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.