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For Major Climate-Change Scientist, Heavy Fallout From Leaked Documents

| February 22, 2012
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KQED’s Climate Watch has been covering the fallout to a major climate-change scientist stemming from leaked think-tank documents. The scientist who has admitted deception in obtaining the documents from the Heartland Institute, an organization devoted to questioning human-caused global warming, is Peter Gleick of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. Gleick wrote on The Huffington Post on Monday that by procuring the materials using someone else’s name, he engaged in a “serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics.”

Climate Watch’s Molly Samuel reports:

Climate scientist Peter Gleick, who… 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. Read full post

Yesterday, Climate Watch Senior Editor Craig Miller reviewed the scandal with KQED Radio’s Mina Kim. Listen here; a transcript follows the audio.

Edited transcript:

Mina Kim

Review what Gleick did, exactly?

Craig Miller

On Feb 14, on the DeSmog blog, which is devoted to countering the arguments of climate-change science deniers, a whole bunch of documents appeared, purportedly leaked by the Heartland Institute, a think tank that has worked to counter climate change legislation and policy. If you’re a strong proponent of moving forward with climate policy and legislative action in this country, the Heartland Institute is Darth Vader.

So suddenly a bunch of sensitive documents appear: budget information, donor lists, strategy and so forth. One of the strategies is consideration of a program to go into public schools with a curriculum to counter the prevailing climate science.

So there’s already a huge, roiling debate on this when Peter Gleick says on his Huffington Post blog on Monday that ‘I did it.’ But he says he wasn’t the first to purloin the documents, that some anonymous source sent them to him, and in an effort to authenticate that, he impersonated someone from Heartland in order to get them to send him the documents separately, so he could compare them. It was then that he leaked the documents.

Mina Kim

How has Heartland reacted?

Craig Miller

Heartland has reacted with outrage, as you can imagine, saying these documents were stolen and that this is a serious crime. But to further muddy the waters, they claim some of these documents were faked, and accused Gleick of actually writing them. But they also said some seem to be accurate and some may have been altered.

Mina Kim

Gleick is a highly regarded scientist and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant. What kind of fallout could this have on his career?

Craig Miller

It remains to be seen where all the ripples will end up. He’s already withdrawn as a board member of the National Center for Science Education, another Oakland-based group, where he was going to be installed this weekend. The American Geophysical Union says he resigned last week from its ethics committee, of which he was chairman.

I think one has to also ask whether the Pacific Institute can survive this. We talked for example with Bud Ward, who is editor of the widely read Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, and asked his opinion. He said, “I’m afraid this one’s 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.”

And by extension, will the Pacific Institute be a victim? It’s a small group of very smart people doing important works on topics like California’s water future, but Gleick has been the face and personification of the Pacific Institute for years, and if he goes down, one has to wonder what happens to the institute and its funding.

Mina Kim

A lot of people are wondering what kind of impact this will have on the larger climate-change debate. What reaction are you hearing?

Craig Miller

Certainly it’s a huge distraction. I think it has to be pointed out and emphasized that nothing about this changes any of the science. The vast preponderance of evidence is still that the globe is warming, that it is being at least in part caused by human activity and greenhouse gases. But this takes a major figure in the debate and seriously impairs his credibility. As Stephen Stromberg has written in the Washington Post, it hurts the pro-climate policy cause, because, as he puts it, scientists have to be better than their opponents.

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  • Anonymous

    Doctor Gleick’s only mistake was calling it a mistake.

    He did exactly what needed to be done.

    Heartland is a bunch of sociopathic liars for hire.

    Their lineup:

    Joe Bast, their dear leader: college dropout

    Anthony Watts, climate “expert”: college dropout

    James Taylor, environmental “expert”: a freaking lawyer

    These guys are pure sleaze taking plays straight out of the “tobacco does not cause cancer” book.

    And they could care less if their actions screw YOU or your children over.

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile, the UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd
    world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just
    over 26 years of INSANE attempts at climate CONTROL.

    Science poisoned the planet originally with their pesticides
    that they denied for decades as being dangerous, so science made
    environmentalism necessary in the first place. It’s not a crime to say climate
    change is real when it can’t be proven either way. It was a consultant’s wet
    dream and I promise history will call its followers end of the world freaks,
    and superstitious omen worshippers. “I see the signs. I see change….”

    • Anonymous

       Paul,

      Your role in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest was very fitting.