Archive for the 'global warming' Category

David Roberts’ 17 Minutes

Monday, June 18th, 2012

I’m on record as having Grist’s David Roberts at the top of my list of people I consider trustworthy about climate change. The things he’s concerned about strike me as things worthy of concern, and his take on those things strikes me as clear-headed and justified.

Recently, he tweeted something to the effect that, “the climate change issue is simple. I could explain it in 15 minutes.” Someone called him on it, and the result is this (okay, 17-minute) TEDx talk:

Sources and additional interesting meta-commentary at Roberts’ blog: Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed.

Gleick’s Reinstatement at the Pacific Institute

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

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?

No answer.

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?

Laden and Romm on Goldenberg on Gleick

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I’m not sure that anyone else besides me actually cares about the angst I suffered during the whole Heartland/Peter Gleick saga. But for me at least, it was fairly angsty. One of the main things I took away from it was this: Some of the people I’d considered credible sources, people on my “side” of the issue, were revealed to me as being willing to peddle bullshit in the name of scoring points against their ideological opponents.

I’m not just talking about Gleick, though his dishonesty was the most prominent example. I’ve been giving the whole “mock trial of Peter Gleick” thing a rest, but I may revive it. It sounds like there are going to be some new developments to hash over.

Suzanne Goldenberg has an article in The Guardian today alleging that Peter Gleick has been “cleared” of forging the strategy memo: Peter Gleick cleared of forging documents in Heartland expose. The article itself is quite thin on details, but as best I can tell Goldenberg is claiming to have access to the results of an investigation commissioned by the Pacific Institute (the think tank Gleick previously headed, and from which he stepped down in the wake of the scandal), and the investigation reportedly will conclude Gleick did not forge the strategy memo.

A review has cleared the scientist Peter Gleick of forging any documents in his expose of the rightwing Heartland Institute’s strategy and finances, the Guardian has learned.

Gleick’s sting on Heartland brought unwelcome scrutiny to the organisation’s efforts to block action on climate change, and prompted a walk-out of corporate donors that has created uncertainty about its financial future.

Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute and a well-regarded water expert, admitted and apologised for using deception to obtain internal Heartland documents last February.

He has been on leave from the institute pending an external investigation into the unauthorised release of the documents, although it is not entirely clear what the investigation entailed. That investigation is now complete, and the conclusions will be made public.

It was not immediately clear the findings would allow Gleick to make an early return to his job at the Pacific Institute. However, despite the official leave, Gleick has remained professionally active, appearing at public events and accepting speaking engagements. He delivered an Oxford Amnesty lecture on water in April.

It seems likely, given Goldenberg’s willingness to run with the story, that there is a report, and that it will offer the conclusion that Gleick did not forge the memo. But how strong will the report’s actual language be on that point? What evidence will it cite? Who are the report’s authors? What is their relationship to the Pacific Institute, and how credible are they as representing an independent perspective, given the Pacific Institute’s interest in findings that minimize Gleick’s wrongdoing?

All this is obviously very preliminary at this point. But you wouldn’t know that from Greg Laden’s blog post: An important revelation regarding Heartland Gate (global warming denialism). I’m not going to bother excerpting from Laden’s post. It’s basically anti-Heartland, pro-Gleick propaganda, treating the Goldenberg article as an excuse to trot out a one-sided recapitulation of the whole affair.

Similarly, Joe Romm (and Rebecca Leber) at Think Progress go for maximum spin: Heartland Institute Hemorrhages Donors And Cash For Extremist Agenda, As Coal And Oil Step In. Their piece begins with the following triumphant banner linking to the Goldenberg article:

Peter Gleick cleared of forging documents in Heartland expose

Sigh. I’m not a defender of Heartland (far from it). But this stuff reinforces a decision I made recently to remove Laden and Romm from my newsfeed. It’s not that I’m in the denialist camp that disputes the science of global warming. But just because one champions scientists doesn’t make one’s own assertions scientific. Laden and Romm have let their adopted role as advocates carry them past the point of being honest brokers of information. They’re peddling self-serving spin as truth, selecting what to pass on not on the basis of skeptical inquiry, but simply on the basis of which untested hypotheses paint their enemies in the worst light.

With a universe of information sources available and my own time a scarce and precious commodity, I don’t need their bullshit polluting my information stream.

Roberts Sums Up the Climate Change Debate

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Sorry for the long hiatus. Other priorities have been taking my attention; after a concentrated obsessive bout on the Peter Gleick “trial”, I’ve experienced a not-atypical mental backlash.

One article I read today seemed very worthy of posting, though: From David Roberts: Watch the climate conversation run aground. He describes a recent debate in the Iowa state legislature concerning climate change, and sums up as follows:

Hogg and Johnson are both a little confused, though obviously Hogg much less — and much less detrimentally — so. But neither perspective is the one that does most damage to the prospects of progress.

No, the most dangerous perspective is expressed at the end of the rambling and fruitless hour-long debate, by Republican Sen. Randy Feenstra:

“Honestly, on that subject I think we should just agree to disagree because it’s not going to get us anywhere.”

This is the climate conversation in miniature. The problem is raised. Conservatives forecast economic doom. The economics show that we can do a great deal at comparatively moderate cost (certainly moderate relative to the cost of climate change impacts), but it’s very difficult to overcome fear with promises. So advocates make dramatic, often exaggerated claims about proximate impacts. Deniers dismiss the science altogether. And then people who aren’t committed to one “side” or another get sick of it and want to move on — to “agree to disagree.”

This is why conservative deniers have a built-in advantage on climate. They don’t have to win the argument. They just have to keep arguing until everyone gets sick of it.

Ayup.

More on Daisey (Mostly), Plus a Little Russell and Gleick

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

It turns out that journalists have thought a lot about this whole question of whether it is or isn’t cool to lie to make your story more compelling. Weighing in on the Mike Daisey story are a bunch of journalists:

And a few climate-obsessed non-journalists:

Having now listened to This American Life’s Retraction episode, I’m with Ira: Daisey has moved on from fooling his audience to fooling himself, if he thinks his contortions about “it’s theater not journalism, and I stand by it” are anything but self-serving special pleading.

The difference between journalism and theater are important, if for no other reason than this: Audiences have bullshit detectors, and once you’ve activated them you’ve lost the ability to persuade. In a hyper-connected era, going before an audience the size of This American Life’s means that for someone in that audience, your lies will be transparent, and that someone will have access to the same communication tools you used.

Two Stopped Watches

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Everyone knows the old adage that “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” Then there’s that saying (which I’d always thought was a quotation from Mark Twain, but which turns out, at least according to some thinly sourced web pages, to be a quotation from someone named Lee Segall):

A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.

Lately I’ve found both metaphors fighting for dominance as I read various climate change blogs. I’ve got my stopped clocks: blogs by committed partisans on one side (like Joe Romm) or the other (like Steve McIntyre), whom I’m used to reading with a grain of salt, since I recognize that, like a trial, I’m only hearing one side’s case at a time. Maybe they’re misleading me (well, they’re almost certainly misleading me, at least in the sense that they are going to exclude or de-emphasize truths damning to their case), but they still might be right, at least sometimes.

But in my post-Gleickian reading of a wider range of opinions, I’m now the man with two watches. And since they’re two stopped watches, with ideologically embedded opinions resistent to change, those stopped watches are never going to tell the same time.

It’s all quite bothersome, metaphorically speaking. Anyway, here are a few examples from my last few days’ reading.

I’ve been reading about Singer lately as I work my way through Oreskes’ and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt. For decades, according to Oreskes and Conway, Singer has made a habit of taking up contrarian scientific positions (on ozone depletion, the health risks of secondhand tobacco smoke, and global warming), then made use of media “fairness” policies to get himself lots of camera time (and corporate research funding). So yes, I’m sure the extreme denialists make it more difficult for Singer to stake out his contrarian-but-science-y-enough-to-be-credible positions. But I also suspect him of promoting a false equivalence by claiming it’s the extremists on both sides who are wrong, and lonely him in the middle who’s right.

Enough with the fighting over hockey sticks. How about a nice, non-contentious topic?

Breakthrough is the think tank founded by Nordhaus and Shellenberger to push their politically liberal attack on what they view as the failures of environmentalism, more or less. Anyway, they’re big on the idea (also articulated fairly persuasively by Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia, which I recently read and enjoyed) that environmentalists (and the public generally) greatly overestimate the risks of nuclear power, and that a major commitment to nuclear fission is the only way for us to replace our electrical generating capacity in the short term without wrecking either the economy or the climate. (Not sure if that last is really a Breakthrough position. It’s certainly Lovelock’s position.)

  • Prospects for Nuclear Power – A paper by Lucas W. Davis in the American Economic Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives (the link is to the abstract, but the full text is available as a PDF).

Davis argues that even if you could overcome the sorts of irrational nuke fears described by Lovelock and exacerbated by Fukushima, nuclear plants would still not be economically viable, due to the recent drop in price for natural gas due to techniques like fracking.

I don’t have an ideologically opposed “second watch” for this item, but I don’t feel like a post is complete these days if it doesn’t have a Gleick link. In this piece, Zasloff makes the case that Gleick’s actions may have been ethically justified under the tradition of people using deception to achieve a good end in cases where those ends can’t be achieved without the deception. I raise a question in a late comment (so far unanswered by Zasloff) as to whether he (Zasloff) was taking the account from Gleick’s confession at face value. That is, would the equation still show Gleick’s actions to be ethical if it turned out that he forged the strategy memo himself in an effort to mislead the public about how bad Heartland is?

So, that’s all I’ve got for now. Time ticks onward (or doesn’t, depending on whether your watches — either of them — are stopped). I’ll see what dissonance-inducing contradictions await me in the new day.

The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 4: Prosecution Witness Donna Laframboise

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

From the beginning: The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It features characters based on real people and evidence based on real events, and is as close to reality as my whim and imagination allow. But it’s completely fake.

INT. – AN IMAGINARY COURTROOM – DAY

BAILIFF

All rise. The Imaginary Court of the Internet is now in session. The honorable Judge Mumble K. Mumbles presiding.

The JUDGE enters and sits behind the bench.

JUDGE

Be seated. Prosecution: Are you ready to call your first witness?

PROSECUTION

Yes, your honor. The prosecution calls Donna Laframboise.

DONNA LAFRAMBOISE stands and makes her way to the witness stand.

COURT CLERK

(standing before Laframboise)

Do you swear to tell the truth, or at least something more or less consistent with your public statements, so help you the Internet?

LAFRAMBOISE

I do.

COURT CLERK

Please be seated.

PROSECUTION

Ms. Laframboise, what is your occupation?

LAFRAMBOISE

I am a journalist, author, and photographer.

PROSECUTION

What is your most recent book?

LAFRAMBOISE

Its title is “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.”

PROSECUTION

That’s quite a mouthful.

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes. Most people just call it “The Delinquent Teenager.”

PROSECUTION

When was the book published?

LAFRAMBOISE

October 2011.

PROSECUTION

Who is “the delinquent teenager” referred to in the title?

LAFRAMBOISE

The United Nations climate panel, the IPCC. The book is an exposé of the IPCC.

PROSECUTION

And IPCC stands for?

LAFRAMBOISE

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

PROSECUTION

And what does this organization, the IPCC, actually do?

LAFRAMBOISE

It surveys the scientific research on climate change, decides what it all means, and writes an ongoing series of reports. These reports are informally known as the “Climate Bible.”

PROSECUTION

Ms. Laframboise, by your book’s title do you mean to suggest that this important and prestigious international organization is somehow similar to a “delinquent teenager”?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes, I’m afraid it is.

PROSECUTION

But the IPCC is made up of the world’s top scientists, isn’t it?

LAFRAMBOISE

I used to think so. But in researching my book I discovered that the truth is very different. Some of the people in charge of writing the Climate Bible are no better than graduate students. I found examples of people who at the time they were working on it were 10 years or more away from completing their PhDs. Others were employees of activist organizations, like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund.

PROSECUTION

But Ms. Laframboise, how is it possible that such people would be in charge of writing such an important report?

LAFRAMBOISE

Well, what you have to realize is that the IPCC is a political organization. As a result, many of the people occupying these important positions in it were appointed for political reasons. Do they represent the right country? Are they of the right gender? Insiders at the IPCC, in an anonymous survey, used words like “they’re not qualified”, “not competent”, “out of their intellectual depth.” Those are the sorts of people being tasked with writing IPCC reports.

DEFENSE

Objection, your honor. Hearsay.

PROSECUTION

Ms. Laframboise has conducted extensive investigation of the IPCC, and has direct knowledge of how its membership is selected.

JUDGE

Objection sustained. The jury will disregard the witness’s last response. Ms. Laframboise, please refrain from offering testimony on behalf of people not present at trial.

PROSECUTION

Let’s try again. Ms. Laframboise, as a result of your research, how would you characterize the process whereby the IPCC members are chosen?

LAFRAMBOISE

It is a very political process. The selection criteria include things like the member’s nationality or gender. Leading scientists may be excluded simply because their views about climate change differ from those of the IPCC leadership.

PROSECUTION

Were you surprised to learn these things about the IPCC, Ms. Laframboise?

LAFRAMBOISE

I was. The reputation the IPCC enjoys in the media, and in the public mind, has been quite high. The reality, sadly, is very different.

PROSECUTION

Why do you think these shocking facts about the IPCC are not more widely known?

LAFRAMBOISE

Well, I think going back to the 1970s, many in the media have basically seen themselves as being on the side of the environmental movement. Journalists have tended to be very uncritical of anyone working on behalf of the environment. So an organization like the IPCC, which is perceived as being part of that tradition, has not been subject to any real scrutiny.

PROSECUTION

So your book represents the first time such scrutiny has been applied to the IPCC?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes. As an investigative journalist, every time I’ve taken a look at one of these claims about the IPCC, every time I’ve turned over a rock, I’ve found a scandal under that rock. It really is quite amazing.

PROSECUTION

You said your book was published last October, Ms. Laframboise. What sort of response did it receive?

LAFRAMBOISE

Overall, I would say the response has been positive.

PROSECUTION

But not universally so?

LAFRAMBOISE

(smiles)

No, not universally.

PROSECUTION

Which brings us to the defendant, Peter Gleick. Didn’t he write a review of your book on Amazon.com?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes, he did.

PROSECUTION

Your honor, I would like to enter into evidence Prosecution Exhibit #1, Peter Gleick’s review of The Delinquent Teenager at Amazon.com.

DEFENSE

Objection, your honor. Prosecution has presented no reason for believing that this review, by Amazon user “PGleick”, was actually written by the defendant.

PROSECUTION

Your honor, if you will refer to the exhibit, you will see that the review is associated with a user identified as Peter Gleick of Berkeley, California. The account is associated with a “Real Name” badge, which according to Amazon is an indication that they have verified that the user possesses a credit card in that name. In addition, as will become clear later on during our case, this review played a prominent role in interactions between the defendant and members of the climate-science skeptics community, during the course of which the defendant never sought to disavow authorship of it.

JUDGE

For the purposes of this imaginary trial, I will accept that this item was, in fact, written by the defendant. Objection overruled.

PROSECUTION

Ms. Laframboise, at the time he posted his review of your book, what did you know about the defendant, Peter Gleick?

LAFRAMBOISE

Well, I knew he was a climate scientist. He is president of the Pacific Institute, an organization in Berkeley, California, where he has been involved in climate research for some time. My understanding is that his particular speciality is water issues, but he has also been a prominent voice in advocating for government action on climate change.

PROSECUTION

This review by the defendant: When was it posted? Was it relatively soon after your book came out?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes, in the first few days, on October 16, 2011.

PROSECUTION

And what did the defendant say about your book?

LAFRAMBOISE

(smiling)

He didn’t like it.

PROSECUTION

Really? What were his objections?

LAFRAMBOISE

He called it “a stunning compilation of lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods about the fundamental science of climate change.” He wrote that no one need bother to read it, since it contained nothing new, simply lots of “pseudoscience and misrepresentations of science.”

PROSECUTION

But I thought your book was an exposé about the role of politics at the IPCC, not about climate science itself.

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes, that is correct.

PROSECUTION

It sounds like Gleick, a prominent scientist, did not take a very scientific approach to reviewing your book. How do you account for his making such an inaccurate attack on it?

LAFRAMBOISE

I really can’t account for it.

PROSECUTION

Tell me, Ms. Laframboise, how do you respond to these inaccurate charges Gleick made against your book?

LAFRAMBOISE

We need to have a professional, courteous, grown-up conversation about the IPCC. I think it is remarkable that this organization has been around for 22 years, has won a Nobel Peace Prize, is so important and influential, and yet mine is the first book to take a close and critical look at it. If others wish to follow in Gleick’s footsteps and declare that no one needs to read my book, they are welcome to do so. But I don’t think the average person is impressed by that sort of behaviour.

PROSECUTION

Ms. Laframboise, as you are probably aware, this trial concerns a number of actions -- dishonest, unethical, and perhaps even criminal in nature -- that the defendant is alleged to have taken some months after his harshly negative and inaccurate review of your book. Some of those actions he has confessed to, calling them “a serious lapse of professional judgement and ethics”; others he denies. This trial will focus in large part on whether or not those denials are believable. But setting that question aside, what conclusions do you draw from the actions to which he has admitted?

LAFRAMBOISE

Well, I think there are many ways to win the hearts and minds of the public. But anyone who feels the need to resort to dishonesty and unethical behavior would seem to have little faith in their own evidence.

PROSECUTION

In the wake of this scandal, some climate activists have argued that what Gleick did really wasn’t that bad. They say he acted dishonestly and unethically only because he cares so much about global warming, and that the importance of his cause excuses his actions. How do you respond to that?

LAFRAMBOISE

I’m horrified by the moral vacuity demonstrated by those who argue that Gleick’s behaviour is no big deal. An alarming number of them appear to be employed in the sciences. But regardless of their background, I have a question for each of those people: Where do you draw the line? I understand that you think things like lying and stealing and misleading are OK so long as they help advance a good cause. What else is acceptable? Old fashioned burglary? Arson? Car bombs? Where is the line?

PROSECUTION

Thank you, Ms. Laframboise. No more questions, your honor.

JUDGE

The defense may cross-examine.

DEFENSE

(standing)

Thank you, your honor. Ms. Laframboise, if I understand you correctly, one of the shocking things you have discovered is that the IPCC, an international body, includes people from various parts of the world, and of various genders. Is there anything wrong, in your view, with not being from North America, or not being a particular gender?

LAFRAMBOISE

Of course not, as long as the individual is qualified. My sense, though --

DEFENSE

(interrupting)

Please just answer the question, Ms. Laframboise. And would you agree that given the wide-ranging potential impacts of climate change, and the fact that all parts of the world and all genders are at risk from it, that having those groups represented on the panel is important?

LAFRAMBOISE

As long as the panel includes the most-qualified people, yes. In this case, though, it does not.

DEFENSE

Yes, you’ve made your opinions about that clear. Another of the shocking things your investigations have uncovered, I believe you said, is that the IPCC’s membership has sometimes included one or more graduate students who had not yet received their PhDs. Is that correct?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

DEFENSE

You are certainly aware, Ms. Laframboise, that the IPCC does not actually do any climate research itself. It merely summarizes the work that has been done by the world’s climate scientists. Given that, why do you believe that a graduate student, who might well have many years of relevant scientific experience, could not perform that role?

LAFRAMBOISE

The IPCC authors do not just summarize. Climate science is a complex and rapidly evolving field, and the IPCC’s authors, in particular the lead authors, are deciding which research is the most compelling. They have the power of saying, in effect, “this is what the world’s climate scientists believe, this is what we think is going to happen in the future, and this is what we as humans should do in response.” We are depending on their judgement, which makes their qualifications absolutely crucial.

DEFENSE

Let’s talk about this question of qualifications, then. Let’s talk about the expertise needed to reach valid judgements about this “complex and rapidly evolving” area of science. I believe you described yourself as a “journalist, author, and photographer.” Is that correct?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

DEFENSE

Do you have a PhD, Ms. Laframoise?

LAFRAMOISE

No.

DEFENSE

But you at least have a graduate degree of some kind? A Master’s degree, perhaps?

LAFRAMOISE

No.

DEFENSE

Well, do you at least have an undergraduate degree in some scientific field?

LAFRAMBOISE

No. I have a college degree, but not in a scientific field. But I also have have many years of experience as an investigative reporter researching government --

DEFENSE

(interrupting)

What? Not even an undergraduate degree in science? Any science at all? Please tell us, Ms. Laframboise, what field was your degree in?

LAFRAMBOISE

I graduated -- with honors -- with a degree in women’s studies from the University of Toronto.

DEFENSE

Women’s studies. Women’s studies. A reasonable person might conclude, Ms. Laframboise, that your own opinions about climate science are significantly less expert even than those of this hypothetical IPCC graduate student of whom you are so critical.

LAFRAMBOISE

Not hypothetical. There have been graduate students --

DEFENSE

Yes, yes. I am willing to stipulate that among the many scientific experts who have authored the IPCC reports there have been at least a few who had not yet completed their PhDs. But I’m more concerned about this question of your own expertise. Isn’t it true, Ms. Laframboise, that despite your characterization of your book as merely being about the politics of the IPCC, that in fact your book makes numerous claims that the IPCC has got the climate science wrong? And isn’t it true that it is these opinions of yours, based on no scientific background at all, that have caused many experts -- including Dr. Gleick -- to dismiss your attacks on the IPCC as scientifically naive?

LAFRAMBOISE

No.

DEFENSE

No?

LAFRAMBOISE

No, it is not true that it is my lack of scientific credentials that causes them to dismiss my book.

DEFENSE

Well then, please enlighten us, Ms. Laframboise. In your view, what is it that causes them to dismiss it?

LAFRAMBOISE

It is their own arrogance, their own belief, like the delinquent teenager of my title, that their lofty position makes them immune to criticism. The belief that they can do what they want, say what they want, with no accountability, and the rest of us must simply accept it.

DEFENSE

You find that objectionable.

LAFRAMBOISE

Of course. Anyone would, and should.

DEFENSE

Well, at least we’ve established that you find it objectionable. Tell me, Ms. Laframboise: You described yourself as an author. I believe your attack on the IPCC was referred to earlier as your “latest” book. How many other books have you written, besides this one?

LAFRAMBOISE

One.

DEFENSE

Just one? In all the time since you graduated with your degree in women’s studies, all that time as a journalist and author, you’ve written only one other book? When was that book published?

LAFRAMBOISE

In 1996.

DEFENSE

More than 15 years ago. What was its title?

LAFRAMBOISE

“The Princess at the Window: A New Gender Reality”

DEFENSE

Well, at least it sounds like this was a book closer to your own area of expertise. Isn’t it true, Ms. Laframboise, that that book, not unlike your latest one, consists of a lengthy rant in which you take prominent people to task for a long list of failings that you, with your women’s studies degree, feel qualified to lecture them about?

LAFRAMBOISE

I would not call it a rant. The book was critical of what I saw at the time as the failings of feminist leadership.

DEFENSE

Saw at the time? Has the passage of time changed your views about the failings of feminist leadership? Perhaps you have realized that the things you asserted so stridently were more the product of your own need to take down those in authority, to show that you were better than them, than with any actual wrongdoing on their part?

LAFRAMBOISE

The person who wrote that book has continued to evolve. I’m sure there are passages I’d write differently today. Nevertheless, I stand by the book’s main argument: that the North American women’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s had become “extremist, self-obsessed, arrogant and intolerant.”

DEFENSE

Well, perhaps your argument in that case did have some merit. Certainly the feminist movement, and the women’s studies programs it has spawned, have produced their share of arrogance and intolerance. No more questions, your honor.

Defense counsel sits down.

JUDGE

Prosecution? Do you wish to redirect?

PROSECUTION

Yes, your honor. Ms. Laframboise, the defense seems to be of the opinion that you are claiming that your academic achievements studying the role of gender in society are directly relevant to a scientific understanding of climate change. Is that, in fact, a claim you are making?

LAFRAMBOISE

Of course not.

PROSECUTION

In fact, Ms. Laframboise, haven’t you spent much of the last two decades working as an investigative reporter, uncovering wrongdoing by powerful institutions?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

PROSECUTION

For example, you wrote extensively about the case of Guy Paul Morin, a Canadian who had been convicted and imprisoned for a horrific murder. After years in prison, Morin was proven innocent by DNA testing, released, and compensated financially by the Canadian government. Isn’t that correct?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

PROSECUTION

And isn’t it true that in that case, a government inquiry eventually vindicated your reporting, revealing that, in fact, there had been police and prosecutorial misconduct, and misrepresentation of forensic scientific evidence?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

PROSECUTION

And isn’t it true that the skills you acquired in investigations like that are what have allowed you to uncover and document the political failings and misrepresentations of scientific evidence at the IPCC that are described in your book?

LAFRAMBOISE

Yes.

PROSECUTION

Thank you, Ms. Laframboise. Nothing further for this witness, your honor.

JUDGE

You may step down, Ms. Laframboise.

Laframboise leaves the witness box.

JUDGE (CONT.)

I think we could all use a break. Unless I hear any objection, I’m inclined to adjourn for the day. No one? Very well.

The Judge bangs the gavel.

JUDGE (CONT.)

Court is adjourned until the operator of this blog has time to write the next installment.

Exhibits:

Sources used for Donna Laframboise’s testimony:

Latest Gleick Links

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

A couple of interesting items from the last few days:

  • Gleick and the Watergate burglars – Steve McIntyre at his Climate Audit blog gives a nice history lesson on Watergate, and points out some interesting parallels with the Gleick affair. I think McIntyre probably has an overly optimistic view about the likelihood of a criminal prosecution against Gleick. He seems perplexed by the incongruity of Watergate having bought down the government, while so far the affair of Peter Gleick is mostly of interest only to a few obsessive bloggers, with no federal indictment for wire fraud having happened, despite his (McIntyre’s) exhaustively argued case for it.
  • Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick Breaks Silence – KQED’s Climate Watch blog covers the appearance by Peter Gleick last weekend as the keynote speaker at an L.A. water policy conference. Gleick apparently alluded to recent incidents, while refusing to address them directly.

From the latter article:

“I should make it clear that today I am speaking as an individual, which I am always speaking as,” Gleick told the audience. “I will not be addressing the recent contretemps between me and the Heartland institute. At this point I am going to let my last Huffington Post piece and the Heartland documents speak for themselves,” he said. “And if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about you’re better off.”

[snip]

“I am a scientist by training and it isn’t always clear that the public, or even colleagues, appreciate it when scientists stray too far into the public arena. But I am a concerned and interested citizen as well, as are all of you,” he told the audience.

Gleick would not discuss the specifics of his leave with me but hinted in his talk that he would continue to oppose those who seek to discount mounting scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.

“Those who deny this science and this evidence are becoming increasingly desperate in their efforts to attack the science and scientists and fool the public and prevent any rational discussion of a climate or energy policy from being adopted,” he said in his remarks.

It’s interesting to contemplate what he said, and try to infer his mental state and fit it into the various theories of his recent actions. It’s not much to go on, I realize, but that’s all we’ve got at this point.

The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 3: Defense Opening Argument

Monday, March 12th, 2012

From the beginning: The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It features characters based on real people and evidence based on real events, and is as close to reality as my whim and imagination allow. But it’s completely fake.

INT. – AN IMAGINARY COURTROOM – DAY

We join the court session already in progress. The prosecution has just finished giving its opening statement.

JUDGE

Defense counsel? Will you be making an opening statement at this time?

DEFENSE

Yes, your honor.

JUDGE

Please proceed.

The Defense Counsel remains seated. He or she stares straight ahead, hands laid flat on the surface of the defense table. The jurors are silent, watching. The silence lengthens; five seconds, ten seconds.

DEFENSE

(still staring straight ahead)

The earth... is flat.

The Defense Counsel, still sitting, lays his or her head on the table and sights along it.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

That’s a simple explanation. Right? Nice and simple. Just take a look. Sure looks flat to me. Done.

The Defense Counsel slaps a hand on the table, then brushes both hands together in a gesture of finality.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Or how about this: The earth is the center of the universe, and the sun and stars revolve around it.

The Defense Counsel points at the ceiling, tracking the path of an imaginary celestial body across the sky.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Simple. Obvious. I mean, look: There it goes.

The Defense Counsel turns, and for the first time, looks at the jury.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

This case... is simple.

The Defense Counsel stands, then walks into the well in front of the jury.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

The flat earth, the sun and stars revolving around it, the prosecution’s simple explanation for the case of Dr. Peter Gleick: All of those are things that, from a certain perspective, are easy to believe. But in each case, that belief is wrong. Because the earth is not flat. It is not the center of the universe. And the case of Dr. Peter Gleick, when you look at it with an honest and open mind, is anything but simple.

The Defense Counsel turns and walks slowly away from the jury for a few paces, then turns and faces them again.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

William of Ockham. William of Ockham was an English friar who lived in the 1300’s. He’s remembered today for one thing: a principle of logic called “Occam’s razor.” Basically, it says if you have two explanations for something, you should prefer whichever explanation is simpler.

The Defense Counsel smiles, and gestures toward the Prosecutor.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

The prosecution is a big fan of William of Ockham. Because the explanation they want you to believe is a simple one: You’ve got this one guy, the defendant, Dr. Peter Gleick, who admits doing a bad thing. So he must be the bad guy. The people he did the bad thing to, the Heartland Institute? They must be the good guys. So if you’ve got anything else you need to explain, you just find a way to fit it into that theory. There’s a mysterious strategy memo that paints Heartland in a bad light? Well, they’re the good guys, so the memo must not be true. Who would fake such a thing? Oh, right: the bad guy, Dr. Gleick. Easy!

The Defense Counsel brushes his or her hands together and walks briskly away, then slows, stops, and turns back toward the jury.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Or is it? Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” What he meant was, you have to get the facts of the situation first, before you try to come up with a theory to explain those facts. Using Occam’s Razor before you know the facts is a good way to cut your own throat. It’s a good way to come up with a theory that says the Earth is flat, or the sun and stars revolve around it. Sure, it’s simple. But it’s wrong.

The Defense Counsel walks up to the jury box and stands directly in front of it, looking the jurors in the eyes by turn.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

The prosecution has a theory of what happened in this case. Their theory is simple. But it doesn’t account for all the facts. Facts like these:

The Defense Counsel ticks off “one” on his or her fingers.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Fact: The organization whose internal documents Dr. Gleick obtained, the Heartland Institute, is not some innocent victim, a poor little think tank promoting research and education. They are sophisticated liars, with an extremist ideological agenda and a history of pushing misleading information intended to confuse the public about things like the health risks of cigarettes and the dangers of pollution.

The Defense Counsel ticks off “two.”

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Fact: At least one person associated with Heartland publicly identified Dr. Gleick as the likely source of the leaked documents days before Dr. Gleick admitted doing so. How did that person know Dr. Gleick was the source? Was it from a remarkably astute reading of clues in the strategy memo itself, as the prosecution would have you believe? Or was it that the accuser knew Dr. Gleick was the source, because the accuser had forged the strategy memo himself and intentionally leaked it to Dr. Gleick beforehand?

The Defense Counsel ticks off “three.”

DEFENSE (CONT.)

Fact: Dr. Gleick is not a stupid man. By his own admission he showed bad judgement under pressure, but that’s not the same thing as being stupid. Yet the prosecution’s so-called “simple” explanation requires us to believe that Dr. Gleick, having obtained Heartland’s internal documents, was stupid enough to think it would be a good idea to forge an additional document that made Heartland look worse, even though that additional document contained almost nothing new that was not already present in the legitimate documents.

The Defense Counsel scowls.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

According to the prosecution’s theory, Dr. Gleick was stupid enough to think it would be a good idea to release this forged document along with the legitimate ones, even though Heartland would immediately know it was a fake. Even though he would be handing Heartland a made-to-order way to cast themselves as victims and shift attention to the forgery, rather than to the embarrassing information in the real documents. According to the prosecution’s “simple” theory, Dr. Gleick was stupid enough to think it was a good idea to include a direct reference to himself in the text of the memo, in effect planting a neon sign of his own guilt. Now I ask you, does that sound like the kind of thing that an intelligent man, intent on exposing his enemies’ wrongdoing without revealing himself as the source, would do?

The Defense Counsel walks to the front of the defense table and gestures toward the empty chair left for the defendant.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

The prosecution pointed out for us that Dr. Gleick is not in the courtroom today, and that under our system of justice he is under no obligation to testify against himself. What the prosecution didn’t mention is this: That rule comes from an even more fundamental principle of our system of justice: The presumption of innocence. In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. They must make their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Defense Counselor walks back to the area immediately in front of the jury box and faces the jury.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

The prosecution’s “flat earth” theory, the theory that Dr. Gleick forged the strategy memo himself, is simple. I think it’s too simple. Your job as jurors will be to listen to the facts, all the facts, that are going to be presented in this trial. To weigh those facts honestly, with an open mind. And only then, only after you’ve considered those facts, to decide whether the prosecution’s “flat earth” theory still makes sense, or whether there might be some other theory, not as simple, maybe, but better at explaining what actually happened. And if there is a better theory, or even if you end up deciding that we just don’t know enough to say with confidence what actually happened, well, then your job will be to be honest about that, too.

The Defense Counsel smiles at the jury.

DEFENSE (CONT.)

I don’t know what you’ll end up deciding. I know what I think, but what I think doesn’t matter. It’s what you think that matters. All I ask is that you consider the facts with an open mind. And remember: The earth is not flat. And this case is not simple.

The Defense Counsel sits down.

JUDGE

Very well. I see it is late, and we could all use some rest before the next installment. Next up will be the opening of the prosecution’s case, and the calling of their first witness. For now, though...

The Judge bangs the gavel.

JUDGE (CONT.)

Court is adjourned.

Next: Part 4: Prosecution Witness Donna Laframboise.

The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 2: Prosecution Opening Argument

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

From the beginning: The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It features characters based on real people and evidence based on real events, and is as close to reality as my whim and imagination allow. But it’s completely fake.

INT. – AN IMAGINARY COURTROOM – DAY

BAILIFF

All rise. The Imaginary Court of the Internet is now in session. The honorable Judge Mumble K. Mumbles presiding.

The Judge enters and takes his or her seat behind the bench.

JUDGE

Prosecution? Are you ready to make your opening statement?

PROSECUTION

I am, your honor.

The Prosecutor stands and approaches the jury.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

This is a simple case. Now, don’t get me wrong; parts of it will be complicated. For one thing, we’ll be looking at some questions involving climate science, and that stuff can be hard to understand. Especially for someone like me, who isn’t a scientist.

The Prosecutor turns from the jury box and walks toward the defense table, stands in front of it, and lays a hand on it, fingers outstretched.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

We need scientists. People drawn from our best and brightest. People who have trained for years under the supervision of other scientists, mastering the knowledge and techniques of their field. Demonstrating the quality of their intellect. Demonstrating the quality of their character.

The Prosecutor turns from the defense table and walks back toward the jury.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

Because character is crucial for a scientist. Absolutely crucial. In that sense, scientists are like doctors, or high public officials, or priests. We trust scientists. We have to. They do their work outside the public eye, using equipment and techniques that we don’t -- and can’t -- understand. And then they bring us the results, and they say, like a doctor: “This is what’s wrong, and this is the course of treatment that can best help you.” Or like a public official, “These are the challenges we face, so this is how we’re going to spend your tax money.” Or like a priest, “This is what God intends for us, so this is how to live a life in accordance with His law.”

The Prosecutor pauses for a moment before continuing.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

Trust is crucial for scientists, because they come to us and say those sorts of things. They say, “This is how the universe works. This is what is going to happen. So this is what we must do.” We need to be able to trust that advice. To trust that they’ve done the science right, that they’re being honest with us. That they haven’t let something prejudice their conclusions, that there isn’t some all-too-human failing that has compromised their judgement.

The Prosecutor looks at the ground, gives a low chuckle and shake of the head, then looks up at the jury again.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

The truth, of course, is that just like doctors and scientists and priests, scientists are human beings. Just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. And just like the rest of us, when they make mistakes they don’t like to admit it. Not to themselves, and not to us. They get caught up in clashes of personality. They disagree. They get angry. They want to prove the other guy wrong, not just so they can be right, but so they can win the argument. And sometimes they can get so caught up in a scientific debate that they lose sight of the need for openness, and honesty, and humility. They find themselves wanting to shut down debate, to come in like a dictator and say, “No more talk. I’ve decided what the answer is, and you’re not qualified to question my judgement. So sit down and shut up.”

While talking, the Prosecutor returns to the defense table. This time, though, the Prosecutor walks behind it, past where the Defense Counsel is seated, to where an empty chair has been left for the defendant. The Prosecutor stops behind the empty chair.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

Unfortunately, as you will learn in the course of this trial, this isn’t a hypothetical scenario I’m describing. This is exactly what the defendant, Peter Gleick, has done. As you will learn, he used to be a respected scientist. But over time he gradually became the sort of person who wanted to be right, to win the argument, regardless of the truth. Peter Gleick became an activist, an advocate, a True Believer, someone so committed to his cause that he lost sight of all other truths. He became so convinced of his own rightness that he was willing to use his authority to try to silence others, to shut down debate. Worse than that, he was willing to engage in willful, deliberate deception. He admits to assuming a false identity to obtain private information, then leaking that information to others under false pretenses. He wanted to trick those others into publicizing the information, hurting his enemies while allowing him to remain concealed behind a smokescreen of scientific respectability.

The Prosecutor puts a hand on the defendant’s empty chair.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

As you can see, Peter Gleick isn’t here. He’s being tried in absentia. He’s chosen not to participate in this discussion. Now, no one is required to give incriminating testimony against himself. That’s an important principle in our system of justice. Peter Gleick is completely within his rights to be absent as we consider the question of his guilt. And really, it doesn’t matter.

The Prosecutor steps away from the defense table and walks back toward the jury.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

It doesn’t matter. Because again, at its heart, this case really is simple. Peter Gleick, by his own admission, has been dishonest and deceitful. And once we realize that, and look carefully at the evidence, it all becomes clear. It becomes clear that his sins run deeper than the things he’s admitted to. In his confession he claimed to be a victim. He said he’d been tricked by some unknown person into committing disgraceful and dishonorable acts. In fact, the evidence will show that this was just another layer of deception, that even as he made his confession, Gleick continued to lie.

The Prosecutor strides toward the jury, voice rising.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

The facts of this case will make it clear that this entire affair, from the beginning, was his idea, and his idea alone. Peter Gleick found himself caught up in a public argument with the Heartland Institute, an organization that does research and education based on free-market principles. He was losing that argument. And he couldn’t accept that. Angry, embarrassed, desperate to hang onto his credibility and prestige, he came up with a risky strategy: He would use deception to obtain private documents from Heartland, then release those documents to the world.

The Prosecutor sighs.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

His deception succeeded -- but then he suffered the worst shock of all: The documents for which he had risked his professional career, the documents that were going to bring down his enemies, were unremarkable. They revealed that the evil cabal he had been fighting really was just what its supporters had been saying it was all along: a small and not very scary organization promoting research and education.

The Prosecutor shakes his head.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

And here, Gleick showed his worst judgement of all. Faced with these facts, what did he do? The evidence will show that he then forged a new document, the so-called “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” memo. He used information from the legitimate documents to give it an air of authenticity, but he embellished that information, enhanced it, coated it with a layer of sinister intent. In effect, Gleick forged the document he wished he had found. Like an experimenter willing to falsify data in order to get the results he wanted, he twisted reality to make it match his theory. Then he leaked that fraudulent information to the world, and sat back and watched the firestorm of controversy it created.

The Prosecutor walks slowly back behind the defense table, and grasps the back of the defendant’s empty chair with both hands. There is a pause. The courtroom is silent.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

What Peter Gleick did was wrong, obviously wrong. But the mistakes he made offer a lesson to the rest of us. That lesson is this: No one is immune to human failings. Scientists -- like doctors, priests, and holders of high office -- need our trust if they are to do their jobs. But they must earn that trust. They must prove themselves worthy of it. And when one of them proves himself unworthy, as Peter Gleick has, we need to call him on it. We owe it to the people he serves. We owe it to his colleagues, the men and women who do meet that standard of honor and integrity every day. And we owe it to the perpetrator himself. We owe it to Peter Gleick to be honest about what he did, to look him in the eye and tell him it was wrong. Only in that way can we honor the truth. Only in that way can we give him the chance to begin a journey to real redemption.

The Prosecutor steps away from the empty chair, gesturing toward it.

PROSECUTION (CONT.)

If Peter Gleick were here today, that’s what I would tell him. With your verdict, you can tell him the same thing.

The Prosecutor sits down.

Next: Part 3: Defense Opening Argument.

Still Yet Another Batch of Climate-Change Links

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Noteworthy stuff I’ve been reading over the last few days:

No time for more commentary at the moment; I’m focusing my available time on the ridiculous imaginary trial of Peter Gleick.

Kahan on the Debiasing Effect on White Jurors of Racially-mixed Juries

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Dan Kahan is really excited by a 2006 study in which white jurors were placed on both all-white and racially mixed (mock) juries in order to measure the effects this had on the quality of their analysis of a racially-charged case: Coolest debiasing study (I’ve) ever (read).

I submitted a comment (currently in the moderation queue; hopefully it will be live at some point) explaining the parallel I see between an aspect of the study and my own recent interactions with climate change skeptics.

The CJR on Gleick

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

From the Columbia Journalism Review, here’s a nice article that goes into detail on both journalistic ethics and legal issues as they relate to Gleick’s actions: Heartland, Gleick, and Media Law.

Thanks to nomatter_nevermind for the link.

Annan on McPhaden on Gleick

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Good stuff from James Annan on James’ Empty Blog: His transgression cannot be condoned, regardless of his motives. Includes a link to, and quote from, Mike McPhaden, president of the AGU, in his comments on Gleick: We must remain committed to scientific integrity.

See especially Annan’s comments in his blog post’s discussion thread, where he expands a little on his current thinking.

The biggest impact of this incident on me personally has been to shake up my taxonomy of the climate change debate. Before, I had just two boxes: scientists (the well-informed, rational, good guys) on one side, and deniers (the deluded, stupid, and/or bad guys) on the other. The former accepted that climate change was real. The latter didn’t.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase von Moltke, my taxonomy could not survive contact with the enemy. I now realize that the climate change landscape is more complicated. There are some intelligent, rational people who nevertheless question the mainstream scientific view. And there are some real bozos who accept it. I’m not making any particular assertion about the number of people in either of those categories. But they’re definitely there.

I liked this post from Tamsin Edwards’ blog, All Models Are Wrong: The Sceptical Compass. It includes this diagram:

Regardless of where I or the people I’m reading fall on the vertical axis, I want to spend less of my time on the left side of that graph, and more on the right.

The (Imaginary) Trial of Peter Gleick – Part 1, Preliminary Hearing and Arraignment

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be (strictly from a gossipy obsessive’s self-interested point of view) if the Peter Gleick / Heartland affair were to end up in court. It would be great to have all the arguments laid out pro and con, with a referee and rules of evidence and all that.

It seems unlikely we’ll be getting that any time soon, so I thought I’d pretend. This is the result. I put it in screenplay format, since that seems as good a way as any to represent a fake courtroom drama.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. It features characters based on real people and evidence based on real events, and is as close to reality as my whim and imagination allow. But it’s completely fake.

I plan to use public writing (magazine articles, tweets, blog posts, comments, and online reviews) by the various witnesses in an attempt to have them give testimony that is more or less true to their stated views, but I assume I’ll also be taking some creative liberties. I’ll provide sources for the witnesses’ statements, so you can verify how well (or poorly) I’ve done at keeping things real.

I’ll send the witness testimony to the witnesses themselves privately, via email (assuming I can find their email addresses) prior to posting it, so they’ll have a chance to correct anything they think is being incorrectly attributed to them. I’m also willing to correct testimony after the fact if any witnesses object to the words I’ve put in their mouths. No idea if anyone will actually want to take advantage of that.

Anyway, here goes.

INT. – AN IMAGINARY COURTROOM – DAY

BAILIFF

All rise. The Imaginary Court of the Internet is now in session. The honorable Judge Mumble K. Mumbles presiding.

The JUDGE enters the courtroom from a door behind the bench. He or she is imaginary, and looks more or less like you would expect a judge to look, depending on how judges look in your part of the world. The Judge takes his or her seat.

JUDGE

Be seated. Bailiff, what do we have on the docket today?

BAILIFF

Your honor, preliminary proceeding and arraignment in the matter of the Internet vs. Peter Gleick.

JUDGE

Are the parties present? Prosecution?

PROSECTION

Here, your honor.

JUDGE

Defense?

DEFENSE

Defense counsel present, your honor. The accused is not in court, and will not be appearing today.

JUDGE

Will not be appearing?

DEFENSE

That is correct, your honor.

JUDGE

(frowning)

Hm. Given that this proceeding is imaginary, I suppose I must allow it. Let the record show that the accused is being tried in absentia.

The Judge glances down and goes through some papers.

JUDGE (CONT.)

Defense counsel, please rise.

DEFENSE

(stands)

Yes, your honor.

JUDGE

Your client, Dr. Peter H. Gleick, stands accused of the following charges: That on or about January 27, 2012, your client did knowingly and with malice aforethought impersonate a board member of the Heartland Institute, entering into an email correspondence with a person or persons within that organization. That as a result of that deception, your client caused a representative or representatives of Heartland to email your client confidential Heartland information, including documents relating to the organization’s donors, activities, and budget. That your client subsequently used that illicitly obtained information to forge an additional document, the so-called “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy”, taking the form of an internal Heartland memorandum but with language specifically crafted to paint the organization in a negative light. That on or about February 14, 2012, your client sent these documents via email to a group of recipients, identifying himself only as “Heartland Insider”, with the intention that the recipients would publicize the documents, including the forged strategy memo, leading to public outcry against Heartland and embarrassment for its board members, staff, and supporters. Defense counsel, do you understand these charges as I have read them?

DEFENSE

I do, your honor.

JUDGE

Are you prepared to enter a plea on behalf of your client at this time?

DEFENSE

I am, your honor. My client, Dr. Peter H. Gleick, pleads not guilty.

JUDGE

Very well. I accept your client’s plea of not guilty, and hereby set a court date of some date in the future when this blog’s operator has time to write the next installment. A quick procedural note: In keeping with the imaginary nature of these proceedings, we will be skipping all that boring pretrial stuff: no witness lists, pretrial motions, or jury selection. I assume there are no complaints about that. Anything else?

The Judge glances around the courtroom. No one speaks.

JUDGE (CONT.)

(bangs gavel)

Court is adjourned.

Next: Part 2: Prosecution Opening Argument.

Recent Heartland/Climate Items

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Here’s a roundup of the newest cruelty:

Kloor writes:

The views (the facility overlooks the Hudson River) are stupendous, the food is excellent (mostly vegetarian and locally produced), and the vibe is … well, weird: Part new age, part science, and part rah, rah, as in, let’s all pool our brain power and figure out a way to get people to pay more attention to climate change and reduce their carbon footprint.

From Kahan’s summary:

I was also genuinely shocked & saddened by what struck (assaulted) me as the anti-science ethos shared by a large number of participants.

Multiple speakers disparaged science for being “materialistic” and for trying to “put a number on everything.” One, to approving nods of audience, reported that university science instruction had lost the power to inspire “wonder” in students because it was disconnected from “spiritual” (religious, essentially) sensibilities.

  • Polluter Arguments Rebuffed In ‘Scopes Trial’ On Climate Science – Josh Israel writing at ThinkProgress. A panel of federal appeals judges is hearing a consolidated challenge to the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding (and related rule-makings, which would, if left unaltered, lead to the regulation of atmospheric CO2 as a pollutant). Apparently the judges’ questions during the first day of oral arguments do not bode well for the industry groups and conservative politicians arguing that the EPA is being ridiculous.

I’m interested by this idea that by putting issues like this into a court setting, we can bring to bear the mechanisms we have evolved for determining truth in difficult circumstances. More on that in a future post, maybe.

Moutal appears to be buying into the “strategy memo is authentic” meme (or maybe the “Joe Bast forged it personally” meme; hard to tell). At least, he (Moutal) quotes the infamous “dissuading teachers from teaching science” line from the strategy memo without mentioning the problems with its provenance. I find that unfortunate, for the same reason I find it unfortunate that DeSmogBlog maintains that the strategy memo is legitimate: I can no longer trust their information without independently verifying it.

Moutal:

One of the most troubling aspects of the leaked Heartland Institute documents was the revelation that they were planning to create a school curriculum for K-12 students that “that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science“. This was seen by many as the most controversial aspect of Heartland’s attempt to ‘influence’ the debate on climate change, because it is one thing to confuse political leaders (they almost seem to enjoy it), but quite another to spread misinformation to students.

Update: In response to a question I raised in the item’s comments, Michael Tobis said he had contacted Moutal, verified that the inclusion of the quote from the strategy memo was accidental, and revised the text accordingly. “P3 takes no position on the origins of the disputed memo,” wrote Tobis in his comment.

Laframboise summarizes some of the most excessive Glieck apologists, and concludes with this:

It will be fascinating to see how this story develops. In the meantime here is a question for all of the above apologists. For Greg Laden, Michael Tobis, John Horgan, Stephan Lewandowsky, Patrick Lockerby, Mark Alan Hewitt, and James Garvey. Here is a question for all of those individuals who expressed similar opinions on news websites and blogs during the past two weeks. Where do you draw the line?

I get it. Lying and stealing and misleading are OK so long as they help advance a good cause. What else is acceptable? Old fashioned burglary? Arson? Car bombs?

Where is the line?

Good question.

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.

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?