins Monday, with 200 world leaders expecting to hash out an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions based on sound science. How sound will the science appear, just weeks after this mess jolted it off the foundation?
A handful of scientists' transgressions shouldn't destroy the theory that human activity is warming the Earth, any more than the Bush crew's boorishness proved it. Science itself does not lie, embellish or spin.
Investigators should be thorough in determining whether the East Anglia employees acted improperly, and, if necessary, take disciplinary action. Then the genuine truth-seekers can resume their work.
All these distractions do is further entrench people on both sides of the emotional debate. And emotion is not part of the scientific method.