A lovely bit of moral weasling on climate change in The Guardian (where else?) today. James Garvey weighs in on the Peter Gleick / Heartland Institute controversy.
For those not following climate change blogspace, a reasonably neutral summary of the Heartland Institute document leak / forgery dispute is on Wikipedia. Executive summary: Gleick phished documents from Heartland via email and published them anonymously, then later admitted to deception in order to obtain them. There is debate raging about the most incriminating memo in the collection which Heartland and skeptic bloggers claim is forged; if Gleick has participated a forgery here, the outlook for him will be even bleaker than it looks now.
[I didn't realise until bloggining this that Peter Gleick is the brother of James Gleick, whose books on R. P. Feynman and Chaos I've rather enjoyed. Live and learn].
Anyway, back to Mr. Garvey. His take on the affair is quite plain:
Suppose you stop a friend from driving after he's had too many drinks by slipping his keys in your pocket and lying about it until you manage to drive him home yourself. Sometimes lying is the right thing to do – a lie isn't just wrong full stop.And if you had any doubt, he makes it clear:
If Gleick frustrates the efforts of Heartland, isn't his lie justified by the good that it does?Well, there's that "if authentic" (the above-mentioned controversy about the possible forgery is rather relevant) but it seems fairly clear that Garvey believes that the end justifies the means. How nice. How rigorous of him. Who exactly is this gentleman?
The documents, if authentic, show that Heartland takes money – in secret – from people who have something to gain by the idea that climate science is uncertain, and then spread that idea with enthusiasm.
James Garvey is secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and author of The Ethics of Climate ChangeAh, a philosopher. Or a philospher's secretary. Figures...
The point I'd like to take issue with, though is this:
The fact that so many people are criticising Gleick for his lie, rather than Heartland for its secret funding arrangements, is itself remarkable.I confess, I would have found near-incredible the notion that a man like Peter Gleick would have forged a memo incriminating the Heartland Institute in a cash-for-denialism scandal. But I would likewise have found it near-incredible that he would phish documents from Heartland and publish them anonymously, risking his reputation and career for relatively limited benefit. Since he has admitted to the latter (and his career appears to be in the toilet) I have to reassess the probability of the former. The document in question is looking increasingly shaky - Heartland has robustly denied its veracity - so the best case is that someone else forged the document and slipped it into the mix. If Gleick has participated in the forgery, he is so far down the hole that they'll have to pipe in the sunlight.
Mr. Garvey - science is founded on truth, the principle that you will not claim what you know to be false. Scientists who do this are unworthy of the name and are stripped of employment and reputation because of how serious, how fundamental this principle is to science. There is nothing remarkable in the public reaction to Gleick's deception. What is remarkable is the lengths to which people like you will go to defend this behaviour. It tells the world a lot more about you than you might realise.
Commentator fnusnuank nails the issue:
If the ends justify the means then you can justify anything and that means you could argue that Anders Behring Breivik is a hero (I can see there's a bit of a problem here given that many idolize Stalin, Mao etc but you get my point).
Do you really want to go down that route?