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Schrödinger’s memo

Do you ever find the structure of a situation in the news fascinating in its own right, as you would the plot of a novel, almost irrespective of how it pans out in the real world?

Some documents were tricked or leaked out of an anti global warming thinktank, the Heartland Institute. Most of these documents have been admitted to be genuine, and while opinions differ as to how shocking they are, they were certainly not stuff that the Heartland Institute had wished to share with the world. So far the tables are turned on the the Climategate affair.

Only…

The juiciest document, the one that had the really damning quotes (it spoke of “dissuading teachers from teaching science”) is different from all the others. Megan McArdle, not herself in the sceptic camp, says it is looking faker by the minute.

If it does turn out that it is a fake, then the tables are turned on the table turners. But… but… why would anyone be so daft? Having pulled off the trick, got the goods, why put your gains at risk for such a trivial advantage as that of providing a quotable summary?

One of the reasons for the veracity of this particular document being in doubt is that it is sloppy. It contains errors of fact and is written in an unprofessional style. Still, that happens sometimes. “Organisation Contains Sloppy Writer” is not exactly a headline to make them hold the front page. Maybe the sloppiness is a reason to suppose it genuine. But let us run with it being fake for a while – was the faker in a hurry for some reason? It reminds me (and a lot of people) of the Rathergate memos. What a daft error it was to publish them in the default Microsoft Word font of 2004 when they were meant to have originated in the 1970s. I thought then and still think now that they were a first draft released too soon. Could something similar have happened here?

The Guardian pulls in its horns a little. Its story now carries a rather grudging little update saying that the Heartland Institute now claims one document is a fake. The Guardian does not make it as clear as it ought in my opinion that the doubtful document is the very one that had all the good quotes.

At this point, like all good detective stories, a whole new sub plot bubbles up. The climate sceptic blogs have a suspect and name him with what seems to me ridiculous confidence given that the stated evidence against him is vague; mostly a matter of similarities of style. Now who’s risking all they have gained for a trivial advantage? If their suspect turns out to be wrongly accused, the story, which they had snatched back and made into one about fakers rather than leakers, will be forfeit again.

And so it goes – and so it stalls, last time I looked. The person named has not responded to emails; he appears to be offline. But why shouldn’t he be offline? Do you spend your Saturdays checking your email to see if you have been accused of any career-ending shenanigans in the last few hours? Meanwhile other strange portents are seen; open letters are published then retracted and both sides go about with an air of knowing more than they are letting on.

Agatha Christie would put in the second murder about now.

UPDATE, 21 FEBRUARY:

The second body duly falls.

That “person named” to whom I alluded so delicately was Peter Gleick. He has now admitted obtaining the documents by deception. I note that the very thing that led to his name being mentioned as a suspect were similarities of writing style between Gleick’s published writing and the “different” email. Nonetheless he claims that he did not alter any of the emails he obtained. As to that, here is a page listing 100 interjections of the sort that express emotion without actually pinning one down to having said anything. Choose as appropriate. I quite like “hmm” and “ahem” myself, but my favourite must be “uh-huh” (affirmation) differing by only a breath from “uh-uh” (negation).

Hat tip to Douglas2 in the comments.

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19 comments to Schrödinger’s memo

  • But why shouldn’t he be offline? Do you spend your Saturdays…

    Actually, I think we have in the last couple of years reached the point where it has become quite normal to be answering e-mail while in the middle of doing the shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

    There are still some people who probably don’t do this though, so his non-replies are not *that* unreasonable.

  • Hmm

    At long long last, if this doc is fake (which looks most likely) then it’s reaching towards the point of delusion-crumble for the hard-core AGW crowd.

    There have been several body blows to AGW recently…

    …Now this attempted “Trial by Media” of the Heartland Institute. I would love to say I’m unbiased – but sadly Natalie – in this I’m going to pull up the comfy seat and crack open a bottle or twelve to watch the fun. The AGW crowd has literally Trillions of Dollars/Pounds/Euros/etc and vast power to lose if it cannot stop the basic truths being brought into the light by the “Skeptics”. With so much to lose – the AGW’ers will not stop at anything in order to keep the gravy train running. That is what makes this so guessibly faked. They continue to fire broadsides of self destructing petards as their “good” ship – the lumbering zombiehulk the “SS Political-Indoctrination” sinks noisily under the (fantastically higher due to AGW) waves.

    It might make me a sick sad individual, but in their case I would happily stand by and watch as the self-appointed-overlords-of-Gaia-in all their uber-pompous-grandiosity get dragged slowly under, (along with all their braindead enablers) all the while publicly wailing and flailing blindly about with their special brand of bitchiness.

    I suppose I shouldn’t laugh – but- Bwahahahahaha!
    Sorry – its just so … Bwahahahahaha! Truly the AGW story outdoes fiction every time!

    You’ve read the book, you’ve seen the film, you’ve been force fed the bull… now watch it hit the fan!

    Sorry, can’t help myself…
    Bwahahahaha! 😀

    you know even if the doc was true and 10 times worse it still will hurt the AGW’s because of how imperially clothed AGW can now be seen to be… their actions draw more and more attention to their lack of clothing…

    ..and yes, I think I’ll have some extra ice in my drink 🙂

  • Douglas2

    Richard Black of the BBC replied to a complainant about his article based upon the fake memo:
    “The one Heartland claims to be a fake has its contents duplicated in the other seven. I have given them an opportunity to deny explicitly that some of the contents are real, and they have not done so – ergo, they are real.”

    In its article, the Sydney Morning Herald responded to criticism that it had not sought comment from heartland by saying
    “In fact the Herald sought comment from the Heartland Institute about the content and veracity of the documents yesterday, eight hours before the newspaper’s deadline, and received no comment. Written questions sent to all 14 of the Heartland board members at 12.30pm yesterday are also yet to receive a response from the organisation.”
    Assuming that they are using post-meridian to mean post meridian, that means a suitable time for response to an email arriving at 0030 Washington DC time or 0130 AM Chicago time is by 0830 or 0930 respectively.

  • PapayaSF

    I just figured that the Rathergate documents were created by someone with no knowledge of graphic design or the history of typography. There were many other oddities about the text, too.

    In this case, the evidence points to a lone wolf doing a piss-poor job. He’s not a good writer, and doesn’t have an ear for reproducing the style of prose a non-profit would crank out. As with Rathergate, a big or better-funded operation would have created a much better fake.

    Also, note that Slashdotter eldavojohn was perhaps the first to cast suspicion on that document.(Link)

  • At this stage in the climategate leak — less than a week after the first release — I and many other sceptics were still assuming that the emails were partly or wholly fake. It took quite a while for it to sink in, through lack of denials, that the whole thing, “hide the decline” and all, really was genuine.

    It’s a bit cheap, given that there’s no evidence or even likelihood, that actual climate scientists are responsible for this hoax, to say that jumping to very firm conclusions on very little evidence, and indeed fraudulently improving the evidence that doesn’t quite show what you want it to, are characteristic of one side of this debate rather than the other. But there is a pattern here, at least in the political realm, of sceptics being, well, sceptical, and the warmists not.

  • Jack Savage

    Hah, even if he spends his weekend away from his email, his telephone must have been ringing off the hook with his friends telling him he is in the frame!
    I also think it is crazy to finger someone as a faker with so little evidence. My suspicion is that there is more evidence than we are being told about. If not, the “speculators” are making a very big mistake.
    Hilariously, as a further twist, it now looks like a pompous “open letter” written to the Heartland Institute and signed by various climate worthies was produced not by them but for them by a PR outfit, the “Union of Concerned Scientists”.
    As you say…it is a great “story” and it keeps getting better.

  • Gareth

    was the faker in a hurry for some reason?

    An idea: The fake document could have been created by someone at Heartland because they weren’t completely sure that the person requesting them but asking for them to be sent to an unfamiliar email address, was who they said they were.

  • Stonyground

    I don’t think that the suspect in this case is being proposed with anything like confidence on the sceptic blogs. Most seem to be rather sceptical, pointing out that the person in question is a much better writer than whoever wrote this document.

  • mdc

    Although it will be played as equivalent, it really isn’t. Heartland Institute is just some political pressure group and the memos don’t seem to cast doubt any kind of scientific claim, just the motives of lobbyists (which perhaps were already easy to guess?).

    HadCRU leaks on the other hand cast doubt on the reliability of vital scientific evidence for the AGW case.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    At this point, like all good detective stories, a whole new sub plot bubbles up. The climate sceptic blogs have a suspect and name him with what seems to me ridiculous confidence given that the stated evidence against him is vague; mostly a matter of similarities of style. Now who’s risking all they have gained for a trivial advantage? If their suspect turns out to be wrongly accused, the story, which they had snatched back and made into one about fakers rather than leakers, will be forfeit again.

    Not to be too cynical, but the end game in Internet disputes appears to be pointing at the other side and crying foul; permanent motes and beams, so to speak. So the accusations are the end products for both sides, proof be damned.

  • Sam Duncan

    Indeed, mdc. If we dismiss the absurd stuff in the dubious last-minute document about getting teachers to stop teaching science, the shock-horror bit seems to be that people who disagree with the AGW hypothesis gave money to an organisation which makes the case against it. Gosh. Well I never. Who saw that coming?

    Oh, but they gave a lot of money. Yeah, well if I were a warmist, I’d keep quiet about how much this shadowy Anonymous Donor (it’s – gasp! – the Koch brothers, you know…) donated to the Heartland Institute. $4m, the biggest annual donation, is pocket change to environmental “charities” like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, let alone official bodies like the IPCC.

    (I saw a comparison chart the other day, but can’t for the life of me remember where. If anyone knows the one I’m talking about, a link would be handy here…)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Here’s an example of the persecution complex now being encouraged by some on the alarmist end of the AGW side. (Link)

  • “dissuading teachers from teaching science” doesn’t sound like something a skeptic would say. It sounds like what an alarmist would think a skeptic would say.

    Skeptics think that climate science isn’t science. They don’t see themselves as opposed to science.

  • Hmm

    There is one thing about the structure of this news item that is fascinating in relation to the idea of news in that the whole AGW fraud (especially this attempt at damaging the “Skeptics” ) and it is how entirely the MSM who invested wholeheartedly in the propaganda of AGW is now having to make decisions about what to do now… Some are already going into all out lying mode while others are starting to side with the “Skeptics”.

    It would be nice to think that there were still some in the MSM who aren’t mere useful fools; it will be interesting to watch who is doing what the “heartland” narrative.

  • Douglas2

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/peter-gleick-admits-to-deception-in-obtaining-heartland-climate-files/

    The headline is in the URL, so I suppose no further comment is necessary except to keep the filter happy that I am a real person.

    He says that Schrödinger’s memo came to him in an anonymous email.

    At this point I’m wondering if taking an anonymous defamatory email and passing it on anonymously still counts as slander on the part of the passer-on. I guess we’ll see.

  • I recommend this comment by McKitrick on Gleick.

    And here is an answer to the question: why did Gleick confess? I.e. as much as he did confess. He has not confessed to actual fakery, merely to enthusiastic gullibility.

    I also like another derisive comment I came across on the same thread, put in the mouths of the CAGW-ists by one hostile to them:

    “If you stop telling the truth about us, we’ll stop lying about you.”

    The CAGW-ists are now into the moral equivalence phase, i.e. they are losing. “You’re as bad as us”, blah blah.

    No, you’re bad. Your skeptics critics have exposed and continue to expose you lies. They are good.

  • “Why did he confess?” has been the question that has nagged at me all day. When I first saw Stephen Mosher’s deductions I thought that he made an excellent case – but you can’t nail someone on brackets and commas. I myself have a good eye for writing style, and have got a lot of childish pleasure from successfully guessing the identity of various pseudonymous commenters and writers, but the amount of text in the fake document just wasn’t enough to be sure. I thought that in all probability Gleick had done it but that if he kept his nerve and his silence he would get away with it.

    But I also thought, as I hinted in the post, that there was something in the air that suggested that both sides knew more than they were saying. My own guess was (and to some extent still is) that the world of competing think tanks doing battle over AGW is a small one and someone somewhere must have have gossiped or boasted. So the HI knew damn well it was Gleick.

    The comment from wws you quote, Brian, is extremely persuasive in suggesting that the HI had another avenue to pursue in the computer properties of the document (going further than what Megan McArdle had already deduced). It seems likely that the HI had enough hard info to convince Gleick himself that they had him by the extremities.

    Note that despite my earlier caution, I have now slipped into talking as if it were already proven that he did fake the strategy document. It is not proven but I am just not in any serious doubt any more. For one thing, all the stuff in the strategy document is a neat (albeit slanted) summary of material in the other genuine documents. If it were really created earlier and posted to Gleick as he claimed, you’d expect irrelevancies in both directions. Nah. On Mosher-like grounds I say with confidence it just feels wrong. It was written after them and intended to package them.

  • In the comment I made earlier I said, “all the stuff in the strategy document is a neat (albeit slanted) summary of material in the other genuine documents.”

    Actually, that’s wrong. There is material in the strategy document that is not in the rest – but most of it points to Gleick’s guilt. A prime example is the mention of Gleick! Another example is the error about the money from the Koch brothers, who are hate figures to the left.

    I would have done better to say that the strategy document seems to have picked up on the topics of the other documents in a suspiciously systematic fashion. It reads like someone went through the pile and put in a line from document A here, a figure from document B here. That is exactly what I think happened.

  • Sam Duncan

    This isn’t the chart I was thinking of, but it’ll do.