Monday, June 04, 2012

Colour me sceptical

I know this is "old news" in the sense of the article appearing in the Guardian (though without any meaningful follow-up in terms of the publication of the promised review), but I've got a bit behind in my blogging recently.

A couple of weeks ago, this breathless scoop in the Grauniad claimed that Gleick has been cleared.

But, to be brief and blunt, I am dubious that anything approaching a meaningful clearance has been, or will be, demonstrated. If the document he claims to have been sent actually existed, he could have produced it right at the start. It's hardly credible that he would have destroyed it after scanning.

That investigation is now complete, and the conclusions will be made public.
Two weeks later...tumbleweed.


Anonymous said...

There seems to be a range of opinions on the validity of the Goldenberg article, but I don't find your particular arguments convincing. Just pulling out the memo from the start doesn't help if people believe you've faked it. It's not hard to fake a printout. You still need to have an investigation into the "evidence", and since he obviously knew that Pacific Institute was setting up an external investigation, it made more sense to hold off for an expert investigation. Even if you disagree, it's not like you have enough information to make a definitive argument about "what-gleik-would-have-done-if".

Given you initial reaction, I suppose this one isn't all that surprising.

Hank Roberts said...

> he could have produced it

Perhaps he was thinking as a journalist protecting the source, it's a tradition with that lot.

> It's hardly credible that he
> would have destroyed it

Is it credible even to suggest he might have? Did anyone say that? Of course you may wish to protect your source, if you were told that by someone and you're ... hmm.

Let me think this through a bit more. I'm confused.

Perhaps we need more and better hats to go with our avatars indicating which role we're playing?

Steve Bloom said...

But truly, who cares about all this gossip when there's a big award to report on?

James Annan said...

Good point Steve, I'll get on with it...

bigcitylib said...

When historians write of the destruction of the Heartland Institute, Gleick's name will be sung to the heavens. Your name will go unmentioned.

Martin Vermeer said...

Two weeks is nothing yet... and remember that he won't be cleared from the 'sting' that he admitted to. It's complicated.

The only thing I can recommend with confidence is investment in popcorn stock.

Hank Roberts said...

Perhaps there's a clue here. The scientific and public health issue he has been most involved with is increasingly a political one.

The opposition is increasingly using all the methods that work effectively in politics to oppose progress, because they believe government involvement in providing clean water is socialism, and they assert that the free market will provide as much clean water as, well, as can be extracted by charging money for it. Privatization of public utilities is a large market these days.

This notion that Earth provides clean water free downstream of every large watershed is so 1800s, isn't it?

Most researchers don't have such active opposition to their area of interest in life.

Eos, Vol. 92, No. 44, 1 November 2011

"... Since the 1998 publication of the first volume of The World’s Water, a biennial report on freshwater resources from the Pacific Institute, some significant strides have been made in improving water management and quality. However, there has also been a continuing stream of bad news about the state of water in many parts of the world. With the 18 October publication of volume 7 in the series, two stark statistics stand out to lead author Peter Gleick: More than 1 billion people still lack safe drinking water, and more than 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation.

Those numbers have not changed much since 1998 ....

Glieck told EOS. “We know we are going to see changes in snowfall dynamics. We know we are going to see changes in extreme precipitation events. We know that higher temperatures are going to increase evaporation rates. We know that rising sea level is going to contaminate more coastal aquifers with salt water. I find the climate debate and specifically the issues around water frustrating, because the science is clear. There are plenty of uncertainties, but not everything is equally uncertain. We know more than enough, and we’ve known more than enough for decades, to act. And we’re not acting. And that’s irresponsible.
... He specifically pointed to the need for improvements in several countries, including the United States and China. In the United States, some key federal water legislation—including the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, which were passed in the 1970s—is “grossly” out
of date, Gleick said, and he called for Conress to update the laws. “There are new contaminants, there are new health risks, there are new water-monitoring capabilities. Congress needs to realize that water isn’t a Democratic issue; it’s not a Republican issue. It’s a national issue,” Gleick said. “Every American wants safe water. Every American wants clean rivers and lakes. They need to step up and do what’s right to protect our water resources and to make sure that they are used efficiently and carefully.”

Gleick said he doesn’t know whether there could be movement on this issue during this time of government gridlock. “I’m a scientist and not a politician. I know that people care about water. It’s the highest-polling environmental issue consistently. I know it’s still difficult to remove politics from water, but Republicans and Democrats played together very well in passing our water quality laws, and I think we can do it again. I don’t know if we will, but I know that we have to.”

Carrick said...

bigcity: When historians write of the destruction of the Heartland Institute, Gleick's name will be sung to the heavens

It could be argued he at least extended the life of the institute, and maybe even saved it. (Arguably, they were on a funding death spiral when he "intervened.") Funding is way up, or so they claim, even after the stupid bill board.

Carrick said...

Hank, you believe anything Gleick says at this point?


Steve Bloom said...

Oddly, Carrick, people like me (and Hank, I expect) see Gleick as entirely honorable. Concern trollers like you, rather less so.

As for HI, its survival or not will depend on whether the larger funding network behind them and the rest of the wingnut tank network decides it's advantageous. We won't know that for a while.

It's frankly hilarious that you see Gleick, an NAS member with a long track record of first-class research in a critical field, as less credible than HI, which exists to invent lies.

Hank Roberts said...

Carrick, note the date on the EOS piece.

Yep, I'd trust Gleick now more than I'd have trusted Heartland then or now or in the future. Who lies, who benefits?

I think Gleick had a quandary because it's hard to change roles -- and he made choices that could be appropriate in one or more roles -- a journalist, a private investigator, a scientist, a public health worker, an ethicist.

This story reminds me of something I learned from my father, who spent part of World War II in Belgium during the invasion of Europe. He said that all the way through the European war, the public health workers cooperated -- all of them: the Germans, the Vichy, and the Allies -- as the front lines moved across the continent. They cooperated because they all were dedicated to preventing bubonic plague from breaking out across Europe.

No, I can't cite that and I'd be surprised to find anyone wrote it into any of the histories.

My impression -- I heard this 50 years ago -- is that the military hierarchy on both sides would have stopped these contacts, tried to use them to military advantage, or called them treason.

Which role do you take, which rules do you follow, when you have several choices and you understand the consequences of acting or not? These are hard choices.

I think he'd have better hired those particular phone calls done than done them himself -- a PI can use pretexting.

Read the definitions:

Steve Bloom said...

BTW, Carrick, it would seem that the HI claim is that the number of donors is up. Note the distinction.

Oh, also, applying your high standard here, this error will be an albatross around your neck for the rest of your life. Just sayin'.

Carrick said...

Hank, I have to agree with you that Gleick is certainly more believable than Heartland, even after the phishing fiasco. Hiring a PI to get them for you... that would be a clever move, if he did that, he does have my admiration. But my read on him is he was very stressed at the point he engaged (I think) in shenanigans, and did something he probably wouldn't normally do.

However, I framed my question/comment badly because it didn't address the issue I'm actually interested in .... the much more interesting question is "can you trust Gleick now?" not "... can you believe him?"

By this, I mean trust in the sense of "would you trust this person to be behind the wheel of the car" not in the sense of lying. As I see it, Gleick did net harm to the movement he claims to represent, and probably actually propped up the admittedly morally corrupt Heartland Institute, possibly even saving them from extinction.

You've probably heard of the survey done by Kahan on climate change polarization.

What he finds is that science literacy has very little explanatory power in terms of climate change concern, and the main variable is political affiliation and group identification. This is an excellent summary from the paper:

For the ordinary individual, the most consequential effect of his beliefs about climate change is likely to be on his relations with his peers18. A hierarchical individualist who expresses anxiety about climate change might well be shunned by his co-workers at an oil refinery in Oklahoma City. A similar fate will probably befall the egalitarian communitarian English professor who reveals to colleagues in Boston that she thinks the scientific consensus on climate change is a hoax. At the same time, neither the beliefs an ordinary person forms about scientific evidence nor any actions he takes—as a consumer, say, or democratic voter—will by itself aggravate or mitigate the dangers of climate change. On his own, he is just not consequential enough to matter19. Given how much the ordinary individual depends on peers for support—material and emotional—and how little impact his beliefs have on the physical environment, he would probably be best off if he formed risk perceptions that minimized any danger of estrangement from his community.

and my take home message:

I know this isn’t going to be popular to say, but it appears that that the tone of the scientists who are trying to communicate to the public their concerns about climate change plays a major factor in the creation and maintenance of a politically-based schism on climate change views.

What I see Gleick doing is pursuing the same old line of "us against them". It is probably very helpful as an activist to draw these sorts of distinction, if what you want is maximizing funding.

But it seems to me this approach is in conflict with resolving the very sorts of problems that Gleick says he is concerned about.

When Bono wanted to get something done about AIDS in Africa, he didn't start out by attacking George Bush (even though he obviously strongly disagreed with Bush's Iraq policy), he came to him and asked for help. Bono depoliticized it and made it possible for disparate groups to work together to address a very difficult problem.

Bill Gates is doing the same thing, with great success, in addressing malarial disease in a bi-partisan fashion.

jules said...

>the much more interesting question is "can you trust Gleick now?" not "... can you believe him?" By this, I mean trust in the sense of "would you trust this person to be behind the wheel of the car" not in the sense of lying.

My experience is that apparently trustworthy people are often surprisingly dangerous drivers. Many a times I've accidentally endured a white knuckle ride due to this miscalculation. ..and why are taxi drivers such dangerous lunatics? Driving is their profession!

James Annan said...

BCL, I think on balance I'm quite comfortable with the fact that my name is not likely to be mentioned in any history of the HI, or vice-versa :-)

However, HI is sure to be mentioned in any account of Peter Gleick's career.

Hank Roberts said...

He was clearly right about where HI was headed - that billboard, and the gradeschool 'education' rollout.

Those who see the lines being drawn sooner and clearer than their peers, and take a stand based on what they see, history has to judge -- and history is hindsight.

It's opaque to those living it.

Gleick may be the climate war's analogy to a "Premature Anti-Fascist" -- only time will tell.

Hank Roberts said...

Weight for the scales: Reporter Pwns John Christy

Carrick said...

Hank: that billboard, the gradeschool 'education' rollout.

The billboard was stupid, just about as dumb as the exploding children.

Also didn't that grade school "roll out" turn out to be overhyped itself? I'd say use the same standard for Gleick that you do for Spencer or (in this case) Christy.

There isn't any magic litmus test that makes it OK when one person does it and wrong when another does it. As to linking HI to Fascists now, come on, about jumping the shark.

You still haven't addressed the reality that Gleick didn't hurt HI with his actions, he helped their funding raising.. You also choose strange people for heroes is all I can say...A strange twisted man that almost nobody else can identify with.

Can you at least understand why what Gleick, an academic, did doesn't exactly resonate with other academics?

Carrick said...

I went back and looked at what Christy actually said in context.

Here's the link.

Quite possibly he's responding in his comments to papers like this one:

Implications of climate change on Sierra Nevada snowpack are assessed using a set of global climate model simulations as input to the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrological model. By the end of the 21st Century, the likelihood of years having very low spring snowpack, aggregated over the Sierra Nevada, increases markedly over historical levels. This reduction is driven by warmer temperatures and is especially pronounced during drier than historical-normal years. Through the sequence of the 21st Century, seasonal temperature rises over the historical average of greater than 2C occur frequently, leading to substantial reductions in spring snowpack. Considering the ensemble of 32 model simulations, years with 25% or less of historical average Sierra snowpack, occur at increasingly higher odds from less than 10% once per decade historically to twice per decade by the mid-21st Century to more than four years per decade by the end of the 21st Century.

So research papers do make claims about snow fall accumulation changing based on models, and Christy wasn't able to find a significant effect and correctly points out that this contradicts these earlier claims.

On a related topic, is it possible to differentiate the writings of a reporter and those of a drunk blogger, and is the distinction between the two meaningful?

EliRabett said...

One of the mistakes people make is that there can only be one approach. What this does is set those with the same goals against each other.

Anonymous said...

The Pacific Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Peter Gleick back to his position as president of the Institute. An independent review conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the Institute has supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute. This independent investigation has further confirmed and the Pacific Institute is satisfied that none of its staff knew of or was involved in any way.

Anonymous said...

Carrick, you didn't read the article about John Christy very carefully. The point was that Christy's results don't go against the climate models (as was claimed), because the climate models almost all predict no statistically significant trend over the periods he studied. Otherwise, I'm sure the data Christy compiled is very nice, and it might even be useful to show that some regional model projections are off in the future, when even more data is available.

Hank Roberts said...

>> by the mid-21st Century ...
>> by the end of the 21st Century.

> Christy wasn't able to find a
> significant effect and [...]
> points out that this contradicts
> these earlier claims.

You've nailed Christy's mistake by posting the quote you use to claim you don't see his mistake.

Steve Bloom said...

Criminy, Carrick, learn to read. In the inimitable phrase of the Stoat, any fule knoe that Christy's paper talked about snowfall trends up through the present, and that abstract pointedly discusses the future. Although probably you're quite right that it's what Christy is reacting to.

Hank, here's a good one for your files on this. It's a nice window into peer review and provides yet more evidence of how Christy is willing to blow up a minor, uncontroversial result into a claimed large-scale refutation of climate science.

Let's not forget also that Christy has very relevant form regarding California climate issues, noting that his interesting but, ahem, unphysical finding that irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley warms rather than cools the local climate motivated a slam-dunking on the front page of Eos.

bigcitylib said...

Gleick is set free!

Steve Bloom said...

Per Romm, PI says no other information about the investigation will be released. Probably for the best.

Carrick said...

Hank and bbickmore,

Yes thank you.

You're both right and I was dead wrong.

Steve Bloom said...

The fact may be correctable, but the mode of thinking remains.

Anonymous said...

"Per Romm, PI says no other information about the investigation will be released. Probably for the best."

A bit frustrating actually.

Now both Appell and Watts are saying that PI told them they will not release the report because it a confidential personnel matter. It is true that there is likely a lot of information that would be unfit for public consumption.


It's still in the public's interest to know about that memo, and who wrote it, so the information gleamed from the investigation regarding its provenance should be released. Perhaps a redacted version version could be a way to see it?

James Annan said...

I'm getting a pretty strong whiff of whitewash. I know that doesn't necessarily mean he was lying...

Anonymous said...


It's much more likely that PI has been upfront and we just need to find a way to get the information we want AND satisfy their need to need to keep certain information confidential.

Another more nefarious option is they don't want people to know from what computers Gleick did his pretexting from. Namely - theirs.

It's in PI's interest to tell the truth at this point because it could become a legal or civil matter where the report could become public. There is no reason to doubt that 1) the investigation was independent and 2) it backs up Gleick's story.

James Annan said...

IMO it's more than a little naive to expect that the PI investigation was truly independent, thorough and unbiased. (Same for the HI investigation, of course.)

Now, if only someone would pretend to be a PI board member with a new email address, and get them to forward a copy of the report... :-)

Anonymous said...

"IMO it's more than a little naive to expect that the PI investigation was truly independent, thorough and unbiased."

Disagree. It's PI's best interest to do a thorough and independent investigation. It is not in their interest to whitewash Gleick considering the circumstances.


Hank Roberts said...

And get back to the real problem PI focuses on -- water:

Hank Roberts said...

And for those who like numbers:

Anonymous said...


Nice to meet someone who can admit being wrong about some minor issue. It's surprisingly uncommon on the Internet.

Carrick said...

bbickmore, thanks, I try to be reasonable. It drives me crazy too when people can't admit to obvious mistakes.

Carrick said...

grypo: Disagree. It's PI's best interest to do a thorough and independent investigation. It is not in their interest to whitewash Gleick considering the circumstances.

It's also apparently not in their best interests to give any details of the independent review. Whatever it really is, to outside appearances the investigation looks like a sham.

Anonymous said...

Here's the independent investigator

Carrick said...

grypo your link quotes PI as saying "The review will not be released because it is a confidential personnel matter."

Apparently phishing for confidential documents and posting them on the web is not a "confidential personal matter" especially when the reason you state for the act has to do with transparency, but the review of that act is confidential and doesn't merit transparency.


Anonymous said...

What this development undoubtedly means is that the Pacific Institute is confident enough in Peter Gleick's story that they aren't afraid of getting sued if they reinstate him after publicly announcing that his story held up to an independent review. I don't think anyone can say much beyond that.

Carrick said...

Barry, I think the general tendency on PI's part was to bring him back in the fold, so IMO the review would have had to be really negative before he would have been permanently removed. Speaking in generality, these "independent reviews" tend to craft their final report in the direction the person funding the study is leaning towards (I've personally seen that principle in action.)

One could also argue that PI didn't release the review due to lawyers advice. "Unnecessary exposure" and all that. That's not saying there's anything particularly adverse in the review, it's just the lawyer's job is to minimize your legal risk, not necessarily to give you the best PR advice.

Anonymous said...


I agree with everything you said, and yet still think my last comment was on target.

Carrick said...

Barry, agreed.

Just adding my two cents... did not mean this to be seen as disagreeing with you.

Martin Vermeer said...

> they aren't afraid of getting sued

Hmm, that doesn't seem to me like the biggest risk here... more that the truth would leak out (leaks being a reality of life) and that it turns out to be different.