Archive for February, 2012

Roberts on Myhrvold and Caldeira

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

David Roberts at Grist is one of my favorite writers on climate issues, which made him somewhat conspicuous by his absence during all the recent brouhaha over Peter Gleick. Where was Roberts? He was the dog that didn’t bark.

Well, actually, he’s been publishing climate stories for the last few weeks. He just hasn’t written anything (that I’ve seen) about Gleick. I wonder what he’s thinking about that.

In the meantime, here’s a fairly depressing report by Roberts on what Nathan Myhrvold has been up to: Myhrvold finds we need clean energy yesterday (and no natural gas) to avoid being cooked.

Party Like a (With a) Movie Star

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Just in time for the Oscars… I want to party with this guy: everetthiller’s Holiday Party 2011.

The Cytokine Storm

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Credit: NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

After the season 2 finale of Downton Abbey on PBS last week, there was a “making of” featurette that touched on the 1918 flu outbreak that was part of the plot. They mentioned a fact I’d heard before but had forgotten: In severe flu pandemics, a disproportionate number of those who die are otherwise-healthy young adults. They’re prone to a particular kind of immune system response known as a cytokine storm. From Wikipedia:

When the immune system is fighting pathogens, cytokines signal immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages to travel to the site of infection. In addition, cytokines activate those cells, stimulating them to produce more cytokines. Normally, this feedback loop is kept in check by the body. However, in some instances, the reaction becomes uncontrolled, and too many immune cells are activated in a single place. The precise reason for this is not entirely understood but may be caused by an exaggerated response when the immune system encounters a new and highly pathogenic invader.

A healthy immune system is a good thing, normally, but the positive feedback loop of a cytokine storm can lead to fever, fatigue, nausea, and death. In the 1918 pandemic, between 50 and 100 million people died, making it one of the deadliest disasters in history.

While obsessing this week over the events of the Heartland leak, it occurred to me that in a way, we’re going through the cultural equivalent of a cytokine storm. For those of us who accept the mainstream scientific views expressed in IPCC reports, climate change is an existential treat. For Heartland to be working to forestall action on climate change makes them, in the eyes of climate activists, the equivalent of a “new and highly pathogenic invader” that provokes an exaggerated response.

Ignore for the moment the fact that the released documents show Heartland to actually be a pretty small, and in some ways unimpressive, cabal of supervillains. For Peter Gleick and his more ardent supporters, the stakes are so high that when combatting Heartland virtually any ethical breach (including lying) is permissible, even heroic. Like Barry Goldwater addressing the 1964 Republican convention, their view could be summarized as: Extremism in the defense of climate is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of consensus is no virtue.

I first thought of the cytokine storm analogy while reading this post by DeMelle and Littlemore at DeSmogBlog: Evaluation shows “Faked” Heartland Climate Strategy Memo is Authentic. Having studied the contents of the strategy memo, and the arguments for and against its authenticity, my reaction to DeMelle and Littlemore’s argument was immediate and unequivocal: they’re wrong, and obviously so. They must either be actively lying or passively bullshitting (that is, willfully disregarding the truth to assert a position they favor, without bothering about facts).

The argument about the strategy memo’s authenticity began last week, before Gleick’s confession. Heartland’s first public response to the leak, on February 15, denounced the strategy memo as “fake.” McArdle argued against the memo’s authenticity in her February 16 column, Leaked Docs From Heartland Institute Cause a Stir – but Is One a Fake? At DeSmogBlog, Littlemore wrote a piece the same day asserting that Heartland was trying to change the subject from their own wrongdoing by focusing on the forged memo, and saying the onus was on them to prove it was a fake.

McArdle followed with more criticism the next day: Heartland Memo Looking Faker by the Minute. And really, she was right. The deeper one dug into the document, the harder it became to believe it was genuine.

All of which made DeMelle and Littlemore’s February 22 post a real eye-opener for me. Whether they were knowingly lying or were merely burrowed so deeply into their ideological bunker that they no longer recognized the truth, they were fatally compromising their credibility in the eyes of anyone other than their most committed followers. As McArdle wrote of Gleick in her February 21 column (Peter Gleick Confesses to Obtaining Heartland Documents Under False Pretenses):

After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else.

It was true in the case of Gleick, and it’s true in the case of DeSmogBlog: The overreaction to their ideological opponents has had the effect of destroying their credibility. It’s the cytokine storm. Faced with the threat of the Heartland pathogen, the DeSmogBlog bloggers’ impassioned immune response has carried them beyond the point where they can effectively win the hearts and minds that their larger mission requires.

Greg Laden, an anthropologist blogger at Science Blogs, quickly endorsed DeMelle and Littlemore’s defense of the strategy memo’s authenticity. He linked to it from this item: “Faked” Heartland Institute Doc is Authentic, writing:

This memo is so embarrassing that Heartland has been insisting that it is fake, but a new evaluation of the document demonstrates that it is not.

It doesn’t demonstrate that, and by endorsing that view Laden undercuts his own credibility. He’s simply accepting DeMelle and Littlemore’s characterization at face value, because they are on the same side in the fight against Heartland, and they share the belief that a vigorous immune response requires them to attack the Heartland infection uncritically.

Commenters questioned Laden’s position. I enjoyed this comment, by jumm33:

ROFLCOPTERS!!!

http://www.dailykos.com…

http://www.democraticunderground.com…

and now this.

(Knarlyknight, in particular, will appreciate the second link.)

I weighed in as follows:

So, are you asserting that Heartland actually did prepare the strategy memo for internal distribution, and distributed it? That seems extraordinarily unlikely to me.

I think this might be a case where the willingness to engage in motivated reasoning and confirmation bias to defend an untenable position (“the strategy memo is legitimate”) ultimately will do damage to the reputations of those who engage in it. It would be a tragic irony if this became another incident like Climategate in terms of actually lessening public support for action to address climate change, but I see a real risk that that’s where this will end up if people on the science side indulge in defenses of Gleick’s actions that are perceived as irrational by the general public. And that’s how a defense of the strategy memo as legitimate is going to be perceived, I suspect.

Another user made a comment about people “trolling” (without singling me out, but I assumed he was including me). I wrote this in reply:

I’m not trolling. I’m a sincere advocate for taking climate science seriously. I believe, though, that taking it seriously includes thinking about how we’re going to deal with the sizable chunk of people who are politically conservative and get much of their information from dubious sources like Fox News. If we can’t peel off a significant number of those people and get them to recognize the truth about climate change, we don’t have a chance of implementing the kind of collective strategy climate change requires any time soon.

We’re not going to get those people with dubious arguments like this. And dubious it is: If we can’t divorce ourselves from what we want to believe long enough to appreciate the evidence in the strategy memo that argues for it being a fake, then in my view we are falling short of the requirements of honest skepticism.

Yes, the denialists (the worst of them, at least) are legitimately villainous. It’s understandable that the combination of fear and anger that their actions provoke would push anyone toward a polarized position and a desire to push back against their lies with assertions like the one being linked to here.

It’s an understandable temptation. But the temptation must be resisted. If Peter Gleick’s mistakes teach anything, it is that the consequences of succumbing to an ends-justifies-the-means erosion of principles can be severe. Yes, we need to confront the fallacies, mistaken beliefs, and outright falsehoods coming from the denialist side. We are in a battle for hearts and minds. But if we get so caught up in the battle that we are willing to treat the flimsy arguments offered by DeMille and Littlemore as compelling, we will lose the war. The vast majority of currently-undecided third parties are not going to look at the evidence and conclude that the strategy memo is authentic. They are going to conclude that we are irrationally committed to our position, and that the denialists are probably right when they say that the scientific consensus is a sham produced by people who are being similarly irrational.

They will be wrong to conclude that. But by the time the climate has worsened enough for them to realize it we will have lost valuable time to address the problem.

I see the response to the denialist’s dishonesty as being analogous to a cytokine storm. We’re like an immune system reacting to a pathogen. But in the case of Peter Gleick’s actions, and of those who now defend him to the extent of calling his actions heroic and arguing that the faked strategy memo is authentic, our reaction threatens to do more harm to the patient than the pathogen ever could.

I recommend what Megan McArdle has written about the strategy memo. I don’t agree with everything she’s written about it, but she’s got a good take on the degree to which the defense of Gleick’s actions by climate activists threatens to undermine our position in the larger debate.

I don’t know if Gleick forged the strategy memo himself. But I think it’s clear that someone forged it, and that whoever committed the forgery had access to the legitimate documents. I remain intrigued by the idea that this was a false flag operation, in which someone who had access to Heartland’s internal documents leaked the fake memo to Gleick hoping he would release it, after which he could be denounced and neutralized as an opponent. I don’t think that scenario is nearly as far-fetched as McArdle seems to think. But I don’t actually know. And neither do most of us, at this point.

The only people who know for sure whether Gleick is telling the truth about the fake strategy document are Gleick, and, if Gleick is telling the truth, the person or persons who forged it and sent it to him. If this ends up in court, and if Gleick has evidence to corroborate his account of the timeline, this could get really interesting, since that would mean he could mount a pretty convincing case that he was, in fact, set up by someone with access to internal Heartland documents.

I don’t know what the chances of that are. But I know that being skeptical means I need to keep an open mind about the competing explanation favored by the denialists: That Gleick is just lying, and that he forged the strategy memo himself as a way to try to make the document leak “sexier”.

MikeB made a substantive response, but I took exception to this part:

Stop pearl clutching – at best it looks weak, and at worst it looks like concern trolling.

This prompted me to respond as follows:

I’m not sure what pearl clutching or concern trolling are, but if I’m engaging in them I apologize. From where I sit, I’m just being as honest as I can about how I see the issue.

I haven’t “made my mind up” about the strategy memo, except that after considering it carefully, I do believe McArdle’s assertions about its implausibility are compelling. The specifics of what it says and the way it says it don’t pass the smell test. It simply isn’t credible as an actual internal Heartland document intending to lay out their actual strategy for some sort of limited internal distribution. There are plenty of good analyses of this question out there already, so I don’t think I need to go into them. If you disagree, that’s fine, and it’s your prerogative, obviously. But if you haven’t examined the question in detail, I encourage you to take another look, beginning with McArdle’s arguments from last week.

I’m not simply crediting Heartland’s claims that it is “fake”. But their willingness to make that claim, early and often, does factor into my thinking in this way: If the document were legitimate, and was actually prepared for its described purpose, then it would presumably have been distributed to multiple people within Heartland. That raises the stakes for Heartland to denounce it as they have. If there are other copies of it, perhaps other versions of it, floating around within Heartland it becomes a much greater risk for them to make the statements they have, since at any time one of those copies could come to light.

The people running Heartland disagree with me, and are willing to baldly assert things that are untrue; I’ve seen them do it. But they’re not stupid. Taken together with the content and style problems of the document itself, their willingness to put themselves out there calling it a fake and making it the centerpiece of their response to the leak is enough for me to conclude that yeah, they’re probably telling the truth, at least in a very narrowly construed sense, when they say that.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I think the question is still very much open as to who it was who forged it, and for what purpose, so in that sense my mind isn’t made up about the document at all. But I do believe that the position being endorsed by Greg Laden in the item above is dubious. So I guess you’re right about my mind being made up on that point. I’d be interested in hearing counterarguments, but I don’t think those made by DeMille and Littlemore in the linked-to item are compelling. I think their confirmation bias is showing.

I think I had convinced myself that we were making progress toward some kind of collective shared insight. (Heh. On the Internet.) The next comment, by user elpsi, brought me back to reality:

John Callender

http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen…

See Douche, that is what actual skepticism looks like

Sigh. I realize it’s just one person, and random drive-by nastiness is a fact of life online. But it bugged me, in part because I’d thought (naively) that I was among the like-minded, on a blog sympathetic to “my” side.

The item he (or she, though I think the balance of evidence strongly favors he) linked to was one I’d already read, in which Laden reproduced Shawn Otto’s experiment with content analysis as a means of identifying the strategy memo’s author (which itself was inspired by Anthony Watts’ post on WUWT). As I wrote in a previous post, I found the “methodology” employed by both Otto and Laden to be fairly ridiculous. The results were kind of funny, but not anything to be taken seriously. I assumed that was the spirit in which Otto made his post, but with Laden I wasn’t sure; coming off his credulous endorsement of DeMelle and Littlemore, it seemed like he may have thought the analysis was actually significant.

The cytokine storms of the climate debate operate at multiple levels. I just finished reading James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia; Lovelock would argue that the planet itself is a metaphorical superorganism, and that the warming feedbacks we’ve triggered are the equivalent of a planetary cytokine response. In more human-centered terms, the warnings of scientists like Mann and Hansen are frightening to people like me, producing a reaction in which we organize and pressure government to act quickly, without waiting for a broader societal consensus. On the other side, pressure for carbon pricing is viewed as a profit-threatening pathogen by the fossil fuel industry, and the big-government programs that would implement those policies as freedom-killing pathogens by free-market advocates. So they activate their political T-cells and macrophages (e.g., Heartland, and legions of snarky online deniers) and rush to the site of infection.

Gleick saw the Heartland Institute as a deadly infection, and ramped up his immune response to a breathtaking degree. Those who defend his actions by asserting ridiculous things are doing the same: responding to the threat with a fervor that I fear will lengthen the time until we can act on the climate problem with a common sense of purpose.

The only way we will successfully combat climate change is if we act in unison. Not just as one ideological camp, or as one nation; in Lovelock’s view, not even as one species. We need to unite as one planet, or at least as one planet-wide superorganism, with a willingness to balance human needs against the needs of the larger biome’s climate-regulation function. Which is… a daunting requirement.

We’re not going to get there like this. We’re not going to get there as long as those concerned about the problem are willing to sacrifice their credibility in the name of fighting the other “side.”

Medical researchers are working on ways to counter cytokine storms. From an article by Shaoni Bhattacharya in New Scientist, New flu drug calms the ‘storm’:

To dampen down the immune reaction, the researchers targeted a specific molecule present in the inflammation response called OX40.

Normally, when the lungs are under attack from a virus, the body’s T-cells are activated. These migrate to the lungs to attack the microbes but they also initiate a second immune system attack called a “cytokine storm”. This surge of chemicals causes inflammation and when severe can seriously harm or even kill the patient.

“After one or two days, the T-cells increase production of OX40,” explains Hussell. “This molecule gives the T-cell a ‘survival signal’ – which makes them hang around in the lungs for a lot longer.” But new cells are arriving all the time, says Ian Humphreys, who led the study, so this prolonged presence is not needed, and exacerbates the cytokine storm.

The new drug, an OX40 fusion protein called OX40:Ig, works by binding to the OX40 receptor and blocking activated T-cells. OX40:Ig, supplied by the company Xenova Research, stopped the symptoms of flu in mice.

We need to dampen our over-the-top immune response. We need to be less strident, less virulent, in response to the other side, so we don’t close off the conversations that need to take place in order for us to build consensus and take action.

I’m saying “we” and “our”, but I’m mostly talking about me. I’ve lost my cool in the comments here a few times lately, saying some nasty things to a certain global warming skeptic that I would never have said to his – or anyone’s – face. It wasn’t Gleickian in degree, but my willingness to treat shcb as a second-class citizen on a blog where he’s probably contributed more content than I have was certainly Gleickian in tone.

I’ve spent time over the past few weeks on web sites I wouldn’t normally visit, places like climateaudit.org and Judith Curry’s blog and even WattsUpWithThat. There are views and attitudes being expressed there that are as misguided as anything I’m criticizing here. But there are also a lot of thoughtful discussions by people who are clearly quite rational and interested in getting to the bottom of things.

Here’s a post I made at Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog:

I’m very interested in the question of whether Gleick forged the strategy memo, vs. his having received it anonymously via mail prior to the phishing attempt (as he said – or at least strongly implied – in his HuffPo confession). I realize that there are lots of fingerprints in the memo itself pointing to Gleick as the author. And I realize that there are enough similarities between the fake strategy memo and the legitimate documents to make it implausible that the strategy memo could have been forged without the forger having access to those documents.

Basically, I’m looking to list the evidence for and against the “honeypot” scenario, in which someone other than Gleick who had access to the internal Heartland documents forged the memo, intentionally inserting real information, fake information, and clues that would tend to implicate Gleick as the forger, then mailed it to Gleick hoping he’d publicize it, after which it could be used to discredit him.

I’m not trying to suggest that the honeypot scenario is more or less likely than the more straightforward explanation, that Gleick forged the document himself in an attempt to “sex up” the document release. But I’m interested in the arguments for and against both explanations.

I’ve got some commentary on my blog at lies.com that explains more of where I’m coming from. Disclosure: Anyone going there will quickly discover that I have a history as a warmist liberal who complains about people ignoring the “scientific consensus”. For which I actually want to express a certain amount (but only a certain amount) of sincere chagrin. This whole incident, and some of the actions by my warmist fellow travelers (including, but not limited to, Peter Gleick) have created what might be termed “a teachable moment”.

Anyway, I’m looking to be taught, and I’m impressed by the quality of analysis I’ve been finding in threads like this one on a bunch of blogs I never paid much attention to before. So feel free to cut me a new orifice if you feel the need. But if you’d also be willing to comment on the question I ask above, along with your reasons for thinking the way you do, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

I was bracing myself for a hostile reaction, but it didn’t come. Instead I just got people politely offering me their views. Elsewhere in the same thread I came across a comment by Richard Betts that included this:

But I guess maybe the whole thing is just symptomatic of how this so-called “Climate Wars” business is getting completely out of hand. The militants on both sides need to rein it in before someone actually gets hurt (I mean for real, not just their reputation).

We now need Radical Moderates to step forward and distance themselves from the extremists (at both ends). Let’s talk it all through like grownups instead of banging on about alarmists, deniers and conspiracy theories. It’s all very childish.

In response, Steve McIntyre wrote:

I agree that the situation has gotten out of hand.

[snip]

If I were the CAGW sales manager, I would view one of my key missions as focused marketing to the precise sort of people that make up the audience at Climate Audit, Lucia’s, Jeff Id and to a portion of Watts Up: highly educated professionals, including scientists from other fields, who are interested in the climate debate, who are technically competent and who haven’t reached an opinion on whether climate is a big, medium or small problem (including me.)

The audience has to be treated more like investors than high school students i.e. if you’re pitching to investors and they don’t invest, you can’t “fail” them or tell them that they’re stupid or tools of the fossil fuel industry; you have to think about why your pitch failed and what you can do better, and leave on good terms with the investor and maybe you’ll have another chance later on. It’s madness to condemn this audience as “deniers” or “ground troops” of the fossil fuel industry – madness both on the part of the activists who do so and madness on the part of the broader climate “community” that tolerates and even honors such conduct from its activist wing.

Also too many of the self-appointed sales people for CAGW are too wrapped up in their own self-importance and are unlikable to an extended audience. Indeed, if I were CAGW sales manager, I could hardly imagine a sales force more unlikely to succeed. This is quite aside from whether the message is right or wrong. If it’s important to actually persuade someone on the fence that CAGW is an imminent danger, then it’s important to talk to people on the fence or even in opposition (to get them on the fence.) It’s also probably important to retire some of the self-appointed sales people – thank for their service politely but get spokesmen who can build trust with a wider community.

I think Betts and McIntyre have a point.

As I was sitting down to write this, I saw a new post by Michael Tobis on his Planet 3.0 blog. Tobis has been one of my favorite voices commenting on this whole affair from the perspective of “my” side. I can’t really summarize his post adequately; you really have to read the whole thing to get the feel of his confused, exasperated, but oddly liberated tone: What a shiny damn penny! Here’s a taste, at least:

What a couple of weeks! Amazing stuff everywhere!

I have rethought it and I concede that the Wattsians and McArdle are right. The disputed memo is not plausibly from Bast or directly from Heartland. Nobody who speaks English would plausibly use “anti-climate” to describe themselves under any circumstances.

But Peter Gleick. Who? You’re joking, right?

I have thought some more about it and this is what I think. When he was first accused, and as I and many others thought, wildly and implausibly accused, I expected a strong performance from Peter Gleick in the mode of Santer or Mann. Really better than Santer or Mann, who didn’t expect it and didn’t have the personality to easliy endure it. It didn’t cross my mind for a second that Peter was guilty.

But he is guilty, so now the question was, was it worth it? My first response was, along with everybody else’s, no, no way was it worth it, but surely Peter didn’t compose the Disputed Memo.

The publication of the emails by Heartland on fakegate.com have changed my mind. Peter made no attempt to be anonymous. As soon as they realized they were being spoofed, it was obvious. They looked ridiculous and got a lot of eyes trained on them. Then totally unexpectedly, Peter confessed!

Actually, he had to yank their chains pretty hard before they even noticed. What a transparent hack! Nitwits!

I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion Tobis arrives at; read it yourself and see what you think. But I’m impressed at the mere fact of his movement. Speaking from experience, changing one’s views is hard. If Gleick’s self-destructive cytokine storm makes it so people like Tobis (and me) are forced into an honest re-evaluation of our deep-rooted beliefs, maybe there will be some good that comes out of this after all.

More on the Heartland Document Leak

Friday, February 24th, 2012

I have a substantive post on the Heartland thing that I plan to write shortly, but in the meantime here’s another massive roundup of the latest stuff I’ve been reading, including some quoting of myself from various blogs’ comments.

Climate stuff unrelated to Heartland:

  • Understanding the Global Warming Debate (Warren Meyer in his Forbes blog) shcb pointed this out in the comments to a previous item, and I have to admit: I liked it. It was lucid, informative, and even if I don’t necessarily buy into all the conclusions he comes to, I appreciated his approach. So thanks, shcb. I learned something.
  • Concerned Scientists Reply on Global Warming (Wall Street Journal) This is the response of the original group of 16 scientists who had the contrarian op-ed in the WSJ, responding to some of the letters to the editor questioning their more-dubious statements. Definitely worth reading, and in the alternate universe in which I am not consumed with the Heartland strategy memo I would totally have things to say about their graph purporting to show IPCC projections versus actual temperature rise.
  • Bickmore on the WSJ response (Barry Bickmore writing at RealClimate) Fortunately, Barry Bickmore had time to say some of the things I would have said about the graph in the WSJ, along with a bunch of other things.

Mainstream media (and media-related) stories:

Information from Heartland itself:

  • Heartland president details curriculum questioning climate science (Politico) News item about a video interview Joseph Bast (Heartland’s president) did with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal about the education program revelations in the document leak. Besides making some statements that I have a hard time interpreting as anything but bald-faced lies, Bast says a bunch of more-reasonable stuff. He also accuses Peter Gleick directly of forging the strategy memo. Here’s the video itself: The Purloined Climate Papers.
  • Heartland Institute Releases Peter Gleick Emails Detailing Fraud, Identity Theft (Heartland press release)
  • fakegate.org (Heartland) A website that includes redacted versions of the emails in which Gleick impersonated the Heartland board member in order to obtain the legitimate documents. Interesting stuff, and helps put a specific timeline in place for at least some of the events. Interestingly, the phishing operation by Gleick came in the wake of an email exchange in which Heartland unsuccessfully solicited Gleick’s participation in a debate at their anniversary benefit dinner.

Blog-a-palooza:

  • Peter Gleick: Climate Hero? (Marc Gunther) Excellent summary of the situation, including what I think was a very insightful take on the problem represented by those Gleick supporters who are going overboard in his defense. (More on that in the aforementioned upcoming post.)

From a comment I put on Gunther’s blog post:

Can you elaborate on why you believe Gleick’s account of the events strains credulity? I’ve been intrigued by the “honeypot” theory from the beginning of this story; the first thing I thought when I heard Heartland’s response to the leak (in which they focused their outrage on the forged “2012 strategy memo”) was, “Oh, just like the Killian documents” (those being the forged documents allegedly showing George W. Bush malfeasance in his National Guard days, the publication of which ended the career of Dan Rather). I dismissed the thought just as quickly, though, because it didn’t seem to make sense: I could see the forged strategy memo being leaked by a Heartland-connected trickster in order to attack the recipient for using a forged document when it became public, but I couldn’t see them also including the legitimate documents, which really were embarrassing and probably made their donors quite unhappy.

When Gleick made his confession the following week, though, it suddenly became a viable theory again, because it matched up nicely with his version of events: The anonymous source who supplied him the forged memo did not anticipate that Gleick would have been enterprising enough to obtain the legitimate documents via his phishing attempt. Of course, given that Gleick was no doubt feeling the heat by this point, it could be that his version of events fitting nicely with the honeypot theory is just another layer of deception, in which he attempts to construct a plausible villain to deflect (some) culpability from himself.

Your other comments, I think, were spot on. Thanks for being a beacon of reason in the midst of what is becoming quite the stormy sea of its opposite.

Gunther replied via email with a thoughtful response, but since he didn’t choose to make it publicly I’ll keep it private.

Kloor gave a good summary and list of links relating to the strategy memo, and ended with this:

For those inclined to take Gleick at his word–that the memo was mailed to him by a Heartland insider–what do you make of Otto’s musing about about it being a Heartland set-up? Lastly, what would it take for Gleick himself to end all this speculation?

I responded in the lengthy comment thread with this:

I agree that the “Gleick’s fingerprints are all over the strategy memo” meme has been overstated by some. People taking Heartland’s side in this have been quick to dismiss the “honeypot” scenario out of hand as preposterous. But if Gleick had received the memo in the mail as he said, and if it had been forged by someone with access to the internal Heartland documents who was carrying out a scam targeting Gleick, then the facts that the memo contained errors (making it easily deniable as a forgery by Heartland) and Gleick-esque “fingerprints” (making Gleick easily “discoverable” as the source) would be unremarkable. Those would be exactly the things that such an attacker would want to include in the forged memo.

I’m not saying that exonerates Gleick. That would be as ludicrous as those currently arguing that the strategy memo is, in fact, legitimate. All I’m saying is that given that the memo is a forgery, either explanation (it was forged by Gleick to “sex up” the release of the phished documents, or it was forged by someone with access to internal Heartland documents who was targeting Gleick) can account for the characteristics of the memo more or less equally.

For Gleick to end this speculation would take one of two things: confess to being the forger, or produce compelling evidence to support his version of the timeline, in which he received the forged memo before he obtained the phished documents from Heartland.

See also BobN’s comment, which includes this:

Now, on the final theory of it being some sort of “honeypot” or “false flag” ploy to sucker Gleick, I first thought such an idea was out-of-hand crazy, but upon further reflection don’t think it can be fully ruled out. Now I don’t think such a ploy would have been done with the knowledge or approval of Heartland (including Joe Bast), but could have been done by an individual within Heartland.

If we accept Gleick’s statement that he received the document via mail before he went phishing for the board documents and that he made no alterations to the document, then it had to have been written by someone with access to drafts of the board documents. Now let say you’re a blogger that has been in a bit of back and forth with Gleick so you know his hot button issues, and are communication professional that can pick out writing styles and idiosyncrasies. You think “Let me gin up a fake document sure to get Gleick riled up and see if I can get him to release it to the press”, with the idea that Heartland will then be able claim it is a fake document, perhaps even proving it by releasing appropriately-redacted versions of the real documents and making Gleick look bad. But, unexpectedly, Gleick doesn’t just release the fake document, he goes one better and fraudulently obtains the real documents and releases the whole thing, not only making himself look bad, but basically putting his entire career and credibility at risk. Definitely seems somewhat far-fetched, but I believe that it is at least plausible. Let’s face it there are just so many things about this whole affair that are hard to explain logically.

My first comment on Kate’s post (slightly edited to clean up some mistakes and poor word choices in the original):

Given the current climate (hah! pun!) surrounding this issue, it’s probably worthwhile for me to preface what I’m about to say with the following: 1) I accept the scientific consensus on climate change, 2) I’m a regular reader of your blog and a fan of most of what you have to say on the subject, and 3) I think the Heartland Institute is populated by ideologues with a demonstrated willingness to lie in the service of their agenda, which I think is a misguided and dangerous one.

With all that said, I think you should take a closer look at a few aspects of the position you’ve taken in this post.

First, you appear to be accepting as factual Peter Gleick’s account of his own actions. Under the circumstances, more skepticism might be warranted. He’s acknowledged behaving unethically (at least) in impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain their internal materials, then releasing those materials anonymously. He faces the possibility of criminal and/or civil legal jeopardy as a result, and is presumably receiving skilled advice on public relations and the crafting of his public statements in order to achieve the strongest possible legal position going forward. Given that, I think it’s worth treating his account of those aspects of the situation that cannot be independently verified as being at best provisionally true.

Second, I’m very dubious about the claim coming from DeMelle and Littlemore at DeSmogBlog that the “2012 Strategy Memo” is authentic. A lot of people have looked closely at that document, and while there is predictable divergence in the ways that supporters and detractors of Heartland tend to view it, I think the claim that the document is an actual internal Heartland document created for the purpose of planning their strategy for addressing climate change is very hard to support. I recommend the comments written about the document by Megan McArdle last week as a starting point, but in summary, the document has a number of factual errors, some odd phrasings, and an odd focus on Gleick himself and his role at Forbes, all of which are very hard to reconcile with the document being what it purports to be.

DeMelle and Littlemore’s analysis does show something that I think is obvious: Whoever created the document had access to the real Heartland documents that accompanied it in the leak, since there are many correspondences, and whole passages copied word for word, that are in both. But I think the claim by Heartland that the 2012 strategy memo is in some sense a fake is very likely to be true.

If the strategy memo is a forgery, and was created by someone who had access to the real internal Heartland documents, why was it created, and by whom? There are two possible explanations that I think can account for the known facts adequately:

1) The strategy document was forged by Gleick after he received the legitimate documents via his phishing attack on Heartland. He created it in order to have a more dramatic, quotable version of Heartland saying the kinds of things that would be damaging to their reputation, and that would enhance his own. In effect, he “sexed up” the document release.

2) The strategy document was forged by someone connected with Heartland with the specific intent of leaking it to Gleick. The hope was that Gleick would believe the document was genuine, and would either release it openly or leak it anonymously. Once that had happened, Heartland could expose it as a forgery (pointing to the subtle but significant factual errors it contains) and accuse Gleick himself of being its author (based on their knowledge that he had, in fact, been the recipient, and with the added support of the Gleick-specific information included in the document). Note that in this scenario it is not necessary for the Heartland-connected trickster to have intended that Gleick would obtain the legitimate documents via his phishing attempt. I think it very unlikely that the forger would have done that. I assume that the plan, if there was one, was limited to leaking the strategy memo to Gleick.

If Gleick has compelling evidence to support his stated version of the timeline, in which he received the strategy memo first, and only obtained the phished documents later, I would conclude that scenario #2 is probably the truth. If he can’t produce that evidence, I think either scenario is equally likely.

Aside from those two things (your assumption that Gleick’s account is true, and your endorsement of the idea that the strategy memo is authentic), I found your post interesting and informative. Thanks for posting it.

A user named Miken commented later:

I think it is more likely that Gleick is lying, and he is the author of the fake memo.

This prompted the following comment from me (again, slightly edited to clean up some mistakes):

Gleick-as-forger certainly has fewer moving parts than Gleick-as-victim, and might be preferable for that reason alone, all else being equal. But I’m bothered by a few things.

To believe Gleick-as-forger, we need to believe that Gleick, having obtained the real documents, would have thought it was a good idea to forge the strategy memo and release it along with them. He would have to have realized that Heartland would immediately know the strategy memo was fake, and would prominently denounce it as such, shifting the media narrative in the way that has actually happened. Would he have considered that a worthwhile risk? Also, with the forged memo’s prominent mention of Gleick, he would have been planting a neon-sign piece of evidence pointing directly at himself as possibly being connected with the leak. Wouldn’t that have seemed like a bad idea to him? I can’t know what would have been going through his head at that point, but to the extent I try to imagine how I would behave in those circumstances, planting evidence that mentioned me specifically would have been the last thing I would have wanted to do.

In the Gleick-as-victim scenario, these particular problems go away (though other problems take their place). He included the forged strategy memo in the release because he believed, based on the confirming facts in the phished documents, that it was legitimate. We still have to believe that Gleick overlooked those aspects of the strategy memo that quickly raised questions as to its authenticity when it was made public. But I have an easier time accepting that than accepting that he would have knowingly run the risk of forging the document and including it in the release.

There’s another, more subtle problem that I have with the Gleick-as-forger scenario. It doesn’t seem to fit the little I know of Gleick’s personality (though granted, even the behavior he’s admitted seems shockingly out of character, as others who know him have said). To believe Gleick-as-forger, we need to believe that he decided, on his own and without provocation (other than Heartland’s history of known activities), to impersonate a Heartland board member, obtain their internal documents, forge a sexier version of the information contained in them, and leak all that anonymously to the public. That doesn’t sound like what a scientist would do. I know that what he’s admitted to doesn’t sound like what a scientist would do, either, but it’s not nearly as over-the-top scheming and dishonest as this.

Now consider the Gleick-as-victim scenario: He is taken out of his normal day-to-day habits by the receipt of the forged memo. What does he think? He is dubious about its authenticity, but if legitimate it is truly shocking information that really needs to be made public. But how can he corroborate it? He frets, tries to weigh the options in his mind. Under the circumstances, would attempting to obtain confirming documents from Heartland be justified? He agonizes, and eventually concludes that yes, it is. So he does that, and succeeds in obtaining the real documents. He goes through them, looking for corroboration. And it’s there! Numerous specific pieces of information in the strategy memo are present in the legitimate documents. Oh my God! The strategy memo is real!

In his excitement he overlooks the discrepancies, and doesn’t stop to consider the possibility that he’s being conned. He is, after all, someone who really isn’t experienced with those sorts of political dirty tricks. He’s naive. He’s flustered. He’s out of his comfort zone. And he decides that since he has this smoking gun, he really should release it. So he does.

For me to believe Gleick-as-forger, I have to believe Gleick was stupid. For me to believe Gleick-as-victim, I only have to believe he was naive and showed bad judgement under pressure. The latter is more consistent with my (possibly stereotyped) notions of how a prominent scientist might behave in these circumstances.

Granted, Gleick-as-victim requires a Heartland-connected operative willing to initiate a fairly elaborate dirty trick. Maybe it’s because I’m cynical and have been kind of a collector of political dirty tricks like this for a number of years, but that sounds credible to me. And maybe it’s due to my stereotyped view of the kind of people associated with Heartland, but again, they seem to me like the kind of people who might include someone who would come up with a plan like that.

Again, Gleick-as-forger has fewer moving parts, and I need to consider that my own sympathies tend to be with Gleick, rather than Heartland, which distorts my own judgement in his favor. So that’s how I come up with my current sense that either scenario is equally likely. Your mileage (obviously) will vary.

Sorry to ramble on. I’ve been thinking about this too much, probably. But it’s the kind of thing I find interesting.

More Gleick / Heartland Developments

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Another day, another harvest of Heartland-gate catnip:

The Megan McArdle pieces, especially, really made me think. As much as anyone, she’s directly addressing the wacky conspiracy theory I’ve been unable to let go regarding the forged strategy memo. Here’s what she had to say in the first of the two pieces I linked to above (with my own comments interspersed):

The very, very best thing that one can say about this 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.

Some of the climate bloggers are praising Gleick for coming forward, and complaining that this is distracting from the real story. And I agree that it’s a pity that this is distracting from the important question about how fast the climate is warming, and what we should do about it.

But that is not the fault of Heartland, or the people who are writing about it. When a respected public figure says that a couple of intriguing pieces of paper mailed to him by a stranger somehow induced him to assume someone else’s identity and flirt with wire fraud . . . well, that’s a little distracting.

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?

I think McArdle is pretty much right on the mark here. It’s a measure of how far apart the two sides have been driven that the reality-distortion field arising from the mutual hostility has reached this extent.

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.”

After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else.

That last line is a little long for a bumper sticker, which is a shame. And it applies to both sides in this war, obviously.

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.)

Heh. I think McArdle overstates the degree of Evil Genius required to specifically target Gleick, forge a memo based on the real documents but with enough deniability that it could be quickly denounced as a fake, and send it to him, hoping he’d release it. As McArdle almost certainly knows, this kind of dirty trick has been the specialty of a certain low stratum of political operative in this country at least since Watergate. This would be a fairly impressive example, but not so much as to make this an implausible scenario.

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?

Yeah, even in the Gleick-is-telling-the-truth version of the story, this one pretty much has to be a failing on his part, and one that does add to the “what was he thinking?” conundrum.

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.

To me this doesn’t really present a problem for the Gleick-as-victim theory. If that theory is correct, the perpetrator of the dirty trick wasn’t casting some kind of wide net aimed at multiple people. This would have been a narrowly focused attack aimed at Gleick himself. Sending the forged memo to multiple people would have rendered the attack ineffective for exactly the reason McArdle hints at: If anyone else came forward with a copy of the forged memo, it would immediately tend to exonerate Gleick of the charge of having forged it.

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?

I think this is attributing too much super-villain genius to the alleged trickster. I don’t think he or she (if he or she exists) had any idea Gleick would pull off the social engineering attack on Heartland and obtain the real documents.

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

Clearly, whoever forged the strategy memo had access to the legitimate Heartland documents. That means it almost certainly had to be Gleick, acting after he tricked Heartland into releasing them, or someone who already had access to the documents (presumably a Heartland insider or someone close enough to them to have access to the Board of Directors packet).

If he didn’t write the memo, how did Mosher 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?

I’m not buying the “amazing coincidence” theory. Having gone back and looked through much of Mosher’s commentary on the question of the authorship of the strategy memo (see his comments on Tell me what’s horrible about this on Lucia’s blog The Blackboard, for example), I’m leaning toward his just having been smart enough to actually spot the similarities between Gleick’s writing style and the strategy memo, and to have picked up on the oddities of the memo’s content, such that he figured it out on his own.

So yeah, once you accept that clues pointing to Gleick’s authorship really are present in the strategy memo, the only two viable explanations I can see are that 1) they’re there because Gleick wrote it, and he’s lying about having received it from an anonymous source, or 2) they’re there because the forger put them there intentionally in an attempt to frame Gleick. And yeah, as conspiracies go it would certainly be noteworthy, but it’s not like the really crazy impossible conspiracy theories that have so many moving parts and independent conspirators as to be ludicrous on their face. All it really requires is a single reasonably intelligent, resourceful, ethically challenged individual who is heavily invested in the climate wars and has access to the real Heartland documents. (And yeah, I realize that Gleick himself satisfies all those criteria once he’d tricked Heartland into the document release.)

I’m sure crazier things have happened, and as someone who has had an unbelievable encounter or two in her life, I always err on the side of believing people. But I would like more details on this story. When did Gleick receive the memo? Was there a cover letter? From where was it postmarked? Presumably he has saved the envelope and the original letter, so will he turn them over to a neutral party for investigation? I’m sure Heartland can come up donors for some forensics.

McArdle hits it on the head here. If Gleick can prove that he received the strategy memo before he obtained the legitimate documents from Heartland, it would come close to being smoking-gun evidence that he was the victim of a scam by someone else who had access to internal Heartland documents. If he can’t produce that proof, well, that’s unfortunate for him. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the forger, since I can imagine him being inexperienced enough at all this cloak-and-dagger stuff that he didn’t establish that proof at the time. But it would be an opportunity lost, and I’m sure would push many people farther into the “Gleick is probably the forger” camp.

McArdle published the above post yesterday. Here’s some of what she wrote today:

Scientists and journalists are held to higher standards than, say, your average computer hacker. Trust in our work product is dependent on our personal integrity, because it can’t always be verified independently.

Impersonating an actual person is well over the line that any reputable journalist needs to maintain. I might try to get a job at a Food Lion to expose unsafe food handling. I would not represent myself as a health inspector, or the regional VP. I don’t do things that are illegal–at least, not things that are illegal in the stable western democracy in which I live.

Nor would I ever, ever claim that a document came from Heartland unless I had personally received it from them, gotten them to confirm its provenance, or authenticated it with multiple independent sources.

All of this sounds quite wise and reasonable to me. The thing is, though, Gleick isn’t a journalist. Like a lot of scientists who’ve been caught up in the climate wars, he comes off as being very much an amateur when it comes to these kinds of shenanigans. I’m sure in hindsight he recognizes the truth of all the points McArdle makes here. But he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight when he did what he did.

And ethics aside, what Gleick did is insane for someone in his position–so crazy that I confess to wondering whether he doesn’t have some sort of underlying medical condition that requires urgent treatment. The reason he did it was even crazier. I would probably have thrown that memo away. I might have spent a few hours idly checking it out. I would definitely not have risked jail or personal ruin over something so questionable, and which provided evidence of . . . what? That Heartland exists? That it has a budget? That it spends that budget promoting views which Gleick finds reprehensible?

The “medical condition that requires urgent treatment” stuff is pretty heavy artillery. I’m sure the people on the denialist side are going to love quoting it. McArdle can make the case that she means this sincerely, and maybe she does. And maybe she’s right; I wouldn’t be shocked to find that Gleick’s judgement was in fact warped by something, and that it contributed to the bad decisions he made. But again, I don’t think it’s necessary to posit mental illness or some kind of judgment-crippling dependency when simple naiveté and emotional over-involvement in the ongoing battles over climate science could have led to the same sort of lapse.

On that note, a few more questions about Gleick’s story:

How did his correspondent manage to send him a memo which was so neatly corroborated by the documents he managed to phish from Heartland?

Clearly, as McArdle already wrote the day before, the forger had access to the documents. If Gleick’s story about receiving the forgery from an outside party is true, then whoever forged the memo had access to those documents.

How did he know that the board package he phished would contain the documents he wanted? Did he just get lucky?

In the Gleick-as-victim theory he didn’t know. I’m not sure what she means, exactly, by “Did he just get lucky?” Clearly it was extraordinarily unlucky in terms of the eventual consequences it brought upon him. And it wasn’t necessarily some extraordinarily unlikely happenstance; in the Gleick-as-victim theory it would have been important that the documents be enough like the real Heartland documents to be credible to Gleick (while retaining enough clues to be easily exposed as fake if and when they came to light).

If Gleick obtained the other documents for the purposes of corroborating the memo, why didn’t he notice that there were substantial errors, such as saying the Kochs had donated $200,000 in 2011, when in fact that was Heartland’s target for their donation for 2012? This seems like a very strange error for a senior Heartland staffer to make. Didn’t it strike Gleick as suspicious? Didn’t any of the other math errors?

Yeah, clearly this is a problem for the Gleick-as-victim theory. I think the theory remains viable, mostly because it only requires us to believe that Gleick was acting somewhat addled and erratic throughout the incident, feeling pressured and out of his depth and betraying poor judgment. Which isn’t a stretch, since it’s actually a feature of both of the competing theories (and was acknowledged by Gleick in his confession).

Anyway, that’s all the obsessing I have time for today. Who knows what developments will arrive tomorrow?

Garbage In…

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I have to confess, taking a deep dive into the comment sections of some conservative blogs over the last few days as part of following the Heartland story has been educational, if fairly off-putting. It brings home to me something I already knew, but had tended to wall off from my day-to-day existence: The more-rabid parts of the conservative blogosphere are a pretty horrific place. I’m sure the rabid lefties are bad, too, but man, it’s ugly out there.

I realize it’s not just the blogs; this is a phenomenon that cuts across all media. Case in point: Fox News, where the willingness to just outright lie without shame is fairly striking. Take this example: Fox News apparently ran a segment about how rising gas prices represent a political problem for Obama. They wanted to illustrate the segment with a chart of gas prices, so they consulted the dataset represented by the following graph:

Gas prices are certainly rising, but the visual impact of the image, with last year’s bump prominently above the current price, wasn’t quite punchy enough for them. No problem: They just cherry-picked their way around the troublesome datapoints, and displayed the information via this graph:

There you go; much better. Also, completely misleading. More at Media Matters: Fox Still Struggling With Basic Chart Concepts: Gas Price Edition.

Given the tendency of modern Republicans to trust and obtain their information only from Fox, is it any wonder that their view of things like climate science is completely FUBAR?

Oh, while we’re on the topic of gas prices, Stuart Staniford’s take on this is informative. See: Life on the Plateau.

I can confidently predict that any resulting political debate will have very little to do with the actual causes – the plateauing of global crude oil production since 2005. But none the less the story does vindicate those of us who’ve been saying for a number of years that this would be an effect of the plateau – whenever the economy starts to improve – as it has in the last quarter – oil prices would have a tendency to increase and start to choke off the improvement.

In particular, this means that future growth in the US economy is highly contingent on it becoming more oil efficient.

Reading Staniford is like a breath of fresh — depressing, but fresh — air after being down in the fever swamp for a few days. God, I’m glad I spend most of my time in the reality-based community.

Kaminsky, Curry, Me on Gleick and the Fake Heartland Strategy Memo

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Continuing the previous discussion, there are some interesting developments in the Gleick controversy. I previously mentioned that Ross Kaminsky of Heartland had been very prescient in his speculation in a blog post at The American Spectator on Friday that Gleick might be the leaker. I commented at the end of a long discussion thread there to point out my logical problems with Gleick being both smart enough to obtain the real documents from Heartland via trickery, but dumb enough to forge and leak an easily debunked strategy memo along with them.

There was no comment in response to mine, but a couple of hours later Kaminsky added a comment pointing to a New York Times article on Gleick’s confession. Kaminsky wrote in that comment:

To those whose alarmist religion has caused them to excoriate me for this blog note, the politest thing I can think of to say to you is “I told you so.”

I added a response to that comment that read as follows:

Yeah, you did. Good call by you, obviously.

I’m impressed by your ability to deduce that Gleick was the leaker. I don’t actually know the personalities of any of the principals in this whole thing, and it sounds like you do, so maybe you can help me figure out something that’s troubling me: Where did the original faked strategy memo come from? Andy Revkin has said that suspicion will now fall on Gleick of having forged it himself. But if Gleick did forge the strategy memo, why would he have included it in the document release after he got the legitimate documents from Heartland? From my reading, there really isn’t anything substantive in the fake strategy memo that isn’t in the legitimate documents. If Gleick was the one who forged the strategy memo, why risk including it in the release? It just seems like he’d be asking for Heartland to disown it as fake, thereby discrediting the entire release (as actually happened).

It bugs me, because it just doesn’t seem to make sense. The scenario as Gleick has described it (he received the fake memo anonymously, verified it by obtaining the legitimate documents, then released them all together) sounds more credible to me, at least in terms of explaining Gleick’s actions. But in that case, who created the forged memo, and for what purpose?

The forged strategy memo is similar enough to the legitimate documents that it seems clear that whoever forged it had detailed knowledge of Heartland’s internal budget and planning. But if the person who created the strategy document and leaked it to Gleick had that knowledge, why bother leaking him the forgery? Why not just leak him the legitimate documents in the first place?

As I say, I don’t really know the personalities involved here; I’m just looking at the known facts and trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Can you help?

There was no reply to that comment, but (interestingly) the comment thread on that item has either been closed, or my IP address or user account has been disabled from further commenting. (Update: And I now can post again. I now think I was too quick to infer active blocking of my commenting, and that it’s likely that it was just that my comment was too long, or there was some glitch on the server side.) Also, I’m unable to comment (Update: again, I now can, and have, commented on the item) on a newer blog entry, in which Kaminsky writes:

On his Huffington Post blog (but notably not, or at least not yet, on his Forbes blog), Peter Gleick admitted to using another’s identity to steal Heartland Institute documents, although he still has not admitted to being the author of the forged document that has caused most of the controversy.

If those climate alarmists who went after me (for what I said explicitly in my note was “my speculation”) had any honor, they would not just apologize, but feel some guilt for being associated with the religion of climate change whose high priests could sink to identity theft because they feel “frustration” at not being able to get the rest of the country to join their rent-seeking, anti-human cult.

In the meantime, I take some satisfaction in believing, though I’ll never know for sure, that my article gave Mr. Gleick some incentive to confess, before the FBI agent came to his door. Or perhaps he just didn’t want to spend the money on a new (non-Epson) scanner.

Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has posted a wonderful note talking about the depth of Peter Gleick’s hypocrisy: “The irony of it all, this coming from a scientist that has made a particular point about integrity and written many essays and even testified to congress on the subject.”

I’m still able to comment on the linked-to item by Dr. Curry, where I wrote the following. (My inadvertent use of “Ms.” from the original comment replaced here by the more-correct “Dr.”)

[Dr.] Curry writes, “I seem to have gotten his goat to have been mentioned in the fake Heartland strategy doc (hard to believe that he didn’t write this).”

This is the part I’m having a hard time figuring out.

In Gleick’s confession, he says he first received the strategy memo anonymously, then obtained the legitimate documents by deceiving Heartland. Then, since they seemed to be more or less consistent, he leaked them all. It sounds like [Dr.] Curry favors a different explanation, in which Gleick obtained the legitimate documents, then forged the strategy document using the information obtained from them.

This doesn’t make sense to me, though. If he already had the legitimate documents, why would he risk undercutting their impact by also releasing the forged strategy memo? There’s nothing substantive in the strategy memo that isn’t also in the legitimate documents. So why add the forged document to the mix? It would just be handing Heartland a convenient way to take the moral high ground (since they would immediately know the document was fake and identify it as such, as actually happened).

If Gleick is telling the truth about the sequence of events, though, his inclusion of the forged memo makes more sense: He included it in the release because he didn’t know it was fake. The legitimate documents he had obtained from Heartland seemed to confirm the details in the strategy memo, so he assumed that it was legitimate. But this scenario has a problem that bothers me, too: Who forged the strategy memo and supplied it to Gleick?

The details in the strategy memo show that whoever forged it had access to internal Heartland budget and planning information. So I guess we can go back to the original speculation from last week about a disgruntled insider, former employee, or Heartland board member. But here again, something doesn’t match up. If someone with access to the real budget and planning documents inside Heartland wanted to discredit the organization, why not leak those documents to Gleick? Instead, this hypothetical insider appears to have used the information in the real documents to forge a credible-sounding, but demonstrably fake, summary, and supplied that to Gleick. Why would the forger do that? What purpose could be served by leaking Gleick a document that could be easily denounced as a fake by Heartland, when the insider could just as easily leak the real thing?

Ross Kaminsky of Heartland was quite prescient in a blog post at The American Spectator last Friday in which he singled out Gleick as a likely source of the leaked documents. In that piece he pointed out the similarity of this incident to that of the forged “Killian documents” that brought down Dan Rather. I agree with him that the similarities between the two cases are striking. Many people said at the time of that earlier incident that Rather (or his producer Mary Mapes) must have forged the Killiam memos, just as [Dr.] Curry appears to be saying that Gleick may have forged the Heartland strategy memo. To me, though, that’s reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s phrase about giving the accused “credit for having too much imagination and too little.”

It’s all very curious.

So, the fun continues…

Update: More commentary:

Gleick Outs Himself As (Intermediate) Source of Leaked Heartland Memos

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Whoa. From climate scientist Peter Gleick, whose writing on water issues I’ve been following for a while, comes this bombshell: The Origin of the Heartland Documents.

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

This is kind of huge, at least for me personally as a follower of gossipy climate-change science-vs.-denialism stuff. And it’s a fascinating twist on the previous speculation regarding the two sets of documents. If I’m following this correctly, the alleged sequence of events went like this:

  • Someone sends Gleick a document purporting to be a Heartland strategy memo. It contains a number of facts that turn out to be correct, though it also has some things that look indicative of a fake.
  • Gleick, attempting to get confirmation, tricks Heartland into sending him a batch of real documents.
  • Gleick anonymously releases both sets of documents.
  • Hilarity ensues.
  • Gleick comes clean.

It’s that last “comes clean” part that really sets me back on my heels. I’m used to these sorts of things just sputtering out into claims and counter-claims, with no real certainty as to what actually happened. (Think the O.J. trial aftermath.) But this sounds like the real deal.

It’s also kind of shocking, and I’m sure will be complete catnip for all the spy-vs.-spy conspirators on both sides of the issue. Yee ha.

The question I can’t stop wondering about is this: Who sent Gleick the original memo? Whoever it was apparently had at least some degree of access to confidential information at Heartland. So, a disgruntled former employee? But why send Gleick the deniable (and apparently fake) strategy document? Why not send him the real stuff (i.e., the stuff he obtained later)?

Some people are speculating that Gleick may have faked the strategy document himself. (See Andy Revkin doing so here, for example: Peter Gleick Admits to Deception in Obtaining Heartland Climate Files.) But why release it, once he had the legitimate documents? The strategy memo doesn’t really have anything significant that isn’t in the legitimate ones. If Gleick faked the strategy document, why would he risk including it along with the legitimate documents that he actually got from Heartland? The risk-reward ratio doesn’t make sense.

Consider this alternate scenario: Maybe the folks at Heartland themselves sent Gleick the strategy document, on purpose, hoping he would publish it. Then they could deny it as fake and discredit him. I confess that this was one of the first things I wondered when the story first broke (see the mention in this comment I made on Michael Tobis’ Planet 3.0 blog last Tuesday). But I abandoned the idea because it didn’t seem to make sense: The real documents in the larger batch were the sort of thing Heartland would never have released on purpose.

But the timeline according to Gleick makes the “Heartland dirty trick” theory seem more credible. Heartland could have faked the strategy memo, including enough true-ish information to be credible, but not so much detail as to be actually damaging to them. They could have sent it to Gleick, hoping he would publish it, after which they could discredit him for releasing the fake. But they didn’t count on his being crafty enough to get the other documents via the social-engineering attack. Confronted by the release of the full batch, they scratch their heads a bit, then settle on attacking the leak of the faked memo, as per the original plan, while blustering and hand-waving as to the other documents.

One thing I like about this scenario is that it provides an explanation for Gleick’s now coming clean: Heartland would have actually known he was the source (since they provided him the memo). So they could have been pressuring him with being exposed as the source (which in this scenario would have been their real objective all along). So Gleick was left between a rock and a hard place: be exposed by Heartland, or just admit what he’d done and take the heat.

And here I thought the best soap opera I’d see this week would be Downton.

Update: See this item by Heartland boardmember Ross Kaminsky from last Friday in The American Spectator: Theft and Apparent Forgery of Heartland Institute Documents:

One obvious suspect in the Heartland document theft — and this is just my speculation — is Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security and a true enemy of the Heartland Institute. Gleick is a committed alarmist rent-seeker who seems quite bitter that he shares Forbes magazine’s pages with Heartland’s James Taylor.

The document which the alarmists have been trying to make the most of is called “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” It appears to be of a similar nature to the forged “Rathergate” documents which ended Dan Rather’s long career promoting leftist views disguised as news.

I hadn’t previously seen this posting, but now that I have, it contributes to my sense that Heartland could have been responsible for leaking the fake strategy memo to Gleick. In that scenario, this posting by Kaminsky was part of ramping up the pressure on Gleick, leading to the (planned) eventual revelation of him as the source of the leak. Reading it after the fact, Kaminsky’s post certainly sounds prescient. It’s a remarkably strong statement (and again, a bit of a head-scratcher from a risk-reward standpoint) for someone to be making if he doesn’t already know that Gleick is the leaker.

Kaminsky is definitely right about the similarity of this case to that of the Killian documents that ended Dan Rather’s career. In that case, as in this one, you had an enemy of political conservatives receiving a really juicy document (in hindsight, one too good to be true). In each case, when the liberal recipient took the bait and publicized the document, he was quickly exposed, with resulting damage to his reputation.

Clever stuff.

Galef on How to Be More Right

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Julia Galef has some good advice for anyone who finds himself (or herself) frustrated in the course of online arguments:

(Note: It actually is good advice. The fact that she’s young and female and therefore will annoy the crap out of shcb is merely a happy accident.)

The Heartland Institute Memos

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I haven’t posted about this yet, though I’ve been following it from the get-go (obviously). But at this point it’s made the jump to mainstream news, so here goes. From the the NYT: Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science:

Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.

The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.

The documents first appeared on anti-denialist blogs after reportedly being emailed to the blogs’ operators by someone going by the name of “Heartland Insider”. The Heartland Institute itself, after taking a day to prepare a response, is now saying that the documents were obtained by a social-engineering hack in which someone phoned them, identified himself or herself as a donor with a recently-changed email address, and requested that the documents be emailed to the new address. For myself, I think it’s quite credible both that someone would have used that approach and that Heartland would have fallen for it. That’s social engineering 101.

One of the documents, a two-page memo headed “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy, has been described by Heartland as “a total fake”, though presumably the rest of the 100-page release is legitimate.

The question of whether the strategy memo is, in fact, a fake, is interesting to me. It certainly seems possible. The document has PDF metadata that differs from that of the other documents, indicating that it was created via a different process and at a different time. Of course, that information was visible to Heartland as well as everyone else once the documents were published, which means Heartland had time to notice and (perhaps) craft the “total fake” line as a way of trying to muddy the waters. Or it could be true that that document was indeed a fake, added to the mix by the leaker in an effort to distill some of the juicier tidbits from the rest of the documents (with which the strategy memo is more or less consistent) into a more readily-digestible format.

I think I’m inclined to go with Heartland on this part of the story, mostly because the claim that the memo is a fake raises the stakes. If the memo is legitimate, then presumably others among Heartland’s board and donors have copies of it as well, which means it would only take one of them to blow the whistle on the Institute’s lie. I wouldn’t put it past Heartland to take that risk, but the benefits of disowning that one document don’t really seem worth it to me. It’s easier for me to think that the malicious hacker who leaked the memos (who was already running a significant criminal risk as a result of the social engineering, assuming that part of Heartland’s story is true), was willing to try to juice the news value of the story via the additional fabrication.

That still leaves the rest of the damning information untouched, though. It’s not like it’s really news that prominent voices in the denialist community have been quietly getting money from Heartland (Craig Idso, $11,600 per month; Fred Singer, $5,000 per month, etc.), but it still puts the discussion on a different level to have the numbers from Heartland’s own budget. And there’s this (from the NYT article):

Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”

I loved the Times’ response:

It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.

This is from a straight news story, people. Damn those pesky facts, with their well-known liberal bias. Kudos to the Times and its reporters for resisting the journalistically lazy practice of granting false equivalence to both “sides” of a scientific “controversy” that is not, in fact, scientifically controversial.

Moving on, I suspect this is the part that is most worrisome for Heartland:

The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.

Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.

For them to lose their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity would definitely hurt them (while helping the rest of humanity). So I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that part.

More commentary:

On to the comments. Unleash the hounds!

Update: Megan McCardle in The Atlantic makes a fairly convincing case for the strategy memo being, in fact, fake: Leaked Docs From Heartland Institute Cause a Stir—but Is One a Fake? She points out several things I hadn’t noticed in my quick read-through of the whole packet, but which seem in hindsight to be strongly suggestive of fakery by an ideological opponent of Heartland. Also, she updates the posting with an observation that comes close to being a smoking gun: The mischaracterization of Koch’s funding in the strategy memo (but only in the strategy memo), as being for anti-global-warming advocacy, rather than for healthcare advocacy, as seems to be the case based on the legitimate documents.

Skeptical Science on Vahrenholt’s Interview in Spiegel

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Craig seems to have fallen in with the anti-global-warming tinfoil-hat crowd, which is kind of disappointing; I’d always thought he was smarter than that. I guess it’s an indication that as long as you’re willing to consume garbage as input, your output will suffer accordingly.

Craig describes Fritz Vahrenholt as “a significant German warmist-turned-skeptic”; later Craig comments that “a warmist representative who has seen an advance copy of the book, says a ‘number’ of the issues brought up have been ‘refuted’.”

Digression: This term “warmist” bugs me. The implication is that there’s an unreasoning element advancing a nefarious global warming conspiracy. I’ll accept that there’s room for legitimate debate in terms of the policy response to global warming, and I think it’s likely that the actually-criminal tactics of the conspirators on the anti-science side (and, admittedly, the success of those tactics in influencing the public debate) have induced a bunker mentality and more rigid positions from those arguing for warming-aware policies. But to characterize those who accept reality on climate science as “warmists” is to engage in a false equivalence. Setting policy responses to one side, there’s an objective reality in terms of the underlying facts of the matter as determined by science, and the denialism worthy of an “ist” suffix is almost entirely on the anti-warming side. Also, putting “number” and “refuted” in scare quotes is misleading; there are indeed a number of obvious problems with Vahrenholt’s arguments, and those arguments have indeed been refuted.

Anyway, in response to hype that the Spiegel item apparently has been getting recently from the anti-warming conspiracists, Skeptical Science pointed to a previous debunking they did: Fritz Vahrenholt – Duped on Climate Change.

Let’s begin with the book’s authors. Who are they, what expertise do they have, and what possible motive might they have to distort the science?

German electric utility executive Fritz Vahrenholt is co-author (along with geologist Sebastian Lüning) of a book expressing “skepticism” regarding the human contribution to global warming, which predictably has been trumpeted by the usual climate denial enablers. Why should we particularly care what Vahrenholt thinks about climate science? That is something of a mystery – he has a PhD in chemistry and has worked in the energy sector for Shell Oil and wind turbine maker RePower. Vahrenholt and Lüning both currently work for RWE Innogy, Germany’s second-largest energy company (Vahrenholt as a manager, Lüning as a scientist in its oil and gas division).

Vahrenholt admits he has no expertise in climate science, but apparently his status as “Germany’s Top Environmentalist” (a title which Vahrenholt appears to have been awarded just recently by anti-climate think tanks and denialists) and his climate “skepticism” are sufficient for some people to take his climate claims seriously.

Sigh. The credentials of the authors suggest what we’re in for: a Gish gallop of misleading claims about what climate science says from people whose livelihoods depend on getting the science wrong. SkS does the dirty work of going through Vahrenholt’s claims from the interview, knocking them down one by one:

  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “The long version of the IPCC report does mention natural causes of climate change, like the sun and oscillating ocean currents. But they no longer appear in the summary for politicians. They were simply edited out.” In fact, as SkS points out, there are many prominent mentions of natural causes of climate change in the report’s summary for politicians. They quote five passages and reprint two prominent figures as examples.
  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “It hasn’t gotten any warmer on this planet in almost 14 years, despite continued increases in CO2 emissions. Established climate science has to come up with an answer to that.” Except that it has gotten warmer, though on short time scales that warming is hidden in land-based measurements by the noisy oscillations resulting from land-ocean heat exchange. “And of course,” continues SkS, “there’s the fact that the odd timeframe choice of 14 years conveniently begins at the peak of the strongest El Niño in a century (a.k.a. cherrypicking of short-term data).” See the “down the up escalator” graphic I ran recently, or any of numerous “hockey stick” graphs produced using various methods by various independent research teams over the last few decades, demonstrating that recent warming is an anomaly unrivaled in the past 800,000 years.

The SkS piece goes on to point out Vahrenholt misstatements on solar radiation, galactic cosmic rays, and research on cloud formation at CERN. In each case, SkS gives links to supporting information on the actual science that refutes Vahrenholt’s claims.

I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Vahrenholt is a hack, someone willing to blatantly distort and mislead as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at confusing the public about the facts uncovered by scientists.

Kloor on Roberts on Option 2b (Planned Economic Contraction)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Since I’m turning away from fantasyland discussions with the deeply ignorant and/or dishonest and/or unconcerned with truth, we can all look forward to a corresponding embracing of reality. So to kick that off, here’s an interesting commentary by Keith Kloor on a scary-but-rock-solid, as far as I can tell, post by Dave Roberts: A Climate Hawk Gets Real.

Gleick on Cherrypicked Climate Trends

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Not to beat a dead horse, but here’s a nice piece from Peter Gleick in Forbes about how deniers cherrypick data in their effort to show that the climate isn’t warming: “Global Warming Has Stopped”? How to Fool People Using “Cherry-Picked” Climate Data.

The current favorite argument of those who argue that climate changes isn’t happening, or a problem, or worth dealing with, is that global warming has stopped. Therefore (they conclude) scientists must be wrong when they say that climate change is caused by humans, worsening, and ultimately a serious environmental problem that must be addressed by policy makers.

The problem with this argument is that it is false: global warming has not stopped and those who repeat this claim over and over are either lying, ignorant, or exhibiting a blatant disregard for the truth.

So, deniers, which is it: Are you lying, ignorant, or exhibiting a blatant disregard for the truth? There really aren’t any other options.

Masters on Climate vs. Weather

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Christine Shearer (another one of those educated youngsters who happen to be female; doubtless this will elicit a virtual chuckle and condescending head-pat from you-know-who in the comments) has a really good interview with Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground: “Expect the Unprecedented”: Weather Underground Meteorologist Jeff Masters On Our Shifting Climate.

The whole interview is highly recommended, but here were a few of my favorite parts. On TV weathermen:

Christine Shearer: Despite these shifting parameters, many meteorologists do not consider climate change when offering their reports, even when it comes to events where it seems it would at least deserve a mention. Why do you think that is – is there something fundamentally different about how meteorologists and climatologists are trained?

Jeff Masters: TV meteorologists are not required to have training in climate change in order to get their AMS [American Meteorological Society] seal of approval, and most do not have any formal training in climate science. In a subject as complicated and politically charged as climate change, I would expect most of them would be reluctant to offer their views on the subject if they have little training.

And this, on what we should be most concerned about:

Jeff Masters: Stronger hurricanes, bigger floods, more intense heat waves, and sea level rise have been getting many of the headlines with regards to potential climate change impacts, but drought should be our main concern. Drought is capable of crashing a civilization. To illustrate, drought has been implicated in the demise of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, the Anasazis of the Southwest U.S., and the Akkadians of Syria in 2200 B.C. The Russian heat wave and drought of 2010 led to a spike in global food prices that helped cause unrest in Africa and the Middle East that led to the overthrow of several governments. It’s likely that global-warming intensified droughts will cause far more serious impacts in the coming decades, and drought is capable of crashing our global civilization in a worst-case scenario, particularly if we do nothing to slow down emissions of carbon dioxide.

Extreme weather years like 2010 and 2011 are very likely to increase in frequency, since there is a delay of several decades between when we put heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and when the climate fully responds. This is because Earth’s oceans take so long to heat up when extra heat is added to the atmosphere (think about how long it takes it takes for a lake to heat up during summer.) Due to this lag, we are just now experiencing the full effect of CO2 emitted by the late 1980s; since CO2 has been increasing by 1 – 3% per year since then, there is a lot more climate change “in the pipeline” we cannot avoid.

We’ve set in motion a dangerous boulder of climate change that is rolling downhill, and it is too late to avoid major damage when it hits full-force several decades from now. However, we can reduce the ultimate severity of the damage with strong and rapid action. A boulder rolling downhill can be deflected in its path more readily early in its course, before it gains too much momentum in its downward rush. For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that every dollar we invest in alternative energy before 2020 will save $4.30 later. There are many talented and dedicated people working very hard to deflect the downhill-rolling boulder of climate change–but they need a lot more help very soon.

Wormtongues and Gandalfs

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

But when I escaped and warned you, then the mask was torn, for those who would see. After that Wormtongue played dangerously, always seeking to delay you, to prevent your full strength being gathered. He was crafty: dulling men’s wariness, or working on their fears, as served the occasion.

– Tolkien’s Gandalf, The Two Towers

The fossil fuel industry, along with its witting and unwitting stooges, continues to play the part of Wormtongue in trying to keep the US public from understanding and responding to global warming. Besides the Wall Street Journal editorial from a week ago, there was another [WARNING: BULLSHIT!] raft of denialist hokum in the Daily Mail [END BULLSHIT].

And there was this: Coal-Powered PAC Runs Harassment Campaign Against Climate Scientist Michael Mann.

A coal-industry astroturf group is running a public campaign to harass Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann for his “radical agenda” of climate science. The Common Sense Movement/Secure Energy for America Political Action Committee (CSM/SEAPAC) has established a website asking people to criticize the Penn State Speakers Forum for allowing Michael Mann to speak about the climate change challenge. “Join us in calling on the administration to disinvite the disgraced academic,” the group says on its Facebook page.

That really bugs me. Frankly, it pisses me off.

Some good resources to fight back against the B.S.:

  • Global warming battles on the blogs – A good round-up by Greg Laden of the various outrageous lies and outraged rebuttals that have appeared over the last few weeks.
  • Still going down the up escalator – An excellent response to the dishonest attack on Phil Plait’s use of the “escalator graph” (the same one I posted atop the item last week that led to the interminable thread in which shcb was too chicken to provide sourcing for his contrarian views on climate change).

We’re totally dealing with Wormtongue here, and the scientific consensus that has emerged in the last few years has moved us firmly into the “mask is torn” phase. People like Michael Mann are our Gandalf, letting a shaft of sunlight through.

Update: According to the Guardian (yeah, I know), Penn State (yeah, I know) is doing the right thing by Mann: Penn State defies Facebook campaign calling for it to drop climate lecture. Yay. Go, Gandalf.