2012-02-21 17:07:48Peter Gleick and the Heartland Release of Documents
Chris Colose

colose@wisc...
96.249.11.201

Just a little something to help guide the discussion.  Feel free to add to this, and possibly we can develop into a SkS position on the matter.  For now, these are only my views, but I feel we should take a responsible rather than an 'attacking' approach.

 

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Over the last several days, there has been tremendous discussion concerning the release of documents summarizing plans, strategies, and budgets of the Heartland Institute.  See, for example deSmogblog (which as the documents attached), WattsUpWithThat, ClimateAudit, DeepClimate, and DotEarth to name but a few.  Several points worth mentioning have emerged from this

- A number of documents that can be attributed to Heartland have been released, now understood to be from Peter Gleick, a water and climate analyst who writes for the Huffington Post.  Gleick allegedly received an anonymous document in the mail in early-2012, from which he subsequently solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under a false name. 

- Heartland has denied the authenticity of at least one major document, including the 2012 Climate Strategy that formed the basis for a large number of criticisms against the organization following the "leak." The wise thing to do is to assume that Heartland is correct regarding the lack of authenticity of of the Climate document.  There is endless speculation on the internet as to who wrote the Climate Strategy, but that speculation serves little purpose.

The responses on the blogs have been fairly predictable, with the “leak” serving largely as reinforcement tools, and the responses generally correlating with an individuals views about climate change. However, there needs to be broader perspective on this:

1) First, we should never condone the illegal obtaining of documents (or falsification of documents if this happened). The actions by Peter Gleick were immoral, irresponsible, and possibly illegal. They should not serve as a template for future “debate tactics.” After all, some can appreciate the difficulties that Heartland must have encountered over the last several days, given the attack on their credibility in the face of possibly artificial or misused documents and claims. This was the same difficulty that many of the scientist victims of “climategate” had to endure for years when they had their personal e-mail discussions publicized and mangled to no end. Many of these persecutions based on misrepresentations of the e-mails were led by Heartland, but it does not mean we need to play tag with them. In both cases, this style of attack serves no scientific purpose and has the sole characteristic of character assassination.

Nonetheless, some documents reveal interesting and troubling aspects of the Heartland initiative, including the intention to spread climate misinformation to K-12 classrooms. This should be kept in mind in the future.

2) There should also be no double standards attached to the assault on climate scientists or on an organization with a “skeptical” agenda. The climategate leak was just as unethical and irresponsible as the release of Heartland documents. Judith Curry, for example, is on record of saying “The Uncertainty Monster Rests Its Case (thank you hacker/whistleblower)” in reference to climategate, yet was very quick to attack Gleick’s integrity.

3) Many of us can sympathize with Gleick’s frustration over the lack of transparency by such private organizations, the absence of standards that skeptics are held to, as well the the growing spread of misinformation concerning climate change. This may be unavoidable, but the peer-reviewed literature is the best way to establish where there is and is not legitimate scientific argument. That strategy may be less effective in the popular media, but it is possible to develop efficient communication with the public while retaining honesty and integrity, maintaining consistency with the scientific literature, and not lowering to the standards of some of these anti-climate organizations.

4) It should be clear that the physics of the atmosphere doesn’t care about any of this, nor does this impact that thousands of scientists that have the courage to tackle the uncertainties that exist in the Earth system. The science of radiative transfer, or the methodologies developed to diagnose climate sensitivity are in no way affected by events such as “leaked documents” or e-mails. Sea ice extent will not care about professional decisions, nor will altered animal migration patterns listen to the harsh words that opposing members of the debate have for each other.

The reality of global warming, as well as a dominant human influence causing that warming, has now been established with high confidence. The evidence of a new climate and the associated concerns are compelling, and this alone will serve as testament to the power of physics, observation, and hard work by researchers over the next few decades. Whether humanity listens to this evidence is a tough matter, but the evidence does not need to be supplemented with “gotcha” games of this sort.

Lastly, there have been several references by Gleick and Heartland with respect to “debating” the science. Interrogating the many mysteries and complexities of how the Earth system works is one of the greatest endeavors that can be pursued by a scientist, right along with studies investigating the origin of humans, or the possibility of life on other planets. Moreover, the science of climate is a fascinating multidisciplinary field involving work at the interface of paleoclimate, ice sheet dynamics, sea ice physics, observations from multiple pieces of information, modeling, carbon cycle work, cloud and aerosols, etc. There is no end to the legitimate discussions that those with a passionate interest in climate can have, without the need for personal attacks. It may be naive to suspect Heartland has any intention of pursuing this legitimate line of inquiry, but they will demonstrate that themselves over time; no one should try to expose them by such methods.

2012-02-21 19:52:21
John Mason

johntherock@btopenworld...
86.133.202.150

Chris,

Re - paragraph two, would it not be better to simply repost Peter's statement? It's pretty concise. Unfamiliar as I am with U.S. law, was what Peter did illegal i.e. impersonating another for the purpose of obtaining confidential documents?

Cheers - John

2012-02-21 21:57:22
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley
gcc@cmp.uea.ac...
88.108.208.125

I definitely agree with the responsible rather than attacking tone.

I think the "possibly" shouldn't be before the "unethical", as his actions were clearly unethical, just possibly not illegal.  I would go for "irresponsible, unethical and possibly illegal", I don't think any equivocation about what Gleick did being wrong is a good idea.

I would drop the paragraph regarding HIs K12 plans etc as it is attacking and comes across as implicitly excusing the actions to some extent as there was evidence of "wrongdoing".

I would keep paragraph 2 as it says what we think, rather than what Glieck thinks (even if it is the same)

The points about the need for there to be no double standards, and that the place where these things shoud be settled is the peer reviewed litterature are well made

2012-02-21 21:59:17
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.46.184

"A number of documents that can be attributed to Heartland have been released, now understood to be from Peter Gleick, a water and climate analyst who writes for the Huffington Post.  Gleick allegedly received an anonymous document in the mail in early-2012, from which he subsequently solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under a false name.  The actions by Gleick were irresponsible, and possibly illegal/unethical, and should not in any way be condoned.  I'm sure many will line up behind Gleick for his courage to use top notch investigative skills to uncover the truth, as journalists sometimes must do, and indeed there is no current evidence that any of his facts are out of line.  However, this strategy should not serve as a template for future investigation of individuals or organizations on either side of the 'debate.'"

The bold-face part is inappropriate: This reminds me of the self-justification of News of the World.

 

"Heartland has denied the authenticity of at least one major document, including the 2012 Climate Strategy that formed the basis for a large number of criticisms against the organization following the "leak."  Nonetheless, other documents (including the 2012 fundraising plan) reveal troubling aspects of the Heartland initiative, including the intention to spread climate misinformation to K-12 classrooms.  However, the wise thing to do is to assume that Heartland is correct regarding the authenticty of various documents.  There is endless speculation on the internet as to who wrote the Climate Strategy, but that speculation serves little purpose."

To the contrary: If we credit Peter's confession, I think we can assume the non-Strategy documents are genuine. HL are never going to state that; nor would I, in their shoes. But if they were not, and the truth were less embarassing, they would straightforwardly declare them as distorted, as they did with the first.

 

My personal perspective: Anytime confidential documents are released, some legitimate owner is going to be upset, whether it's by theft or by leakage. For the leaker/thief, it matters what his status was with regard to the law; but once the documents are out, anyone can comment on them. They are publicly available, the cat is out of the bag. Our focus should be on the content of the information. It is on those grounds that we find the climategate material to be rather pointless, when understood. Whether people find the denialgate material pointless or confirmatory of our expectations is a matter for discussion.

2012-02-22 03:00:20
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

I think Climategate was more unethical than Gleick's (i.e. climategate only released cherry-picked emails), but maybe say climategate was at least as unethical?

2012-02-22 03:14:40
logicman

logicman_alf@yahoo.co...
86.183.238.167

However, the wise thing to do is to assume that Heartland is correct regarding the authenticty

minor typo.

 

Privately: this is war.  It is corporate power vs democracy.  In war it is perfectly acceptable to use any method to obtain intelligence about the other side's actions, motives and sources of aid and succour.

Publicly: The matter of ethics is for Peter Gleick's conscience, his peers and his employers.  The matter of law is for the appropriate authorities.  The matter of seemingly deliberate attempts to undermine sound science is a matter for any and every ethical, rational and socially responsible person on the planet.

2012-02-22 04:25:08
Chris Colose

colose@wisc...
169.226.43.216

John Mason- I agree, I will add the quote

Dikran- I agree about changing to "irresponsible, unethical and possibly illegal." 

I emphatically disagree that this post should remove content concerning the actual material uncovered in the documents.  There is a lot of interesting information within the documents, and none of it is perhaps surprising, but it shouldn't be ignored just because we don't like how it was obtained.

nealjking- The 'inappropriate' statement you refer to is not an endorsement (explicitly the opposite in surrounding sentences), but rather trying to convey multiple viewpoints about this event.  Some, such as Scott Mandia, have already declared Gleick a 'hero.'  I don't agree with this, but it is a viewpoint that is out there.

2012-02-22 04:35:34
Alex C

coultera@umich...
67.194.32.180

The way that you phrased the "inappropriate" statement Chris, especially by calling his "investigative skills" "top notch," makes it seem as though you condone them.  I understand where you are coming from when you say that you want to convey that multiple viewpoints exist, but it would serve better to quote such viewpoints instead of naming (and not explicitly stating what you are doing).

2012-02-22 05:38:01
Riccardo

riccardoreitano@tiscali...
2.33.129.146

Agreeing or not to what Chris wrote, I think that SkS should stay away from this diatribe (detail here).

2012-02-22 05:50:21
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

Yeah, I'm not really sure we should say anything about the matter.  If we do, I like the way Chris framed it (in the context of staying focused on the science).  But it's debatable whether we should say anything.

2012-02-22 08:54:09Suggested sentence change
Brian Purdue

bnpurdue@bigpond.net...
138.130.140.206

-------However, the wise thing to do is to assume that Heartland is correct regarding the lack of authenticity of the Climate document.

However, it is prudent to assume the lack of authenticity of the Climate document is correct.

Sounds less like we are taking Heartland’s side and does not name them.

 

2012-02-22 09:04:51
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.46.184

I would put it quite differently:

However, it would be prudent, at this point, not to rely upon the authenticity of the Heartland documents

 

(What is the "Climate document"? I saw the memo (fake), the budget, description of work, board minutes, etc. I don't recall a "Climate document".)

2012-02-22 09:15:40
Brian Purdue

bnpurdue@bigpond.net...
138.130.140.206

Is'nt the authenticity of only one document (strategy) in question?

I too didn't recognise the words "Climate document".

2012-02-22 09:41:56
Andy S

skucea@telus...
209.121.15.232

Although I think this post is well written and hits the right notes, I agree with Riccardo and Dana that we should not post this. We should stay silent, at least, until all the facts are known (especially the author, the sender and the veracity of the "faked" document). If Heartland or the police overreact, then perhaps that's the time to come to Peter's aid.

2012-02-22 09:45:01
Chris Colose

colose@wisc...
169.226.41.99

It's the "Climate Strategy" document...

2012-02-22 10:16:08
Chris Colose

colose@wisc...
169.226.41.99

I have written a modified version of this post in a comment at RealClimate (as above, starting with "The responses on the blogs....", and it's ultimately up to the mods whether they want to post anything relevant here.

2012-02-22 11:06:16
Brian Purdue

bnpurdue@bigpond.net...
138.130.140.206

Put me on the "don't publish yet list". It's good to have it ready to go but probably have to update wording even in a couple of days.