Peter Gleick’s Possible Involvement in Drafting Fake Heartland Document: Either Not Investigated or the Relevant Results Not Released

After an investigation commissioned by the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick has been reinstated as its President.  The Institute released a carefully worded statement saying that the investigation supported what Gleick had said “regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute.”  Gleick had eventually admitted that he had pretended to be a board member of Heartland to obtain non-public materials from them.  Once Gleick confessed to this, that much was not in dispute.

But the part that was still open to dispute involved the fake document that was not obtained through Gleick’s “interaction with the Heartland Institute.”  Gleick claimed that someone anonymously sent it to him “in the mail.”  Thus, he was not claiming that it came through “his interaction with the Heartland Institute.”

Remember: based on the language, content, and document properties, Gleick was identified by some commentators as the likeliest author of that fake document even before Gleick came forward to admit his role in feeding both the real and the disputed (i.e., fake) Heartland documents to bloggers.  What a coincidence that the author of the fake document used some phrases that Gleick favors, that the document inflated Gleick’s importance, and that Gleick admitted passing the document to others, but yet he didn’t write it (or so he claims)!

So what does the Pacific Institute have to say about the fake document that everyone agrees did not come from Gleick’s interaction with the Heartland Institute?  Absolutely NOTHING!


The Pacific Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Peter Gleick back to his position as president of the Institute. An independent review conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the Institute has supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute. This independent investigation has further confirmed and the Pacific Institute is satisfied that none of its staff knew of or was involved in any way.

Dr. Gleick has apologized publicly for his actions, which are not condoned by the Pacific Institute and run counter to the Institute’s policies and standard of ethics over its 25-year history. The Board of Directors accepts Dr. Gleick’s apology for his lapse in judgment.

You’ve heard of non-denial denials. This is a non-confirmation confirmation.  Any lawyer worth his salt would read the Pacific Institute’s statement and assume that, while the investigation supported Gleick on the issue that no one disputed (“regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute”), it probably did not support (or was silent) on the issue on which the Heartland Institute seemed to have the more likely explanation.

So there are two possibilities: EITHER (1) the report did not support Gleick on the origin of the fake document and the Board of the Pacific Institute is now trying to mislead the public with an evasive press release, OR (2) the Board of the Pacific Institute is extremely incompetent at writing press releases.

If the Pacific Institute were to release the report, not only would we be able to determine which alternative is true, but we would be able to assess the report’s plausibility—in particular, what the supposed original document and envelope to Gleick looked like and where they came from, and whether Gleick’s computers could have produced the document.

It is instructive to compare the gullibility of Felicity Barringer at the New York Times Green blog to the proper skepticism of her Times colleague Andrew Revkin at his Dot Earth blog.


Nancy Ross, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Institute, declined to release specific details on the findings of the investigation, saying it was an internal personnel matter.

By saying that its investigation . . . confirmed Dr. Gleick’s account, the institute was implicitly backing the scientist’s claim that he was not responsible for cobbling together a document labeled a fake by Heartland, which he disseminated along with other genuine ones.

The bogus document spoke of effective ways for “dissuading science teachers from teaching science” and of “cultivating” respected writers on climate issues. Dr. Gleick said he had received it “in the mail.”


Here’s the troubling part: The Pacific Institute described its investigation as “a confidential personnel matter” and said for that reason no details on the process or findings would be released. Most notably, the group and its board declined to elaborate on the finding that the investigation, conducted by Independent Employment Counsel, “supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute.”

Does that mean the group expressly confirmed that a particularly provocative, and disputed, document was in fact produced by the Heartland Institute and not by Gleick himself or someone else?

No answer.

It’s fine to have an internal personnel investigation, but if you’re going to then release the finding publicly, but not any other details, it’s hard to see that carrying much weight in discourse outside the organization itself.

That’s why I see little merit in descriptions of the reinstatement as an exoneration — a word used by Michael E. Mann, a University of Pennsylvania climate scientist who, like Gleick, has become a prominent campaigner for action on curbing greenhouse gases. Here’s how Mann was quoted on the Gleick affair in Politico:

“I’m very pleased to learn that Peter has been exonerated,” Michael Mann of Penn State told ME. “He’s been a tireless champion for an informed discussion about how we deal with the challenges of climate change and diminishing access to clean water. I, for one, welcome him back to that discussion.”

Revkin concludes that “the big questions about the Heartland incident [are] still unresolved.”

Kudos to Andrew Revkin of the Times for knowing how to read a press release.


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