The Magazine

Why the Climate Skeptics Are Winning

Too many of their opponents are intellectual thugs.

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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Gleick is known chiefly for his work on water issues, for which he enjoys a deserved reputation for his data-driven research (though he gets the remedies wrong). He has been as well a peripheral but aggressive figure in the climate wars, notable for the angry and politicized tone of his participation. Gleick is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was, until two weeks ago, the chairman of an American Geophysical Union task force on scientific -ethics. He’s also a columnist for Forbes magazine’s website and a recipient of one of those MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants that typically go to the trendy and politically correct.

Making a direct accusation as Kaminsky and Mosher did is a strong and potentially libelous move, and the green blogosphere closed ranks quickly around Gleick. One poster wrote: “I hope that Mr. Kaminsky will be prepared [to] fully retract and apologize to Dr. Gleick once he is ruled out as the possible culprit.” But then the other shoe dropped: Gleick confessed on Monday, February 20, that he was the person who had deceived Heartland into emailing their board documents. Gleick claimed, though, that he had received the phony strategy memo anonymously early in the year by mail. He explained in a column for the Huffington Post: “I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”

Gleick’s story doesn’t add up, given that many of the details in the phony “strategy memo” could only have been composed by someone with prior access to the complete board materials that Gleick says he subsequently sought out. So far Gleick is the only person known to have had access to the Heartland internal board documents. And he has not been forthcoming about the details of the phony memo. Was there a postmark? Did he keep the envelope and the original document that he scanned? Why does he think he was singled out to receive this information, rather than a reporter? The only thing missing right now to make Gleick’s story weaker is an old Woodstock typewriter.

Then there is the content of the memo itself, which tellingly is written in the first person but bears no one’s name as an author. One is supposed to presume it came from Heartland’s president, Joe Bast, but it is not quite his style. Megan McArdle of the Atlantic sums it up nicely: “It reads like it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.” Numerous observers have pointed to items in the memo that are strikingly inauthentic or alien to the conservative think tank world, but one in particular strikes me​—​a curious passage about the need for “expanded communication”:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as [Andrew] Revkin at Dot­Earth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW [anthropogenic global warming] communicators .  .  .

As curious as the reference to Gleick and Forbes is (Gleick shares space at Forbes with Heartland’s James Taylor, which is another interesting circumstance), the reference to Andy Revkin is more intriguing. Revkin is a New York Times science blogger who reports climate issues fairly straight up, though his own sympathies are with the climate campaign. Perhaps because he is basically sympathetic, Revkin’s occasional departures from the party line have been a source of annoyance for more ardent climate campaigners; one of the emails from the first cache of leaked Climategate documents in 2009 complained that Revkin wasn’t “reliable,” and University of Illinois climate alarmist Michael Schlesinger threatened Revkin directly with the “big cutoff” if he didn’t mend his ways. Was the language in the phony Heartland memo another attempt to try to shame Revkin into falling in line by suggesting he’s not hostile enough towards climate skeptics?

After Gleick’s semi-confession, Revkin wrote for the Times that “Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others,” and that his actions “surely will sustain suspicion that he created the summary [strategy memo].” 

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