It's fairly stunning that the Chair of the AGU Task Force on Scientific Ethics (now former Chair) would use deceptive and possibly illegal tactics in obtaining documents from the Heartland Institute. But it happened. McArdle:
The very, very best thing that one can say about this is that this would be an absolutely astonishing lapse of judgement for someone in their mid-twenties, and is truly flabbergasting coming from a research institute head in his mid-fifties. Let's walk through the thought process:
You receive an anonymous memo in the mail purporting to be the secret climate strategy of the Heartland Institute. It is not printed on Heartland Institute letterhead, has no information identifying the supposed author or audience, contains weird locutions more typical of Heartland's opponents than of climate skeptics, and appears to have been written in a somewhat slapdash fashion. Do you:
A. Throw it in the trash
B. Reach out to like-minded friends to see how you might go about confirming its provenance
C. Tell no one, but risk a wire-fraud conviction, the destruction of your career, and a serious PR blow to your movement by impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain confidential documents.
As a journalist, I am in fact the semi-frequent recipient of documents promising amazing scoops, and depending on the circumstances, my answer is always "A" or "B", never "C".
It's a gross violation of journalistic ethics, though perhaps Gleick would argue that he's not a journalist--and in truth, it's hard to feel too sorry for Heartland, given how gleefully they embraced the ClimateGate leaks. So leave ethics aside: wasn't he worried that impersonating board members in order to obtain confidential material might be, I don't know, illegal? Forget about the morality of it: the risk is all out of proportion to the possible reward.
Some of the climate bloggers are praising Gleick for coming forward, and complaining that this is distracting from the real story. And I agree that it's a pity that this is distracting from the important question about how fast the climate is warming, and what we should do about it.
But that is not the fault of Heartland, or the people who are writing about it. When a respected public figure says that a couple of intriguing pieces of paper mailed to him by a stranger somehow induced him to assume someone else's identity and flirt with wire fraud . . . well, that's a little distracting.
Gleick has done enormous damage to his cause and his own reputation, and it's no good to say that people shouldn't be focusing on it. If his judgement is this bad, how is his judgement on matters of science? For that matter, what about the judgement of all the others in the movement who apparently see nothing worth dwelling on in his actions?
When skeptics complain that global warming activists are apparently willing to go to any lengths--including lying--to advance their worldview, I'd say one of the movement's top priorities should be not proving them right. And if one rogue member of the community does something crazy that provides such proof, I'd say it is crucial that the other members of the community say "Oh, how horrible, this is so far beyond the pale that I cannot imagine how this ever could have happened!" and not, "Well, he's apologized and I really think it's pretty crude and opportunistic to make a fuss about something that's so unimportant in the grand scheme of things."
After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you've lost the power to convince them of anything else.
Also at issue is that one of the more newsworthy documents, a "strategy memo", is likely fraudulent. The author of that memo is not known, but Gleick has to be one of the prime suspects.
Just to be consistent about it (and has been said before), whoever leaked the ClimateGate emails should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Post Script: I'm not a global warming skeptic as I'm convinced by the evidence, but I'm not convinced that many of the proposed prescriptions are realistic or will work. To me, the best avenues are conservation, improving efficiencies and reducing our dependence on energy sources that emit CO2. This is why I'm a fan of nuclear technology of all kinds (except the kind that causes meltdowns, of course). There isn't enough wind or solar to replace all CO2-emitting electricity generation so, to me, the "all of the above" approach is most sensible. We will continue to generate power via fossil fuels so, for national energy security purposes, I'd prefer that North America be the place we obtain them.