Shorter David Klinghoffer: National Center for Science Education, Darwin/Climate Enforcers, Humiliated by Forged Document Scandal:

Ethical questions about someone with no formal ties to NCSE clearly demonstrates the scientific, pedagogical, and moral failings of NCSE.

So Peter Gleick outed himself as the source of the Heartland board documents released last week, and now lots of people are chasing the shiny toy of how and why Gleick did it, rather than the important story of what the documents say.

But how and why Gleick did it, and even that Gleick did it, is irrelevant to most people, while the contents of those documents matters a lot to everyone. Gleick’s account, which matches the Heartland Institute’s account and the accounts of the folks who received the documents from an anonymous (at the time) source, is that he was mailed a document, and – in trying to confirm its contents – went down a path that was surely unethical and possibly opened him to criminal or civil penalties. He impersonated someone else to have the other documents emailed to him, and then he sent those files (and a scanned copy of the document originally mailed to him) to a range of journalists, and then deleted the email account (presumably to cover his tracks, which suggests that he knew what he was doing was wrong at the time). There will undoubtedly be exciting clashes between his lawyers and Heartland’s lawyers. The soap opera will run on and on.

He’s a great scientist and a great advocate, and his improper actions in this case will take him out of the mix for a long time. That’s unfortunate for us all, and especially for a society that needs more great science communicators and climate science communicators in particular. Consider how he convinced this doubtful audience member to accept the science of climate change:

A skeptic isn’t someone who merely holds doubts. A skeptic, as my daughter points out, is the one with the truly open mind. A skeptic will believe anything as long as it is supported by data, sound science and a logically consistent argument.

When I heard Dr. Gleick speak at the recent SkeptiCal, I was all braced for the typical alarmist assault. I was about to be called a “denier”, and told why Kyoto must be signed.

Except that’s not what happened.

Dr. Gleick started by pointing out that good policy without good science is unlikely. I had to agree. He then carefully teased out the science from the politics and talked about the fallacies that commonly appear around the science of global warming. Especially illuminating was the part about cherry-picking data. It was refreshing.

Since his talk I have spent a lot of time on a site he recommended, skepticalscience.com. …

So, yes, I am now persuaded that anthropogenic global warming is real. That’s because I’m a skeptic.

Public policy and science will be worse without him. Even NCSE is affected: Gleick’s lifetime of scientific accomplishments and experience running a successful environmental nonprofit (and his performance at SkeptiCal) led to his being considered as an addition to NCSE’s board, and he withdrew from consideration immediately after he posted his confession on Huffington Post. Even though there was never any formal tie between Gleick and NCSE, hacks like Klinghoffer will surely try to make hay out of this for a long time.

I don’t speak for NCSE on this blog, and I don’t know how this is sitting with anyone else at NCSE, but I’m personally still shocked by it. Heartland had been spreading rumors trying to implicate Gleick last week, using the flimsiest evidence possible: the leaker seemed to live in Pacific Time, the leaker seemed to bear animus to Heartland, the leaker seemed to like Gleick. There are actually quite a few people who live in Pacific Time and like Gleick and don’t like Heartland (indeed, people who like Gleick almost all dislike Heartland), and I publicly defended Gleick against what I considered scurrilous and baseless charges. I specifically told people that I did not consider him to be capable of the sort of unethical acts which he actually did undertake. All I can do is apologize for feelings I hurt and insult I caused. My motives were good, but my information was clearly incomplete.

Gleick and his lawyers will battle Heartland and their lawyers over what he did or didn’t do wrong, and there’s nothing the rest of us can do to shape that result. Gleick may find shelter from lawsuits or criminal charges, but there’s no ethical defense and he hasn’t tried to offer one, simply apologizing forthrightly.

While the legal details are hashed out, the rest of us must contend with the information he exposed for public scrutiny, likely sacrificing his credibility and his life’s work in the process. Heartland seems uncowed regarding their plans to promote a denier’s curriculum, and teachers and students will suffer as the falsehoods of climate change denial and antiscience lessons are forced further into classrooms. Heartland’s efforts to craft a denialist echo chamber will continue apace, misleading and miseducating the public, the press, and policymakers about one of the greatest challenges of our day, and increasing the risks to society at large and to the most vulnerable among us in particular. How we learned about these and other plans doesn’t change them, or their tremendous risks, nor will Heartland ever offer an apology for the harm they cause. For decades, deniers and public confusion they help spawn have kept this country from having a serious discussion about the consequences of climate change and the options available to us, including a forthright explanation of the dangerous consequences of inaction.

The Heartland memos give us a chance to have that conversation, while the soap opera of how they came to the public eye could obstruct it. Heartland and Disco’ have made their preference clear. Let’s make the wiser choice.

Comments

  1. #1 JG
    February 22, 2012

    I’ve got to confess, I’m really unimpressed by the claims that Gleick behaved unethically (and the apologies for them made by well meaning people like yourself). As far as I’m concerned, you might as well accuse cancer surgeons for being unethical because, oo, horrors, look at all the flesh they cut.

    Any professional damage Gleick suffers for trying to operate on the cancer the Heartland Institute represents will be maximized if groups like the NCSE don’t stand with him and say, yeah, he bent the rules a bit, but it was to counter a far, far greater evil.

  2. #2 Jack Savage
    February 22, 2012

    Nice call, JG!

    You are proof, if any were needed, that Dr. Gleick is very far from being an isolated example of his thinking.
    If you do not think his behaviour is unethical perhaps you should read his own apology/statement in the Huffington Post.
    Maybe you will take it from him if not from me.

  3. #3 JG
    February 22, 2012

    @2 Jack Savage

    Perhaps you could explain in your own words why it was unethical of Gleick to take steps to counter the enormously damage campaign of lies and disinformation mounted by the Heartland Institute?

    You do realize, of course, that if you want to criticize Gleick’s methods you also have to condemn every undercover cop in the land — you know, the folks who do things like help stop your kids getting addicted to heroin? Or don’t you think that’s worth it either?

    Or are you in fact just a dumb Heartland shill?

  4. #4 JG
    February 22, 2012

    Or are you in fact just a dumb Heartland shill?

    Oh, hello, it looks as if I was righter than I thought about this.

  5. #5 LL
    February 22, 2012

    “Heartland seems uncowed regarding their plans to promote a denier’s curriculum”

    And rightly so. I hope many more Heartland Institutes flourish.
    In case you didn’t noticed USA and Europe are still with free countries. The Heartland Institute wants to advocate that because it is what they think is the right thing to do.

    And if you as scientist would have listened to just a simple school class about science before politics your group injected in curriculum or a simple documentary about climate history are just enough to know, that badly measured difference of 0,x degrees in only last 100 years that only samples less than 1/3 of the world for that period with an error almost as the difference values can’t be put under any culprit.

  6. #6 JG
    February 22, 2012

    @5 LL

    And rightly so. I hope many more Heartland Institutes flourish.
    In case you didn’t noticed USA and Europe are still with free countries. The Heartland Institute wants to advocate that because it is what they think is the right thing to do.

    And if you as scientist would have listened to just a simple school class about science before politics your group injected in curriculum or a simple documentary about climate history are just enough to know, that badly measured difference of 0,x degrees in only last 100 years that only samples less than 1/3 of the world for that period with an error almost as the difference values can’t be put under any culprit.

    Can I quote you on this?

  7. #7 JG
    February 22, 2012

    Oops! That should have been:

    And rightly so. I hope many more Heartland Institutes flourish.
    In case you didn’t noticed USA and Europe are still with free countries. The Heartland Institute wants to advocate that because it is what they think is the right thing to do.

    And if you as scientist would have listened to just a simple school class about science before politics your group injected in curriculum or a simple documentary about climate history are just enough to know, that badly measured difference of 0,x degrees in only last 100 years that only samples less than 1/3 of the world for that period with an error almost as the difference values can’t be put under any culprit.

    Can I quote you on this?

  8. #8 https://me.yahoo.com/a/gK_4mI8jr_AwuBa6balpTvdFyEklZ.t4#5c0d1
    February 22, 2012

    Josh what denier curriculum are you referring to? What specifically can you document? Do you have an actual curriculum document that you can link that is specific? If not, you offer generalities and inuendo based on information from a fake memo. There is no value in an opinion on a curriculum that does not exist yet. You’re shouting fire when there is no fire! What if the Heartland module contains only information that comes from peer reviewed papers and data? You have no clue as to what Heartland’s intent is other than it will likely contain information that questions consensus thinking.

    Do you feel that you will persuade rational or logical people using irrational and illogical thinking based on what seems to be your knee-jerk reaction to information in a fake document? I might consider what you offer if you had an actual module that I could review. You make an emotional plea which will certainly be acceptable to anti-Heartland emotionally driven types seeking confirmation bias, but in an objective debate your lack of any evidentuary information would get you laughed off the podium.

    Maybe read some of Keith Kloor’s blog for a clue into a more objective thought process than you display here.

  9. #9 dean
    February 22, 2012

    “Do you feel that you will persuade rational or logical people….”

    He might, but since you are in neither of those groups it is no surprise that you missed the message.

  10. #10 TTT
    February 22, 2012

    Exactly what civil or criminal law forbids Gleick’s behavior? He didn’t steal anything: he requested something, and the source failed to authenticate his credentials.

    If that’s illegal, the crew of Candid Camera should have all long since died in prison.

  11. #11 NJ
    February 22, 2012

    TTT@10:

    Exactly what civil or criminal law forbids Gleick’s behavior? He didn’t steal anything: he requested something, and the source failed to authenticate his credentials.

    This.

    There does seem to be an outbreak of Aunt Pitty-Pat over this on the progressive side. Digby discusses it with respect to Upton Sinclair.

    An analogous occurrence at Daily Kos as well; the suggestion that progressives vote for Santorum in an open primary was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    As one wag put it, it’s like bringing a spork to a gun fight.

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    February 22, 2012

    #8: Heartland has confirmed the curriculum program, and Wojick has gone into copious detail with various media outlets. Nothing I said relies on the disputed memo.

  13. #13 https://me.yahoo.com/a/gK_4mI8jr_AwuBa6balpTvdFyEklZ.t4#5c0d1
    February 22, 2012

    #12

    “Nothing I said relies on the disputed memo.”
    Nothing you said was based on any real details or information do you have any?

    “…and Wojick has gone into copious detail with various media outlets.”

    Really? That’s great! Where? How about some links or references to the details? I can’t wait because all I can find are general statements from Wojick, so please share and enlighten me.

  14. #14 Charlie A
    February 22, 2012

    Josh Rosenau claims in this blogpost “Even though there was never any formal tie between Gleick and NCSE, ……….”

    But on Jan 13th of last month NCSE issued a press release announcing “Dr. Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of The Pacific Institute, has joined NCSE’s board of directors. Gleick, a world-renowned water expert, will advise NCSE on its new climate change education.”

    I guess “never any formal tie” has a different meaning when climate science is involved.

    The section of the post that implies that Gleick was also “being considered” for board membership is also misleading.

    Ref: NCSE press release http://ncse.com/climate-change/leading-climate-change-expert-joins-ncse-board

  15. #15 dean
    February 23, 2012

    Charlie a(hole?) peter was scheduled to start 2/25. Th announcement was made in January.

  16. #16 Richard Drake
    February 23, 2012

    A round-up of that climate science jargon in full:

    World-renowned expert X has joined us = Shifty operator X may have joined us at some point in the future if he isn’t caught doing something unethical or illegal in the interim.

    Important story = the one we currently want you to think about.

    Shiny toy – dismissive term for the passionate desire of the general public to know whether they can trust highly feted climate scientists like Peter Gleick.

    It’s all about trust people. Outside your bubble increasing numbers of people don’t. Don’t project that onto imagined evil geniuses in the denialosphere. Look at your own behaviour and attitudes and change.

  17. #17 KnightBiologist
    February 23, 2012

    As a high school teacher currently teaching AP Environmental Science I can assure you… if it comes down to choosing between curriculum materials from THI or the NCSE, it’s a no brainer! We teachers are a resilient bunch, and happen to be educated and skeptical, for the most part (said hopefully, perhaps naively). We’ve got Dover v. Board. We’ll get through this as well.
    I appreciate your article and the chapter (section) on the doubtful audience member was very informative. Thanks Josh.

  18. #18 alan
    February 23, 2012

    deleted the email account (presumably to cover his tracks, which suggests that he knew what he was doing was wrong at the time)
    A reasonable assumption, but it doesn’t suggest anything unless you’re prepared to accept the “If you’re innocence then what have you got to hide?” canard.

  19. #19 KnightBiologist
    February 23, 2012

    @ 17 : Meant to say “Kitzmiller v Dover”!

  20. #20 Mike Pope
    March 7, 2012

    What a lot of righteous hand wringing over the way in which Peter Gleick obtained and sought publication of Heartland documents. Is anyone upset, let alone morally outraged when hackers steal e-mails from the U of East Anglia? Absolutely not! They are all too busy pouring over the content, furiously spinning to falsely portray climate scientist in the worst possible light.

    All I can say is … Come in spinner. Heads science wins, tails Heartland looses by being shown for what it undeniably is – an organization devoted to and advocating the distortion of science, lying to the public and attempting to corrupt youth by perverting their education. And if anyone thinks I am going to condemn Dr Gleick for the way he went about confirming that, they are dead wrong.