Peter Gleick has been cleared of faking a key memo. Who is Peter Gleick, and what is this memo of which we speak? Here is a refresher of events over the last 3 1/2 months:
You will recall that last February 14th, we were all given an interesting Valentine’s Day present: A cache of documents had been acquired from the Heartland Institute, and these documents revealed important details about Heartland’s effort to interfere with science education and otherwise agitate and lobby to promote climate science denialism. The documents were released to the public by an as then unknown activist, and then redistributed by numerous bloggers including this one.
Heartland is the organization that made itself famous by working for the tobacco lobby in their effort to prove that smoking cigarettes was not really harmful. Over recent years, Heartland has received funds from a wide range of organizations and individuals to support climate denialism. Most recently, Heartland gained considerable notoriety (the bad kind) with their noxious and ill-conceived billboard campaign that equated “believing in global warming” with being a deranged serial killer (Tool Time: Heartland, Ted Kaczynski, and Education).
It turned out that the documents had been acquired by scientist Peter Gleick, who was so incensed with Heartland’s anti-science tactics, which have indeed set back science policy making to the determent of all, that he took steps that some would consider unethical, but that may (or many not) have been within the range of normal activity for investigative reporting. Since he is not a Journalist, Peter probably did it wrong; had he taken a slightly different tactic in acquiring the documents, he would have been doing something investigative journalists routinely do (according to investigative journalists I’ve spoken to privately). However, he seems to have made the mistake a lot of people who are not Journalists seem to make: He assumed that journalistic rules were not arbitrary at some level. Everyone knows that journalists “acquire” secret documents by being somewhat underhanded. What few people know, apparently, is that there are ways to be underhanded that are not acceptable and those that are. Peter may have chosen the former.
In any event, an interesting sub plot developed after Peter Gleick’s reveal of the Heartland Documents. One of the documents, a “strategy memo” had two important characteristics. First, it clearly defined some of the activities that Heartland was engaged in as terribly, horribly, inexcusably unethical and mean spirited. It seemed that Heartland was engaged in an intentional effort to ruin science education in American public schools in order to make it hard to teach real climate science. The memo was explicit and scary. A hit-man, of sorts, was hired to produce fake “curriculum” showing the “uncertainty” and “controversial” nature of climate science, in order to dissuade teachers form teaching science. Click here to see those words in print on the Heartland document.
The second characteristic was that this particular strategy memo was different in many respects from the other documents. It may or may not have been different in writing style and voice, but it was very different in production. For example, the other documents were all word processor files converted to PDF files. The strategy memo was a printed document scanned and then converted to a PDF file.
At first Heartland apologists (climate deniers who are allies with Heartland for various reasons) made the absurd claim that since this document was different from the others, it was therefore fake. It was highly unlikely, they claimed, that a package of documents found together … in this case, assembled to be handed out to members of a board prior to a board meeting … would never include one document that was not produced, processed, printed, and reproduced in exactly the same way. That accusation fell rather flat since it is rather dumb. Then, it was suggested that since the document had a different voice (which it may or may not have had) that it must, therefore, have been faked, and most likely, by Peter Gleick himself. One climate science denier loudly asserted that “science” could be used to test this hypothesis, suggesting that textual analysis software could be used to identify the author.
On that suggestion, Shawn Otto and I independently carried out textual analysis of the memo and we determined two things. 1) There really isn’t enough data to be sure of this sort of analysis in this case, but 2) since the suggestion had been made, and the analysis was done, gee, it looks like the “strategy memo” was not penned by Peter, and was more likely penned by a key staffer at Heartland.
(My analysis: Is the Heartland “Strategy Memo” a Fake? Let’s try using science!; Shawn Otto’s analysis: The most likely author of the Heartland Institute climate strategy memo?; and another item from that time period: Evaluation shows “Faked” Heartland Climate Strategy Memo is Authentic.)
Well, now, there is a new development.
Gleick was a key member of and founder of the Pacific Institute, and that organization launched a review of the question, “Did Peter Gleick fake the damning Heartland strategy memo.”
The answer has not been officially release yet, and may not be for several days, but a leak to the Guardian indicates that the PI has cleared Gleick of faking the document. Gleick …
… has been on leave from the institute pending an external investigation into the unauthorised release of the documents, although it is not entirely clear what the investigation entailed. That investigation is now complete, and the conclusions will be made public.
It was not immediately clear the findings would allow Gleick to make an early return to his job at the Pacific Institute. However, despite the official leave, Gleick has remained professionally active, appearing at public events and accepting speaking engagements.
Perhaps now, Heartland, still bleeding from wounds mostly self inflicted, losing donors and affiliates on a regular basis, will take down it’s web page on “fake gate” in which it accuses Peter Gleick of fraud.
But I don’t think they will. Old climate deniers never die. They just fade away….
Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks