The Corruption of Science

If partisanship has had a corrupting influence on democratic government, it has been a disaster in the realm of science, and especially so where the two domains intersect.

By partisanship I’m not talking about advocacy or devotion to a cause, but collusion. Today’s post is about climate change, but the problem exists throughout the sciences and academia. In even the most obscure fields there is dirty politics, ruining careers and misdirecting lines of inquiry.

It’s been a bad year for global warming alarmists, and while I no longer find their arguments convincing, they deserve better than the behaviour of some of their prominent leaders and organizations.

Dr. Peter Gleick is the most recent screw-up. He’s a scientist well regarded in his field, water management, and also a strident opponent of the skeptics of catastrophic manmade global warming.

He admitted last week to deceiving the Heartland Institute, a skeptic think tank, in order to receive internal documents about their funding and programs. He then anonymously sent out those computer files to bloggers and journalists who are friends of the alarmist movement. They loudly proclaimed that here at last was evidence the fossil fuel industry was funding the deniers of climate change. Now they were to have their revenge for the leaks of the climate-gate emails from the University of East Anglia.

Generally the leak was unsurprising.  Heartland is not that big an operation, compared to some of the larger environmental organizations on the opposite side of the global warming issue.  Both sides get some funding from rich people and the fossil fuel industry.

There was one document that did appear to paint Heartland in an unflattering light, describing its strategy and plans. It looked like a fake and immediately raised suspicions that Gleick was the leaker. Heartlands says it’s not theirs, while claiming ownership of the others. It was unsigned, scanned from a plain piece of paper and its metadata indicates it was produced on the west coast, where Heartland is not located. Heartland says they have a paperless office and indeed the other documents were clearly computer generated in their origins. The author must have also had access to the Heartland docs, as some of that information is repeated, but there were some mistakes too, indicating an unfamiliarity and carelessness in describing Heartland’s budget.  The language and rhetorical style is so similar to Gleick’s writing that he was an obvious suspect.

Gleick hasn’t admitted to the forgery, only to using bad judgement in posing as a director of Heartland when he requested the confidential material. That in itself may constitute a crime, wire fraud.

Gleick was the chair of the American Geophysical Union’s task force on Scientific Ethics.

Judith Curry at Climate Etc. asks the question, “How can we reconcile Gleick’s possibly criminal behavior with his essays and testimony on scientific integrity?”

Her answer:

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…

It is fine for people (and scientists) [to] 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.

Or, as Megan McArdle at The Atlantic put it:

After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else.

Update:  Lying and deception can be justified, says climate change ethics expert.

Curious field, climate change ethics.

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