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A Sad Day for Science

When internal fundraising and strategy documents from the Heartland Institute, a conservative group skeptical of man-made climate change, were leaked online last week, global warming activists were ecstatic. That excitement ended today when a prominent climate scientist, Peter Gleick, admitted to using a fake identity to obtain donor and budget records from Heartland, supposedly in order to “confirm” an explosive internal memo on the group’s 2012 Climate Strategy, which he claims was sent to him anonymously.

Heartland has disputed the veracity of the memo, which was leaked to the press along with the other documents.

Here’s an excerpt of Gleick’s confession, which he posted in full at the Huffington Post:

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, 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 says he sent the documents to reporters before the story blew up last week. In a statement today, the Heartland Institute confirmed the legitimacy of the budget and fundraising documents, but maintained – as it has since the beginning – that the climate strategy memo that Gleick says was sent to him anonymously was falsified. Heartland also seemed to imply it would be taking legal action on the matter:

An additional document Gleick represented as coming from The Heartland Institute, a forged memo purporting to set out our strategies on global warming, has been extensively cited by newspapers and in news releases and articles posted on Web sites and blogs around the world. It has caused major and permanent damage to the reputations of The Heartland Institute and many of the scientists, policy experts, and organizations we work with.

A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage. …We hope Gleick will make a more complete confession in the next few days.

We are consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps and plan to release a more complete statement about the situation tomorrow. In the meantime, we ask again that publishers, bloggers, and Web site hosts take the stolen and fraudulent documents off their sites, remove defamatory commentary based on them, and issue retractions.

Needless to say, Gleick’s confession will only fuel suspicions that the initial memo was a fake – and that the scientist may personally have been the one who fabricated it.

But even the staunchest climate change skeptics should have a hard time feeling good about the latest development. Gleick not only disgraced himself, he disgraced his profession, too – and during a time when Americans are increasingly distrustful of climate science. The good news is that Heartland caught onto Gleick’s identity fraud quickly, and may be able to repair the damage done to its image. Unfortunately, the damage that Gleick and the scientists involved in ClimateGate have done to the image of climate science may be permanent.


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