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Scientist in global warming scandal

Climate research group leader admits he posed as someone else to obtain internal memos from a think tank that supports the arguments of sceptics

Reuters in Oakland
Feb 25, 2012 in SCMP

The California-based Pacific Institute climate research group has launched an investigation of its president and founder, Dr Peter Gleick, after he admitted fraudulently obtaining documents from global warming sceptics challenging his work.

The institute in Oakland revealed its inquiry into a widening controversy in a terse statement posted on its website, hours after the San Francisco Chronicle said it was discontinuing an online blog that Gleick had been writing for the newspaper.

“The board of directors of the Pacific Institute is deeply concerned and is actively reviewing information about the recent events involving its president … and documents pertaining to the Heartland Institute,” the statement said.

Gleick went public about the matter on Monday with a statement confessing that he posed as someone else to obtain internal memos from the Heartland Institute, a think tank that argues the sceptics’ positions, among them that climate change is not caused by human activity and that health hazards from tobacco have been exaggerated.

“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts – often anonymous, well-funded, and co-ordinated – to attack climate science and scientists … and by the lack of transparency of the organisations involved,” Gleick wrote in the statement, carried on The Huffington Post website.

Even before his mea culpa, Gleick, an authority on global freshwater issues and winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant, had resigned last Thursday as chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics.

The scandal illustrates the increasingly harsh tone in the public and political debate over global warming, despite the consensus among mainstream scientists that rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, primarily caused by human activity, are altering the earth’s climate.

Heartland is among a group of sceptic organisations that have written extensively about the so-called Climategate case in which thousands of the climate scientists’ e-mails were hacked via the University of East Anglia in Britain.

The initial batch of those e-mails was made public in 2009 and a second set last December as a major climate conference was getting under way in Durban, South Africa.

Heartland cited those e-mails in claiming that the scientists who wrote them were trying to cover up evidence that cast doubt on human-caused climate change. Five separate investigations later found no wrongdoing on the part of the scientists. The source of the hacking was never identified.

Gleick admitted that he obtained various internal Heartland documents – including a fund-raising plan, a meeting agenda and a budget – by soliciting them under someone else’s name, then forwarding them anonymously to members of the media and other climate scientists.

One of those lists dozens of major US corporations from a wide range of industries as donors to the Heartland Institute, among them tobacco and energy companies. Another lists consultants Heartland has paid, one of them hired to devise a “climate education project” for schoolchildren.

On Monday, Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast acknowledged that all of the documents Gleick circulated were authentic except one, titled “2012 Heartland climate strategy”, which Bast called a forged memo.

Gleick said he did not alter any Heartland document and said he received this document anonymously in the mail.

It provided the impetus for him to use a false identity in requesting additional records from Heartland in a bid to verify its source.

Bast said release of the allegedly forged document had damaged Heartland’s reputation and he threatened legal action. “Gleick’s crime was a serious one,” he wrote.

“The documents he admits stealing contained personal information about Heartland staff members, donors and allies, the release of which has violated their privacy and endangered their personal safety,” Bast said.

The incident has raised concern among climatologists that scientific credibility might be tarnished.

“We think it unfortunate that this has the potential to deflect the conversation away from the scientific consensus that climate change is taking place,” said Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union.

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