The fight over global warming science is about to cross the Atlantic with a U.S. researcher poised to sue NASA, demanding release of the same kind of climate data that has landed a leading British center in hot water over charges it skewed its data.
Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said NASA has refused for two years to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how the agency has shaped its climate data and would explain why the agency has repeatedly had to correct its data going as far back as the 1930s.
"I assume that what is there is highly damaging," Mr. Horner said. "These guys are quite clearly bound and determined not to reveal their internal discussions about this."
The numbers matter. Under pressure in 2007, NASA recalculated its data and found that 1934, not 1998, was the hottest year in its records for the contiguous 48 states. NASA later changed that data again, and now 1998 and 2006 are tied for first, with 1934 slightly cooler.
Mr. Horner, a noted global warming skeptic and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism, wants a look at the data and the discussions that went into those changes. He said he's given the agency until the end of the year to comply or else he'll sue to compel the information's release.
His fight mirrors one in Europe that has sprung up over the the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in the UK after thousands of e-mails from the center were obtained and appear to show researchers shaving their data to make it conform to their expectation, and show efforts to try to drive global warming skeptics out of the conversation.
The center's chief has stepped down pending an investigation into the e-mails.
The center has also had to acknowledge in response to a freedom of information request under British law that it tossed out much of the raw data that it used to draw up the temperature models that have underpinned much of the science behind global warming.
Mr. Horner suspects the same sort of data-shaving has happened at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), another leading global warming research center.
Mark Hess, public affairs director for the Goddard Space Flight Center which runs the GISS laboratory, said they are working on Mr. Horner's request, though he couldn't say why they have taken so long.
"We're collecting the information and will respond with all the responsive relevant information to all of his requests," Mr. Hess said. "It's just a process you have to go through where you have to collect data that's responsive."
He said he was unfamiliar with the British controversy and couldn't say whether NASA was susceptible to the same challenges to its data. The White House has dismissed the British e-mails as irrelevant.
"Several thousand scientists have come to the conclusion that climate change is happening. I don't think that's anything that is, quite frankly, among most people, in dispute anymore," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters this week.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill say the revelations deserve a congressional investigation. Republican leaders also sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson Wednesday telling her she should withdraw a series of EPA rules until the global warming science can be better substantiated. For now, climate scientists are rallying around the British researchers.
Michael Mann, a scientist at Penn State University who is under fire for his involvement in the British e-mail exchanges, said the e-mails' release was timed to skunk up next week's U.N. global warming summit in Copenhagen. Mr. Obama is planning to attend.
"They've taken scientists' words and phrases and quoted them out of context, completely misrepresenting what they were saying," Mr. Mann told AccuWeather.com in an interview, calling it a "manufactured controversy."
NASA's GISS was forced to update its data in 2007 after questions were raised by Steve McIntyre, who runs ClimateAudit.com.
GISS had initially listed the warmest years as 1998, 1934, 2006, 1921 and 1931. After Mr. McIntyre's questions GISS rejiggered the list and 1934 was warmest, followed by 1998, 1921, 2006 and then 1931. But since then, the list has been rewritten again so it now runs 1998, 2006, 1934, 1921, 1999.
The institute blamed a "minor data processing error" for the changes but says it doesn't make much difference since the top three years remain in a "statistical tie" either way.
Mr. Horner said he's seeking the data itself, but he also wants to see the chain of e-mails from scientists discussing the changes.
The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 days. Mr. Horner says he's never received an official acknowledgement of his three separate FOIA requests, but has received e-mails showing the agency is aware of them.
He said he has provided NASA with a notice of intent to sue under FOIA, but said he also hopes members of Congress get involved and demand the information be released.
NASA and CRU data are considered the backbone of much of the science that suggests the earth is warming due to manmade greenhouse gas emissions. NASA argues its data suggests this decade has been the warmest on record.
On the other hand, data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville suggests temperatures have been relatively flat for most of this decade.