Tuesday, February 21st 2012, 1:55 PM EST
In a written statement, Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, and vocal advocate of catastrophic man-made global warming theory, has admitted to obtaining certain Heartland Institute internal documents under false premises, and then forwarding these documents to bloggers who were eager to publish them.
Gleick (also a writer on these pages at Forbes) frequently styles himself a defender of scientific integrity (for example), generally equating any criticism of his work or scientific positions with lack of integrity (the logic being that since certain scientists like himself have declared the science to be settled beyond question, laymen or even other scientists who dispute them must be ethically-challenged).
In equating disagreement with lack of integrity, he offers a prime example of what is broken in the climate debate, with folks on both sides working from an assumption that their opponents have deeply flawed, even evil motives. Gleick frequently led the charge to shift the debate away from science, which he claimed was settled and unassailable, to the funding and motives of his critics. Note that with this action, Gleick has essentially said that the way to get a more rational debate on climate, which he often says is his number one goal, was not to simplify or better present the scientific arguments but to steal and publish details on a think tank’s donors.
Gleick’s significant ethical lapse should be a warning. When we convince ourselves that those who disagree with us are not people of goodwill who simply reach different conclusions from the data, but are instead driven by evil intentions and nefarious sources of funding, then it becomes easier to convince oneself that the ends justify the means. And before skeptics revel in too much schadenfreude here, they are susceptible to falling into exactly the same trap. Michael Mann’s hockey stick work deserves all sorts of scientific critique, but any flaws one may think exist do not justify trying to hound Dr. Mann with criminal charges over his university work. And I suppose we all have different views on PR strategy, but Heartland strikes me as moronic to be insisting on criminal charges for Gleick.
Interestingly, Gleick does not, if I am reading his statement correctly, admit forgery of the strategy document from which most of the blog bombshells were derived. There is still extremely strong evidence to consider this document to be a forgery (see my last Forbes column here), and its text is now doubly suspicious given that Gleick happens to be one of the very few people mentioned by name in that document.
I repeat my ongoing plea — let’s get back to real engagement on the actual science. Here is my starter proposal: Catastrophic global warming advocates will stop calling the science “settled” and arguing that anyone who disagrees with them “lacks integrity”, and skeptics will ban the words “scam”, “myth”, “lie”, and “conspiracy” from their arguments. And we will all cease the dueling accusations about sources of funding. What really matters are issues like quantifying the climate feedback effect. Who the hell cares who funds the breakthrough work? We should be thrilled there are people from both sides of the debate willing to invest in it — if this were not true, we would end up with that most sterile of all scientific or political environments, the mono-culture.
I encourage those who have not seen it yet to check out my article from two weeks ago on these pages, wherein I lay out the climate debate in more depth, without once using the words “scam” or “myth” and without ever discussing either sides’ motives or funding.