Saturday, February 25, 2012

Peter Gleick

It's quite possible that Gleick is the biggest disgrace of all the MacArthur "Genius" award winners. I've barely begun to search, but God knows I haven't given up on finding other funny stuff. There's a lot of material on Gleick on Watts Up With That, etc. McIntyre has done some of his usual forensics to establish a chronology. More to come tomorrow, apparently. Gleick vs. Taylor: On January 5, Gleick wrote an opinion piece on the Forbes website; James Taylor of the Heartland Institute responded on Jan. 12; and their exchange continued in comments to the Taylor piece. Among Gleick's observations was that the people questioning climate warming orthodoxy, whom he identifies as "anti-science," are well-funded, particularly by Heartland, which keeps its donor list secret. On these specific points Taylor responds that Heartland disclosed all its donors until a few years ago, but changed its policies because some donors were being harassed. Meanwhile, there are groups on the "warming" side that are much better funded, some of them do not disclose donors, etc. Gleick vs. Lakely: On January 13, Jim Lakely of Heartland e-mailed an invitation to Gleick to take part in an upcoming Heartland conference. Lakely was a model of cordiality and welcoming of intellectual give and take. Gleick said he would consider the invitation, but one sticking point was the failure of Heartland to disclose its donors. Lakely patiently explained the situation. On Jan. 27 Gleick officially declined the invitation, and on Jan. 28 Lakely responded again--still all welcoming and polite. Gleick vs. Heartland: Quoting from McIntyre: "Around the same time [on Jan. 27] as Gleick refused Heartland's invitation, he ... sent an e-mail to an administrator at Heartland, in which Gleick impersonated a Heartland board member and changed the email destination of the Heartland board member, subsequently obtaining board documents." (Confirmation that Gleick communicated with Heartland by e-mail here). On Feb. 14, Gleick e-mailed some material related to Heartland to some key contacts, including bloggers--obviously hoping that the material would get wide exposure. Some documents, it turned out, had actually come from Heartland, and conveyed non-controversial information about their business. The names of donors were exposed, and some people were exposed who have had nothing to do with the climate controversies. Gleick, as he has subsequently confessed, acquired all of this material fraudulently. Oddly, Gleick also attached to his e-mail a public document--an IRS Form 990 for 2010, by far the longest document in the e-mail. Also in the package was a kind of overview document purporting to come from a senior person at Heartland. To a considerable extent it summarizes the material in the other, "real" Heartland documents, but it includes mistakes that no one at Heartland would make, it states facts that it would be redundant for a real Heartland document to include, or stated in a way (such as copied from Wikipedia) that would make no sense, and it shows signs of being prepared sloppily and carelessly. The content it adds is to the effect that Heartland is prepared to cherry-pick data, distort known scientific evidence, and present a deliberately slanted accounted of what they know to the public--particularly to school children. In other words, it would support an allegation that Heartland is just as ignorant, careless and dishonest as the famous "Hockey Team" of climate scientists, particularly as they appear in their own (thoroughly verified) "Climategate" e-mails. From the time it was released, several people thought it bore all the signs of being drafted by Gleick himself, based on the "real" documents he had purloined. He may have been forced into a kind of partial confession--once again, probably a stupid decision--because the blog commentary was closing in on him, and people close to him may even have warned that people who had appointed him to prestigious boards, possibly even his employer, might be questioning their allegiance. As a criminal matter, he may be charged with wire fraud over state lines, under federal law, and similar state charges. From the point of view of possible litigation, and his own reputation, the apparent faking of a document may be worse. Why would Gleick indulge in such stupid and reckless behaviour in order to smear an organization that does not conform to Gleick's smears? It seems that having sought the "real" documents, he realized that they included no smoking gun, so he added one. Heartland has never indicated that Gleick is one of the major scientists whose work they must question; they really only turned their attention to him with the Forbes exchange. The skeptic blogs and books in general have never paid Gleick much attention. Yet the fake document, which may be faked by Gleick himself, has Heartland identifying Gleick as a first-tier warmist on whom they must focus attention. He may have used a fake document in an attempt to aggrandize himself. Worse yet, from his point of view: even the warmists may never have considered him a bigshot. Mcintyre points out in a comment that Michael Mann's book came out just before Gleick "went crazy," and Mann didn't mention Gleick: "Mann’s book was released only a few days (~Feb 8) before Gleick wrote the fake memo. Not only is Gleick not a prominent figure in the book, he isn’t even mentioned. Nor is he acknowledged despite Mann’s acknowledgements extending to even the unexpected Chip Knappenburger." (See Feb. 25, 11:08 a.m.). The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) met in Vancouver from Feb. 16 to 20; it is reasonable to think Gleick was hoping to get high-visibility media coverage for the notion that Heartland was doing something improper--he succeeded--and that with that, he might become part of the discussion at AAAS--he succeeded again. Hilary Ostrov points out: "He [Gleick] certainly succeeded in generating enough blog and MSM coverage that at the AAAS Annual Meeting held in Vancouver – which just happened to end Feb. 20 – the AAAS president was sufficiently “alarmed” to echo and amplify Gleick’s 'concerns'". So the tendency to keep repeating the global warming bullshit will continue, but surely it will also continue to bleed credibility. In fairness, McIntyre consistently says he remains unpersuaded on all the major tenets of the global warming theory--he has not dismissed any of them. He thinks the famous scientists have done an unbelievably poor job of defending their work (including admitting real problems when they arise), but the wider scientific community, higher-level scientific bodies, people conducting investigations, etc. have been even worse. Honest to God: people on the internet refer to stories that make you suddenly laugh out loud: snorting coca-cola or milk up your nose, or spraying them all over your computer. This is the one for me. How do the MacArthur people see themselves? Here's then (and probably still) Program Director (in 2007), Daniel J. Socolow:
The concept of genius is far too limiting when describing MacArthur fellows. Genius is a measurement of intelligence—it’s an immensely high IQ. The people we’re looking for have razor-sharp intelligence, but they add to that a lot of other qualities, such as boldness, commitment, resilience, and persistence. We’re looking for people who are trying to come up with something new, who play at putting things together in novel ways. There’s no easy definition for that. That’s why we use somewhat messy terms like “exceptional creativity,” “outstanding talent,” “extraordinary originality,” “insight,” and “potential.” We’re intentionally ambiguous, because once we try to define what we’re looking for, we lose the power to consider many different kinds of people. For us, the possibilities are endless. That means that side by side with an economist, a geneticist, and a physicist, you can find among the MacArthur fellows a farmer, a fisherman, a blacksmith, and a nurse. There are 732 people who have been selected to date, and there are 732 different stories of the ways in which these people are creative. There is simply no single profile. The youngest MacArthur fellow was 18; the oldest was 82. Fellows come from inside and outside the academy. We keep looking, but the strongest pattern is that there is no pattern.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I got my new Sony Reader up and running, so I have some new things to read on the bus on the way to work. Something from grad school days: Leo Strauss, Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero. Strauss is responding mainly to Kojève, who defends Hegel/Marx against the ancients. Kojève keeps saying it does no good to think in isolation, one must have an effect in the world--at least partly to test the truth of one's beliefs. Work is a defining human activity, and Kojève claims the ancients showed too little awareness of this. Strauss defends the ancients--not the ordinary nobles, but the philosophers. "... the highest kind of job, or the only job that is truly human, is noble or virtuous activity, or noble or virtuous work. If one is fond of this manner of looking at things, one may say that noble work is the synthesis effected by the classics between the morality of workless nobility and the morality of ignoble work ...." A nice joke about Hegelian language in there. In Aristotle's Ethics: magnanimous man would rather be idle than seek any honours other than the greatest; just man is busy, including somewhat intellectually busy; then come the intellectual virtues. This was published in the book On Tyranny. See here. I have it from a special edition of the journal Interpretation, where efforts were made to reconcile different versions of Strauss's manuscript. See here. A few relevant letters are added in the journal, including one where Kojève says in his experience Strauss is not only a-music, but anti-music. The editor says Kojève was famous for an enormous record collection, of which he made extensive use. I'm reading a fairly old life of Cicero, and I've just started an e-book I borrowed from the public library: Paul Theroux's journey by train across China. Just before the e-reader, I went quickly through (yet another) history of World War I. It is stated there that the Americans generally made a point of removing all their dead from France or Belgium, and taking them home. They acted like Spartans, returning to the soil from which they sprang--except it is pretty evident that most Americans have only been in the New World a short time. Did other countries do this? Do other people remain as they are at home, refusing to "go native," as much as Americans do? Theroux says Australians are like this. Maybe I can learn more from a new book, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance.