4 minute read

Bob Murphy is probably the one "Austrian" school blogger that I make a sincere effort to follow. I don't agree with everything — or even most — of what he writes, but Bob always manages to present his thoughts in an insightful and humorous way. More importantly, I think that he a) Genuinely tries to be fair to his intellectual opponents, and b) Actually has a good grasp of what "mainstream" economics is about (unlike some others). While I enjoy reading his blog, I generally shy away from commenting there... if for no other reason than I know how time consuming internet debates are. However, I decided to respond to his recent post on the Heartland Institute / Peter Gleick affair.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can have a gander at Bob's post to see how the whole thing went down. In short, water scientist and AGW proponent, Peter Gleick, claims to have received an anonymous package containing an apparent climate "strategy memo" from the Heartland Institute. Among other things, this document made some pretty wild claims about how to advance "Heartland's" skeptic message, including the money line that they should focus on strategies that would be "effective in dissuading teachers from teaching science". Bob claims that this suggestion is so obviously bogus that anyone reading it should immediately have twigged that it was a fake — as, indeed, Heartland later confirmed.

Now, I'm not entirely sure if it was as blatantly obvious as all that... especially if you know anything about Heartland's very dubious history when it comes to scientific matters. However, Bob's point that the pro-AWG blogosphere should have been far more circumspect about the whole thing certainly deserves full consideration.[*] At the very least, let me emphasize that I am not disputing its fraudulent origins here. Regardless, we do know that Gleick subsequently obtained legitimate funding documents under false pretenses by impersonating a Heartland board member. These were then released together with the fake strategy memo. Unfortunately for Gleick, Heartland very quickly cried foul and he was eventually forced/motivated to come out as the source... effectively tarnishing his reputation as an ethical scientist in the process.

You can look through the comments under Bob's post (and the follow up) to see my extended thoughts, but my main points are this:

1. Criticizing Gleick for going under an false name to obtain private documents is very fair game. That so many pro-AWG climate bloggers initially failed to spot the "obvious" (Bob's words) forgery amongst the legitimate documents should also be cause for introspection by that camp. However, where was the equivalent moral outrage from the skeptic camp when the hacked "Climategate" emails were released? For all their indignation at Gleick's actions, Heartland itself was only too happy to cheer on these emails when this suited its agenda... despite their illegal origins and a raft of investigations and subsequent exonerations. It's also very disingenuous to pretend that a lot of skepticism isn't founded on distorted and manipulated use of science, because it certainly is. (Example A: Cherry-picking of evidence and selective quotation of the Climategate emails.)

2. Similarly, I feel that Bob is trying to paint this as some false dichotomy, where the debate only exists between measured skeptics and rabid alarmists. This simply isn't the case.

3. Despite his unethical behaviour, I don't think that Gleick wrote the false strategy memo. It just doesn't add up. As I wrote hereIf you wrote that document, you knew it was bogus. And if you knew it was bogus, you’d have to know that Heartland would protest loudly and immediately as soon as it was released. The truth would out fairly quickly; as indeed it did. [...]You don’t need a course in game theory to realise that [simply no good could] come from releasing a document that you know to be fake… Much less owning up to being that moronic in public. Gleick has his faults, but I certainly doubt that he is *that* dumb. There's a lot of uncertainty whichever way you cut it. However, my best guess for the source of this false document is that it was written by some anti-AWG person or group who wanted to trick Gleick into releasing bogus info and thereby undermine his credibility. (There are other possibilities too... though, again, none are completely satisfying.)

UPDATE: This is interesting. Running stylometric and textometric analysis on the fake strategy memo suggests that a Heartland staff member is more likely to have written it than Peter Gleick. (There's still a lot of uncertainty, but it does take consideration of the fact that certain sentences were apparently lifted from the authentic documents.). Not only that, but how did "Heartland-aligned blogger Steven Mosher" manage to finger Gleick so confidently before he came out as the leak? The plot thickens...
UPDATE 2: This analysis using the same software suggests the exact opposite that, i.e. that Gleick is the more likely candidate. Oh, the confusion!
UPDATE 3: Climate scientist James Annan thinks that textometric analysis is a complete waste of time. He also argues (quite plausibly I must admit) that Gleick *could* have been shortsighted enough to write the fake document himself: "Under pressure of time and under great stress, he wasn't thinking that clearly at this point..."
[*] Two important issues bear mentioning here. First, Bob's analysis relies heavily on the reporting of Megan McArdle, who was quick to urge caution about the legitimacy of the strategy memo despite her strong endorsement of AWG theory. Second, while most pro-AWG climate blogs have removed and distanced themselves from the controversial memo, the original outlet for the leak, Desmogblog, are sticking to their guns w.r.t. it's authenticity. (More from them here.)