Peter Gleick reveals himself as source of Heartland documents

  • 21 Feb 2012, 12:35
  • Christian Hunt

It's been a week since strategy documents purporting to be from free-market American think-tank the Heartland Institute were emailed to a number of journalists from a mystery email account.

In an unexpected twist, last night hydrologist and climate science columnist Peter Gleick revealed himself to be the source of the documents. Gleick, the head of the California-based Pacific Research Institute, wrote a statement on his Huffington Post blog claiming that he originally received the document which Heartland says is faked from an anonymous emailer, and then in what he describes as "a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics" he "solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name".

Heartland's response to Gleick's statement confirms his version of events on how the 'solicited' emails made their way out of the building, but remains unclear on whether the other documents are accurate or not. Heartland also maintain that one of the documents - a summary memo - is a fake.

Despite Heartland's reluctance to reveal whether the other documents are real, the Associated Press have verified that much of the information in them is correct by using other sources. The other documents appear to show details of their actual and proposed funding for well-known climate skeptic scientists and bloggers, further plans to influence the teaching of climate science in schools, and details about the Institute's funding.

Climate skeptic bloggers had already speculated that Gleick was the source because he was named in the documents, and information about the location of the leaker contained in file metadata suggested they were located on the west coast of the USA. Skeptics have furthermore suggested that Gleick faked the memo, citing evidence including writing style and use of parentheses. Gleick claims not.

Reaction from other commentators in the States has varied. Desmogblog, the website that first put the documents online, has hailed Gleick as a "whistleblower" who "deserves our gratitude and respect".  Columnist  Andy Revkin  of the New York Times argued that Gleick has "admitted to an act that leaves his reputation in ruins and threatens to undercut the cause he spent so much time pursuing".

Gleick himself wrote "I deeply regret my own actions". According to the Guardian he is getting advice from communications specialist Chris Lehane "who worked in the Clinton White House  [and] is credited for exposing the right-wing forces arrayed against the Democratic President".

With Heartland threatening legal action against Gleick and journalists and bloggers who covered the story, there's probably more to come, which is likely to pull focus from the details about Heartland's work that have apparently been revealed.

And presumably many in the scientific community will feel uncomfortable with a scientist taking such steps. One wrote on twitter this morning:

Irrespective of credentials, a scientist who lets his personal convictions blur his professional judgement is a bad scientist.

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