February 22, 2012

"You did just fine and we are all thankful"

Huffington Post climate-heads stand by their man in the face of what must be some pretty severe cognitive dissonance.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 22, 2012 03:44 PM | TrackBack

Science certainly is dead.

Posted by: josh at February 23, 2012 02:44 PM

I beg to differ, the scientific method is alive and well:

Posted by: ben at February 23, 2012 03:40 PM

The more I read about this, the more loathsome it becomes. He doesn't even admit in this confession that the supposedly damning document was fabricated. I hope they sue the pants off this guy.

Posted by: josh at February 24, 2012 03:00 PM

The most astounding/damaging part is the spectacle of the true believers stampeding to go on the record as being all in favor of this kind of tactic, so long as it serves the "greater good"; but a close second is simply the risk this guy took for such a meager pay-off. He basically decided to throw his whole career away and damage "the cause" (for which he presumably cares a great deal) for the sake of exposing something of no particular interest. Sounds like a mental breakdown. Certainly not a rational act. Big Climate had a chance for a Sista Soulja moment here, but failed to take it.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 25, 2012 07:03 AM

I'm equally confused as to reasoning behind this act. I wonder if his actions have some relation to mob mentality/crowd psychology. When caught up in a large crowd, a single mindset can easily form and people will often go along with whatever the crowd does, losing touch with their individual thoughts and feelings. Maybe there's a close connection with that and religious beliefs or other causes where are large group of people get swept up in support of something.

Bill Buford wrote a fascinating book called "Among the Thugs" that gives a terrific first-hand account of crowd psychology.

Posted by: ben at February 27, 2012 12:39 AM

I think there's a definite "we can't be wrong about anything - we're the good people" background to these kinds of culture battles, and I do believe the proper way to look at it is in terms of group dynamics and crowd psychology almost without regard to who happens to be right on whatever particular point or points. That is, they would behave the same whether or not they were right about whatever the ostensible subject of the conflict might be.

In this particular case his insane action seems to have been sparked by his anger at a fellow Forbes.com blogger who was affiliated with Heartland. He desired revenge and as a zealot settling this personal score seemed tantamount to saving the world. Had he uncovered something really earthshattering or shocking it might possibly have made sense to publicize it, considering his crusading worldview. A sensible person would have looked at the documents and the lack of "there" there and would have elected to let the matter drop. But he appears to have been mentally unbalanced, or ideology-addled. It's a really strange thing for a guy of his stature and eminence to have done, but zealotry backed by solid mutually-abetted in-group consensus can be a powerful motivator.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 27, 2012 04:45 AM


Have you seen this one. Keep in mind that the Heartland Institute's annual budget is 4.1 million dollars, much of which is dedicated to Health Care, Education, and Technology Policy. So maybe we are talking about (Dr. Evil voice) *ONE MILLION DOLLARS* getting " in the way of public consensus and action".

On the other hand, the US federal government spends roughly 2 billion annually on pro-climate change research. Foundations may provide even more. Just last week the William and Flora Hewitt Foundation granted 100 million to the "Climate Works Foundation". God knows how much more is being granted by other foundations and to other universities and think tanks, and other more indirect routes for bringing about consensus.

And what are these people complaining about? The Kochs and the $25,000 dollar grant which may well have gone toward education or health care policy research. Sometimes I feel like I must be the crazy one, but, no, it really is everyone else.

Posted by: josh at February 27, 2012 02:46 PM

I know the feeling, Josh. I find it really difficult to believe that Gleick and his right-thinking cheerleaders genuinely see these documents, including the fake one, as a devastating revelation that will do such good in the world that exposing it is worth any price. As many have commented, the only surprising bit is how small and non-fossily the finances turn out to have been. It's like the miniature Stonehenge in Spinal Tap: a comical anti-climax when it is finally brought out. These documents seem to be a symbol or proxy for something far greater, but I can't quite grasp it.

It will be interesting to see what these people will say if it turns out (as I expect it will) that Gleick forged the fake document as well. Credibility matters quite a lot in political disputes even when they aren't about "science," and it seems to me Climate-y partisans have all but given the show away with knee-jerk apologias like the one in that Guardian article. I'd have assumed even the Guardian would withdraw their endorsement of forgery in service of a good cause in the name of "science," especially since a major accusation against their side in this involves faking and misleading data, but after this week I'm really not so sure.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 27, 2012 05:08 PM

"It's like the miniature Stonehenge in Spinal Tap: a comical anti-climax when it is finally brought out."

May I steal this?

It is already almost certain that Gleik was the forger. In the fake e-mail he makes reference to some information in the real e-mails. His e-mails impersonating a trustee have been published online. In these he doesn't ask for any specific information. If he was merely fact checking a memo he received anonymously than he must have been the luckiest man on the planet. Or maybe the fake was clearly written after the receipt of the real, which means it was obviously written by Gleik.

If I know this, certainly the journalists at the Guardian know it. By publishing a defense they have already endorsed forgery in defense of the cause, although they have yet to endorse getting caught forging in defense of the cause.

Posted by: josh at February 27, 2012 07:33 PM

I expect his lawyers and PR team have a plan for the right timing and context for the admission that he was the forger. People familiar with his rhetoric had identified him as a likely candidate (out of a field of many thousands of contenders) well before he confessed to the fraud in the Huffington Post. In fact, I assume that's why he decided to lawyer up and confess to the putatively lesser charge in the first place. Until it's official, though, there's plausible deniability, dubious as it is.

As for the message among the journalist-activists and their online minions in the comments, it seems to be something like: sure, as activists we must engage in a bit of lying, fraud, and other skullduggery in order to manipulate public opinion on a matter of great importance, and Dr. Gleick is a hero for showing how it's done; but rest assured we'd never, ever, ever do that with the "science." Trust us." That's an (increasingly) tough sell, it seems to me.

That they appear not to have grasped that still has me flummoxed. I truly expected to read wall-to-wall ass-covering denunciations from environmentalists, especially since nothing whatsoever was gained, from their perspective, in the deception. This indication of a movement lost in an ideological fog is perhaps the strongest reason for skepticism, at least as far as the politics and the policy is concerned.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 28, 2012 05:30 PM

Mein Gott, this really is like Spinal Tap, lol.

Posted by: Jason S. at February 29, 2012 12:27 AM

Seriously, though, a very interesting discussion and interesting link to the piece at the Guardian, josh. There was some similar sentiment from Mother Jones (or a writer from MoJo on Twitter?). But I guess that would be expected from Mother Jones because their publication is pro-green. It's just weird to see so-called impartial places towing the lion on l'affaire Gleick. I don't know why it surprises me anymore.

Too many journalist-activists, I suppose. It's like when Gleick thanked supporters on Twitter -- two people (that I know of) out of 24 people who retweeted his message were newspaper reporters. Seems like poor form for folks trained to sniff out the truth. Reporters on environmental stories are nothing but juggalos, anyway. Lol. No.

Then again, the "climategate" e-mails were stolen and the evil deniers haven't admitted it yet. But were the e-mails fake? And do we even know if they were stolen? Might've been an inside leak job or something.

In conclusion, fusion energy is where it's at. That's what we need in these troubled times.

Posted by: Jason S. at February 29, 2012 01:57 AM

I realize this may sound too polemical, but honestly, tu quoque is probably the most fundamental concept in progressive thinking. The descendants of the British dissenters are still fighting the Pope and his armies.

I don't know if you have followed the Mike Mann/Steve McIntyre saga, but the failure to denounce was a major part of my personal road to insanity. Once you realize that our accepted view of reality and history in general is created by the same apparatus that gave Mike Mann his own little capo regime, you realize that our entire civilization has gone completely insane. And when you study the history of how this came to be, without the aid of official interpretation... I alternate between the sins of despair and pride.

Did I mention I discovered Aquinas and am seriously considering Christianity for the first time. Thanks, Mike Mann, I suppose.

Posted by: josh at February 29, 2012 01:24 PM

You mentioned a ways back that you were considering Catholicism, Josh (if I remember that right) and I never followed up on it as I intended to. Given what I know of your sensibility and education and overall intellectual cast from what you have commented here (not too much to go on, to be sure, but something) it seems to make sense. If so, welcome aboard, so to speak.

I haven't followed the Mann/McIntyre dispute in any detail and I am well aware I have no standing or expertise to weigh in on the ins and outs of the "science" and the graphs and what not; but I've read enough history to know an ideological-sectarian-revolutionary chiliast-gnostic Pursuit of the Millennium when I see one. In other words, I think you're on to something in connecting it all to the 16th century.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 29, 2012 06:34 PM

I'll preface this by saying that I had never heard of this entire story before reading it here, but I'll say this:

It really seems to me that the anti-climate change movement is very tightly caught up in "Ends justify the means" mentality. The scientific community is largely in agreement that humans cause climate change. And I am pretty certain that most higher-ups and scientists working for the oil industry know this and believe it is occurring, and yet pour money into anti-climate think tanks to keep public doubt on the issue to avoid regulation and maximize profit margins. That is "Ends justify the means" mentality in the extreme.

And I think that over-hyping a story of a single person's stupid actions (that I had never heard of before the backlash) in an attempt to discredit the works of thousands of unrelated climate scientists falls squarely in that category as well.

Posted by: Aaron S. at March 4, 2012 09:10 AM

That certainly is the conventional view of these matters, Aaron, though I'm not sure I follow you with the "end justifies the means" thing. Sounds more like a sacrifice of long-term well-being for the sake of short-term gain, given those parameters.

"Humans cause climate change" is a pretty strong statement, if you mean it in the sense of humans being the only cause (that is, if you're imagining a stable unchanging global climate absent human activity.) I doubt many would agree with you on that. Though I'm sure there are exceptions, I believe most "skeptics" don't dispute the notion that human activity is a factor in the way in which the climate has changed: rather, the claim is that the projected effects popularized in, for example, Al Gore's powerpoint film are exaggerated and over-hyped by activists as a political ploy to frighten people and advance anti-capitalist ideology and policies. I'm not competent to judge the science per se, but I think that, whatever they might be wrong about, they're right about the fact that it has been put to this use, and quite consciously in some cases. And I'd say, there's your exitus acta probat in extremis right there.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at March 4, 2012 05:08 PM

I don't think "Humans cause climate change" is a particularly strong statement. That isn't to say it is the only cause, there are natural phenomena at play as well. But climate cycles over earth's history have been governed predominately by earth's atmosphere. Bear in mind that the extreme difference between surface temperatures of Venus, Earth and Mars are due more to atmospheric composition than actual distance from the sun. Which is a good thing... Earth is generally considered slightly too far from the sun to sustain liquid water (and by extension, life) in the absence of an atmosphere containing greenhouse gasses.

Somewhat predictably, earth's overall average temperature generally parallels atmospheric CO2 levels. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule... volcanoes can emit gasses and aerosols that reflect sunlight and cool the earth, and other greenhouse gasses exist. In fact, there is some speculation that burning coal may mask its ultimate greenhouse effect in the short term because it also produces sulfur dioxide, which reflects sunlight and cools the earth, somewhat cancelling out the effects of carbon dioxide released. However, since SO2 is much shorter lived in the atmosphere than CO2, the long term effect is warming.

Greenhouse gas levels fluctuate, and organisms keep it in check. Volcanoes release CO2... but they release CO2 that was once atmospheric CO2 sequestered as carbonates by marine life. This is why volcanoes along an oceanic subduction zone release the most CO2. Then more marine life sequesters this carbon, etc. Temperatures fluctuate, and sometimes climate shifts over a long period. And ultimately the earth will be fine no matter what we do. Even a 20 degree increase (which is well beyond what we are going to do with CO2 alone) wouldn't wipe out life on the earth. But even a few degrees increase would make it very difficult for humans to continue to live as we have. And somewhat counter-intuitively, it could make some coastal areas colder that depend on ocean heat. Water sinks at a specific temperature just above its freezing point. Pushing that maximum density point further north could severely disrupt prevailing ocean currents, especially in areas where that maximum density point would be moved from ocean area to land (such as around Greenland.) This could make, for example, Sweden as bitterly cold as inland Russia, and more equatorial areas disproportionately even hotter because the heat isn't being removed toward the poles as effectively.

Mind you, I'm not saying for sure all this will happen. There are a lot of variables and the full effect isn't entirely understood, but the fact that human-produced CO2 emissions are increasing the overall temperature of earth at a rate that is extremely quick by geologic time standards and the potential for serious consequences on human populations exists is pretty solidly agreed on by scientists worldwide. The measurements are there, the scientific explanation is there, and certain effects are emerging.

The reason I think it falls under "Ends justify the means" mentality is because I feel confident in saying that a lot of climate "skeptics" in the political and scientific realm know that the phenomena and the threats are real, but feel that correcting the problem would stifle the market more than the benefits of preventing further climate change... at least for them, and rather than openly saying that, they try to confuse public discourse with science and create skepticism of a scientifically accepted problem, rather than to make a real cost-benefit analysis argument.

Almost half of Americans believe that humans do not affect climate at all. But then again, you would find a huge overlap between these people and people who do not believe in the theory of evolution, and in the scientific community, you would find a statistically significant overlap with people who continued to believe AIDS wasn't caused by HIV well into the '90s. People believe silly things. South Korea is a country full of well educated people, and yet a huge percent of the population still believes that electric fans chop up oxygen molecules and you will suffocate sleeping in a room with one. I suppose it is in our nature. But I feel like people really play on that. And it seems to me that the climate change skepticism movement is a steadfast refusal to admit a weakness in classical liberalism, much as evolution skepticism is a steadfast refusal to admit that a literal interpretation of most religious texts is flawed, and corporate interests will pour money into exploiting that bias.

Look, I would love for climate change to not exist. I work on cars as a hobby, and I think that Priuses are boring toasters of cars. I don't like being cold in winter or hot in summer. And clearly so does Al Gore (for what its worth, I'm not a fan of the guy, and never was. I saw the film once about 5 years ago and remember virtually none of it.) But my wishes don't change the science. And I really don't think most of the environmental movement is as concerned with economic systems as you seem to think.

Posted by: Aaron S. at March 5, 2012 12:42 AM

Okay, Aaron. I'm still not quite getting what the "ends" and the "means" are in your exitus acta probat characterization, but I suppose what you're getting at is the idea that "skeptics" secretly do agree with the "alarmists" about the likelihood of carbon-related environmental catastrophes, but lie about it because they judge that economic catastrophe risked as a result of the proposed solutions would be even worse or even more likely than the environmental catastrophes these solutions hope to avert. I can't speak to the lying or the secret agreement part, but I'd say the last bit does seem to characterize the outlook of at least some of the prominent skeptics I've read or read about.

You could turn this around pretty easily, e.g., climate alarmists actually know quite well that making people change lightbulbs and drive Priuses isn't going to have any particular effect on the global climate, and they are also quite aware that the massive, sudden global de-industrialization that putatively might have such an effect has zero chance of ever, ever, ever actually happening. But they figure it doesn't hurt to pretend otherwise, because… every little helps? Plus, sometimes you'll get a Nobel prize out of the deal? Because mankind has sinned and must be punished? Maybe that last one goes too far. And yet…

I don't know: I see no reason to assume they (on either side) don't mean what they say.

Like you, I hope the skeptics turn out to be right, because if they're wrong, there's nothing that will (or, realistically, can) be done about it in any practical sense. We're conducting an experiment in real life on this, whether we like it or not. Come 2050, San Francisco is under water; or it's not. We'll see.

But what animates this antagonism, and enrages its participants to the point of, on occasion, Gleickian insanity, I believe, isn't really the science or the economics. Rather, it's a variant of the same old culture war we've been fighting for nearly half a century (and arguably for quite a bit longer than that) with the claims and attitudes of climate science as a new(ish) set of emblems and proxies. Though the scientists themselves are participants in the dynamic, to be sure (and Gleick's a prime example) leave them out, since their actual expertise complicates things: the bitterness of the Guardian and Huffington commenters, as well as that of their skeptic antagonists, is only glancingly related to the scientific dispute. It's classic, nearly pure in-group signaling, and the real logic of it is not much more than this: we're the good people, so we must be right, and therefore you must be evil blah blah blah blah (science-y / environmental-y sounding rhetoric.) The thing we (the good people) are right about varies, and hardly matters. If the problem of global warming were suddenly to disappear, some Michael Mann would still be fighting some Anthony Watts, in effect, on some other field, and their respective cheerleaders and attackers on the internet and in the halls of power would still be saying pretty much the same stuff, believers and deniers trading accusations of blasphemy and heresy with the same urgency and the same veneer of rational, scientific-ish pretense, the necessary changes having been made. So it goes. Yes, it's a real problem. But the cultural argument has its own, deeply irrational source quite apart from it. Or so it seems to me.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at March 5, 2012 03:16 PM

But, that said, you're on to something in identifying the skeptics as ideologically cognate with classical liberals. I'd say it's the liberals versus the Marxists all over again, with different uniforms, except that really, it's the same game continuing.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at March 5, 2012 05:34 PM