Ethical considerations regarding Heartland/Gleick

Note: This is just a personal account of my thinking and subject to change upon further reflection.

First I need to stress that I have no real journalism training. I never went to journalism school, and my only real experience as a ‘journalist’ has been blogging for the past 7 years. This means I never took a journalism ethics class and probably haven’t spent as much time thinking about journalism ethics as ‘real journalists’ have. But after the Heartland/Gleick document leak I find my self spending a great deal of time thinking about these sorts of ethics and how they affect my writings on the subject.

The first thing to note is that there are two separate issues at play here, one is the information contained within the documents and the other is the manner is which those documents were obtained. It is possible that the information in the documents is of genuine interest and thus should be reported, while the way the documents were obtained is condemned.

Not everyone will agree that what Gleick did was wrong or unethical but we should, at least, be able to agree that it is reasonable for someone to conclude that it was. I cannot condone the way in which Peter Gleick obtained the documents.

Another consideration that is worth considering is the fact that consistency is important. Both ‘sides’ of the climate debate should be judged by the same set of rules. If it is wrong for one ‘side’ to do something then it should be wrong for the other side as well, and vice versa.

Many of the reasons given to justify Gleick’s actions could equally be used to justify the actions of the CRU hacker. It all depends on your point of view. If you accept mainstream science and find the actions of groups like Heartland deplorable (and I do!) then you might be tempted to grant Gleick some slack for exposing some of their inner workings.

But what about people who feel the opposite? What about people who are convinced that mainstream climate science is bunk, and that groups like Heartland are working hard to expose a grand conspiracy. You and I might think this nonsense (and we would be right) but it is undeniable that a significant number of people think this is point of view is true. What then? Surely those people would be tempted to grant CRU hacker some slack for exposing the inner workings of climate scientists (never mind the 9 inquiries that clear the scientists of any wrongdoing).

So is it all about your point of view? No, or at least I don’t think so.

Like I said consistency is important and the same rules should apply to all ‘sides’ of the climate debate. How you feel about the CRU hack should, therefore, match how you feel about the Heartland leak. The only real difference is that Gleick tricked a human into sending him information he wasn’t supposed to have, while the CRU hacker tricked a computer into sending him information he wasn’t supposed to have. Legally this matters. Hacking is illegal while pretexting (which is what Gleick did) is mostly legal, though I suspect Heartland’s lawyers could make a case that Gleick’s actions were illegal. But ethically I don’t think the distinction matters.

I say all of this despite the fact that I see a far greater potential for good to come out of the information Gleick obtained than the information the CRU hacker obtained. History may well judge Gleick in a positive light, but that will only likely happen if the potential for good caused by his action is realized. That has yet to be determined.

I condemn both the CRU hack and Gleick’s actions. In my books both were wrong. It is as simple as that, though it is worth applauding Gleick for publicly admitting his mistake. But this means that I wont begrudge Heartland if they decide to file a suit against Gleick. After all I would be fully supportive of legal action against the CRU hacker.

But this consistency goes deeper. Fundamentally it means that since both ‘sides’ of the climate debate should be judged by the same rules (are you detecting a trend?). Heartland’s actions and those of other think tanks need to be judged the same way scientists like Peter Gleick have been judged. If his reputation takes a hit because he impersonated a Heartland board member then what are we to make of the years of outright dishonesty coming from Heartland? Shouldn’t their reputation be worse than worthless by now?

Yes it should.

But it isn’t. While scientists are held to impossibly high standards, groups like Heartland are given a pass. They lie, cheat and defame scientists while trumpeting stolen emails long after several investigations clear all the scientists of any wrong doing. And no one says anything, save a few climate blogs. The press meanwhile might report on this when it happens but ignores the fact that they are consistently and demonstrably wrong and continues to rely on them to provide ‘balance’.

This double standard is a disservice to us all (even Heartland though they don’t realize it yet).

What this means that we should all take a good look inside the heartland documents (and the report issued by John Mashey) with the same a scrutiny that has been applied the work of thousands of climate scientist. These documents and the careful work of John Mashey provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a very secretive organization. The information is of public interest and despite the fact that many journalists are uncomfortable with how such documents were obtained (as am I) there is no reason not to report on them. Reporting on them is not the same as condoning Gleick’s actions, much the same way that reporting on the stolen CRU emails was not the same thing as condoning the actions of the hacker.

In other words all I am saying is that we should hold Heartland to the same standard to which we are currently holding Peter Gleick.

61 thoughts on “Ethical considerations regarding Heartland/Gleick

Add yours

  1. To resort to a very heavy-handed analogy:

    One’s attitude toward police use of deadly force should be independent of whether it’s arbitrarily applied or a clear matter of self-defense.

    Curious what you think.

    1. I am not sure it is a good analogy. Better would be one’s attitude towards deadly force should be independent of whether it’s done by the police or private citizens.

      But even that is somewhat problematic because police are granted powers beyond those of private citizens.

  2. Or:

    How many climate-related deaths would we need to assign to Heartland’s activities for what Peter did to be seen as ethical?

    1. Doesn’t that depend on the ultimate outcome of Peter’s actions? Or as I said in the article:

      History may well judge Gleick in a positive light, but that will only likely happen if the potential for good caused by his action is realized. That has yet to be determined.

      If Peter’s actions result in Heartland truly loosing legitimately and the climate debate becomes more rational then I think his actions could in the long run be seen as ethical.

      But what if Peter’s actions result in the opposite? What if his actions push the debate further away from rationality and delay any action to combat climate change? Then shouldn’t his actions been seen as even more unethical?

    2. Hmm… long term consequences will likely affect how ‘history’ evaluates Gleick’s action, but an ethical theory ought to be able to judge an action from the perspective of the actor.

      The questions are very complicated. One critical question is whether scientists should be held to different ethical standards from others. If a government did such a thing to an adversary it would be considered praiseworthy intelligence-gathering. One suspects that in much of corporate America it would be seen similarly; I don’t have insight into the prevalence of theft of corporate ‘trade secrets’ but I would guess it’s commonplace.

      But we expect scientists to be disinterested, and committed only to a non-partisan “truth.” Climate change however, like some other well known issues (e.g., evolution), has become politicized so that the plainly reasonable view in the scientific community is treated as a mere political preference, to be ‘defeated’ by political tactics. Given the evident risks from climate change, this puts scientists in a moral dilemma. How does one contest with people and organizations who don’t play by the same rules?

    3. One critical question is whether scientists should be held to different ethical standards from others.

      I suppose they should, had a journalist or activist group like Greenpeace done this sort of thing I imagine my reaction would have been different.

      But I would add the caveat that these standards should be applied to everyone who claims to be part of the scientific discussion. Peter Gleick was part of that discussion, no doubt. But Heartland has claimed to be part of the scientific discussion as well, so they too should be judged by the same high standards.

  3. John, those thoughts above are pretty similar to my own thoughts. I’m stunned the Peter Gleick stooped to this. It cannot be condoned.

    I have no time for the Heartland Institute which has a clear intention of sabotaging the prospect of science-based policy making in the United States. Irrespective of the value of the documents obtained, this was not an acceptable act.

    Separate from that and perhaps as wounding is the loss of Peter Gleick as a trustworthy voice. Although one could argue that he had already become untrustworthy and this was simply a singular lapse of judgement that brought that fact to light, I think it’s undeniable that Peter’s voice in Forbes and in his recent work with NCSE was very valuable. I know little of his work with the Pacific Institute and the AGU.

  4. The CRU hacker hacked personal emails, while Peter Gleick only got organizational documents. Therefore, he didn’t violate anyone’s privacy.

    Also, the justifiability of the views driving your act is part of the ethical judgment we pass on it. Gleick’s views are far more factually supported than those of the CRU hacker.

    1. People’s privacy can be violated even with organizational documents. But there is a point to be made that the breach of privacy is less invasive with these documents than with the personal emails taken from CRU.

      Gleick’s view are factually supported, while Heartland’s are not. I wont argue that point (in fact I strongly support it!), but Gleick’s factual views don’t really lend themselves to lying to uncover information. Especially being the chairman of the AGU’s taskforce on scientific ethics.

      You are correct to point out that there are more differences between the CRU hack and the Heartland leak but they can cut both ways.

    2. Jane, Please be honest.
      NONE of the climategate e-mails were personal. They are all work related, and were carefully redacted to hide personal content. Additionally, they were not mixed with forgeries.
      Also, HI, is a private group and was defrauded by Gleick into sending him documents that were not his.
      As to the justification of Gleick, that is moot.

    3. I suppose it’s hard to draw the line regarding tedious argumentation as opposed to the spirit of inquiry on a topic like this, but it’s ever so dull to have the usual suspects show up with the usual lines of attack and not the slightest interest in conversing. Planet3.0 is a place for discussion, not for debate. I really greatly prefer people who are a little smarter and consequently a little less sure of themselves.

      In this case, I let it through just to contest this point: I absolutely and categorically reject the idea that it makes sense to consider any communication among members of the academic sector as being public, as if a professor were primarily a bureaucrat. The expectation of privacy in academic emails is not only reasonable, it is necessary.

      The contrary idea is terribly destructive, and the various academies’ failure to contest the point is pathetic. FOIA is not the solution to the problems with science. Destroying or at least fundamentally reworking the oligopoly private journal system would be far more useful, and what’s more, would avoid at least one part of making science more and more unpleasant and unattractive as a career with each passing year.

  5. ClimateGate was about scientists plotting to keep public information away from the public by not complying with FOIA requests.

    GleickGate/FakeGate is about a guy who impersonated someone in a organization he hates, didn’t find anything that important, and then went on to forge a memo. That strategy memo is absolutely laughable and he only confessed because people were calling him out on it.

    1. ClimateGate was about scientists plotting to keep public information away from the public by not complying with FOIA requests.

      But in the UK we have the ICO to handle such matters and ensure that institutions such as CRU cannot evade their FoI responsibilities, and they have made three rulings which have gone against CRU. We didn’t need “climategate” to find out that CRU was not dealing properly with FoI requests. Just as we didn’t need it to find out about “hide the decline”.

      And please provide proof of your claim that Gleick forged the memo.

    2. Well no. The vast majority of the ‘scandalous’ stuff from the emails was being openly discussed in the scientific literature. There is a reason why 9 inquiries found that the scientists did nothing nefarious.

      The FOIA issue is more complex, with issues dealing existing agreements with various organizations and the unintended consequences of the wave of privatization of such data in the 90s. For example Environment Canada (which gave Canadian temp data to CRU) prohibited CRU from distributing that data to third parties, hoping that they would buy it from Environment Canada instead. This, combined with FOIA laws and an organized campaign to flood CRU with FOIA requests lead to a problem with no real good solution.

      The potential good of the CRU email leak is bringing this problem to light (the Oxburgh report explicitly mentioned this I think).

      But all of that has already been hashed out repeatedly.

      As for Gleickgate there is simply no proof that Gleick forged the memo. In fact an analysis comparing the writing styles of Bast and Gleick to the memo found Bast to be the more likely source. I don’t find this particularly convincing so as far as I am concerned it is still impossible to know who wrote the memo. And I wont point accusatory fingers at anyone until more conclusive information come to light.

    3. “That strategy memo is absolutely laughable”

      Is that meant to be an argument for or against Heartland?

  6. All of you out there with children, nieces, nephews, cousins. Picture them in your head right now. What would you do to stop an organization that you knew was sabotaging these children’s education and whose membership supports companies that were caught red-handed trying to hook them on deadly cigarettes?

    Now, I bet that posing as a board member to verify insider documents is mild compared to what you were just willing to do in your head. Right?

    1. Yeah. Every Canadian needs a little more Texas. Also every Texan needs a little more Canada.

      The optimum, of course, is roughly equal amounts of both with a salting of Chicago and Madison thrown in…

    2. Hey, Canadians are quite capable of writing acerbic letters to the editor when really upset.

    1. Dang! I’m starting to see a little bit of Monbiot’s point of view regarding SwiftHack (though, in summary, I still think he’s wrong). In this era of secrecy and unaccountability, perhaps hacks or leaks aren’t the “unconscionable” deed that it might be in a more just and fair society. But equally important is what one actually does with the information obtained.

      — frank

  7. Dan, you forget that the hacker/pretexter can choose whether to release the information he’s collected, and whether to try searching for more information.

    And yes, he choice lies entirely in the hands of the hacker/pretexter.

    Gleick — according to his own account — first received a “strategy memo” of doubtful provenance by snail mail. Instead of suppressing it or simply publishing it, he decided to pose as someone else in order to get corroborating information — which he did. Not exactly the best course of action, but not exactly too wrong either.

    And then he published everything he had.

    The SwiftHackers, on the other hand, pilfered about 220,000 e-mails, ran a search engine over them to get a few thousand results, filtered away those he didn’t like, and then furiously quoted out-of-context snippets from them.

    Both Gleick and the SwiftHackers had a choice of what to do with the data they obtained. And choose they did. And their choices were different.

    And therefore they should be judged differently.

    — frank

  8. Also, what’s with this fascination for throwing people under buses? How many more good climate campaigners do we have to throw under the buses before we find that there aren’t that many more people left to throw?

    — frank

    1. All I did was state that something was unethical and why I felt this way. Is that throwing someone under a bus?

      If we cannot take a critical look at our own ‘side’ then we don’t have much hope in improving.

    2. Dan, there’s a difference between “tak[ing] a critical look at our own ‘side'” and merely criticizing without offering much by way of real alternatives. The latter looks more like a way to praise oneself than to actually

      If you’d actually attempted by your own to get any real information about the inner workings of denialist groups, you’d know how darn hard and unrewarding it is, not to say unfruitful most of the time. And that’s an understatement.

      Getting anybody in power to do even the slightest thing with the information is, well, even harder.

      (That’s also why, as I said, I’m starting to get a bit more sympathetic to Monbiot’s view on SwiftHack. Fancy this — I actually think that cyber-attacks might sometimes not be bad! Yes, I surprise myself.)

      — frank

    3. Which doesn’t always work. Not everything that should be publicly available, is.

      — frank

  9. Comment by Ross Gelbspan:

    “…Please think this through for just a moment. Society depends on the integrity of journalists to provide the factual basis for opinions, actions and decisions. If journalists are permitted to falsify their identities — or any other portion of their presentations — it robs society of a credible basis on which to form opinions or make decisions. When society has no solid informational ground to guide its actions, it leaves itself wide open to demagoguery and worse…”

    1. +1 Very well said. This is the part of the comment that most closely matches my thinking:

      As a longtime fighter against the oil and coal interests that bankroll climate skeptics, I am delighted by Desmogblog’s posting of the Heartland disinformation documents.

      As a 30 year journalist who headed up a Pulitzer Prize winning effort for the Boston Globe, I am appalled at the ethical insensitivity of Naomi Klein and others who have praised the falsification used by Peter Gleick to obtain them. Peter’s work to promote awareness of the threat and magnitude of climate change over the years has been truly noble. But even he conceded that he committed “a serious lapse of professional judgment and ethics…”

    2. There was a programme on British TV last week exposing the secondary ticket sites such as Viagogo and Seatwave for dubious practices. This involved two reporters getting jobs with the otganisations concerned and secretly filming other employees and revealing what could be described as commercially sensitive information. This is a not uncommon kind of investigation and I don’t think the actions of the reporters were any less dishonest than what Gleick did, but it was certainly justified IMHO.

      I have said that Gleick was wrong to do what he did because of the position he was in and the damage that may have been done in consequence but I think you have to separate that from the question of whether such actions can in principle be justified.

  10. “If journalists are permitted to falsify their identities — or any other portion of their presentations — it robs society of a credible basis on which to form opinions or make decisions.”

    Nonsense. Undercover investigations are a basic tool of investigative journalism, and such investigations by definition involve concealing the journalist’s identity and goals. If what Peter Gleick did is unethical, so are all undercover investigations.

    1. None of that makes undercover journalist investigations unethical.

      And what about undercover policemen? Military operations? Is all deception suddenly to be proclaimed “unethical”, just so that we can all smell good?

      — frank

    2. Note that also the Geneva Conventions accept the use of ‘ruse’ in some military situations

    3. I think the issue is that, whilst it is in some cases ethically OK for investigative journalists/undercover policemen/MI5 etc. to obtain information through deception, Gleick is none of these.

      Gleick is (or was until now) first and foremost a scientist and as such is expected to conform to a basic honesty that (most) scientists work under. This basic honesty allows results published to be taken at face value (with the back-up of the methods section allowing reproducability of results if necessary.

      It is this perception of scientists as honest which is under constant pressure from certain sectors of society, from cries of fraud at McIntyre’s blog to the more subtle insinuations of Pielke’s ‘honest broker’ schtick. In doing what he did Gleick played straight into the hands of those using this form of attack.

      Why didn’t Gleick hand his “investigation” over to someone who wasn’t held to a higher standard of honesty? I’m sure there are plenty of journalists and aspiring journalists, or even bloggers in his circle of associates that would have leapt at the opportunity that Gleick took and would have been far less damaged by the fallout than he (and science) has been.

  11. It is wrong to obtain information by deception; on that I think we can all be agreed. However, subsequently, it might turn out to be forgiveable to obtain information by deception if it turns out that the information revealed has benefits for the common good.

    In the case of the CRU emails I would contend that subsequent inquiries exonerated the scientists and therefore theft of the emails was an illegal act.

    In the case of the ‘Heartland papers’ I believe that what’s been revealed benefits the common good, and therefore Peter Gleick is exonerated. I think history will consider him to be a man of integrity.

  12. Take heart in the fact that you’re all actually discussing the ethics in the first place, which is far more than can be said for those who have celebrated and misrepresented the contents of a certain stolen ZIP file, and whose ethical discussions on that subject are rather sparse, if not non-existent.

  13. As has been pointed out around the net, no one with basic critical thinking skills can fail to spot that the memo was a fake. e.g. whether you agree or not, Heartland feels it is pro-science and wouldn’t be discussing dissuading people teaching science or using phrases like “anti-climate”.

    There are two possibilites then. First: Gleick’s critical thinking skills are sadly lacking, which should call into question any scientific work or opinions he has offered (and those of anyone that didn’t spot the fake after reading it). Second: Gleick knowingly passed along a fake document, in which case he (and any who applaud that as being “heroic”) should be suspected of potentially having passed along fake data or analysis in their scientific work since they might equally have rationalized that the “ends justified the means”.

    The source you cite that supposedly analyzed the style of the memo was also sadly lacking in basic critical thinking skills. Part of the memo was cut and paste from real memo’s, and yet he only deleted a single sentence rather than all of those when comparing styles. Its hard to believe anyone but a true believer could take such shoddy work seriously, and should call into question the critical thinking skills of anyone who did and their ability to evaluate climate related science.

    The climategate material may have been a whistleblower, its unknown yet, who may have been leaking material that a FOIA request could have granted. No one suggested any of the material was fake.

    The Heartland documents contained salaries, donor names and other personal information lacking in the climategate leaks (which as far as I know redacted certain personal information, and skeptics who spotted accidental leakage in them of things like passwords pointed out the problems quickly).

    1. As has been pointed out around the net, no one with basic critical thinking skills can fail to spot that the memo was a fake. e.g. whether you agree or not, Heartland feels it is pro-science and wouldn’t be discussing dissuading people teaching science or using phrases like “anti-climate”.

      The reason the memo is interesting is because on its face it would indicate that an inner circle at Heartland is completely cynical about the climate issue (and pretty much everything else). Pretty much, the memo, and the other lines of work they pursue as well, are consistent with the theory that Heartland is pro-money-in-Heartland’s-accounts and not remotely pro-anything-else-at-all.

      Whether the memo itself is plausible (and Gleick himself makes no claim as to where it came from) is in the eye of the beholder. It certainly is peculiar to imagine even an especially stupid group of sociopaths putting such words on paper, and the phrasing is peculiar, so there is reason to doubt the memo. I have little trouble crediting the indicated intent, though.

      There are two possibilites then. …

      The third one which I am raising is that Gleick deliberately decided to take the heat in order to force the issue of cynical think tanks into public discourse.

      The Heartland documents contained salaries, donor names and other personal information lacking in the climategate leaks

      This is correct, but it is conventional for 501c3 and similar organizations to release such information. I

      It is also conventional for tax-free charities to be in some other line of work than concocting misdirections, misimpressions and disinformation (to say the least) on behalf of ethically dubious industrial interests and crackpots.

      As for the comparison to climate scientists, who actually, you know, work, and actually test and challenge their own ideas every day, such a comparison is ridiculous.

      What Fred Singer does is not, actually, science. It is PR dressed as science. It’s a guy in a white lab coat selling you cigarettes. Do you really think Heartland is competent to actually contribute to the scientific discourse? On what basis? How do they actually conduct science? Do you see a research line item in their budget? Where is the instrument budget? Or the computing budget? Or the research staff?

      The main parallel is clearly whether hacking is okay or it isn’t. The positions being debated are a) it is never okay 2) it is okay if a larger injustice is revealed, 3) iokiyar. Feel free to argue 1 or 2. Or maybe something else, so long as it’s fair and isn’t just a bunch of ad hoc rules thrown together after the fact to rationalize your own prejudices.

      Argument 3 is simply not constructive engagement. Further versions of #3 will be boreholed under a no-iokiyar rule,

  14. What’s missing for me is a better sense of history. Heartland has been on the radar promoting industry-manufactured material carefully crafts by opposition research and top PR skills for a long time.

    Dan Moutal, in comments a couple of weeks ago you asked me where to find their “magazine” and list of scientist resources – I was unable to find the latter. But the important thing is that this happened *before* all this kerfuffle, and the first response I made was the result of a simple google search made in a hurry.

    This is not new. But they are getting so much better at it that should anyone make a good refutation, the words of that refutation will be turned against its meaning within a few days at most. Mann’s new book, and many others, get it exactly right, but it doesn’t matter any more.

    Instead, we have the Republican presidential field focusing on preventing contraception (sperm’s rights is how I think of it). And if there was one thing that will do more damage to our environment than all the others, it is forcing women to have babies every time they have sex, willing or unwilling. Barefoot and pregnant seems to be what they want – total control.

    But I’m going off topic, except that the real issue is that we need radical change, and what we need is exactly in the bullseye of the industry warriors and all their complex and expensive resources.

    Until this kind of thing is common knowledge we will have to wait for something like, say, this summer to get people’s attention.

  15. One can debate the ethics of Dr. Glieck’s action, but the consequences for him are a given. I don’t think that he can ever again be perceived as an impartial truth-seeker, which is the standard to which a good scientist aspires.

    Rightly or wrongly, his actions also will also smear in a large portion of the public’s mind the reputations of other climate scientists. If one climate scientist crosses over the line to engage in unethical conduct, and his actions are defended, then how is the general public to perceive climate science? Is climate science a field in which scientists can lie to support the cause?

    I personally don’t think the ethical issue can be compartmentallized. In one is unethical in one area–obtaining documents under false pretenses–one cannot be trusted in other areas–discussing scientific issues.

    For example, in a court of law, rules of evidence greatly limit matters that can be used to attack witness’s credibility to keep the lawyers for delving too far into extraneous matters. A major exception is that credibility can be attacked by showing that a witness previously engaged in criminal conduct involving deception or dishonesty. The exception applies even when the prior criminal conduct is unrelated to witness’s current testimony. This rule of law reflects a common sense judgment of lawyers and judges distilled over time.

    No one currently knows the identity of the climategate leaker. When his identity becomes known his personal credibility will come into question. I suspect, however, that it is unlikely that he is a prominent actor in the climate debate. Accordingly, the fall out that might accompany his identification will be far less in comparison to the current episode.

    1. Good arguments.

      However, you are predicting what will happen. What do think SHOULD happen?

      I think every mention of Gleick should be riposted with a discussion of the role of think tanks. Why they exist, why they are tax exempt, what they do, whether there is amy reason to believe they are constrained by truth or decency, and whether they are another mechanism by which the interests of the super-rich are advanced over those of the rest of us. How they pay their bills. And how that plays out in the climate sphere.

      Because that is a far more important problem, and because the positive side of Gleick’s actions is to call attention to that problem.

      Nothing Gleick has published in the past is tainted. This may reflect on the character of people doing science, but it does not reflect on the quality of the science they do. I do not like David Legates, but when I use his dataset, I reference him. The public, as you say, is likely to be convinced to think otherwise. That’s inevitable. But one act of mischief is as nothing to the subversion of the capacity of the world to deal with its crucual problems, and that just for the pleasure of skimming a few bucks form wealthy crackpots.

      If I just exceeded the speed limit trying to prevent somebody from setting off a fertilizer bomb at a crowded event, and you’re the cop that catches me, my good intentions don’t mean I don’t have to pay the speeding ticket. And, yes, of course, you can use it to say that this proves that people like me do exceed the speed limit, though that is not entirely fair. But you still ought to, you know, call in the thing about the bomb.

    2. People in denial are very attracted to the view that Peter Gleick’s methods undermine his life’s work as a scientist and — by implication — the work of all climate scientists. It’s very clear that they’re doing this, probably instinctively, to create a smoke screen distracting from Heartland. The comment to which I’m responding is a clear example of this.

      Peter Gleik might have drawn attention to himself by his sacrifice, but in the long run it’s the methods of Heartland that are no longer a matter for debate: and that’s a good thing. History will judge whether Peter Gleick was wrong to do this. At the moment we’re too close to events.

  16. The high standard of honesty that, quite rightly, is expected of scientists, applies to reporting methods and results, nothing else. It does not rule out deception as a means of obtaining data (psychologists do it all the time), although this should never be undertaken lightly.

    Have any of you heard of the story of n-rays? When the physicist Robert Wood was asked to check this claim, he had to resort to a bit of deception, secretly removing a key part of experimental apparatus. I don’t think this was unethical and I doubt Wood’s reputation was tarnished in any way.

    1. Apples and oranges.

      Psychologists need approval from ethics panels before conducting experiments and and usually those involved are volunteers and afterwards they fully debriefed.

    2. No. Like I said you are comparing apples and oranges.

      The n-ray situation is very interesting, but again I am not sure it applies here. I never said lying is never justified. Only that Peter’s actions (much like the CRU hackers’s actions) were unethical.

      And that in a debate we should judge all ‘sides’ by the same set of rules.

    3. Dan, as you know and as is becoming clear to others, I am inclined to be softer on Peter Gleick than you are. It seems that something good is coming of this peculiar affair, and that at least inclines more in his favour than against.

      I agree with Jane that the fact that Peter made little effort to hide his tracks and confessed quickly unambiguously counts in his favour.

      Was it justified?

      Not by what was revealed in terms of raw information, of course, since most of it was already in Mashey’s work. But the nature of the opposition to acknowledging the climate problem was greatly clarified for me, and probably for others. And this story will not go away, giving us a “news hook” to talk about the dishonesty of Heartland and similar groups.

      Is it on balance a net good?

      That depends on how much you value Peter’s career and reputation. But any hit in that direction goes to him. The efforts to tar the whole field with this will fall flat, because of the aforementioned news hook.

      Is this action good or evil?

      I think if anybody needs to decide that, it’s up to a different Peter, at the pearly gates, not us. Since the circumstances are not repeatable, discussing the ethics of the exact incident is pretty much an academic exercise.

      As far as I am concerned the most important thing for us good guys is not to lose track of the benefits that this strange event has given us.

    4. “That depends on how much you value Peter’s career and reputation.”

      Good point. As someone on an ethics committee, it looks bad for him, but as someone who ran the politically motivated Pacific Institute, it appears less so. Is there any doubt that his public persona was one of activist, more than scientist? I can’t answer for everyone, but I didn’t see Gleick as an strict arbiter, more as someone who had decided positively on how the risk factors outweighed issues related to being fair to outlandish skeptical inquiry. And perhaps that is why I was not up in arms (my own politics notwithstanding), although saddened, by his admission.

      Here is the PI’s Vision:


      We envision a world where the basic needs of all people are met, where resources are managed sustainably and the natural world protected, and where conflicts over resources are resolved in a peaceful and democratic fashion.

    5. @ Michael Tobis: As far as I am concerned the most important thing for us good guys is not to lose track of the benefits that this strange event has given us.

      Agreed. And I think I have lost some of that track. As I said in the last line of the article: “we should hold Heartland to the same standard to which we are currently holding Peter Gleick.

  17. Just as reading Spencer Weart’s “The Discovery of Global Warming” is a good choice before wading into discussion of a complicated topic when approaching it as a naif, so is doing a little reading on lying and ethics before forming and then broadcasting opinions on that topic.

    Highly recommended: Bok’s “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life”

    It’s not too difficult to construct a skeletal case explaining why and how Gleick may justifiably have felt morally compelled to lie to Heartland, given his state of information about risks we face and the role of Heartland with regard to those risks. This is a matter that may be assessed apart from legal and other social considerations, which confront Gleick with the probability that his action will carry a personal cost.

    Another handy thing to remember is that we know Gleick lied to obtain the 990, meeting minutes, etc., whereas it’s a time wasting trap to get lost in speculation about the provenance of the infamous memo that cannot be resolved without further concrete information. The undeniable, more significant, really interesting lie here is the one used to deceive Heartland into sending documents.

  18. Knock-on effects.

    If Peter Gleick was informally censured by AGU for lack of integrity in behavior not related to scientific research, what of Richard Lindzen and his science communications?

    See today’s posting at RealClimate:

    Misrepresentation from Lindzen

    Richard Lindzen is a very special character in the climate debate – very smart, high profile, and with a solid background in atmospheric dynamics. He has, in times past, raised interesting critiques of the mainstream science. None of them, however, have stood the test of time – but exploring the issues was useful. More recently though, and especially in his more public outings, he spends most of his time misrepresenting the science and is a master at leading people to believe things that are not true without him ever saying them explicitly.

    That’s Gavin Schmidt speaking, so just one person’s opinion quoted, but one apparently shared by many.

    AGU’s “vision statement”:

    Our Vision
    AGU galvanizes a community of Earth and space scientists that collaboratively advances and communicates science and its power to ensure a sustainable future.

    “Communicates science.” Is Lindzen upholding this vision, being a good Fellow of the AGU? Having made an example of Gleick, what would justify AGU in remaining silent about Lindzen? What’s the threshold for censure, on the continuum leading from private activities to representing the scientific community in an authoritative capacity?

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