Resignation and Remorse: Gleick Faces Fallout from Heartland Documents Leak

The Pacific Institute is standing by its founder, but other consequences are piling up

Craig Miller/KQED

Peter Gleick is a co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a research group based in Oakland.

Climate scientist Peter Gleick, who last night admitted that he was the source of leaked documents from the Heartland Institute, has resigned from the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics. Gleick was chair of the task force, which met for the first time last November. According to a press release from the AGU, Gleick resigned last Thursday — after the explosive documents appeared on various blogs but before his online admission as perpetrator.

He’s also stepped down from a position which he hadn’t yet officially begun with the National Center for Science Education, an organization that advocates for evolution and climate change education in schools. Gleick was scheduled to begin serving on its board this week, but tendered his resignation yesterday.

I spoke with Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, who said he sees the whole affair as a setback not only for Gleick, but also for the climate science community.

“I don’t think this is just a quick passing episode,” Ward said in a telephone interview. “I’m afraid this is going to leave some stains and some victims, and to some extent I think Peter Gleick is going to be — and I say this with great regret — among the victims.”

Ward took the long view in an article today, analyzing the media’s response to the documents and Gleick’s admission to leaking them:

“Reporting on a ‘myth’ or a ‘hoax,’ one might say, does society no good in coming to grips with an issue of the importance and complexity of climate change, regardless of one’s own views on the subject scientifically, economically, politically, or otherwise.”

The Heartland Institute posted a press release last night, in which it says it’s consulting legal counsel, and the Pacific Institute added a short statement on its website this afternoon, saying that it’s “aware of Dr. Peter Gleick’s apology and actions related to the Heartland Institute,” and that Gleick “has been and continues to be an integral part of our team.”

What’s next for Gleick, the Pacific Institute and the Heartland Institute is an emerging story. The Pacific Institute’s audited financial statements for 2010 include a diverse list of funders and contract clients, from government agencies to major private foundations.

Gleick has yet to make a public statement since yesterday’s blog post, in which he said he yielded to frustration with corporate efforts to subvert the prevailing climate science.

Update:

I checked in with some of the Pacific Institute’s biggest funders. Marc Moorghen, the communications manager for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, said in an email that they don’t know about the issue beyond what they’ve read, but their relationship with the Pacific Institute isn’t related to climate change.

“Our foundation has been working to provide safe water in developing countries since 1990, and since Dr. Gleick is a recognized expert on global water issues, we have funded the Pacific Institute to assist us in these endeavors.”

And If you’re just catching up on this story, here are a couple good places to start.

  • On KQED 88.5 FM last night, Climate Watch Senior Editor Craig Miller reviewed what’s happened so far, saying, “It remains to be seen where all the ripples will end up…But I think one has to ask whether the Pacific Institute can survive this.”
  • This evening on All Things Considered, Science Correspondent Christopher Joyce reports on the controversy. One response he includes is from Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at the University of California:

“The documents that were released last week essentially affirm what we already knew,” she says. “And [the deception] was not necessary because this information is actually available through entirely appropriate means.”