Here’s a quick list of items commenting on the reinstatement of Peter Gleick as president of the Pacific Institute (PI), after an investigation commissioned by the Institute.
Here’s the complete statement from the PI board:
The Pacific Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Peter Gleick back to his position as president of the Institute. An independent review conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the Institute has supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute. This independent investigation has further confirmed and the Pacific Institute is satisfied that none of its staff knew of or was involved in any way.
Dr. Gleick has apologized publicly for his actions, which are not condoned by the Pacific Institute and run counter to the Institute’s policies and standard of ethics over its 25-year history. The Board of Directors accepts Dr. Gleick’s apology for his lapse in judgment. We look forward to his continuing in the Pacific Institute’s ongoing and vital mission to advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity.
“I am glad to be back and thank everyone for continuing their important work at the Pacific Institute during my absence,” said Dr. Gleick in a statement. “I am returning with a renewed focus and dedication to the science and research that remain at the core of the Pacific Institute’s mission.”
So, a few things: The board says the review “supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly” about his interaction with Heartland, but to me that sounds like a term of art that leaves plenty of wiggle room. Since Gleick has been quite terse in his public statements about the incident, I think it’s fair to assume that the board is referring to Gleick’s HuffPo confession (The origin of the Heartland documents). But significantly, the board stops short of specifying what, if anything, the investigation found regarding one of the key claims in the confession: That Gleick received the forged strategy memo first via mail from an unknown third party, and only subsequently engaged in his phishing attack against Heartland in an effort to confirm the contents of the memo. If that story is true, Gleick could be expected to have evidence supporting the claim: the envelope in which the forged strategy memo arrived, for example, with a pre-phishing-attempt postmark. If he has that, and made it available to the Pacific Institute investigators, they’re keeping quiet about it.
I know I’ve harped on the strategy memo a lot. But it really is important. If Gleick’s account is true, it paints him in a very different light than the competing explanation: that he phished the Heartland documents first, then forged the strategy memo himself in order to “sex up” what would otherwise have been a relatively lackluster document leak.
Note that Suzanne Goldenberg’s May 21 article in the Guardian on the PI investigation’s as-yet-unreleased results (Peter Gleick cleared of forging documents in Heartland expose) apparently went significantly beyond what the PI board actually was willing to say in their public statement.
The other thing I’ll note about the PI board statement: It makes a point of saying the investigation exonerated the institute’s staff, none of whom, according the report, knew of or were involved in Gleick’s actions targeting Heartland. But since no one (that I recall, at least) has ever claimed Gleick had support from PI staff in those actions, I’m not sure this finding is especially significant. It does add to my sense, though, that this investigation was more about providing protective cover for PI than getting to the bottom of what Gleick did.
Heartland’s press release commenting on the news includes the following from Heartland President Joseph Bast:
Whereas The Heartland Institute has been open and honest with the public and the press, sharing emails and the results of its own internal investigations, the Pacific Institute has refused to identify who conducted its investigation, to release its report, or even to respond to our inquiries about what questions were asked of Gleick.
As near as we can tell, this was not an investigation. It was a whitewash.
The Pacific Institute’s board of directors has failed to perform its duty and should be deeply ashamed. We have asked the federal government to prosecute Gleick for what we believe were serious crimes he committed, and we await its decision.
I don’t especially like agreeing with Joseph Bast, who has a demonstrated willingness to say untrue things if he thinks it will advance his agenda, but I do basically agree that PI’s actions in this case seem more like a whitewash than an investigation.
Revkin is troubled by the closed nature of the pronouncements:
Here’s the troubling part: The Pacific Institute described its investigation as “a confidential personnel matter” and said for that reason no details on the process or findings would be released. Most notably, the group and its board declined to elaborate on the finding that the investigation, conducted by Independent Employment Counsel, “supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute.”
Does that mean the group expressly confirmed that a particularly provocative, and disputed, document was in fact produced by the Heartland Institute and not by Gleick himself or someone else?
It’s fine to have an internal personnel investigation, but if you’re going to then release the finding publicly, but not any other details, it’s hard to see that carrying much weight in discourse outside the organization itself.
Appell takes issue with the word “cleared” from the headline of the Goldenberg article I mentioned previously:
It my opinion, a person under investigation is not “cleared” of something until their organization says they’re cleared. That word, “cleared,” and my interpretation of it, seems to be the crux of the beef some people had with me (especially on Eli’s post). The Guardian article’s headline explicitedly used that word in their headline. Headlines matter (I suspect all writers can tell a story about how a headline — which they probably didn’t even write — has gotten their article in hot water; indeed, it’s usually the very thing that makes a reader want to read the article in the first place, and may well be the only thing they remember), and the Guardian’s headline gives the distinct impression Gleick was cleared of forgery by the Pacific Institute. But he wasn’t — an outside investigation found that he hadn’t forged documents — but (naturally) the PI’s Board would want to review that investigation’s methodology and findings (and perhaps more) before really “clearing” him of forgery. (And even then they still could have legitimately decided, perhaps on ethical grounds, to let him go.)
And let’s be real: without the report, or not even knowing who did it, or without being able to talk to Gleick (I’ve asked), we really don’t know anything at all.
Here’s my last word on the subject (for now, ha!) from a comment currently awaiting moderation on the Planet3.0 post I linked to above. I was responding to an earlier comment from Michael Tobis, who wrote, “Are we really supposed to be seriously concerned about Gleick forging the disputed memo? Give me a break. That’s Heartland’s idea. As with most Heartland ideas it is a red herring.” I responded:
I can’t see the question of whether or not Gleick forged the strategy memo as being a red herring. I’ll grant that Heartland has an interest in flogging that part of the story as much as they can in an effort to divert attention from their own actions. But I still think Gleick’s role was significantly different if his HuffPo confession was true (as to the strategy memo having been supplied to him anonymously) versus if the confession was itself another layer of deception.
If Gleick forged the strategy memo himself, after he phished the legitimate documents, then he’s willing to knowingly lie to the public in pursuit of his ideological agenda. If that’s the case, how can I (or you, or anyone) take his future statements at face value? How can he credibly participate in scientific research? Fraud of that sort would go to the heart of his scientific credibility. If Gleick forged the memo, then he believes that lying to promote an aggressive climate change policy agenda is justified. But if his ethical framework allows that, what is to prevent him from cherrypicking data or misrepresenting research in pursuit of the same goal?