Heartland Institute: an update

English: Peter Gleick lectures at SkeptiCalCon...

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Last week what were reported to be internal fundraising plans and strategy papers from the hard right anti-science Heartland Institute were leaked to the media.

Heartland said the documents – which seemingly reported on plans to scare teachers away teaching climate science – were stolen and/or were fakes.

Now a scientist called Peter Gleick has come forward top confirm that he obtained the documents from Heartland by deception.

Gleick has apologised for his actions and has been subject to a lot of harsh criticism from fellow scientsists. He has, however, also confirmed that the documents are genuine and rather blown Heartland’s attempt to deny that out of the water.

I am in two minds about the ethics of all this. Some years ago the Guardian newspaper brought down the career of a UK Cabinet minister, Jonathan Aitken, through the use of what they called a “cod fax”: they used deception to find out that Aitken, while minister for defence procurement, had had his hotel bill paid by an arms lobbyist. Aitken denied the whole thing, fought a defamation action, lost and ended up in jail for perjury.

Seemed to me that the Guardian’s deception was very much in the public interest. And I find it difficult to say that Gleick’s exposure of Heartland – who have had a major impact on the debate in the US – was not motivated by a similar desire to do public good. But Gleick was not a journalist and – this is pretty important – Heartland were not breaking any laws (or ministerial codes of conduct).