Tag Archives: fakegate

Heartland and Fakegate

I have been following the so-called ‘fakegate’ saga with some interest. I will do my best to summarise the story, but there have been a whole series of twists and turns (so I hope I get the narrative right). The story commenced with what were described as ‘leaks’ of documents from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian US think tank, on the DeSmog blog.

However, before moving forwards, it is worth mentioning why documents from the Heartland Institute may be of interest in terms of the climate change debate. Judith Curry had suggested that the Institute was a small player in the debate, and the Heartland Institute replied to her, arguing that they were key players, with this quote one of many that explain the influence of the Institute:

We send publications to every national, state, and 8,400 county and local officials in the U.S. on average about once a week. 79% of state legislators say they read at least one of our publications. “Environment & Climate News,” one of six monthly publications we produce, is read by 57% of state legislators, a higher percentage than read the New York Times. It has been published continuously for 15 years, and every issue features the work of leading climate realists. No other organization produces a regular publication that reaches more people with this message.

If you follow the link above, I think the explanation is quite a compelling argument. I have myself watched some of the talks from the climate change conferences that they have held. The documents that were revealed in the DeSmog blog were trumpeted around the blogosphere as evidence of the evils of those who deny global warming. I do not want to get into the details of the documents yet, which have also been discussed to death elsewhere. The most important of the documents was a memo which seemed to confirm the fears of the ‘warmist’ camp and the Heartland Institute was subsequently portrayed wicked and manipulative organisation; the memo was, so to speak, a smoking gun.

The trouble was that the ‘smoking gun’ memo was in fact a fake. The Heartland Institute responded to the publication of the documents, and announced that the document was fake, and threatened legal action if the documents were not removed from websites and blogs. At the same time, the blogging community and the Atlantic magazine were busy examining the smoking gun document, and finding confirmatory evidence that the document was a fake. The key moment in this sordid affair was a comment made by Steve Mosher on a blog, in which he makes hints at his guess at the ‘manufacturer’ of the fake document (emphasis added):

“undermining” is the wrong word. A believer would not use that word. A believer would write ” countering” or something like that.

Its written by somebody who thinks they can get in the minds of these people. Also, the whole copying of the first sentence of the wojick bio is important.

But the thing that hit me first off was the mention of Gleick.
What I thought when I read his name was.. what the hell is his name doing in a strategy document? huh? makes no sense.

Then I thought.. hey arsonists often return to the scene of the crime.. is this his weird way of doing the same thing, metaphorically.. then I read the slam against revikin and curry.
Then I remember that he and curry had an issue… then the west coast time zone thing.

Of course 15 people are in possession of the original mail.
That mail will have an IP.
That IP will trace back to a location and a time zone.

It did not take long for Gleick to confess to the fact that he was responsible for obtaining and releasing the documents.

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

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

You will note here that he is denying creating the fake ‘smoking gun’ document, but admitting to using deception to obtain documents (with a possible prosecution on the horizon). However, skeptics are also questioning this assertion, again using details of the document and investigating the writing style as evidence. This from the Atlantic again:

How did his correspondent manage to send him a memo which was so neatly corroborated by the documents he managed to phish from Heartland?
How did he know that the board package he phished would contain the documents he wanted?  Did he just get lucky?
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?
The points made above, and the fact that Steve Mosher was able to recognise the author from the content might be seen to raise very good questions about the author of the faked document.
So who is Peter Gleick? This from the bio on the institute that he heads:
Dr. Peter H. Gleick is co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California. His research and writing address the critical connections between water and human health, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization, and international conflicts over water resources.Dr. Gleick is an internationally recognized water expert and was named a MacArthur Fellow in October 2003 for his work. In 2001, Gleick was dubbed a “visionary on the environment” by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 1999, Gleick was elected an Academician of the International Water Academy, in Oslo, Norway and in 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.Gleick received a B.S. from Yale University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations, and is the author of many scientific papers and seven books, including the biennial water report, The World’s Water, and the new Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

But there is more. This from his Wikipedia profile:
In 2006 he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2011, Dr. Gleick was the launch Chairman[3] of the “new task force on scientific ethics and integrity” of the American Geophysical Union.[4] In 2012, the NCSE announced “Leading Climate Change Expert Joins NCSE Board”, and said “Gleick is certainly the right man for the job, although an update states “Dr. Gleick will not be joining the NCSE board”. [5][6]
I think that, more than anything else in this sordid tale, it is Gleicks position in determining the role of ethics and integrity that is the most disturbing. In particular, the sordid affair seems to be one in which the gamekeeper is in fact that poacher. It is something that has not been missed. This is an excerpt from an open letter on Wattsupwiththat by Willis Eschenbach to the Chair of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Task Force on Scientific Integrity:

Make no mistake. If Peter Gleick walks away from this debacle free of expulsion, sanction, or censure from the AGU, without suffering any further penalties, your reputation and the reputation of the AGU will forever join his on the cutting room floor. People are already laughing at the spectacle of the chair of a task force on scientific integrity getting caught with his entire arm in the cookie jar. You have one, and only one, chance to stop the laughter.

Because if your Task Force doesn’t have the bal … the scientific integrity to take up the case of its late and unlamented commander as its very first order of business, my Spidey-sense says that it will be forever known as the “AGU Task Farce on Scientific Integrity”. You have a clear integrity case staring you in the face. If you only respond to Dr. Gleick’s reprehensible actions with vague platitudes about “the importance of …”, if the Task Force’s only contribution is mealy-mouthed mumblings about how “we deplore …” and “we are disappointed …”, I assure you that people will continue to point and laugh at that kind of spineless pretense of scientific integrity.

Even more worrying is that some people are actually rallying around to support Gleick. This from the Guardian:

Gleick’s admission on Monday night that he had tricked Heartland into sending him the documents has set off a ferocious debate in the community of scientists and advocates who work on climate change.

He was hailed as a hero by Naomi Klein and by science educator Scott Mandia, who told the Guardian that Gleick had acted as any journalist would. “Peter Gleick, a scientist who is also a journalist, just used the same tricks that any investigative reporter uses to uncover the truth. He is the hero and Heartland remains the villain. He will have many people lining up to support him.”

This is not to say that there are not climate scientists that are condemning his behaviour, as there are examples in the above article of just that. However, there has been an attempt to refocus the interest on the Heartland Institute, brushing to one side the contemptible behaviour of Gleick. Richard Black at the BBC is an exemplar:

I am very wary of drawing parallels between the so-called “ClimateGate” issue of 2009 and the so-called “DenierGate” issue of the Heartland Institute, because they are very different.

But one thing they do have in common is that each is really a combination of two stories: who lifted the documents, and what the documents tell us.

And in both, it’s necessary to analyse the strands separately.

With the Heartland case, we knew last week that someone had obtained the documents by the back door – “stolen”, to use the institute’s word.

Now, we know who; and that’s as far as it goes.

Peter Gleick’s admission may tell us something about Peter Gleick. And various commentators have piled in, notably the New York Times’ Andy Revkin who says the issue “leaves his reputation in ruins”.

But it doesn’t tell us anything about the Heartland Institute; that story lies in the documents themselves.

The article then goes on to discuss the content of the documents, and in particular the Heartland Institutes funding, and their development of materials for teachers, in which the institute highlights the controversy surrounding the issues of climate change. Judith Currie, as ever with the principles of science firmly in her sights, argues convincingly that controversy, and the ability to critically analyse controversy, are important parts of a scientific education.

Perhaps more interesting is the way in which funding of Heartland has been highlighted.The documents revealed some details of the funding of the institute, and the response was comical. I particularly liked the BBC’s Richard Black’s commentary on the leaks in an early post (in which he publishes the details of the correspondence without confirming the authenticity of the documents):

Elsewhere, the documents reveal that a huge number of companies, foundations and individuals give money to the Heartland Institute – some as core funding, others to pay for specific programmes.

But their contributions of a few tens of thousands of dollars per year are dwarfed by a single source who is so important as to acquire his own set of capitals – the Anonymous Donor.

This man – the gender is specified – gave just under $1m last year, a little less than a quarter of the institute’s income.

But that’s small beer compared with his 2008 contribution of $4,610,000 – amounting to 58% of the organisation’s entire budget for the year!

Oh my goodness, exclaimed many, look how well funded ‘denier’ organisations are. It did not take long for skeptical bloggers to respond. This from Wattsupwiththat:

With tiny budgets like $310 million, $100 million, and $95 million respectively, how can lovable underdogs like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and NRDC *ever* hope to compete with mighty Heartland’s $6.5 million?

Heartland Institute budget and strategy revealed | Deep ClimateHeartland is projecting a boost in revenues from $4.6 million in 2011, to $7.7 million in 2012. That will enable an operating budget of $6.5 million, as well as topping up the fund balance a further $1.2 million.

[Sept 2011]:  Greenpeace Environmental Group Turns 40

Greenpeace International, based in Amsterdam, now has offices in more than 40 countries and claims some 2.8 million supporters. Its 1,200-strong staff ranges from “direct action” activists to scientific researchers.
Last year, its budget reached $310 million.

[Nov 2011]: Sierra Club Leader Will Step Down – NYTimes.com

He said the Sierra Club had just approved the organization’s largest annual budget ever, about $100 million for 2012, up from $88 million this year.

[Oct 2011]:  Do green groups need to get religion?

That’s Peter Lehner talking. Peter, a 52-year-old environmental lawyer, is executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s most important environmental groups. The NRDC has a $95 million budget, about 400 employees and about 1.3 million members. They’re big and they represent a lot of people.

This is again from Richard Black on the BBC, after the whole issue of the dubious origins of the documents is known:

Is revealing the funding and tactics of influential groups engaged on a policy issue such as climate change not also in the public interest?

Some scientists argue it’s so much in the public interest that a change of rules is in order.

One example is the open letter released on Monday by the Climate and Health Council asking that climate sceptic lobby groups reveal all their funding.

“We view the systematic sowing of unjustified doubt about mainstream international climate science as confusing at best, and inhumane at worst,” they write.

It’s a difficult request. Firstly, how do you define a “climate sceptic” group? Secondly, we’re dealing with multiple countries, hence multiple sets of rules.

And most fundamentally, arguing against legislation of any kind is perfectly legitimate in open societies.

Nevertheless, the rationale behind the argument is clear. Heartland acknowledges it ramps its climate work up and down depending on how much money it receives from a single donor – but we have no idea who he is, beyond his gender.

GWPF and other organisations may have similar donor relationships – we don’t know, because generally, they won’t tell us.

That’s one reason why some commentators from the environmental community are hoping Heartland does begin a legal case, because in US law the pre-trial process of discovery means the plaintiff would probably have to release lots of other documents that it currently keeps private – including, potentially, the identity of Anonymous Donor.

Although Black covers  some of the controversy over the source of the documents, he tries to shift the picture to the content of the documentation. However, that the Institute gets a small amount of funding and seeks to highlight the controversy around climate science is not the real story. He is a science correspondent, and the real story surely must be that of the gamekeeper turned poacher. Since the Climategate emails have been released, there has been criticism and questions raised about the ethics and integrity of  some climate scientists. This is a big issue.

This to me is the real story here. When reading the Climategate emails, it is apparent that there is a significant amount of material that raises extremely troubling questions about the integrity of a group of climate scientists known as the team (see here). This sordid affair is just a continuation of this pattern of reprehensible behaviour. I emphasise that it is a pattern. It is yet further evidence that some ‘believers’ will countenance no person or organisation that might challenge their own very narrow perspective. My own contribution to revealing the nasty tricks of the ‘team’ can be found here, and has recently been discussed in an open letter in the WSJ:

The continued efforts of the climate establishment to eliminate “extreme views” can acquire a seriously threatening nature when efforts are directed at silencing scientific opposition. In our op-ed we mentioned the campaign circa 2003 to have Dr. Chris de Freitas removed not only from his position as editor of the journal Climate Research, but from his university job as well. Much of that campaign is documented in Climategate emails, where one of the signatories of the Trenberth et al. letter writes: “I believe that a boycott against publishing, reviewing for, or even citing articles from Climate Research [then edited by Dr. de Freitas] is certainly warranted, but perhaps the minimum action that should be taken.”

The problem is that, even when such shabby and disgraceful behaviour is revealed, nothing is done about it. And it is no wonder. Gleick is a person who is examining ethics and integrity in science,  and is found to be using deception and possibly forgery (perhaps he will present a case to demonstrate that he did not forge the document?). With this kind of a person playing a role in the ethics and integrity of science,  as I said, it is no wonder that nothing is done.

It is appalling.

Note: The coverage of this on Wattsupwiththat is excellent and led me to much of the material used here.

Note 2: For New Zealand readers, Richard Treadgold unfortunately has not had the time to do a full  post on this over at Climate Conversation Group, but there is some interesting discussion going on underneath his brief comments.