Feb
22
2012

More on the Peter Gleick Fakegate Memo.

This is pretty good stuff of Megan McArdle, re Peter Gleick’s own-goal sabotage of climate change advocates by disseminating/allegedly creating a fake Heartland memo on its global warming strategies (not to mention his confessed identity theft):

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.

…but it must be said: Gleick really doesn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt at this point with regard to his probable authorship of the original, blatantly fake, Heartland memo.  There is a credible case to be made at this point that Gleick stole the original documents, then created the memo himself; and, given that he’s a self-confessed liar, it’s going to take more than I’m not lying about this for Gleick to get out of it.

By the way, I know that a lot of reasonable people are wondering why it is that a scientist – which is to say, somebody whose worldview is theoretically utterly dependent on Truth as an absolute ideal – would lie.  For this, let us go to our old Cold War acronym friend: MICE.  Which stands for, of course, Money, Ideology, Conscience[**], and Ego*; it purported to describe why people commit treason, but I think that it works for other motivations as well.  In order:

  • Money.  If there is no climate change crisis, there is no climate change crisis money from the government.  And remember that quote from Ghostbusters? “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”  True, it’s not very much money by private industry’s standards – but then, neither is the cash in prison economies, and people get killed over that all the time.
  • Ideology.  Alas, there has been a certain, ah, politicization of this issue in Western society.  And scientists are not really any more armored against letting their partisan politics color their job performance than are lawyers, doctors, and political bloggers.
  • Conscience.[**] “Well, I know that this is true.  I know it!  I just… can’t prove it.  Yet!  But I will!  And, until then, I can just… nudge things along.  Nobody will ever know, because this is how the numbers are supposed to look; we’ve just had a bit of bad luck with these specific test runs.” – This attitude, by the way, is the one that scientists and engineers dread.  When they’re not the ones doing it, that is.  Also: this is different from Ideology in that the researcher is motivated by his or her irrational devotion to a scientific theory and not a political entity.
  • Ego.  “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I created this field of study! It belongs to me and my peers! – and you do not qualify as a peer, sirrah!”  This is also a notable drag on the scientific process, and a primary reason why Arthur C Clarke created his First Law (“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong”).

Or, to put it more simply: scientists are human beings, with human motivations.  Some of those motivations can lead them down paths of stupidity, or even malice.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*I understand that they’ve added Sex to that since then, but let’s just pass that to one side for right now.

[**It’s actually Coercion, in the original MICE(S) formulation; but this still works as an acronym.]

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