Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keeping our cool while the planet warms

Like many out there, I was saddened to hear about the role of Peter Gleick, a co-signatory on a recent op-ed about climate science, in the leak of the Heartland Institute e-mails.

I've worried for the past two years that an incident like this might happen. The segment of the climate science community that is active in outreach is subject to incredibly angry and personal attacks, starting but certainly not ending with the hacking of e-mails at the University of East Anglia. I'm certainly not that famous or public a figure, and even I often get e-mail and comments here on Maribo that make me wonder if I should have police protection. Perhaps it was inevitable that someone in the climate science community would, in a fit of frustration, respond to critics in-kind with similarly dirty tactics. We are human, after all. You can certainly understand why someone who's been unfairly attacked for years would be driven to fight fire with fire.

This is why I've been speaking and writing again and again and again about the importance, and the challenge, of maintaining perspective and humility when discussing climate change. At the risk of irritating regular readers by repeating this passage yet again, here is the conclusion from the recent BAMS paper about climate change and belief:

Reforming public communication about anthropogenic climate change will require humility on the part of scientists and educators. Climate scientists, for whom any inherent doubts about the possible extent of human influence on the climate were overcome by years of training in physics and chemistry of the climate system, need to accept that there are rational cultural, religious, and historical reasons why the public may fail to believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, let alone that it warrants a policy response.

The moderator of Saturday's jam-packed AAAS plenary discussion on science communication repeated the meme that scientists are in a "street fight". That may be true. But as I wrote last month, if climate discourse is a street fight, then we need to do more should not just* fight back with the same dirty tactics. If you want to win a fight, you need to be able to take a punch.

There is no doubt that planet is warming. The question is can we keep our cool long enough to find a solution?

* original language may been misleading


Michael Tobis said...

Can we win by sending one of our most visible guys out as a marginally competent hacker? No, that's probably not a good play.

But the ethics aren't as clear as you and so many people are claiming, in my opinion.

Taking the high road, observing scientific ethics, etc., is what you do in rational discourse. This is not rational discourse. This is corruption and violence disguised as rational discourse. Contention within science has long since stopped being the least bit relevant.

It's like playing chess against a lunatic with a pistol. You smugly and legally play the devastating bishop to queen's knight four, check and mate in two, whereupon he shoots you.

Who won that match?

Kip Hansen said...

Dear Professor Donner,

Peter Gleick's actions re: Heartland follow a pattern familiar to me in my past-professional life as an ethics expert studying personal and organizational ethics in cultic religious groups.

Over and over one sees in this context groups that which set incredibly high standards of personal and professional moral behavior and then throw all those standards out the window when it comes to 'protecting our group from its enemies'. These cults not only throw the standards out, they demand in many cases outright illegal behavior from their members ostensibly to 'protect the group'.

This is what I believe has happened to Peter Gleick. He has suffered a moral disconnect between his actions in his personal life and his actions to protect his group -- in his case, the IPCC-style CAGW insider climate scientists and their product [catastrophe predicting climate science].

Al Gore and Bill Nye ('The Science Guy') have suffered moments (in Gore's case, possibly decades) of similar behavior - most recently when Gore and Nye admittedly outright faked a science experiment 'showing' the effect of CO2 on the warming of the atmosphere, in a portion aimed at children, for Al Gore's 24 Hours of Climate Reality internet extravaganza.

There are, of course, similarly affected individuals on other other side in 'The Climate Wars'.

Beth Chalecki said...


Interesting post, thought I have to disagree with the poster who argued that Peter had a "moral disconnect". Rather, I think he had a moment of temporary insanity (not the same thing). I worked with Peter for 5 years at the Pacific Institute, and he is a very moral, committed individual. What likely sent him over the edge was the plan from Heartland to dissuade teachers from teaching science.

Heartland's plan has ramifications well beyond climate change and long-term human effects on the environment. This is an attempt to undermine the scientific method as a way of gaining knowledge! The "theory" of climate change is not some half-baked idea; rather, a theory in scientific method is a repeatedly-demonstrated hypothesis, not unlike the theory of gravity. Those who would tear down the AGW theory must replace it with an alternative theory that fits the facts better, and they do not have one, as was pointed out repeatedly in Vancouver.

The scientific method allows any individual to do his or her own questioning, experimentation, and hypothesis formation, and it encourages the questioning of authority. By dissuading teachers from teaching science, the Heartland Institute is attempting to reverse all the intellectual progress gained in the Enlightenment and re-institute an acolyte-like level of devotion to accepted wisdom -- in this case, that everything is fine with the climate and fossil fuel burning has no effect.

I think Peter acted incorrectly in this case, but this doesn't solve the "street fight" problem.


P.S. A recent article in Grist.org argues that no amount of scientific evidence will convince climate deniers because they do no understand and believe in science. The rest of us will have to wait until they die off! Maybe that is where we are headed?

susan said...

The "moderator", from Wikipedia:

Nina Vsevolod Fedoroff (born 1942) is an American professor known for her research in life sciences and biotechnology. She is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an Evan Pugh Professor of Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute.

Professor Fedoroff is currently the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an elected position she will hold through 2012.[1] She received in 2006 the National Medal of Science in the field of Biological Sciences, the highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research in the United States.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she graduated summa cum laude in 1966 from Syracuse University with a dual major in biology and chemistry.[2] She received her PhD in 1972 from The Rockefeller University. Fedoroff has been honored with the Howard Taylor Ricketts Award from University of Chicago in 1990. In 1997 Fedoroff received the John P. McGovern Science and Society Medal from Sigma Xi. Fedoroff arrived at Penn State in 1995 and founded and directed the organization now known as the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. In 2002, she was appointed an Evan Pugh professor, the university's highest academic honor. She currently holds the Verne M. Willaman chair of Life Sciences.

President George W. Bush appointed Fedoroff to the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, in 2001. The foundation administers the science awards, established by Congress in 1959. She was awarded in 2003 Syracuse University's George Arents Pioneer medal. Dr. Fedoroff was Science and Technology Adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2010.

Kip Hansen said...

Beth Chalecki --

Call it what you will -- 'temporary insanity' is a bit strong for me, and I thought 'moral disconnect' a bit kinder and more to the point --> he took leave of his usual moral sense motivated apparently by the need to 'defend his group' or to 'defeat his enemy'.

Yours suggesting 'What likely sent him over the edge was the plan from Heartland to dissuade teachers from teaching science' whiuh is, of course, based on the obviously faked 'policy statement'. Maybe Peter really did believe the document was true. I have trouble believing that anyone connected to NCSE would worry about some crackpots thinking they could prevent 'the teaching of science', the idea is too absurd.

David Wojick, the educator hired to design curriculum by Heartland, commented 4 days ago in HuffPo

‘It is true that DOE has not funded me to do climate research, but they have funded me to do science education research. Under a DOE SBIR grant my team of teachers developed a model of the concept structure of K-16 science education. The result for DOE was a search algorithm that sees the grade level of science education writing. The prototype is running on http://www.scienceeducation.gov. They also fund me to study the cognitive structure of science itself, in order to improve their science communication database systems.

My expertise in the climate science debate comes from 20 years of study. My Ph.D. is in the philosophy of science, especially the logic of complex issues. My funding comes from free lance writing and policy analysis. While climate scientists study climate, I study their reasoning.

These two research thrusts came together when I noticed that almost all of the Web-based educational resources on climate change merely parrot the company line about dangerous human induced warming. There is very little on the scientific debate, which I see as one of the great scientific debates in history. So I have set out to fill this void. The debate is now so widespread that any science teacher who cannot demonstrate knowledge of it will quickly lose credibility. But the grand challenge is that scientific controversy is not typically taught in K-12, even though it is the heart of the scientific frontier. This is the fun part.’

original here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/DavidWojick/heartland-institute-leak_b_1282906_135941145.html

In his own words, at least, he seems to agree with you.

Simon Donner said...

Lots of different ideas here. I'm trying to encourage people to stop seeing all this in binary terms. One can criticize the perpetrator of a crime or misdeed or lapse in judgement - I'm not sure what to label this, I'm no expert on the legal side - without absolving the victim of all wrongdoing. Guilty people sometimes are not convicted because the evidence was not obtained in a legal or ethical matter. At least, that's what happens on Law and Order.

In that vein, Michael, I'm advocating that scientists rely their strengths - method, analysis, data, ethics. In your analogy, if you gave the chess player a pistol, they might shoot themselves in a foot. Brains over brawn, perhaps.

Kip, I appreciate your argument, but David Wojick's reasoning is flawed. It simply does not represent the reality of science on the subject. He states "There is very little on the scientific debate, which I see as one of the great scientific debates in history". If he were objectively reviewing the published scientific literature, he would not find much of a debate, lest the question were the finer details of the issue.

Simon Donner said...


I don't know what you were getting at by including the bio of the moderator. I will correct this for the record, though. Nina Fedoroff, the head of AAAS, was not the moderator of the session I mentioned. The moderator who quoted Ben Santer's line about being in a "street fight" was former journalist Frank Sesno, who is now a professor at GWU.

Kip Hansen said...

Didn't mean to imply that Wojick was right or wrong -- only to input what he says he intends with the curriculum idea. This only to counter what the 'fake document' said (which was patently obviously untrue) and what others have assumed or made up from their own prejudices.

Agree or disagree with him to your hearts content, but at least now you know what he really thinks about it, which is the point of discussion.

Steve L said...

Kip, I haven't read the "patently obviously untrue" fake document. Have you? Please provide a link to where this is most comprehensively demonstrated. Given Heartland's disregard for truth/openness/honesty in the past, all the excerpts from it seem entirely unsurprising to me. I haven't read the document because Heartland claimed it to be fake. Did they prove it?

Kip Hansen said...

Steve L:

The fake strategy document is available for viewing at:


You can do your own comparison of the real HI docs, which are linked at http://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-insider-exposes-institute-s-budget-and-strategy

I'm not exactly sure how one would go about 'proving' some scan of an unattributed document was a forgery -- but you decide for yourself. Peter Gleick says he received it 'in the mail' anonymously. Time will tell -- you can play CSI with it in the meantime.

Rattus Norvegicus said...


I suggest you look at some of the earlier attempts at a curriculum which Heartland produced. They are quite damning.