From Climategate to Fakegate

by Marlo Lewis on February 22, 2012

in Features

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Anthony Watts’s indispensable Web site, Watts Up with That?, has a trove of hard-hitting commentaries on climate scientist Peter Gleick’s theft and publication of the Heartland Institute’s fund-raising documents and apparent forgery of a “confidential” climate strategy memo. Gleick earlier this week confessed to stealing the documents, but not to fabricating the strategy memo, although textual and other evidence point to him as the culprit.

Gleick, who described his conduct as a “serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics,” has resigned from his post as Chair of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Task Force on Scientific Integrity. He nonetheless tried to blame the victim, claiming “My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved.”

Yep, it’s the small underfunded band of free market think tanks who are stifling the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Academy of Sciences and their numerous brethren overseas, the European Environment Agency, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the EPA, NRDC, Greenpeace, etc. etc. Heartland invited Gleick to attend a public event and debate climate change just days before he stole the documents. Gleick turned down the invitation. Yet Gleick has the chutzpah to plead ”frustration” at those trying to “prevent this debate.”

Among the key posts on Anthony’s site to check out: Joe Bast’s Skype interview with the Wall Street Journal; Dr. Willis Eschenbach’s Open Letter to Dr. Linda Gunderson, who succeeds Gleick as Chair of the AGU Scientific Integrity Task Force; and Megan McCardle’s column in The Atlantic reviewing among other things evidence fingering Gleick as the author of the fake strategy memo.

In his Skype interview with the Wall Street Journal, Joe Bast explains the similarity between Climategate and Fakegate:

We call it Fakegate after ‘faked document.’ We think that this event, very similar to Climategate, documented how desperate these scientists are. How they are willing to stoop to very low levels in order to advance their agenda. How they’re not really interested in debate at all, they’re interested in shutting down debate, shutting down institutions like the Heartland Institute that take a different point of view.

Noting that the Climategate scientists stonewalled Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to prevent independent researchers from checking their data and methods, Joe also explains why there is no inconsistency in applauding the release of the Climategate emails and condemning Gleick’s theft of the Heartland documents:

Now it’s been pointed out that maybe we’re hypocritical to complain that documents were stolen from us and yet we quoted from the documents that were taken from the scientists, the Climategate event. I think it’s very different. The Heartland Institute is a private organization, we’re not a public organization, and we’re not subject to FOIA requests. The documents that were taken from us don’t show any scheming, any kind of dishonest transactions, any attempt to suppress debate. Just the opposite, it’s an open plan that we write about all the time, put on our Web site, put it in newsletters, to our donors, all of that information was there. The purpose of stealing our documents was very specific. It was to expose our donors and to create a fraudulent narrative about why we do what we do. That’s very different from the Climategate situation.

For more on this topic, see my post yesterday on GlobalWarming.Org.

Willis Eschenbach’s Open Letter to Dr. Linda Gunderson urges the AGU’s new chair on scientific integrity not to trivialize or make excuses for Gleick’s misconduct lest the candid world conclude that the “rot” of “noble cause corruption” is so deep in the climate science community that it cannot be rooted out. A few pearls:

Next, let me put it to you straight. As Dr. Gleick’s demise for wire fraud is just the latest demonstration, far too many climate scientists have all the scientific integrity of a desperate grifter whose con is going badly wrong. Consider for example the response from Dr. Gleick’s supporters to his actions, who in many cases have lauded him as a “whistleblower”, and some of whom stop just short of proposing him for climate sainthood.

So my question for you is this: what are you planning to do about this abysmal state of affairs?

Make no mistake. If Peter Gleick walks away from this debacle free of expulsion, sanction, or censure from the AGU, without suffering any further penalties, your reputation and the reputation of the AGU will forever join his on the cutting room floor. People are already laughing at the spectacle of the chair of a task force on scientific integrity getting caught with his entire arm in the cookie jar. You have one, and only one, chance to stop the laughter.

Because if your Task Force doesn’t have the bal … the scientific integrity to take up the case of its late and unlamented commander as its very first order of business, my Spidey-sense says that it will be forever known as the “AGU Task Farce on Scientific Integrity”. You have a clear integrity case staring you in the face. If you only respond to Dr. Gleick’s reprehensible actions with vague platitudes about “the importance of …”, if the Task Force’s only contribution is mealy-mouthed mumblings about how “we deplore …” and “we are disappointed …”, I assure you that people will continue to point and laugh at that kind of spineless pretense of scientific integrity.

Folks are fed up with climate scientists who lie, cheat, and steal to attack their scientific opponents, and who then walk away without the slightest action being taken by other scientists. As long as there are no repercussions from the scientific community for the kind of things Dr. Gleick has done, mainstream climate scientists will continue to do them. Indeed, Dr. Gleick’s own actions were no doubt greatly encouraged by the fact that you noble scientists were so full of bul … of scientific integrity that you all let the Climategate un-indicted co-conspirators walk away scot-free, without even asking them the important questions, much less getting answers to those major issues.

You have the opportunity to actually take a principled stand here, Dr. Gundersen, and I cannot overemphasize the importance of you doing so. Dr. Gleick’s kind of unethical skullduggery in the name of science has ruined the reputation of the entire field of climate science. The rot of “noble cause corruption” is well advanced in the field, and it will not stop until people just like you quit looking the other way and pretending it doesn’t exist. I had hoped that some kind of repercussions for scientific malfeasance would be one of the outcomes of Climategate, but people just ignored that part. This one you can’t ignore.

Megan McCardle, reflecting on her career as a journalist, wonders what could possibly motivate a scientist of Gleick’s stature to jeopardize his career for such small potential gains:

The very, very best thing that one can say about this [Gleick's theft and publication of the Heartland documents] is that this would be an absolutely astonishing lapse of judgement for someone in their mid-twenties, and is truly flabbergasting coming from a research institute head in his mid-fifties.  Let’s walk through the thought process:

You receive an anonymous memo in the mail purporting to be the secret climate strategy of the Heartland Institute.  It is not printed on Heartland Institute letterhead, has no information identifying the supposed author or audience, contains weird locutions more typical of Heartland’s opponents than of climate skeptics, and appears to have been written in a somewhat slapdash fashion.  Do you:

A.  Throw it in the trash

B.  Reach out to like-minded friends to see how you might go about confirming its provenance

C.  Tell no one, but risk a wire-fraud conviction, the destruction of your career, and a serious PR blow to your movement by impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain confidential documents.

As a journalist, I am in fact the semi-frequent recipient of documents promising amazing scoops, and depending on the circumstances, my answer is always “A” or “B”, never “C”.

It’s a gross violation of journalistic ethics, though perhaps Gleick would argue that he’s not a journalist–and in truth, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Heartland, given how gleefully they embraced the ClimateGate leaks.  So leave ethics aside: wasn’t he worried that impersonating board members in order to obtain confidential material might be, I don’t know, illegal?  Forget about the morality of it: the risk is all out of proportion to the possible reward.

I suspect that Gleick’s “frustration” was actually just hatred — a notoriously bad counselor.

McCardle summarizes evidence indicating that Gleick forged the fake strategy memo, including:

The other thing one must note is that his story is a little puzzling.  We know two things about the memo:

1.  It must have been written by someone who had access to the information in the leaked documents, because it uses precise figures and frequent paraphrases.

2.  It was probably not written by anyone who had intimate familiarity with Heartland’s operations, because it made clear errors about the Koch donations–the amount, and the implied purpose.  It also hashed the figures for a sizable program, and may have made other errors that I haven’t identified.

Did someone else gain access to the documents, write up a fake memo, and then snail mail that memo to Dr. Gleick?  Why didn’t they just send him everything?

If an insider was the source of the memo, as some have speculated, why did it get basic facts wrong? (I have heard a few suggestions that this was an incredibly elaborate sting by Heartland.  If so, they deserve a prominent place in the supervillain Hall of Fame.)

Why did the initial email to the climate bloggers claim that Heartland was the source of all the documents, when he couldn’t possibly have known for sure that this was where the climate strategy memo came from?

Why was this mailed only to Gleick?  Others were mentioned in the memo, but none of them seem to have been contacted–I assume that after a week of feeding frenzy, anyone else who was mailed a copy would have said something by now.

How did his anonymous correspondent know that Gleick would go to heroic lengths to obtain confidential material which confirmed the contents, and then distribute the entire package to the climate blogs?

How did the anonymous correspondent get hold of the information in the memo?

If he didn’t write the memo, how did [Steven] Mosher [see my Update in yesterday’s post] correctly identify his involvement?  A good portion of Mosher’s argument was based on the similarity in writing styles. Is this an amazing coincidence?  Was the author of the memo engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to destroy Gleick?

Finally, McCardle strikes a note similar to Eschenbach’s, warning scientists that lying in what they believe is a good cause is bound to discredit both them and their cause:

Gleick has done enormous damage to his cause and his own reputation, and it’s no good to say that people shouldn’t be focusing on it.  If his judgement is this bad, how is his judgement on matters of science?  For that matter, what about the judgement of all the others in the movement who apparently see nothing worth dwelling on in his actions?

When skeptics complain that global warming activists are apparently willing to go to any lengths–including lying–to advance their worldview, I’d say one of the movement’s top priorities should be not proving them right.  And if one rogue member of the community does something crazy that provides such proof, I’d say it is crucial that the other members of the community say “Oh, how horrible, this is so far beyond the pale that I cannot imagine how this ever could have happened!” and not, “Well, he’s apologized and I really think it’s pretty crude and opportunistic to make a fuss about something that’s so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.”

Dennis Wingo February 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm

It has always been one of my top two concerns related to the entire hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming that the scientific community itself becomes compromised and then discredited due to the allure of money and “fame” attached to being a crusader for “saving” the “planet”. This is, as others have pointed out, the trap of the noble cause syndrome as well as what president Eisenhower so eloquently and prophetically spoke about over 50 years ago…

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Wise words.

Jon Jermey February 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

The ‘debate’ that Gleick is concerned not to see stifled is the debate about just how many shedloads of money get channelled to AGW alarmists — many, or very many?

Dr Robert Davidson February 23, 2012 at 8:21 am

The real scandal is what the documents reveal about the Heartland Institute – demonstrating how dreadfully deceitful is the denier industry.

James March 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

Something tells me that Dr Robert Davidson has as little integrity as Peter Gleick – perhaps his inane comment was the key. . .

When you say “denier,” you have taken the argument out of the realm of science, and dropped it squarely into the realm of religion – a place where it most assuredly does not belong, as religion and science do not mix – kind of like Chlorine and Ammonia.

Congratulations, Dr Robert Davidson, you are now irrelevant.

Con Michael March 9, 2012 at 2:51 am

According to the rigors of scientific discipline,no hypothesis is worthy of any consideration unless it implies the kind of evidence that would prove it wrong.Predictions based on the theory are tested against the facts.How many anomalous results are required to invalidate a proposition?To paraphrase Einstein…a mere one.The last couple of decades are replete with failed global warming predictions.Ergo the Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory has been discredited.BTW,a skeptic is defined as one who will not accept any proposition without prior critical rational analysis.The word is derived from Greek and translates as “one who thinks”.Under the circumstances,the more skeptics the better

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