Sunday, February 26, 2012

Leading "Warmer" Involved in Academic Scandal; Incident Emphasizes the Danger of Mixing Science with Political Activism

Dr. Peter Gleick
One of the leading proponents of the man is causing dangerous global warming, er climate change, theory is Dr. Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute, which describes itself this way on its website:

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. 
The Pacific Institute works to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities. We conduct interdisciplinary research and partner with stakeholders to produce solutions that advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity—in California, nationally, and internationally. 
It is clear from this description that the Pacific Institute has a political agenda.  Dr. Gleick is billed as an academic/scientist though:
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.
Back to Dr. Peter Gleick.  Here is apparently what happened.  Dr. Gleick called the Heartland Institute, which sponsors research on the other side of the global warming debate. Dr. Gleick pretended to be a Heartland board member who had a changed email and asked that the secretary forward certain documents to him.  In his confession admitting to what he did, Dr. Gleick said he was trying to confirm information he had received in a damning Heartland "strategy memo" mailed to him anonymously:
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. ...
Even journalists who support the anthropological warming theory do not buy Dr. Gleick's story.  According to a story written by the Atlantic's Megan McCurdle:

...While some journalists argued that all the checkable facts in the memos were backed up by the other documents that Heartland admitted to sending, to me, that merely suggested that it was written by someone who had those documents in their possession. 
But not a full understanding of those documents, because the memo made curious errors. Most notably, it claimed that the Koch foundation had given $200,000 in 2011, when the actual number was $25,000 ($200,000 is what Heartland's fundraising document indicates they hoped to get in 2012)--and since that money was donated for Health Care News, Heartland's health care newsletter, it's hard to see why it would show up in the climate strategy document, rather than, say, a document about their health care strategy. Given other anomalies surrounding the document, it seemed to me very likely that whoever had phished the authenticated board package had been disappointed by the lack of sizeable contributions from Big Oil and the Kochs, and so had written the memo to make sure that the documents told a nice, neat story about corruption and secrecy, rather than a boring, equivocal story about an issue advocacy organization with a spot of budget trouble. 
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".
To see the entire lengthy article in the Atlantic, click here.

Ms. McCurdle laments that the serious lapse in Dr. Gleick's judgment hurts the man is causing dangerous global warming cause.  But actually it highlights the problem.  You're either a scientist or you are an activist with a political agenda.  To be both creates too strong of a temptation for academic dishonesty.

Scientists need to approach their jobs devoid of any political agenda. Once they have a political agenda, scientists are tempted to cherry pick data to support that agenda, while ignoring other data that doesn't fit the conclusion the scientist wants to reach. That's not the way science is supposed to work. Yet that is exactly what has happened when it comes to the approach that has been taken when it comes to "global warming", which was conveniently renamed "climate change" when the warming data was called into question.   Of course, the climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years of this planet and will continue to do so.

We need honest scientists who employ the scientific method dispassionately. We do not need more scientists like Dr. Gleick who believe their job is to advance a political agenda.


varangianguard said...

Dificult to divorce oneself from "political" beliefs. Same as with journalists.

No matter how hard one tries, some kind of bias will worm its way into one's research methodology. Trying to minimize that bias is probably one of the most difficult parts of scientific inquiry.

Pete Boggs said...

A profession is defined by its code of ethics. Objectivity is the only acceptable bias. Olympic athletes are stripped of gold medals for infractions of far less significance.