1. The soundtrack to this post is “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” by the Electric Light Orchestra. The format will be a vomiting out of points as I think of them, numbered to bring some sort of order to the chaos. I expect to add more after publishing this post. (Update 28 Feb: some new points added.)
2. The title to this post was very nearly The Lying Will Continue Until Trust Improves, being a riff on this catch phrase, but since I do not think most of the people involved are consciously lying – though Gleick is – I decided against. AGW advocates better look out, though, because the widespread perception that some of them might be lying about global warming is going to be reinforced if a significant percentage of them continue to praise lying by Gleick.
3. Likewise the even more widespread perception that many of them might be credulous and deluded about global warming is going to be reinforced if a significant percentage of them continue to be credulous and deluded in public about very weak arguments in favour of the strategy memo being genuine.
Take the “evaluation” by DeSmogBlog that the memo was authentic. I have put scare quotes round “evaluation” because the word suggests it was done an impartial third party, but it is just the same guys as usually write the blog. It goes to a lot of trouble to show that the strategy memo “also uses phrases, language and, in many cases, whole sentences that were taken directly from Heartland’s own material. Only someone who had previous access to all of that material could have prepared the Climate Strategy in its current form.” – without seeming to realise that nothing in that contradicts the assertion that it is a fake.
To show that the reaction from AGW advocates was not always as unmindful of the future credibility of their side, read this blog post, The Cytokine Storm from a site called “lies.com”. The author, John Callender, is a liberal in the US sense and is quite a strong, longstanding and well-known AGW blogger, so doubly opposed to most here but definitely not some random bloke on the internet. His reaction to DeSmog blog’s” evaluation” was,
Having studied the contents of the strategy memo, and the arguments for and against its authenticity, my reaction to DeMelle and Littlemore’s argument was immediate and unequivocal: they’re wrong, and obviously so. They must either be actively lying or passively bullshitting (that is, willfully disregarding the truth to assert a position they favor, without bothering about facts).
4. Let’s jump back a step. My own position is that I think there is a severe and urgent danger to the world concerning global warming – namely the poverty and repression that will result from the measures that power grabbers and sincere crusaders put in to protect us against it. I am also somewhat concerned about global warming.
I think the current mainstream view of anthropogenic global warming is equivalent to a stock market bubble, with fear instead of optimism making it expand. The madness of crowds caused its “price” to become detached from underlying reality. I wish I’d bought shares in Imminent & Dreadful DoomCo. Ltd in 1995. I wish I’d then sold them in 2009. To say that they are massively overpriced, if falling, is not to say that they don’t have some genuine underlying value.
5. This affair matters and the point within that matters most is the disputed memo. There are two sorts of lies concerned, lies about the way the world is and lies as a ruse of war. Gleick having lied as a ruse of war diminishes trust a bit; proof that he has lied about the way the world is will diminish it far more – because lies about way the world is are the sort of lies AGW advocates are suspected of telling.
6. Did you notice? Gleick is already known to have told one lie about the way the world is. He signed his email dump “Heartland Insider”.
7. I agree with everything Megan McArdle said (and quoted from Stephen Mosher) about the reasons to suppose the memo is not genuine. There is one simple, psychologically plausible hypothesis that explains the existence this sloppily worded, unauthored, undated, untraceable-because-scanned memo containing wonderfully quotable lines that put the Heartland Institute in a very bad light, plus chunks of barely altered text from the other documents but scarcely anything else numerical about Heartland – and what there was erroneous, plus flattering mention of Gleick, plus a whiff of paranoia about the hated Koch brothers and Gleick’s particular enemy in Forbes magazine, plus terms like “anti climate” that no actual AGW sceptic would use, plus Gleick’s idiosyncratic punctuation. Gleick wrote it. He phished the rest of the package, saw it would be insufficiently appealing to journalists, and whipped up something that would. Think of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. They weren’t quite enraging enough on their own, so provocateurs added a couple of fake ones too. People do such things.
8. You think he wouldn’t do something so crazy and damaging to his career? Think about what he is already known to have done. And think also about the sad story of Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, who still is a highly regarded historian. He rubbished his rivals’ books on Amazon and praised his own, then, despite having signed the reviews “orlando-birkbeck”, denied with legal threats ever having done so. Then he got his wife to say she’d done it. Then he confessed. People do such things. Well-regarded academics do such things.
9. As well as the simple, psychologically plausible hypothesis that explains everything stated in (7) there are other hypotheses that do explain the nature of the memo but are neither simple nor psychologically plausible: they centre round the idea of the poison pill. Some enemy of Gleick’s, either at Heartland or a elsewhere (but highly involved with the AGW issue), plants a fake but not obviously fake memo with mention of him as a sop to his vanity and which pushes his buttons in other ways and is written in a sly copy of his style. The desired result presumably being that he would release it, be unable to prove it and get sued and/or discredited. Another possibility might be that the memo has accidental rather than deliberate errors and is designed to defame Heartland in exactly the way it did, but X would prefer to pass the risk onto Gleick.
Apart from the implausible necessity of positing two separate individuals willing to carry out a sting (Gleick’s sting against Heartland plus X’s sting against Gleick), all of these scenarios suffer from having the underpants gnomes as management consultants. When concocting these plots who could guess what Gleick might do? The plan involves delivering into Gleick’s hands a physical object that might metaphorically or even literally have your fingerprints all over it. What if he hands the memo over to the cops for testing?
10. Why hasn’t he handed the memo and the envelope over to the cops for testing? Why hasn’t he sued Heartland for having accused him of something significantly worse than what he has confessed to? One factor that makes me believe Heartland is that they are pushing. They hesitated at first, consistent with some frantic phone calls along the lines of “none of you were idiot enough to write this, were you?” and then leapt in with open accusations and a call to the FBI. They do not seem scared of what the police might uncover. Gleick does.
11. Chris Cooper made me smile in his comments to my earlier post about the crowdsourcing exercise. He said, “like the dozens of commenters on Anthony Watts’s post, I can’t wait to see the results, and I can’t wait for someone else to do the work.” Hampered by ignorance of any computer related procedure I do not use daily, I did get as far as launching the program. But I couldn’t get it to save. So having laboriously loaded up several samples of my own writing in order to train the program, I lost them all when I closed the computer. I might try again later. The first person to get a result was Shaun Otto, who claimed – happily given his opinions – that the most likely author was Joe Bast of the Heartland Institute. Here is a link to his Huffington Post blog post on the subject. (He also posted on his own blog, but this has more comments.) Greg Laden’s was another similar result from an AGW advocate.
I was (honest, guv!) working out an objection for myself even before Sam Duncan said, “I don’t think an automated analysis coming up with Bast as the likely author of the whole thing really tells us anything. Almost from the start the document has appeared to be genuine Heartland stuff interspersed with incriminating fakery. It’s like scrawling “I think our masters in Moscow should see this – Harold W.” over the minutes of a 1970s Labour Party conference: an egregious slur, but 99.9% genuine.”
I have a question about this. If I were to select out all the parts of the strategy memo that seem to me most like Gleick’s style and (assuming I can get it to work) put them into the program, has my act of selection for “being like Gleick” begged the question?
(Update 28 Feb: In the last paragraph of this post at the Heartland Institute “Fakegate” site, Joe Bast discusses this and points out where more examples of his and other HI staff members’ writings can be found. He does not seem to fear the results. There is also a link to a copy of the strategy memo with text that is originates from the other documents left with a white background and new text written by the memo’s author highlighted in yellow. Note that white does not mean “genuine, unaltered copy”, it means “wording obviously taken from another document”. In the case of the figure about the Koch donation the white text is deliberately or accidentally wrong. )
12. It was claimed by different groups that (depending on allegiance) either Gleick’s admission or Joe Bast’s statement saying the strategy memo was a fake were subtly worded by sneaky legal brains so as to allow for them to conceal guilt without literally lying. I was unconvinced by either argument. Outside the more childish law dramas this just gets you laughed at. Look at the scorn heaped on Gordon Brown’s attempt to claim that he had actually said, “no more Tory boom and bust”. As if that would improve his credibility! I do not believe this sort of quibbling succeeds in law either – people sometimes do get off on technicalities but not that sort of technicality.
I’m tired and it just started being tomorrow, so that’s me done for now.
Back again – and up too late at night again. This was not what I intended to write. I started off with arguments, as I intended, but then I got distracted into trying to enter into Gleick’s feelings. I then took a look at the vivid piece of prose I had produced and belatedly took the oft quoted advice to authors to “kill your darlings.” Apologies Mr Callender. Anyway, here is what I have left.
13. We observe that the fake memo contains several errors that reveal it as a fake. These errors were sufficiently obvious that they were spotted within days.
A key difference between the theory that Gleick is the author of the fake memo and that a conspirator is the author is that Gleick composes the memo in the grip of passionate emotion but the conspirator acts in cold blood and at leisure. The errors that we see are more likely to have been made by a man under stress.
14. Why do I say Gleick was under stress? Well, wouldn’t you be if after thirty years of self-conscious virtue you were irrevocably engaged in a scam that is quite possibly going to put you in jail? Surely something specific must have triggered this drastic break with his life as lived so far. The trigger could have been – I think most likely was – the flamewar between Gleick and James Taylor. Or, who knows, a blazing row at work or home.
15. The suprising prominence given to Gleick’s name and to Forbes Magazine features in both hypotheses. It is a major factor that narrows it down to those two. Under the hypothesis of Gleick as forger, I assume the way his own grievances loomed huge in his mind betrayed him. It seemed not only safe but inevitable that he must mention his own role in the battle. For comparison, it is a standing joke that someone involved in a bitter divorce can’t seem to stay away from the subject.
16. At first sight it looks as though the grievance-vindicating tone of the paragraph about “Expanded climate communications” might equally well be explained by the devilishly accurate aim of a conspirator at stoking Gleick’s frustrations. Not only is Gleick meant to be flattered by the reference to him and happy to see it spread far and wide, he is meant to see the references to him being finally “allowed” to speak and to Heartland’s desire to “keep opposing voices out” and to think, “Hah! I knew it all along – they were indeed trying to prevent this debate”, and then, crucially, to want to tell the world how this happened so that he would rashly publicise the document and duly be denounced as a faker.
17. But I think this picture is projecting what we do know now about Gleick’s state of mind back into the past, to a time when we didn’t know it. The main reason we think Gleick felt a particular frustration about hostile forces seeking to “prevent this debate” is that he told us so, in his admission that he went phishing. It would have taken something close to telepathy to have guessed beforehand that he felt hard done by on those specific grounds and craft a message designed to pander to that.
A simpler explanation is that the frustration about debate being prevented expressed in his admission and the similar frustration about opposing voices being kept out that was bubbling in that paragraph of the memo have the same origin, both being written by the same frustrated man.