I may be obsessed with this but the world is not. If I knew how to do one of those word cloud things for UK headlines over the past week or so, I think it would look like this:
Syria Ryan Giggs Euro Horsegate Olympic tube strike PC Rathband climate scientist controversy Leveson
Although in truth the font for “climate scientist controversy” would be too small to see. Partisans on both sides make the distinction I referred to earlier between lies about the way world is and lies as a ruse of war, so to us it matters whether the disputed document is proved to be fake or not, but all most people will remember in six months’ time is that there was some scandal or another. If they remember that much.
That said, whichever narrative wins among those who are interested does filter through to the general public eventually, if only as a vague preconception as to whether a controversy about a climate scientist will feature the scientist as villain or hero. I do not want either result but so it goes. Most human beings choose to be rationally ignorant about matters that do not immediately affect them.
So, on the understanding that whichever narrative wins among the partisans will be simplified almost to nothing, and that most people are not indifferent to truth, which narrative should those sincerely convinced that anthropogenic global warming is a threat want to be true?
So far, this has been decided solely on the basis of team loyalty. I am sure examples of blind loyalty can be seen on both sides but in this post I only wish to look at it from the side of those who believe in a serious danger from AGW. The lengths to which a wish to defend Gleick have been taken by some are illustrated by a post by Dr Greg Laden, who posts at a site called scienceblogs.com and clearly values his identity as a science blogger and all round rational person. He first put forward a fiendish and elaborate conspiracy theory and then pulled back and claimed it was all a joke when he saw some members of his own side were taking it seriously. Aside from the sheer lameness of his passive-aggressive “can’t you guys take a joke” coda, there is an unintentional parallel here to the way that Gleick, by his continued silence, leaves his own side to overreach in their efforts to defend him.
If Gleick is telling the truth, I don’t think it is good for their side at all.
There are two main scenarios.
Scenario (1) This is a glimpse into the way the happy world of climate science works all the time. First someone sends an anonymous and vague document to Gleick. Whether it is sting or genuine leak does not matter to this argument. An outsider might think a person sending anonymous tittle-tattle to the Chair of a Task Force on Scientific Ethics would be on a hiding to nothing, but X knows better. That correct expectation tells us something bad about the general culture. Then, we are told, Gleick’s idea of what constitutes a good means of verifying the document is to set up a fake email address and impersonate someone. Then in his turn he sends it out anonymously, lying to his own side in the process by representing himself as “Heartland Insider”. [Added later, prompted by this comment from “Fluffy”: he also by his own account lied to his own side by mixing up the anonymous tittle tattle with real, if stolen, documents and presenting them as of equal status.]
He does all this under no particular pressure. It just seems like a good idea. That tells us something yet worse about the culture. And Heartland? Who cares? The harm done to the belief in climate science is not undone by harm also being done to some advocacy group.
Scenario (2) One man, seething with wounded pride, goes off the rails in an effort to get personal vengeance. Peter Gleick goes phishing to get dirt on his enemies, and when the dirt he gets isn’t dirty enough he makes some more up. His actions from then on are the same as in the first scenario but the fact that they are done under strong emotion makes it a personal tragedy rather than a reflection on the general standard of ethics in climate science. Embarrassing, but containable.