Scientifically, pedagogically, and morally, trying to stifle open inquiry on climate change and evolution was always a bad idea. The Darwin lobbyists at the National Center for Science Education nevertheless adopted the tactic of linking the two scientific controversies and targeting skeptics on both, in the apparent hope that their efforts to quash academic freedom in the evolutionary context would be strengthened by the symbiotic effect.
The NCSE sought to ramp up its efforts on the climate front by enlarging its board of directors. Yet now our Darwin-lobbying friends have serious egg on their faces after making (not their first) unwise choice of associates. The group invited climate activist Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, an ideological compatriot and neighbor in Oakland, CA, to join its board. Bad move. Gleick has just suffered a major ethical embarrassment, leading to a break with the NCSE and leaving the Darwin enforcers under a cloud.
Well, we already knew that the NCSE, which has never disavowed its link with anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist James Fetzer, has poor judgment in its choice of allies.
You’ve heard Gleick’s name if you’ve followed the recent Heartland Institute dustup. Last week, news media picked up a story of purloined internal documents detailing Heartland’s efforts to raise funds for its efforts to advance an idea — climate skepticism — that many liberals find abhorrent. The documents were mostly authentic and uninteresting, with a single exception: an incendiary memo that I could have told you was a fake.
I say that now though others beat me to the punch, by a long shot. Megan McArdle, senior editor and blogger for The Atlantic and a strong believer in human-induced catastrophic global warming, read carefully through the supposed “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” and pronounced it phony on a variety of technical and other grounds.
Though purportedly written for “a subset of [Heartland] Institute Board and senior staff,” the memo was clearly authored by someone hostile to climate skepticism, as a read-through by anybody remotely sensitive to inflections of language would detect. The memo speaks, for example, about the institute’s plans to “dissuad[e] teachers from teaching science.” Whatever you think of the science behind climate skepticism, this is not how its advocates speak about their work. It’s how their cruder opponents speak about them.
But the enforcers of orthodoxy on climate and evolution imagine that they’ve got skeptics all figured out. Many are evidently so carried away by fervor that they picture us using cartoon-villain talk of the kind that figures prominently in the memo. Whoever forged the document was speaking to, for and through that constituency.
For several days, this was catnip for the liberal media, which assumed the whole cache was genuine. Quoting the line about “dissuading teachers from teaching science” and putting the words in bold, Discovery Magazine science blogger and astronomer Phil Plait wrote,
One thing I want to point out right away which is very illuminating, if highly disturbing, about what Heartland allegedly wants to do: they are considering developing a curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom to sow confusion about climate change. I know, it sounds like I’m making that up, but I’m not.
No, he wasn’t making it up, some unknown climate enforcer had done that for him.
Physicist Sean Carroll, who raised a ruckus and quit Bloggingheads.tv because the latter allowed intelligent design-proponent Michael Behe to speak for himself, commented, “‘Dissuading teachers from teaching science’ — yes, people work to do this.”
Meanwhile at the NCSE, Programs and Policy Director Joshua Rosenau was eating it up. Rosenau praised the still unknown person who leaked the documents as a patriot and a gentleman:
We don’t know who distributed the Heartland memos, or exactly how they were obtained. But by doing so, the leaker provided a profound public service, one that we can all be grateful for. These memos provide an inside look at the climate change denial machine, revealing how they talk about their work behind closed doors.
That was early in the morning on Monday, February 20. Later the same day, the mysterious leaker identified himself on the Huffington Post as Peter Gleick, who one guesses was on the verge of being outed. He apologized and admitted that, in “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics,” he first received an anonymous gift of the documents in question, then misrepresented his identity to the Heartland Institute to obtain further copies and thereby confirm their authenticity. He made no mention of the obviously faked memo.
Quickly, NCSE staff changed their own view on the matter. Gleick submitted his resignation from the board, where he was scheduled to begin serving on February 25, and the NCSE accepted his resignation.
The group’s executive director tried to put the best face on it and blame climate skeptics:
“Gleick obtained and disseminated these documents without the knowledge of anyone here,” NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “and we do not condone his doing so.” But, she added, “they show that NCSE was right to broaden its scope to include the teaching of climate science. There really are coordinated attempts to undermine the teaching of climate science, and NCSE is needed to help to thwart them.”
So our Darwin-lobbying friends don’t “condone” lying about your identity to obtain authentic documents and inventing fake ones in an effort to smear enemies. That’s nice.
Was it Gleick who invented the phony “memo”? He claims to have merely been passing along material from someone else:
I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.
But the documents “that have been made public” include the transparently phony memo. Something here doesn’t sit right. Megan McArdle notes speculation, even before he stepped forward, that stylistic and other clues pointed to Gleick as the author of the memo. If it’s true that Gleick also emailed Heartland pretending to be a board member, that “flirt[s] with wire fraud.”
This can’t be a good day for Peter Gleick and I don’t care to dwell on his role, whatever it might turn out to be. What this business says more generally about the ethics of the orthodoxy enforcers on climate and evolution, ruled by a dangerous passion to suppress dissent, is a different matter.
Megan McArdle asks:
Gleick has done enormous damage to his cause and his own reputation, and it’s no good to say that people shouldn’t be focusing on it. If his judgment is this bad, how is his judgment on matters of science? For that matter, what about the judgment of all the others in the movement who apparently see nothing worth dwelling on in his actions?
Those are particularly good questions, ones that we would like to put to Gleick’s friends at the National Center for Science Education.