Document from skeptical think-tank turns out to have been forged.
A few weeks ago, a number of websites received copies of allegedly confidential documents from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based libertarian think-tank that organizes conferences featuring skeptics of catastrophic man-made climate change. Most of the documents, which purported to come from a “Heartland insider,” related to Heartland’s donors, but one was a “strategy” document that suggested that the institute was trying to subvert the teaching of climate science in schools. Here was the smoking gun that ardent warmists had long sought.
The problem was that the strategy document was a forgery. Soon afterwards, Peter Gleick, a prominent environmentalist and president of the Pacific Institute, admitted that he had obtained the genuine documents by imitating a Heartland board member. He claimed that he had received the strategy document separately. His ethical lapse (or crime) appeared the more egregious because he was chairman of the task force on ethics at the American Geophysical Union, and had previously addressed a congressional committee on scientific integrity. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. He had also been the winner of a MacArthur “Genius” award.
Textual analysis of the smoking-gun strategy document led some to suggest that the likely author was Mr. Gleick himself, although this has not been proved. Megan McArdle of Atlantic magazine noted wryly that the document read “like it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.”
Mr. Gleick claimed that he donned a false identity merely to confirm the accuracy of the strategy document, which he said had been given to him anonymously. This, he admitted, was “a serious lapse of … professional judgment and ethics.” However, Mr. Gleick justified his actions by claiming that “the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed.”
Mr. Gleick’s “deep regret” and “personal apologies” were also leavened by the claim that “My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded and co-ordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate.”
But wasn’t the debate meant to be “over”? In fact, shortly before he had released the allegedly incriminating cache, Heartland had invited Mr. Gleick to a public debate. He had turned the offer down. Andy Revkin of The New York Times noted that Mr. Gleick had “destroyed his credibility and harmed others,” but went on to say that “The broader tragedy” was that his actions had set back the prospect of the country having the “‘rational public debate’ that [Gleick] wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.”
However, Mr. Gleick and his supporters appear incapable of “rational public debate.”
What is intriguing about the aftermath to what British journalist James Delingpole called “Fakegate” is the vituperation that has been unleashed not against Mr. Gleick but against Heartland, while Mr. Gleick has been treated as some kind of slightly misguided “hero.”
Naomi Klein tweeted that Mr. Gleick “took big risks to bring important truths about the deniers to light.” But what important truths? That they received donations? David Suzuki claimed that Mr. Gleick had done nothing worse than the Climategate hacker(s). He/she/they had been cheered on by Heartland, thus Heartland was hypocritical. He accused Heartland of lying about “the most serious threat to humanity.”
Was that the kind of rational “debate” for which Mr. Gleick and Mr. Revkin were calling?
Other Gleick supporters pulled out the whole sophistic bag of tricks: those who questioned catastrophic man-made climate change were “deniers” who ranked with creationists or homeopaths. Philosophers came forward to argue that Mr. Gleick’s actions were in fact ethical because aimed at the “greater good” and weren’t “for gain.” He was compared to Winston Churchill and Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the Pentagon Papers. His action was “moral,” claimed Scientific American’s John Horgan (who dragged in philosopher Immanuel Kant as backup) “because he was defending a cause that he passionately views as righteous.”
Unfortunately, however, being “righteous” doesn’t necessarily go with being right, and can be a major barrier to seeing others’ points of view.
Warmist website DeSmog Blog declared that Mr. Gleick deserved “gratitude and applause” for his fraudulent activities. The Guardian’s George Monbiot claimed Mr. Gleick was a “democratic hero” and dumped on Daily Telegraph skeptic Christopher Booker for once having taken a speaking fee of $1,000 from Heartland (Mr. Monbiot is reported to have received $20,000 from filthy Canadian capitalist Peter Munk to promote climate catastrophe in a Munk Debate, but of course if you’re a warmist you are being rewarded for speaking inconvenient truth, whereas if you are a skeptic, you are a “shill.”)
There was lots of condemnation of bullying right-wing “ideologues.” Mr. Gleick was just a David facing the Goliath/Golem of corporate power. The problem was that Heartland is hardly a Goliath. Its income is smaller than that of the David Suzuki Foundation and is minuscule compared with organizations such as WWF and Greenpeace. It is micro-minuscule compared with the tens of billions that governments have poured into the cause of climate alarmism.
The late Stephen Schneider, a prominent climate catastrophist, suggested that in 1989 that scientists had to offer up “scary scenarios” to get attention. He claimed that scientists were thus in an ethical bind. “Each of us,” he said, “has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”
Mr. Gleick demonstrates, however, that once you abandon honesty you also likely abandon effectiveness. Insofar as that effectiveness relates to peddling ideology cloaked in science, less of it is much to be desired.
Climate scientist Judith Curry, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggested that Mr. Gleick’s idea of scientific integrity in fact amounted to loyalty to the UN’s climate “ideology,” which involves demonizing deniers and the fossil fuel industry.
This week, Heartland announced a legal team to “represent the organization in connection with Peter Gleick’s fraudulent conduct.” Mr. Gleick has reportedly retained the lawyer used by Andy Fastow of Enron. Forensic investigation into the origins of the fake strategy document continue.