Last week, hundreds of private emails and documents from climate scientists were nicked from computer servers at the Climatic Research Unit of the UK’s University of East Anglia and unleashed into the wilds of the intertubes.

The internet went insane (OK, more insane) as the leaked emails spread like a bad case of the clap online, with climate sceptics up in arms, claiming their contents are a smoking gun proving collusion, data manipulation and conspiracy amongst scientists to push their climate change agenda.

You can download them for yourself here or read just the emails online here.

Australia’s favourite climate sceptic La Bolt picked up the story on Friday, declaring it “a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science” and has continued to run with it all weekend:

Surely these emails can’t be genuine. Surely the world’s most prominent alarmist scientists aren’t secretly exchanging emails like this, admitting privately they can’t find the warming they’ve been so loudly predicting?

This has to be a forgery, surely. Because if it isn’t, we’re about to see the unpicking of a huge scandal.

So just what is so incriminating in these files? You can read the critics’ full list here.

One of the most discussed and debated excerpts has been from a 1999 email by Research Center Directer Phil Jones:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

His colleagues have come out in defence of the emails, claiming the words are completely innocent in their proper context:

The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 … and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

Other criticisms of the hacked emails’ contents revolve around the language used by the scientists when discussing climate change denialists, including one scientist describing the death of Australian sceptic John L Daly as “a cheering occasion.”

Obviously there are dozens more “smoking guns” in the emails, and just as many rebuttals and defences, but you can wade into the whole shit fight yourself, (at your own peril).

The story has just hit the mainstream media (and probably the rest of the Oz media by the time you read this). Here’s the NY Times, Guardian, Washington Post, Telegraph and Times. Many sceptics had been dubious that the MSM would cover the story at all. Now it has, though, early sentiment seems to be that most publications are being far too blasé and understated in their reporting of “the greatest scandal in modern science“.

As the Beeb point out, it’s possibly no small coincidence that this was all unleashed right before Copenhagen. At a time when the public’s belief in man-made global warming has dropped both at home and abroad, it will be interesting to see how much traction this whole saga can gain in the wide, offline (ie “real”) world.

As they say: Watch this space.