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The Gleick Earworm

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 of 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.

16 comments to The Gleick Earworm

  • Alsadius

    Re #11 – I think if you want to avoid(justified) accusations of cherry-picking, you can start by deleting just the quotes that are verbatim copies of things found in the other documents. See how that goes, then consider removing paraphrases. Don’t just pick a few sentences that seem Gleickish, because that’ll be way too easy to criticize, and it’ll prove nothing.

  • Sam Duncan

    Indeed, Alsadius. But as I said, I’m not sure there would be enough left over to give a meaningful result. The memo is short enough as it is, even before you start eliminating bits. We could be talking about just a handful of sentences, or even partial sentences, added by the faker.

    Two of the sceptics’ main beefs with the alarmists are their lack of understanding of the unshakeable computing principle of “garbage in, garbage out”, and their blithe acceptance of ludicrously small samples in statistical analyses. Let’s not fall into the same traps.

    #9 crossed my mind too. As did the implausibility of it.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    The Honourable “Flying Phil” Gaglardi of British Columbia, c. 1970: “If I’m lying, it’s only because I’m telling the truth.”

    Requisite Wiki link


  • Frank S

    Fine and interesting post. You got a good brain there! Wish I had one half as good. Anyways, my brain assures me there is no substantial case for alarm about AGW, and I hope that might help you be more serene about that topic and thereby release some of your spirit for other things. A recent lecture and a recent book add substance to my assertion, and both are very readable.

    Lecture: http://www.bishop-hill.net/storage/RSL-HouseOfCommons-2012.pdf
    Book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dont-Sell-Your-Harold-Ambler/dp/0615569048/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330337387&sr=1-1

  • Reminds me of watching Cars with my son when Mater says “If I’m lying, I’m crying”

  • Part of the issue is that DeSmogBlog contributors, or at the very least one of them, demonstrably don’t understand the issues about which they write, and are therefore unable to draw rational conclusions.

    I refer you to a posting by Chris Mooney(Link) of that parish (and my response is here(Link)), in which he expresses bemused puzzlement over what he dubs the “sophisticates effect” – “a relationship between more knowledge on the one hand, and climate science skepticism on the other, among conservatives:”

    Referring to a Yale study he acknowledges “For citizens as a whole, more literacy and numeracy were correlated with somewhat more, rather than somewhat less, dismissal of the risk of global warming.”

    He then goes on to say
    “In my experience, climate skeptics are nothing if not confident in their ability to challenge the science of climate change—and even to competently recalculate (and scientifically and mathematically refute) various published results. It’s funny how this high-level intellectual firepower is always used in service of debunking—rather than affirming or improving—mainstream science. But the fact is, if you go to blogs like WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit, you certainly don’t find scientific and mathematical illiterates doubting climate change. Rather, you find scientific and mathematical sophisticates itching to blow holes in each new study.”

    What Mr Mooney clearly doesn’t appreciate that setting out with the intention of ‘affirming’ “mainstream science” is about as unscientific as you can get. The thought of blowing holes in a study is what should be getting scientists out of bed every day.

    He can’t evaluate the arguments about science because he clearly has no understanding of the philosophy which underpins, or should underpin, all scientific endeavour.

    That you can’t debunk something which isn’t bunk to start with goes straight past him.

    This is the standard of scientific understanding demonstrated on one of the leading warmist advocacy sites.

  • 1. Who, or what is the Heartland Institute? Does it matter? I know I don’t get my opinions from them. Does anyone? When it comes to the science (but not the economics) I get my opinions from Bishop Hill and Michael Jennings.

    2. I see some alarmists are trying to divert the debate into a debate on transparency in funding. I am not sure this is a smart idea. At the root of this is the idea that people only hold the opinions they hold because they are paid to hold them. True; and as true of alarmists as it is of sceptics. The only difference is that sceptics don’t get paid as much and so – by the alarmists’ own logic – are more trustworthy.

    3. The soundtrack to this comment is “Gudbye T’ Jane”. But that’s only because I’ve been listening to a bit too much Slade recently.

  • It’s been scientifically proven that isn’t actually possible to listen to too much Slade, Patrick.

  • Thanks for linking to my post at lies.com. I really enjoyed your post, and agree with most of what you say here. I offer one small correction, and one question:

    You write:

    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.

    I’m admittedly a liberal in the US sense, and I believe strongly in AGW and have been blogging to that effect for a while. But I don’t think “well-known” is accurate. I created lies.com a fairly long time ago (aeons in blog years), but I don’t think I’m especially well-known among the high-profile AGW people. I’m not a scientist, or a journalist. I really am just “some random bloke on the internet” (which is a cool phrase, and if I had a .sig file I would just have added it to it).

    I don’t think I’m engaging in false modesty here. I’m as obsessed with my own stature in the online world as the next blogger, and as prone to overstating my own importance. I just don’t think your characterization of me as a “well-known AGW blogger” is actually true. Nobody who is anybody in the AGW bloggy community talks about me or links to me, from which I feel pretty safe in assuming that they don’t actually read me. Well, you linked to me, now. Which (again) I appreciate. But I’m not sure that’s enough to make your characterization true.

    So, as I said, it’s just a small correction, but I wanted to get that out there.

    My question concerns your assertion of implausibility about the “honeypot” scenario alluded to in item #9. Obviously, I’m obsessed with this idea lately, and it isn’t lost on me that my obsession is based in part on my desire to find an explanation that shifts some of the blame for the current situation off Peter Gleick and onto a Heartland-connected trickster, so I can lessen the cognitive dissonance I’m going through at seeing a (former) leading light of the AGW community revealed as an unprincipled and untrustworthy deceiver.

    I’m not trying to argue you out of your belief that the Gleick-as-forger explanation is more credible. I think it probably is more likely to be the correct explanation, especially as more time passes and Gleick fails to produce the evidence supporting his version of the strategy memo’s provenance that you mention in your item #10.

    I’m not yet ready to dismiss the honeypot theory completely; I still think it can account for the known facts reasonably well. But maybe that’s because I’m overlooking some objection to it that you’re noticed. So if you could, I would really appreciate it if you could give some more detail as to your reasons for thinking that Glieck-as-victim is less simple, and less plausible, than Gleick-as-forger.

    Thanks again.

    John Callender
    Some random bloke on the Internet

  • Voluble

    Oh I don’t know about that last point… I thought that it had been established whether one was likely to get off on a technicality depended entirely upon the meaning of the word “is.”

    John, that was a very gentlemanly letter and if all proponents of AGW were so humble and open minded I don’t think things would have ever gotten this far. Gleick could certainly take a lesson from you in that regard.

    In my mind I think there are a couple of things that argue against the mark turning the con onto the conman in such a fashion. I guess one is that I can’t think of an example of this ever happening outside of counter intelligence, or perhaps, police work. Heartland would have had to realize they were being duped and turned the tables on Gleick in a very short period of time. I can’t imagine something like that being done on a whim by a single person at Heartland and institutions don’t seem capable of doing anything quickly or without consultation amongst a lot of individuals who could potentially spill the beans.

    And here is the key… at the point they understood what Gleick was doing they would have had him dead to rights on some very serious charges and there would have been no reason to frame him or send him false documents. The damage had already been done to Gleick’s cause once word got out of the crimes he had already committed.

    Even were Heartland as malevolent as they are accused of being they would have been taking a huge risk for little gain and they would know the AGW movement would circle the wagons and not believe their denials as to the authenticity of the document. You have to understand that skeptics think the warmists live in a fantasy world so conspiracy theories about the documents and excuses for Gleick’s behavior would have been expected. I will leave it to you to judge whether they were right in that assessment but it seems clear that there just wasn’t enough to be gained for Heartland to try to frame a man who had already hanged himself in a very public fashion.

    And here’s the second point. If they were going to set a trap why would they not have chosen something where there would be no doubt as to the fraud? Why choose something where it is a he said/they said situation?

    And finally I think the actions of Gleick vs. Heartland after the fact says it all. Heartland called the FBI. Do you really think they would double down on a strategy of planting a fake document by bringing in the feds and making loud public claims as to fraud?

    I guess we could pretend that it is possible that a third party provided the document… at just the right time and to just the right party… but that defies all probability and reason unless Gleick was publicly advertising for such things to be sent to him. The whole third party scenario smacks too much of the Lucy Ramirez fantasy Rather and the rest concocted to explain the source of forgeries that said exactly what they wanted them to say and came exactly when they needed them to come.

    So I think while we can never rule anything out totally we can safely say that this sort of argument falls into the category of clutching at straws. About the only thing I could see that would make it slightly more credible would be if Gleick received the memo before he went on his witch hunt. Then he could claim it inspired him to try to gather more information. I haven’t followed this closely enough to know for sure what he is claiming the timeline to be but I don’t think it matters much.

  • I added some stuff to the post last night. This morning it occurs to me that hidden down there under the “Read more” line, probably no one noticed!

  • Ian


    An interesting read, but I think you could push the analysis harder than you have. If it was a “false flag” operation, then it was even more amateurish than Gleick’s own fumbling attempt at identity theft. For an assortment of reasons – internal lack of official indicia of authenticity, lack of names/distribution list, not even a real date – there really wasn’t enough there to expect Gleick (as his persona was understood PRIOR to the event) to do anything more than dump the thing in the wastebasket. Certainly, you could not have hoped that he would engage in identity theft and wire fraud.

    I’ve made an attempt at starting such an analysis over on John’s Lies.com site. It needs refinement though.

    John is correct that nothing we currently “know” definitively rules out the possibility of someone creating and delivering the memo in an effort to get Gleick to do something stupid. When you analyze – from the perspective of the evil doers – what an FFO would be attempting to achieve, what would be gained/potentially lost and consider what the memo actually looks and reads like, however, this seems very unlikely.

    I think Mosher’s “angry man” assessment, which fits the facts as we currently know them better and more readily, is currently the best analysis we have.

  • Yes, I have to confess I’m leaning the same way (that Gleick-as-forger is a more-compelling explanation than Gleick-as-victim, based on what we know at this point).

    Thanks, Ian, for the comments you posted at lies.com. Do you happen to have any links to Mosher’s comments on this question? I’ve seen some of the things he’s written about this, but I’m not sure that I know all the places where he posts his views (which seem to be scattered about on various blogs, rather than concentrated in one place).

    Thanks again.


  • Ian


    That’s actually pretty tricky to do. Mosher is ubiquitous. He posted heavily on Lucia’s Blackboard on 15, 16, 17 February. See: http://rankexploits.com/musings/2012/tell-me-whats-horrible-about-this/

    His money quote for me (the “angry man” theory), was on Climate Audit. http://climateaudit.org/2012/02/23/heartlands-invitation-to-gleick-details/ . See the post at 24 Feb, 12:24 a.m. where he noted:

    The crime is not about the science. not about the cause. The motive, the governing emotion, is anger and revenge. Brought on by humiliation, fanned by pride.

    This analysis is consistent with the “justification” part of the forced confession.

    The Lucia postings effectively track why very early on he discerned it was Gleick (based on how the memo was drafted).

    I would not, at this stage, suggest that there is a definitive conclusion: rather, that the odds are in favour of the memo being forged by Gleick.

    Countering that, in my mind, is the language of the forced confession. It has been lawyered. Unless he lied to his lawyer (a foolish thing to do), the confession says he received an anonymous communication. This is not necessarily the same document as the memo, as the “confession” is deliberately ambiguous on this point. However, I find it unlikely that this is a further lie: the compounding of the problem would be immense. Hugely risky strategy on top of a hugely risky strategy.

    The only way that would make sense is if they decided to take the chance that by admitting part of what occurred, Gleick avoids an investigation that will reveal the true provenance of the fake memo. If so, that is likely a misreading of what Heartland will now seek to do with this event.

    The other challenge – going back to the FFO concept – is that you need to analyse the situation based not on what actually transpired, but on the basis of what reasonably could have been expected to occur, from the perspective of somebody intiating such an undertaking.

    On that basis, as I tried to argue, the memo really does not stack up. It’s both too juicy (i.e., too much real info) and too sparse (too difficult to confirm). If it is an FFO, it was wildly lucky (or Heartland, in its secret villain lair) is also employing FBI – grade psych consultant for target selection…).

    We will have to wait & see.

  • Ed Snack

    I think that it would be a mistake to assume that Gleick will even be charged over this episode. That he transgressed both federal and state laws seems to be almost absolutely certain, however the decision to prosecute in both cases will be a political one, and I have little doubt that a range of reasons will be found as to why it is “not in the public interest” for Gleick to be charged.

    Heartland may take civil action, but they have a limited budget and Gleick, backed by the liberal establishment, has access to essentially unlimited funds to defend. I doubt Heartland could afford to sue.

    Following that, Gleick gets rehabilitated rapidly and probably gets appointed to various official bodies dealing with “science” and scientific ethics . Possibly he’s a shoo-in as the next head of the IPCC as he would bring all the necessary qualities to that position.