Home / General / In Defense of Peter Gleick

In Defense of Peter Gleick


The legendary climate change scientist and brawler against denialists Peter Gleick is in some serious hot water because he has admitted to passing along the internal Heartland Institute documents that detail, among other things, the coordinated attempt by right-wingers to fight against anything that would stop climate change.

Imaging yourself in Gleick’s position. You are a committed activist with a long history taking on horrible people doing horrible things. You can be a feminist, gay rights activist, environmentalist, unionist, whatever. You are on these people’s e-mail lists. And suddenly they include you on an e-mail where they spill the goodies.

What are you going to do? “Oh, dear sir, I think you have made a mistake! These documents detailing exactly how you intend on destroying the world are not intended for me. Please remove me from your e-mail list!!!” Of course you aren’t. You are going to string this out to get the dirt. What do these people really do behind the scenes? And then you are going to give the information to your friends in the media and embarrass the hell out of these jerks.

But that kind of behavior is highly unacceptable to the New York Times, or at least to Dot Earth writer Andrew Revkin, who writes:

One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family).

Really? Because I don’t see it that way. See, I’d call using a false identity to get inside a diabolical organization “journalism.” It might not be respectable and won’t get you invited to fun corporate-sponsored events. But Gleick has thrown the curtain back. And of course, he’s at fault here. Even if he broke the law, is that the real issue here? What is worse, using a false identity or advocating for policies that will destroy the entire nation of Tonga? Using a false identity or lobbying the U.S. government to halt changes in mileage standards for cars so that we don’t become a bunch of hippie Europeans or something and continue to change the climate with ever-greater rapidity? I think I know which side contains the moral monsters here. And it ain’t Peter Gleick.

Of course, Andrew Revkin has no credibility on these issues. As Joe Romm notes in his policy ripping Revkin a new one, Revkin has made dozens of ridiculous and false statements on these issues over the years and has never once issued an apology on the Times website, including smearing Al Gore. Romm is a must-read on the matter.

The Heartland Institute is also throwing out claims that Gleick forged the climate part of the report. I am skeptical. Obviously it would be different if he was making things up. But I don’t see any reason why he would do this, if for no other reason than he obviously couldn’t get away with it. McArdle has of course bought this whole hog. She is outraged. It’s hard to imagine how she wouldn’t be, a woman with such high journalistic standards who never ever associate with people who might twist science for their own purposes. Nope, ethical high ground all the way here.

I was actually e-mailed the Heartland document about 36 hours before the Times first covered it. Now I’m really mad at myself for not jumping all over it.

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  • MikeJake

    TBogg linked to some passages from a leaked Heartland strategy memo:

    “Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. “

    Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as Revkin at DotEarth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW communicators such as Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen) or Curry (who has become popular with our supporters).

    I’m sure Revkin is just a neutral, unbiased commentator.

    • Jon H

      The strategy memo is the one document that many think was faked.

      • McKingford

        By “many” you mean Heartland. By “think” you mean claim.

        Concern troll is concerned.

        • Malaclypse

          Questions have been raised. Asking who raised those questions would, apparently, involve truth vigilanteism.

      • Anonymous

        Who thinks it was faked?

        Other than Megan McArdle, I mean.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          McMegan thinks? When did she learn to do that?

  • sparks

    Why anyone ever gave Revkin an ounce of credibility pontificating on climate matters is a complete puzzle to me. I read his blog early on and smelled pearl-clutching tone troll, and he’s gotten considerably worse since then. Sometimes people like to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who gives the appearance of “measure” and “balance”. That how we get the Judith Currys of the blogosphere, who were disingenuous from day 1.

  • Richard
    • Meant to include that link, thanks.

    • Murc

      I entirely agree with Erik’s assessment of the situation. However, I also sort of feel like I have no real obligation to defend someone who won’t defend themselves.

      If Glieck doesn’t feel like proudly owning his actions, I’m not sure why the rest of us should waste our time. If he genuinely feels like what he did was wrong, fine. Have fun with that.

      • Charlie Sweatpants

        Bingo. Can you imagine a wingnut writing this?:

        “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.”

        Or this?:

        “My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.”

        Forgive my Tuesday evening quarterbacking, but he should’ve said that since the only way to get honest information out of them was to deceive them, it was well and totally justified. They lied to the public, he lied to them; eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth; for ever and ever amen. I’m glad he did it, and Revkin’s always been a tool, but this is a self inflicted wound.

        • Murc

          I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.

          You know what they call that? INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING. Last time I checked people won Pulitzers for doing it.

          I do not understand this bizarre desire journalists have to keep their own hands clean. It’s okay if SOURCES get their hands dirty; you can meet Mark Felt in a parking garage and have him give you improperly obtained information all you want. But getting it yourself, well, that’s just beyond the pale.

          Oh, and to get in on it before someone else brings him up; nobody decried the actions of James O’Keefe because he went undercover under false identities with hidden cameras in an effort to get a story. They decried his actions because he was a filthy lying liar who lied about what happened to him, what he saw, and what conclusions could be drawn from it. None of which is even remotely applicable to this case.

        • Njorl

          When your ends are immoral, there isn’t much point to agonizing over your immoral means.

      • I’m not getting why he’s apologizing. Who did he pretend to be to get those documents?

        Is one of these documents a forgery? I tried to read the McMegan piece to suss it out, but there’s nothing of value there.

        Is there a Cliff Notes/timeline for this thing?

        • rea

          Essentially, he joined a listserv under a false identity.

          • Isn’t that the most outrageous thing you’ve ever heard!

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              The most outrageous thing since the heroic discovering and shuttering of teh evil librul JournaList.

              • My major problem with JounroList was not being asked to be on it. I suspect that was the case for a lot of people.

          • Bighank53

            A false ID on a listserv? Is that more or less severe than hacking the University of East Anglia’s email servers? I guess it’s okay if you’re a republican…

          • SP

            And last night when a telemarketer asked for me I lied and said I was not home. I also used a fake login to comment at a website. Someone better come investigate my countertops soon before I go on a killing spree.

          • Mike Schilling

            Glieck pretended to be a Heartland board member in order to have confidential documents sent to him. That is, quite simply, illegal.

  • Ben

    This McArdle thing is getting out of hand. Everything she writes is some combination of inane, self-absorbed, mendacious or outright false and is getting worse. And still she climbs.

    The best of the blog authors have taken shots at her, and there’s an extremely well-written blog dedicated to mocking her. And still she climbs.

    I don’t see how she can be stopped.

    • LoriK

      McMegan’s flapping about these memos has been particularly idiotic even by her incredibly low standards. I assume that unless she turns on the rich and powerful by accidentally saying something intelligent and/or true she’s unstoppable. Since the chances of that are effectively zero I figure she’s got a secure perch for the foreseeable future.

    • Rob

      It does seem the Economist dumped her. Of course the Atlantic picked her right back up. The Meritocracy in action!

    • timb

      Douglas Adams said it better in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

      Ford was walking north. He thought he was probably on his way to the spaceport, but he had thought that before. He knew he was going through that part of the city where people’s plans often changed quite abruptly.

      “Do you want to have a good time?” said a voice from a doorway.

      “As far as I can tell,” said Ford, “I’m having one. Thanks.”

      “Are you rich?” said another.

      This made Ford laugh.

      He turned and opened his arms in a wide gesture. “Do I look rich?” he said.

      “Don’t know,” said the girl. “Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you’ll get rich. I have a very special service for rich people…”

      “Oh yes?” said Ford, intrigued but careful. “And what’s that?”

      “I tell them it’s OK to be rich.”

      Gunfire erupted from a window high above them, but it was only a bass player getting shot for playing the wrong riff three times in a row, and bass players are two a penny in Han Dold City.

      Ford stopped and peered into the dark doorway.

      “You what?” he said.

      The girl laughed and stepped forward a little out of the shadow. She was tall, and had that kind of self-possessed shyness which is a great trick if you can do it.

      “It’s my big number,” she saéd. “I have a Master’s degree in Social Economics and can be very convincing. People love it. Especially in this city.”

      As long as McArdle can put a patina of a gloss of “knowledge,” by which she reassures rich people that it’s okay and will continue, then the right people will love her.

  • jon

    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Heartland ran with what they thought they could prop up from emails stolen from climate scientists. They received widespread and rather appreciative coverage for this. Now Glieck reveals what he was willingly sent, which shows a clear ideological skewing by Heartland, and not too fine a delicacy for how they get their message broadcast. It’s time to remind people no to dish out what they can’t take. As for Revkin, I would be shocked if anyone considered his opinion to be the final word on any matter.

  • JupiterPluvius

    Well, remember that the Times doesn’t want to be a “truth vigilante.”

  • SP

    FFS, he didn’t hack into their servers or anything, he asked them for information using a different name (since his name was well known) and they sent it to him without asking for any validation of his identity. What if he had gone to his buddy from work and asked that guy to sign up instead, then pass on the documents? Would all the pearl clutchers be happy then, or would they complain about the copyright violation of forwarding an email?

    • Slocum

      Shorter: He got it because they’re shit-for-brains.

    • Njorl

      There’s something I’m not clear on. Did he just make up a name, or did he use a name of someone whom he would expect to be a legitimate recipient of the information?

  • Manju

    See, I’d call using a false identity to get inside a diabolical organization “journalism.”

    The qualifier “diabolical” raises an eyebrow.

    This looks like a premeditated loophole. Loomis has already anticipated the inevitable //scenario. Rush Limbaugh uses a fake identity to secure NOW’s emails, or something.

    Clearly Rush is not entitled to a defense…since the Loomis rule only kicks in when the target is diabolical.

    If only Rush were to hack into Whitney Houston’s emails…

    • Where does Robert Byrd fit into this scenario?

    • Murc

      Rush Limbaugh isn’t a journalist.

      If an actual JOURNALIST used a fake identity to secure NOWs emails, and found things in there that were of legitimate public interest, and published them, I’d be okay with that.

      • witless chum

        And said journalist, whatever their ideological associations, reported the contents fairly.

        I can see Breitbart or one of his spores doing this and editing it to claim NOW was allieing with the Taliban and Barack Obama to triple gay fourth trimester abortions.

      • Hogan

        Neither is Peter Gleick.

    • DrDick

      Because there is absolutely nothing “diabolical” about an organization knowingly spreading false information and actively subverting correct information in order to prevent political action that might avert a global disaster of epic proportions, but cost some greedy corporations and billionaires a small fraction of their profits.

      • Anonymous

        Yes… inviting the opposition to open debate is diabolical and nefarious..

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  • This is the ugly place where advocacy and science collide. I understand the argument that we’ve got to play just as hard as they do, but in doing so you concede the concept that science is apolitical… you’ve agreed to the terms conservatives have set for scientific debate, and have certainly lost more than you’ve gained. Your defense seems shortsighted to me.

    • Look, science is obviously political. The problem is that scientists are super hung up on their objectivity and liberals believe in “science” as a thing to believe in. I understand all the reasons why everyone is going to say that science is apolitical, above politics, truly objective, based on reality, etc. But none of it means shit if you don’t also win the politics. Republicans understand this.

      • Data is what it is, but the interpretation of such can certainly be politicized. In the main I disagree wholeheartedly with you however… politics is what corrupts science and makes it worthless an untrustworthy. It should be avoided at all costs.

        How do you think progressive causes are advanced by agreeing with conservatives that science is an ivory tower coastal elite thing that aspires to no more than to advance the interests of this so-called elite?

        • How does admitting that science is political=taking the right-wing position on it?

          • Matters of politics are generally regarded as opinion or personal taste… in saying science is “political” you cede the concept that statistics are about fooling people and all this data regarding GW is has been analyzed in a political way.

            You seem to be saying that two intellectually honest researchers of different political persuasions would interpret the data differently.

            I prefer to make the case that the data speaks for itself and that those arguing against it are, in fact, intellectually dishonest.

            • I don’t think you cede that at all.

              Moreover, scientists staying above politics has proven a complete disaster. Who cares at this point if the scientists are right or not about climate change; they are of course but nothing is being done. Being right and the world turning into an oven is not a great result.

              • How do you think this incident makes us closer to controlled CO2 emissions?

                • How do you think this incident makes us farther from controlled CO2 emissions?

        • Slocum

          “politics is what corrupts science and makes it worthless an untrustworthy”

          Political decisions about what to fund and what not to fund are exactly what makes most science possible. Unless you think private enterprise is up for building something like the LHC or is going to fund research into stereotype threat.

          • Yes, but proponents of cancer or heart disease research are usually bipartisan. I’ve never heard of a particular brand on knockout mice becoming a political football. You either support the government funding research or you don’t… I’d certainly not like to see the GOP funding research of prostate cancer while liberals go after breast cancer… but that seems like what you guys are advocating.

            • You are very defensive in this entire conversation. I don’t think anyone is saying these things.

              • That is because you advocate without appreciating any consequences besides IT WILL BE AWESOME.

        • witless chum

          J.W. Hamner,
          Can you explain what you’re talking about here in a little more detail?

          Data is what it is, but the interpretation of such can certainly be politicized. In the main I disagree wholeheartedly with you however… politics is what corrupts science and makes it worthless an untrustworthy. It should be avoided at all costs.

          How do you think progressive causes are advanced by agreeing with conservatives that science is an ivory tower coastal elite thing that aspires to no more than to advance the interests of this so-called elite?

          Are you saying that scientists shouldn’t advocate for policies that they think would remedy global warming?

          I guess I don’t see how someone like Gleick arguing in public for the acceptance by public opinion of a matter that’s broadly agreed upon by scientists is destructive to science.

          It seems to me that if scientists abandoned the field, then the public would get a much worse understanding of science. Because industry funded groups like Heartland with a point of view would not disappear if scientists shut up.

      • MAJeff

        The thing is, Republicans don’t give a shit about the process of scientific knowledge production. They only care about power and the ability to claim “science” as a resource. Scientists actually care about the process. While science may always be embedded within political processes and relationships, the conservative rejection of process in favor of results is pretty damned significant.

      • Shredder

        This is a really, really critical point missed by alot of scientists including Gavin Schmidt and the guy from SEI.

        They do asymmetrical warfare. We’re not going to get anywhere by complaining to the refs – especially when the “refs” are people like Revkin.

    • And science has always been political, whether it was eugenics or the Manhattan Project or the space race or whatever. Science is neither above nor separate from politics. If no other reason that scientists’ own worldviews are likely to influence the questions they ask and the answers they find.

      • ajay

        AFAIK the space race and the Manhattan Project didn’t involve much basic science. What they involved was engineering. What new science came out of the Manhattan Project?

    • Ben

      Um . . . how does exposing the concerted effort to lie about and distort science by a conservative group in any way concede the framing about science that group is trying to spread?

      Also re: the points you’re arguing with Loomis. You’re not really arguing about whether in fact science proceeds a certain way. You’re arguing about whether it is politically beneficial to adhere to a certain kind of scientific realism in public. And it seems like there is a much bigger danger in conservatives being able to make political hay out of pointing out various ways where that realism fails than in losing a kind of rhetorical upper hand that isn’t all that effective to begin with anyway.

      For example: hiring and funding decisions, various informal and formal professional networks, and the process of using citations have all been used by these scumbags to question climate science. And it seems like it’s effective in part because it’s hard to talk about the extent that stuff influences scientific work within a realist framework.

      And that’s not even the biggest problem. Evolution (natural selection even more so) and quantum mechanics are extraordinarily useful concepts, but trying to explain their “reality” in the scientific realism sense is extraordinarily difficult. And that contributes to all sorts of bad things: apathy or hostility to funding research, increasing the ease with which conservatives can restrict teaching evolution, etc.

      So there’s lots of bad stuff that results from adopting the kind of position you’re defending. In exchange for what? A rhetorical position that political enemies aren’t going to respect anyway?

  • Jim Lynch

    “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”.

    Gleick sounds like a decent guy who is genuinely contrite, which I find inexplicable. He should feel proud of himself.

    • sparks

      Gleick doing a belly-crawl when he obviously knows the stakes involved makes me want to puke. I suppose to him it’s better to offer a craven apology than stand up for his field.

  • TT

    Illegally hacking into servers in order to flagrantly misrepresent respected scientists discussing global warming research methods in an unvarnished manner = a serious and perhaps fatal blow to national and international action to deal with global warming.

    Using a fake identity to publish strategy memos of petroleum- and gas-funded “institute” dedicated to disseminating mindless and shameless propaganda which “debunks” global warming = a serious and perhaps fatal blow to national and international action to deal with global warming.

    Not only is everything always good news for Republicans, it turns out that everything is always good news for global warming deniers.

    • witless chum

      This exactly.

      What Gleick should say:
      “I’m not sorry at all. I’ll do it again, too, so maybe check who’s signed up for your list serv after you get done selling out your integrity to whoever jangles a few coins. Fuck yourselves to death.”

      Feel free to adopt this, no credit needed, if you’re reading Mr. Gleick.

  • fanshawe

    All I know is that someone better fire Dave Weigel over this.

  • “Ugly times call for ugly tactics.” -David Talbot

  • I’m kind of upset with him (Gleick) for admitting wrongdoing, since there WASN’T ANY WRONGDOING. I have not seen Daniel Ellsworth apologizing lately. What is wrong with people?

    • Njorl

      I agree with this. Gliek was a fool to apologize. He did nothing wrong.

      • Njorl

        I may be mistaken. If he used a fake identity to get the info, that’s fine with me. If he impersonated someone, that’s not acceptable.

        Still, the means of aquiring the information do not alter the truth of it.

  • joe from Lowell

    I’m disappointed that the first I’m hearing about this is coverage of the controversy about the documents’ origins.

    The deniers want to have a fight – even lose a fight – about Peter Gleik’s ethics, to deflect discussion about the Heartland Institute’s policies.

    • Shredder

      Right. Check this out: last I checked, Heartland still had a link on their website to the stolen Climategate documents:
      However, when you click on the link at that site, you get directed to a banner message from DOJ/FBI saying that several individuals associated with the “megaupload.com” site have been indicted for copyright crimes. At any rate, Heartland has not removed that link, and apparently they have no problem linking to the websites of people who have been indicted for crimes. They also proudly and openly still provide what is albeit a defunct link to the emails that were hacked.

      Aside: Goody goody 2-shoes Revkin is shocked, shocked! that someone performed investigative journalism? But the real problem here is that Gleick sat on a scientific ethics panel. If you sit on a panel like that, that does pose a strategic problem with doing the more vigorous acts of investigative journalism. Someone else needs to do it next time …. C’mon people, think strategically please. Now let’s focus on Heartland s’more…

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