US climate scientist under fire

2012-02-24 12:58

Oakland - The prestigious California-based Pacific Institute climate research group has launched an investigation of its president and founder, Peter Gleick, after he admitted fraudulently obtaining documents from global warming sceptics challenging his work.

The institute in Oakland revealed its inquiry into the widening controversy in a terse statement posted on Wednesday on its website, hours after the San Francisco Chronicle said it was discontinuing an online blog that Gleick had been writing for the newspaper.

"The Board of Directors of the Pacific Institute is deeply concerned and is actively reviewing information about the recent events involving its president... and documents pertaining to the Heartland Institute," the board statement said.

Gleick himself went public about the matter on Monday with a statement confessing that he had posed as someone else to obtain internal memos from the Heartland Institute, a think tank that argues sceptic positions, among them that climate change is not caused by human activity and that health hazards from tobacco have been exaggerated.

"My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts - often anonymous, well-funded, and co-ordinated - to attack climate science and scientists... and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved," Gleick wrote in the statement, carried on the Huffington Post website.

Renowned authority

Even before his mea culpa, Gleick, a renowned authority on global freshwater issues and winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant, had resigned last Thursday as chair of the American Geophysical Union's Task Force on Scientific Ethics.

The scandal illustrates the increasingly harsh tone in the public and political debate over global warming, despite the consensus among mainstream scientists that rising levels of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases, primarily caused by human activity, are altering the Earth's climate.

Heartland is among a group of sceptic organisations that have written extensively about the so-called Climategate case in which thousands of climate scientists' e-mails were hacked via the University of East Anglia in Britain.

The initial batch of those e-mails was made public in 2009 and a second set in December 2011 as a major climate conference was getting under way in Durban.

Heartland cited those e-mails in claiming that the scientists who wrote them were trying to cover up evidence that cast doubt on human-caused climate change. Five separate investigations later found no wrongdoing on the part of the scientists. The source of the hacking was never identified.

Gleick has admitted that he obtained various internal Heartland documents - including a fundraising plan, a meeting agenda and a budget - by soliciting them under someone else's name, then forwarding them anonymously to members of the media and other climate scientists.

One of those lists dozens of major US corporations from a wide range of industries as donors to the Heartland Institute, among them tobacco and energy companies. Another lists consultants Heartland has paid, one of them hired to devise a "climate education project" for public school children.

Scientific credibility

In a written statement on Monday, Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast acknowledged that all of the documents Gleick circulated were authentic except one, titled "2012 Heartland Climate Strategy", which Bast called a forged memo.

Gleick said he did not alter any Heartland document and said he received this document anonymously in the mail and that it provided the impetus for him to use a false identity in requesting additional records from Heartland in a bid to verify its source.

Bast said release of the allegedly forged document had damaged Heartland's reputation, and he threatened legal action. "Gleick's crime was a serious one," he wrote.

"The documents he admits stealing contained personal information about Heartland staff members, donors, and allies, the release of which has violated their privacy and endangered their personal safety," Bast said.

The incident has raised concern among climatologists that scientific credibility might be tarnished.

"We think it unfortunate that this has the potential to deflect the conversation away from the scientific consensus that the climate change is taking place," said Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union.

It also raised ethical questions for journalists. Alana Nguyen, executive producer of the San Francisco Chronicle's website, said the newspaper had discontinued Gleick's unpaid blog because it was part of a feature reserved for local "luminaries".

"We decide who is a luminary," she said. "That kind of admission is something that affects your reputation in the community, and we strive to have people with a good reputation in the community."

  • Ernst - 2012-02-24 15:55

    Humanity is putting its foot on the accelerator even though the world’s top scientists and governments have repeatedly explained we are headed over a cliff. The people who will suffer the most are people who have not contributed to this impending catastrophe — future generations and the poorest among us. This is such a colossally immoral and unethical act — collectively and in many cases individually — that most people, including the overwhelming majority of the so-called intelligentsia, simply choose to ignore it on a daily basis. That won’t save a livable climate, however, nor it will stop future generations from cursing our names. And so it is not surprising that many immoral and unethical acts that regularly occur on a far less grand scale are condoned or winked at or simply ignored. Every day, countless organizations spread misinformation aimed at delaying the action needed to avoid destroying a livable climate, which will cause billions to suffer — and needlessly, since every major independent study makes clear that the cost of action is incredibly low. Many of the disinformers routinely attack and smear climate scientists. Some routinely publish their e-mails, encouraging their readers to cyber-bully scientists who are doing nothing more than trying to inform the world of the consequences of its untenable choices. But we have become inured to it — heck, there’s a whole TV network devoted to spreading lies — yawn, let’s change the channel to something we like.

      Ernst - 2012-02-24 15:57

      Continued: What the Heartland institute is doing should be classified as a crime against humanity and I dont blame this brave scientist for standing up to big oil and special interest groups that are spreading misinformation about manmade global warming.

      jcistheman - 2012-02-25 13:49

      Ernst, this article gets to the very heart of the issue and the facts that have emerged as this story has unfolded along with the climategate scandal is that there have been blatant attempts by proponents on both sides of the debate to manipulate data to suit their opposing agendas. The computer models used to scare us into the mindset of impending doom is upon us have been proved to be flawed. It's no surprise then that many people now believe that the ‘Global Warming’ phenomenon has been a complete load of rubbish. I don't share these views because as it's a no-brainer that we are affecting CO2 levels in our atmosphere and that will have some sort of long term effect. What would be nice though is less junk science and more credible research, not motivate by agendas! It’s a pity that lying sack of puss Al Gore got this whole debate off on the wrong foot.

      Ernst - 2012-02-25 14:12

      @jcistheman: You are making the issue more complicated than it is. You dont need models. Humans are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by burning oil, coal and gas on a very large scale. If you increase these concentrations you are going to have extra warming. This warming is going to have an effect on the climate. THIS IS AN INDISPUTABLE SCIENTIFIC FACT. NEWTONS LAWS: For every action there is an opposite reaction. The Heartland institute represents the special interest groups whose profits will be effected by action on manmade global warming. They know the average man in the street doesnt have the scientific knowledge to be able to distinguish between science fact and fiction. All they have to do is attack the credibility of scientists by stealing emails and quoting them out of context to create a "fake" scandal or by sowing doubt via denier websites that, by the way, are not based on PEER REVIEWED literature.

      jcistheman - 2012-02-26 11:14

      My commentary was aimed not at "what we should do" but at why so many people believe that “there is no problem” in the first place! The truth is that both sides of the argument HAVE DONE A DISERVICE to their opposing views. We can go all the way back to Al Gore who's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" (for which he won a Nobel prize) was found though a court ruling to contain numerous major factual errors. So bad in fact that if the film is shown in Europe it has to be accompanied with a warring stating the film contains major factual inaccuracies. “The "apocalyptic vision" presented in the film was not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change” -Mr Justice Barton Are you honestly surprised the "average man in the street" as you put it doubts the validity of the arguments coming from either side of the debate? He clearly hates being deceived. Btw, I hardly think quoting Newton’s laws of motion in the situation is relevant as it's specifically geared towards the result of actual physical forces and it’s relation to what mass it is acting upon. With climate science there are clearly many other forces at work that affect the outcome when changing one variable so it's a very simplistic application and a stretch at best. Also, we both seem to already agree with the basics behind climate science so stop trying so hard to sound smart. I'm simply pointing out why people don't believe in the science in question and not arguing for or against either side.

      Ernst - 2012-02-26 11:47

      @jcistheman: My quoting of newtons laws is to illustrate my point that adding vast amounts of greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere is definitely going to have an effect on the climate system. There is absolutely no way that you can wish or explain this fact away. Any additional heating causes an energy imbalance in the system. The system reacts to this imbalance. Al these things are governed by forces. "The inconvenient truth" is not the "bible" of climate science as some people make it out to be and forget Al Gore. If you want to get accurate information, then consult the PEER REVIEWED literature on the issue. 98% of climate scientists, that actively publish in scientific journals, agree that there is a human fingerprint on the changes we are seeing (spike in floods, droughts etc.). This conclusion is based on FORENSIC EVIDENCE. If you consult a group of 100 doctors and 98 of them have reached consensus that you better go for surgery or else you are going to die, what are you going to do? You are probably going to tell them they are wrong and that they just want your money. Well, ignore them at your own peril. Lastly, dont you think its dangerous and irresponsible to ignore these warnings? As long as the average man in the street is deceived into believing in this BS that scientists are conspiring or being dishonest, the longer action will be delayed and evetually our society will collapse.

      jcistheman - 2012-02-27 16:38

      Frankly I’m alarmed that even though (as I have stated more than once) I’m pro the reduction of CO2 emissions as they are harmful to the environment (along with all the other gasses we pump into the atmosphere), you still expend energy arguing with me that we are both on the same page? I’m only pointing out WHY people are turning on claims made global warming alarmists. The reason is simple: many of the scientists involved have blatantly lied, falsified and exaggerated data to a point where the general public has lost faith in their prediction. Articles like this are become more and more common as new data emerges and public opinion has shifted. What really needs to be discussed is how to restore faith in climate science so sensible and effective change can be made, free from political agendas and alarmist bull. So yes, it is dangerous to ignore these warnings but let’s figure out what warnings are relevant in the first place. Oh and yes, the effects of adding more Carbon Dioxide to any atmosphere is well documented, it makes plants grow much better. It’s still not really a very good scenario to equate Newton’s laws of motion to though.

      Ernst - 2012-02-29 19:07

      @jcistheman: Where have scientists lied? Please explain this to me. Where have they lied???? Please dont mention the fake "Climate Gate" scandal.

  • arthurbrigg - 2012-02-28 09:15

    CO2 isn't the problem as much as the SUN is. Quite frankly this whole "Carbon footprint" thing is a scam to make money out of nothing. Even Al Gore has been debunked. Go and Google John Christy, as a scientist his lectures will give you a more educated insight than my comment. I'm all for a more healthy lifestyle and looking after our environment, but carbon taxes and all this end of world stuff is just utter rubbish.

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