I spent a few hours going through the discussion on RealClimate, which is a site run by climate scientists, including some recipients of the leaked emails.
It took an age to read through, but by the end I had seen most of the emails that the global warming sceptics claimed were damaging, and also read about the context they were taken from and the explanations given by scientists who knew the issues.
In the end, I reckoned that there wasn't much to the sceptics' claims - most of the emails had perfectly reasonable explanations when taken in context, and in some the excerpts chosen by the sceptics were highly misleading.
Examples: - the phrase about "hiding the decline" that is being made so much of actually referred to a statistical procedure for dealing with a known problem, whereby a sequence of data from tree-trunk cores which follows the known temperatures well up to the 1960s diverges thereafter. This problem has been discussed publicly (in a paper in Nature, no less) and the discussion was not about hiding temperature data from the public, it was about ways of combining the valid part of the data with other data sequences.
- the comments by Trenberth about uncertainties in accounting for atmospheric energy inputs were about measuring small-scale everyday variations, and were not a reference to long-term climate models.
- of the data which the sceptics are claiming the CRU refuses to hand over, the bulk of what they requested is already publicly available, much of it online. Other data sequences have been given to CRU by national meteorology sevices who would normally charge for its use, in recognition of the use that CRU can make of it; CRU do not have the right to hand this over. Despite explaining this, CRU have had to deal with large numbers of continuing requests for the information, and have got highly exasperated about the waste of time and energy dealing with this. The reference to not telling the sceptics about the Freedom of Information Act was a joke, in relation to information they had requested which was already publicly available.
Not everything is quite so straightforward. The request to delete emails on a particular discussion could bear further explanation - there may be a good explanation (were the emails actually about irrelevant private matters?) but without some indication of the subject of the discussion and why someone wanted them deleted I feel it doesn't look good. The bit about trying to avoid releasing information in response to a FOI request certainly doesn't look good to me, though it seems the emails were not in fact deleted - in fact some people are saying the file of emails that the hijackers got hold of was actually put together ready to hand over if that FOI request had been successful.
Also, Watts and others are making a number of claims about the computing code attached to some of the emails, claiming that annotations to them show an intent to deceive. I didn't find any discussion of this on RealClimate - I'll be looking again in a few days. Given that most of the rest of what's been claimed about all this is without much foundation, my prejudice is to expect that these claims are also spurious; but I would like to see some proper discussion of what this is about, as in this area I'm certainly not qualified to assess the claims myself.
Overall, though, I reached two conclusions:
1) Most of what's been claimed about the emails is not true,
and, more importantly,
2) Even if it was true, it would discredit just one small part of a much larger body of evidence. The fact that a small group of scientists behaved like ordinary human beings when faced with some people who they were thoroughly annoyed with; the fact that some of their emails can (spuriously) be made to look bad; the fact that in some cases they wrote things that actually do look bad; even the possibility that they may not have wanted to cooperate with people they felt were pestering them: none of these have any bearing on the validity of climate science overall.
It's a long slog wading through all the pages of posts to find the substantive bits; but if anyone wants to look for themselves, the discussion I'm referring to are here:http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/ar ... -cru-hack/http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/ar ... k-context/