On February 14, environmental groups and sympathetic journalists reported that confidential documents were stolen from The Heartland Institute. It soon became apparent that one of the documents, a supposed memo describing Heartland’s communication strategy on climate change, was a fake document, leading British journalist James Delingpole to label the affair “Fakegate.”
On February 20, Peter Gleick made a partial confession, saying he stole the documents but claiming he received the fraudulent emo “in the mail” from an anonymous source. An international search is underway to identify the true author of the fraudulent memo.
Surprisingly, Gleick has defenders. Those willing to use their real names on blogs and in comments to articles include James Garvey, Tyler Hamilton, Mark Alan Hewitt, John Horgan, Greg Laden, Stephan Lewandowsky, Patrick Lockerby, and Michael Tobis. For a summary of their comments, see Donna Laframboise’s excellent post.
Several of Gleick’s apologists say Heartland has no right to cry foul, since Climate Change Weekly, Environment & Climate News, and other Heartland publications have reported extensively on the two Climategate scandals.
“I still can’t get over how hypocritical Heartland Institute is being about this, given how it delighted in seeing climate scientists’ e-mails hacked in the 2009 ‘Climategate’ non-scandal,” wrote one Gleick partisan, Tyler Hamilton, at theenergycollective.
While Fakegate and Climategate have some things in common – most obviously, both expose the moral and intellectual corruption of the global warming movement – there are also important differences that clear Heartland of any claims of hypocrisy. Those differences include:
- Documents stolen, not leaked. Gleick admits to stealing the documents under false pretenses, assuming the identity of a Heartland Institute board member. This is probably a crime under federal as well as state laws. No evidence has yet been proffered that the Climategate emails were stolen. Media outlets variously characterize the leak as “theft” or “hacking,” but it is more likely that it was the act of a whistleblower inside the University of East Anglia or close to someone who works there. That was the original story with Fakegate, too, until Gleick confessed to the document theft. The distinction is important. No Heartland staff suffered an ethical lapse here, “leaking” confidential documents. The ethical lapse is entirely on the part of an outsider who committed fraud to steal documents clearly intended to remain confidential and internal to the organization.
- A confession of wrongdoing. Fakegate has a confession from the person who did it. Gleick’s confession explains his motives and intent – to expose Heartland’s donors to confirm his theory that all climate “skeptics” are funded by oil companies, knowing that such exposure would harm Heartland’s reputation and future funding prospects. No such confession has come out of the Climategate scandal. Indeed, since the file of documents leaked in that scandal was labeled “FOIA,” it is pretty clear that the emails had been collected to respond to legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests, and the leaker was frustrated by the university’s stonewalling. No confession and certainly no apology needed.
- Repercussions. Within two weeks of the eruption of Fakegate, Gleick requested a temporary leave of absence from his position as president of the Pacific Institute, resigned from the board of directors of the National Council for Science Education, resigned from the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics, and cancelled a keynote address he was to deliver to the Water Law Conference of the American Bar Association. His actions were denounced by all reasonable and responsible voices in the climate change debate. Climategate, in contrast, ended with no consequences for anyone, including the scientists whose misconduct was exposed by the emails and the Easy Anglia officials who dragged their feet in responding to legitimate FOIA requests.
- Fraud. Fakegate also has an outright forgery, the “climate strategy memo” Gleick says he didn’t write but received in the mail from some anonymous person. All of the documents leaked in the Climategate episode have been authenticated by their authors. Forensic analysis shows the fake memo did not originate from Heartland’s offices. Textual analysis seems to indicate Gleick wrote it. Digital signatures and trails surrounding the document also suggest it was written after, not before, Gleick stole the documents. The fraudulent document, intended to be the “smoking gun” not found in the stolen documents, is likely to backfire on its author and those who continue to quote it as if authentic.
- Honest Intentions. The documents stolen from The Heartland Institute show an organization illuminating and encouraging debate in a matter that others claim “is settled.” There is nothing incriminating or embarrassing in the stolen Heartland documents. By contrast, Climategate has exposed efforts to alter data, blackball persons whose research reaches different conclusions, and generally avoid debate in order to perpetuate the myth that the science on climate change is settled.
The Heartland Institute and its staff, Board members, and donors were the victims of Fakegate. The scientists exposed by Climategate were not victims. There is no hypocrisy at all in Heartland’s account of either global warming scandal.