by Judith Curry
How can we reconcile Gleick’s possibly criminal behavior with his essays and testimony on scientific integrity?
For background, see my previous post that describes Gleick’s writings and activities on the topic of scientific ethics and integrity:
- A brief lesson in the integrity of science
- Climate Change and the Integrity of Science, Again
- AGU’s new task force on scientific integrity and ethics begins
- Threats to the integrity of science: congressional testimony
In ethics, integrity is associated with honesty and truthfulness in one’s actions. However, integrity is a word with complex meanings and nuances, some of which do not necessarily relate to honesty at all. Some statements from the Wikipedia article on integrity:
Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.
One can test a value system’s integrity . . . consistency against that entity’s espoused value system.
The “integrity” of a brand is regarded by some as a desirable outcome for companies seeking to maintain a consistent, unambiguous position in the mind of their audience.
Gleick’s ‘integrity’ seems to have nothing to do with scientific integrity, but rather loyalty to and consistency with what I have called the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology. From my previous post No Ideologues:
Now there is nothing prima facie wrong with ideology. Wikipedia has this to say on ideology:
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one’s goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things . . . The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in society . . . Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics.
There does seem to be an IPCC/UNFCCC ideology, let me try to lay it out here.
- Anthropogenic climate change is real.
- Anthropogenic climate change is dangerous and we need to something about it.
- The fossil fuel industry is trying to convince people that climate change is a hoax.
- Deniers are attacking climate science and scientists.
- Action is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.
- Deniers and fossil fuel industry are delaying UNFCCC mitigatory policies.
This is a political ideology. #1 is about science. #4 is in principle about science and scientists, except there is the automatic assumption that a bonafide scientific criticism is a political attack. The rest of it is politics.
It is fine for people (and scientists) have political ideologies. The problem comes in when you use politics to defend your science, and you use science to demand policies.
Gleick’s unethical action with respect to integrity has been to push fealty to the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology under the guise of promoting integrity and ethics in science.
The Artless Climate Wars
If Gleick et al. view this whole endeavour as fighting a war, they would be well advised to read Sun Tsu’s Art of War; see also my previous discussion of the Artless Climate Wars:
Apart from the “why” of the climate wars, the “how” needs to be looked at also. It seems that those fighting to defend the IPCC consensus never read the Art of War. Translated to the climate war, Sun Tzu’s principles might look something like this:
- Outsmart your opponent so that battles aren’t necessary
- Pick your battles carefully.
- In the course of your battle, don’t lose the moral high ground.
- Divide and conquer; don’t give your enemy cause to rally together and combine forces
- Overconfidence can be fatal to your strategy
- If the campaign is prolonged, the resources will not be equal to the strain
- If you know your enemy, you can win battles without a single loss
Gleick’s strategy has failed on all counts. I don’t think this is from the Art of War, but I read it somewhere and it seems apt: When fighting a war, don’t waste a bullet on yourself (ouch).
The end result of Gleick’s actions are to cede the high ground to Heartland, especially in light of the fact that Heartland had invited Gleick to a debate shortly before the theft of the documents occurred.
The dangers to scientists in taking up arms in the climate war are elucidated by Matt Nisbet:
Urgent calls to escalate the war against climate skeptics may lead scientists and their organizations into a dangerous trap, fueling further political disagreement while risking public trust in science. A major transformation is needed in how scientists and their organizations engage the public and policymakers. The new direction is not to become more political and confrontational on the national stage, but to seek opportunities for greater public interaction, dialogue, and partnerships in communities across the country.
Scientists are also susceptible to the biases of their own political ideology, which surveys show leans heavily liberal. Ideology shapes how scientists evaluate policy options as well as their interpretations of who or what is to blame for policy failures. Given a liberal outlook and strong environmental values, it must be difficult for scientists to understand why so many Americans have reservations about complex policies that impose costs on consumers without offering clearly defined benefits. Compounding matters, scientists, like the rest of us, tend to gravitate toward like-minded sources in the media. Given their background, they focus on screeds from liberal commentators which reinforce a false sense of a “war” against the scientific community.
The scientists seem to believe they can prevail by explaining the basis of climate change in clearer terms, while asserting the partisan motives of “climate deniers.” This has been the strategy since the early days of the Bush administration, yet for many members of the public, a decade of claims about the “war on science” are likely ignored as just more elite rancor, reflecting an endless cycle of technical disputes and tit-for-tat name calling. What are needed are strategies that transcend the ideological divide, rather than strengthen it. Most importantly, snarling, finger-in-the-eye responses to the skeptics risk alienating the more than one-third of Americans (PDF) who remain ambivalent about climate change.
To be sure, there is a need for better, clearer explanations of the science, but it’s wrongheaded to imagine that researchers and their organizations could ever compete effectively, in the long term, in a political debate with climate skeptics and their allies at the Chamber of Commerce and Fox News. Instead of exaggerating the problem of an allegedly hostile American public, scientists need to wake up to the fact that they continue to enjoy almost unrivaled trust and communication capital.
Loss of trust
When ‘Heartlandgate’ first broke, I saw no parallels with Climategate. Now, with the involvement of Gleick, there most certainly are parallels. There is the common theme of climate scientists compromising personal and professional ethics, integrity, and responsibility, all in the interests of a ’cause’.
On the one hand, Climategate involved a large number of people that were involved in the IPCC. Apart from the FOI avoidance that was arguably criminal, everyone seems to have been ‘cleared’ by the various investigations. On the other hand, Gleick is only one person, but his actions are far more serious, particularly if they involve fabrication of a document.
If the scientific and environmental communities were to react like Andy Revkin, then the damage from this potentially can be contained (one bad egg):
The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the “rational public debate” that he wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.
Joe Romm, at least so far, has ignored the whole issue. Which strategically is not a bad move.
Unfortunately, already we are seeing signs of exactly the opposite strategy. Over at DeSmog Blog:
Whistleblowers – and that’s the role Gleick has played in this instance – deserve respect for having the courage to make important truths known to the public at large. Without condoning or promoting an act of dishonesty, it’s fair to say that Gleick took a significant personal risk – and by standing and taking responsibility for his actions, he has shown himself willing to pay the price. For his courage, his honor, and for performing a selfless act of public service, he deserves our gratitude and applause.
Scott Mandia, a leader of the Climate Rapid Response Team, is quoted:
…”Heartland has been subverting well-understood science for years,” wrote Scott Mandia, co-founder of the climate science rapid response team. “They also subvert the education of our school children by trying to ;’teach the controversy’ where none exists.”He went on: “Peter Gleick, a scientist who is also a journalist just used the same tricks that any investigative reporter uses to uncover the truth. He is the hero and Heartland remains the villain. He will have many people lining up to support him.”
The climate insanity factor has just jumped upwards a big notch.