February 25th, 2012

Heartlandgate, memos, and writing styles

What does Heartlandgate prove about AGW? Absolutely nothing.

But it does say something about what AGW’s more fanatical proponents are prepared to do in furthering the cause—at least, what one of them, Dr. Peter Gleick, a noted freshwater scientist and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award in 2003, was prepared to do.

First, a summary:

In an obvious attempt to inflict a symmetrical Climategate-style scandal on the skeptic community, someone representing himself as a Heartland Institute insider “leaked” internal documents for Heartland’s most recent board of directors meeting to a fringe environmental blog, along with a photocopy of a supposed Heartland “strategy memo” outlining a plan to disseminate a public school curriculum aimed at “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

It was the latter document, the “strategy memo,” that contained the controversial remarks that supposedly showed how the science-Neanderthals at right-leaning Heartland think and act. But, after several AGW “skeptics” found anomalies in the provenance of the memo and accused Gleick of having something to do with the document dump, it turns out that Gleick has now confessed that he obtained them under false pretenses, although he says it all started when the “strategy memo” was sent to him by an anonymous source. What’s more, although Heartland has acknowledged that the more benign documents are indeed theirs, the Institute has denied authorship of the only incriminating one, that strategy memo, claiming that it’s a forgery.

There is some rather intense irony in this:

Even before his mea culpa, Gleick…had resigned last Thursday as chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics.

Here’s Gleick’s explanation for his motivation in obtaining the documents:

My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists … and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved…

One of these efforts that so riled Gleick was probably Climategate. Many AGW proponents and their political supporters in the press and elsewhere have alleged that the Climategate emails were hacked, although there’s no evidence of this and most on the right believe that dump was an inside job. But in Gleick’s mind, all was probably fair in love and war—and climate science, which appears to contain elements of both.

People can become fanatical when they believe in a cause and are thwarted in some way. But scientists are supposed to be above all that, as Gleick no doubt knows. There’s reason to believe he’s still lying, and that he forged the strategy memo as well (see this, for example), although it’s possible it came from another source, just as he says. But since Gleick has undermined his credibility in general, there’s really no reason to believe him on this or any other matter.

It’s also ironic that much of the fallout of Climategate was not about whether the science was right or wrong (although there certainly was discussion of this), but the lengths to which AGW proponents would go to harm their opponents, those “skeptics.” If Gleick was trying to reverse this perception by creating the idea that skeptics do the same, and worse, his plan backfired entirely.

This sort of activity is so completely antithetical to the purposes of science that it destroys—or should destroy, anyway—Gleick’s career. And if I were an AGW-supporting climate scientist, I’d be hopping mad at him for actions which have the possibility of casting doubt on the integrity of scientists in the entire field—or even on science as a whole, which rests on truth-telling.

Another aspect of Heartlandgate is the question of the memo itself. The mystery is not just who forged it, but how the person could do such a poor job. It reminds me to write a memo to myself about writing memos: if you’re going to forge one, make sure you take into account a few technicalities like using the right font (see Rathergate), the right language (part of the problem with the Heartland memo is that it was written in an idiosyncratic style that seems to match Gleick’s own), and timing (techies could tell that the new memo was scanned at a different time and date than the other materials).

Now, I don’t know much about the computer tech stuff, but I do know something about writing style. It’s almost like a fingerprint. For example, after writing this blog almost every day for all these years, I know many of my little stylistic quirks, whether you do or not. I won’t mention what they are, but believe me, I’m aware of them.

And that’s how a mathematician-turned-environmental-fanatic, the Unabomber, got caught, if you recall (I am not equating Gleick with Kaczynski, by the way; just pointing out the fact that writing styles can do seemingly smart people in—as Jack Cashill would like to prove re Obama and Bill Ayers). Kaczynski wanted very badly for his magnum opus, the 50-page Manifesto, to be disseminated to the public [emphasis mine]:

There was a great deal of controversy as to whether the document should be published. A further letter threatening to kill more people was sent, and the United States Department of Justice, along with FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno, recommended publication out of concern for public safety and in hopes that a reader could identify the author.

You can rag on the Justice Department, the FBI, and Janet Reno all you want, but in this case they were brilliantly prescient, because that’s exactly what broke the case:

Before the publication of the manifesto, Theodore Kaczynski’s brother, David Kaczynski, was encouraged by his wife Linda to follow up on suspicions that Ted was the Unabomber. David Kaczynski was at first dismissive, but progressively began to take the likelihood more seriously after reading the manifesto a week after it was published in September 1995. David Kaczynski browsed through old family papers and found letters dating back to the 1970s written by Ted and sent to newspapers protesting the abuses of technology and which contained phrasing similar to what was found in the Unabomber Manifesto…

In early 1996, former FBI hostage negotiator and criminal profiler Clinton R. Van Zandt was contacted by an investigator working with Tony Bisceglie [an investigator hired by Kaczyniski’s brother David]. Bisceglie asked Van Zandt to compare the manifesto to typewritten copies of handwritten letters David had received from his brother. Van Zandt’s initial analysis determined that there was better than a 60 percent chance that the same person had written the letters as well as the manifesto, which had been in public circulation for half a year. Van Zandt’s second analytical team determined an even higher likelihood that the letters and the manifesto were the product of the same author. He recommended that Bisceglie’s client immediately contact the FBI.

In February 1996, Bisceglie provided a copy of the 1971 essay written by Ted Kaczynski to the FBI. At the UNABOM Task Force headquarters in San Francisco, Supervisory Special Agent Joel Moss immediately recognized similarities in the writings. Linguistic analysis determined that the author of the essay papers and the manifesto were almost certainly the same. When combined with facts gleaned from the bombings and Kaczynski’s life, that analysis provided the basis for a search warrant.

In an ironic addendum, David Kaczynski wished to remain anonymous so that his brother would never learn he was the one who’d turned him in. But that didn’t last very long. His identity was leaked to—guess who?:

…[David Kaczynski’s] identity was leaked to CBS News in early April 1996. CBS anchorman Dan Rather called FBI director Louis Freeh, who requested 24 hours before CBS broke the story on the evening news.

Yes: Dan Rather, who gave his name to the Rathergate forged-memos scandal, was instrumental in outing David Kaczynski. And the moral of the story is: beware those writing quirks, and pay attention to the font, too.

29 Responses to “Heartlandgate, memos, and writing styles”

  1. Minta Marie Morze Says:

    Thursday, the Junk Science site had a post of how the EPA has scrubbed its Web site of the grants Gleick has received:


    The Left are amazing people.

  2. SteveH Says:

    “”I’d be hopping mad at him for actions which have the possibility of casting doubt on the integrity of scientists in the entire field””

    Too late. Climate scientist are now running neck and neck with ambulance chasing lawyers.

  3. Susanamantha Says:

    Dan Rather’s own manifesto:

    “Your right to know supersedes your right to exist.”

  4. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Psychologists could do a service for humanity if they could pin point the personalities that are susceptible to becoming fanatical about religion, science, technology, etc. and provide treatment to those who are panicked over the evils of technology, fossil fuels, high voltage power lines, or nuclear power.

    When you read comments on the Warmist sites such as Real Climate at: http://www.realclimate.org/
    you can feel the panic and desperation that many of the commenters feel. They have convinced themselves that tragedy is imminent unless we return to 19th Century living standards. Few are able to look dispassionately at the changes that have occurred in climate in the last 150 years and conclude that, “Gee, things really haven’t changed that much. Maybe we shouldn’t panic until we have more hard evidence that there is a problem.” To be sure, many cynical politicians (Al Gore, I’m looking at you) look at this as merely a way to gain power and riches, but there is a certain type personality that seems to let the fear seep into their bones. They become desperate to, “Do something!” You would think that Gleick would be more rational, but many of the leading proponents of AGW have let the fear of imminent disaster get the best of them. They remind me of the seers who predict the end of the world, or the Rapture, or the return of the Mahdi. They always have “irrrefutable evidence” that it’s imminent.

  5. SteveH Says:

    J.J.- I think the typical global warmist is someone immersed in some form of subconscious self hatred or disgust that gets projected onto mankind in general. It never has really been about the climate or the planet.

  6. LAG Says:

    “the EPA has scrubbed its Web site of the grants Gleick has received”

    These people obviously have no concept of how the Internet works.

  7. Occam's Beard Says:

    When you read comments on the Warmist sites such as Real Climate at: http://www.realclimate.org/
    you can feel the panic and desperation that many of the commenters feel.

    Even the name of the site sounds defensive.

  8. Occam's Beard Says:

    One of the hardest things for a scientist to do is beat on a beloved hypothesis, but doing so is absolutely critical to the scientific method. The temptation is to go easy on it, handle it with kid gloves, and never subject it to brutal testing. But if the hypothesis has validity, it will withstand such testing. And conversely, if it doesn’t withstand such testing, it doesn’t have validity.

    Emotionally it’s hard, very hard indeed, to do this. At the risk of being too graphic, it’s like grabbing a newborn baby, swinging him by the heels and smashing his head into what appears to be a brick wall when your hypothesis predicts that the baby will come to no harm. So researchers will putter around, putting off the crucial experiment (“must get everything ready”), or sticking to trivial straw man experiments, because they’re afraid that they might kill their pet idea.

    AGW proponents exhibit this protectiveness in spades. They don’t dispassionately consider the merits (or otherwise) of alternative explanations and perspectives, and they don’t offer falsifiable predictions (not retrospective rationalizations of historical observations) and compare the results of those predictions with later observations.

    Instead, they react emotionally, viscerally, resisting calls to release their data and data reduction algorithms, and attacking the intellect, integrity, and motivation of those who question their assertions. They play the man, not the ball.

    This is not how science is done. That’s not to say that even some famous scientists haven’t descended to that level, but that is aberrant behavior that impedes, rather than promotes, the progress of science.

  9. rickl Says:

    Does this mean we can have our light bulbs back now?

    Didn’t think so.

  10. rickl Says:

    I don’t think AGW has ever been about science. It’s been a leftist political movement from Day 1, with some scientific veneer laid on top.

    The Warmists are modern day Lysenkos, trying to make the science fit their ideology.

  11. rickl Says:

    The real tragedy of this is that it will discredit science and scientists in the minds of millions of people, which we can ill afford. There’s already too much ignorance and superstition running amok as it is.

  12. chuck Says:

    SteveH beat me too it. If scientists won’t defend the integrity of their craft, then the public will lose confidence in scientists as a group. I think this is happening, and the shame of it is that it is completely justified.

  13. Occam's Beard Says:

    Science is prone to fads and fashions, generally driven by the funding climate (no pun intended). Solar energy (back in the 70s), cancer, industrial catalysts, and AIDS are just some of the fads that hit chemistry, for example.

    “Fad” in this context is operationally defined as the justification cited in most grant proposals for the doing the proposed work, which typically is a further extension of whatever the principal investigator has been doing his entire career. Now, mirabile dictu, his lifelong research area just happens to have relevance to __________ [cite latest funding fad here]. It used to amuse me to see how the same research has been packaged for the disparate fads listed above. Fischer-Tropsch catalysts are out, anti-retrovirals are in? OK, well here’s how my research on Fischer-Tropsch catalysts bears on AIDS …

    The hard part is keeping a straight face. Everyone (including program administrators) knows the whole thing is rubbish, but everyone plays the game. Research funding is to researchers as making movies is to actors and actresses: oxygen, without which careers die.

    Hell, if I were still active in research, I’d be pitching my research as having some tie-in to addressing global warming. No question about it.

  14. blert Says:

    We need to stop calling these rent-seekers scientists in the first place.

    I’d have to go all the way back to Dr. Venkman’s ESP ‘laboratory’ to find it so roundly abused.


    The typical poster at unrealclimate.orgasm lives a life driven by the herd – using social proof to inform their truth tables.


    The absolute kicker for me: carbon dioxide is plant fertilizer. It is established fact that rising partial pressures in carbon dioxide stimulate plant growth right through the entire range of concentrations.

    Biofuel research gooses yields by glutting their algae with carbon dioxide. ( Something that they can’t possibly scale up; so all of the news videos are effectively lies. )

    It is also established fact that most chemical reactions shift logarithmically / exponentially with concentrations until other factors choke a reaction back.

    Meaning, that todays global crop yield has been enhanced by rising carbon dioxide levels. However, since, like fish in the ocean, we’re entirely immersed in a bath of air we don’t perceive this fact.

    No farmer ever says,” I’ve applied x tons of fertilizer this year resulting in a terrifically high yield… But I’m going to attribute some of this gain to the 0.01% boost in carbon dioxide partial pressure.”

    But we know that some such effect does occur because NASA spent large generations ago studying ways to close the food cycle in outer space. Their conclusion was that it would be necessary to use Lithium cycle carbon dioxide extraction and eventual super elevation inside closed growing tanks.


    And then Game Theory tells us that until Red China sees the light absolutely NOTHING we do in the West will remediate carbon dioxide levels.

  15. rickl Says:

    Comment by “MfK” at Transterrestrial Musings:

    Every once in a while, the irony of the AGW movement overwhelms me. Purporting to be a “Green” movement, they are nevertheless hell bent on eliminating the two things a green planet needs to be green: warm temperatures and plenty of CO2 in the air….

  16. SteveH Says:

    “”If scientists won’t defend the integrity of their craft, then the public will lose confidence in scientists as a group.””

    Pick any group or profession and insert an influx of immoral narcissist and you’ll get the same result. Science was just vulnerable to the influx because it can easily offer years or decades of cover from wrongheaded incompetence.

  17. Promethea Says:

    When politicians look for places to cut the budget (I’m not holding my breath), they should take a big axe to federal grants. Venture capitalists could use their money to develop algae power or the other next big thing.

    “Grant-writing” is a career, and it’s one that should be made less lucrative.

  18. BurkeanBadger Says:

    I agree with Occam about the all too common unwilllingness of scientists to challenge a beloved hypothesis. But AGW goes well beyond that. It is: hypothesis + money (LOTS of money) + politics + power.

    The original scientific hypotheses have long been a side issue. What really propels the AGW movement is the potential for an almost unparalleled amount of power and control for left-leaning politicians, bureaucrats and academics. As I’ve said many times before, without power (in government, the MSM, the non-profit sector, educational institutions, etc.), most left-wing ideologies (from hardcore Marxist-Leninism to squishy Obamaesque “social democracy”) would have been cast in the dustbin of history long ago. Lefties know this all too well. And they will seek and maintain any and all power as ruthlessly as they can. From “An Inconvenient Truth” all the way up to the Copenhagen Conference, AGW seemed to offer the greatest prospect in history for social control and an ability to implement leftist social-engineering over Western democracies (particularly the United States).

    But there has been a shift in attitudes. I see it even among my left-leaning friends. Five years ago, they dismissed any AGW skeptic as a Neanderthalish boob or worse a shill for Big Oil. Now, in an often muted and restrained manner, I hear more restraint, more willing to say “if” AGW is true.

    But the leftist elite was so close. As they see this golden opportunity slowing evaporating, they are not going to give up without a fight; a dirty, desperate, no-holds barred fight. This sloppy and juvenile attempt at slander will only be the beginning. It’s going to be brutal for the next several years; brutal and ugly.

  19. kcom Says:

    This is a bit off topic from the post itself but it did get me to thinking that some of life’s unending mysteries/unfinished business do indeed end at a certain point.

    I lived long enough to see the Unabomber unmasked and captured. At the time, it didn’t necessarily seem like a given.

    I lived long enough to eventually learn the identity of Deep Throat.

    I lived long enough to see Osama bin Laden located and eliminated. (Ditto with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.)

    Josef Mengele was eventually located (unfortunately only after he died and therefore never captured).

    I lived long enough to see Ted Bundy go to his reward.

    And the BTK killer in Kansas was eventually unmasked, as well as the Green River Killer. The Zodiac is still out there (or at least unidentified) but there’s movement in the case of D.B. Cooper. (I always found this bit on the TV series “NewsRadio” amusing. See the part that starts at 4:35. News radio)

    Whitey Bulger is no longer on the lam.

    What are the other enduring mysteries out there of the last 40 years?

    Who that song by Carly Simon was really about?

    P.S. I am also glad I lived long enough to see close-up pictures of all the planets. That’s something easy to take for granted considering 100 years ago we barely even had flight.)

  20. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Getting back to distinctive writhing styles and the apparent inability/disinclination of Dr. Gleick to ‘assume’ another voice in generating a convincing memo … I think his problem is the same one that turns up on comment threads on libertarian/conservative websites. The ‘moby’ trying to sound like what they assume a real libertarian/conservative sounds like, and getting it so wrong that the regular commenters instantly pick them out. The fake memo instantly ‘sounded’ so wrong to people like Megan McArdle. I think ordinary people are pretty good and picking out this kind of fakery.

    On the other hand, I know that a writing style can be mimicked; I am very good at doing it for my own books. I can read up on certain 19th century authors and writers, and then ‘do’ page after page in their style. For one of my books, I did a series of letters and the diary of a character leading a wagon train so convincingly that there are a lot of readers who were sure that I had found a genuine cache of letters and the diary someplace!

    I guess we’re lucky that Dr. Gleick wasn’t skilled that way, eh?

  21. Gary Says:

    RE Sgt Mom:

    Evidently your ability to mimic different styles far exceeds that of most people (including writers) and especially that of technical people, such as scientists, engineers and programmers. Having worked for a long time in a technical field, I can tell you that a large percentage of techies cannot write at all, a fair chunk are marginally competent, some are reasonably capable and very few are good or excellent. And I’d bet that most of the latter group are good-excellent exclusively in their own distinctive voice.

    So fortunately, I think the luck runs the opposite way. That is, Dr Gleick (or someone like him) would have to be very lucky to concoct a convincing memo in a style significantly different from his own.

  22. J Bowers Says:

    “Many AGW proponents and their political supporters in the press and elsewhere have alleged that the Climategate emails were hacked, although there’s no evidence of this and most on the right believe that dump was an inside job.”

    Well, I guess it really must take an insider to hack into the servers they already have access to using an exploit, and then use an exploit to hack another website, take it over, and upload the ZIP file there, all via servers in Russia and Turkey. Not really your run-of-the-mill whistleblower.

    “But AGW goes well beyond that. It is: hypothesis + money (LOTS of money) + politics + power. “

    Actually, it’s older than relativity and quantum mechanics and based on fully accepted physical laws and theories. Look up John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius.

  23. Gringo Says:

    Sgt. Mom:

    I guess we’re lucky that Dr. Gleick wasn’t skilled that way, eh?

    Yes, we are.

    One of the many indicators that the memo was fake was where it said that Heartland would push a curriculum “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

    This is how the warmists view the skeptics. According to the warmists, the AGW skeptics are against “settled science,” and thus against “science.”

    While this may be a warmist view of AGW skeptics, it is not how AGW skeptics view themselves. It is thus a good indication the memo was fake.

    While most of us are not adept at imitating writing styles as is an experienced writer like Sgt. Mom, I suspect that wingnuts at this blog can do a more credible job of constructing libs’ arguments than libs can do of constructing wingnuts’ arguments. The reason at least at this blog is that a lot of us used to be libs, so we are familiar with lib ways of thinking.

  24. Sgt. Mom Says:

    Dr. Gleick was – as Gringo pointed out – was trying to write as he thought an AGW skeptic would; not as an AGW skeptic actually does write. And that’s the weak point for someone trying to do a ‘moby’ on a libertarian/conservative site. They’re basing their writing ‘voice’ on the caricature that they have in their own minds. It’s as if I were about to get in the mind-set to write some Victoriana by going to read some bodice-ripping romance novels, instead of some genuine period Victorian letters and memoirs.
    It’s like listening to accents … you know when an actor is faking it badly.

  25. J Bowers Says:

    According to the warmists, the AGW skeptics are against “settled science,” and thus against “science.””

    Unsettled Science.

  26. Don Says:

    I think this sordid affair does say something about AGW. Or, rather, about the type of “scientists” who are pushing AGW.

    This fake memo is not out of line with the various efforts revealed by the Climategate e-mails. It isn’t surprising, and it reinforces the “ends justifies the means” mindset of the AGW “scientists”.

    This implies the actual weakness of their factual AGW argument.

    If you have the facts on your side, you don’t have to lie and make shit up.

  27. J Bowers Says:

    “If you have the facts on your side, you don’t have to lie and make shit up.”

    Very true: Bickmore on the WSJ response.

  28. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    J. Bowers,
    Nice to see a fan of realclimate.org joining in the conversation.

    Gavin, Kevin, Michael, and all the others (The Hockey team) have admitted that they must use guesstimates in their climate models, which they tinker with until they get the results that they want. Then they cry foul when people point put that we should not be making trillion dollar economic decisions based on these models that are really nothing more than estimates.

    You really need to read Dr. Roy Spencer’s blog and his latest book, THE GREAT GLOBAL WARMING BLUNDER. It’s here: http://www.drroyspencer.com/
    Dr. Spencer is is probably the best of the climate scientists that disagree with the Hockey Team. However, there is also Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit or Dr Richard Lindzen here: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02148/RSL-HouseOfCommons_2148505a.pdf
    Do some reading of other voices, it might give you some perspective.

    In spite of what the Hockey Team says, the debate is just getting started. They have dominated the field (and the finances) up to this point, but the uneconomic mitigation solutions they are calling for have raised questions as to whether the predictions and science on which they are based is sound. Until more certainty is established, in the words of Bjorn Lomborg, let’s “COOL IT.” See here: http://www.lomborg.com/cool_it/
    The amount of warming observed and predicted calls for adaptation not mitigation.

  29. J Bowers Says:

    “Until more certainty is established, in the words of Bjorn Lomborg, let’s “COOL IT.” See here: http://www.lomborg.com/cool_it/

    “The IPCC’s regular reports are the gold standard in climate change science. Each report – the latest was in 2007 – is the result of years of writing, reviewing and consensus-building among hundreds of scientists.

    This process is robust and custom-made to weather criticism. Its consensus findings are incredibly difficult to ignore, and have done more than anything to spread the vital message that climate change is real and it is caused by human impact.”
    Bjorn Lomborg, How to save the world in Copenhagen

    “You really need to read Dr. Roy Spencer’s blog and his latest book, THE GREAT GLOBAL WARMING BLUNDER. “


    Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 1
    Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 2
    Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 3
    Just Put the Model Down, Roy

    Then again, maybe not 😉

    “Gavin, Kevin, Michael, and all the others (The Hockey team) have admitted that they must use guesstimates in their climate models, which they tinker with until they get the results that they want. “

    “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” — George Box.

    All scientific theories and laws are models at their basest level. All science is probabilistic with uncertainties.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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