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.