“…As hackers become politicized and as activists become computerized, we are going to see an increase in the number of cyber-activists who engage in what will become more widely known as Electronic Civil Disobedience. The same principals of traditional civil disobedience, like trespass and blockage, will still be applied, but more and more these acts will take place in electronic or digital form. The primary site for Electronic Civil Disobedience will be in cyberspace.” – Stefan Wry, On Electronic Civil Disobedience
“…Electronic civil disobedience can include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft and data leaks, illegal web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage. It is distinct from other kinds of hacktivism in that the perpetrator openly reveals his identity. Virtual actions rarely succeed in completely shutting down their targets, but they often generate significant media attention.” – Wikipedia, Civil Disobedience
I awoke this morning to read the news that climate scientist Peter Gleick had admitted his role in leaking the Heartland Institute documents:
Given the potential impact, however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.
Having obtained the documents, Gleick has revealed both his identity and role.
Responses are polarised along “party” lines of those that deny climate change, and those that accept the science. Here is a selection of some of the responses:
Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy picks up on Heartland’s hypocrisy:
However, there are things we do indeed know. One is that the Heartland Institute has a long history of climate change denial. Another is that they were huge cheerleaders of the manufactured Climategate nonsense, involving stolen emails from real scientists, but threatened to sue bloggers when their own documents were exposed in this very similar way. This reaction by Heartland is very telling, in my opinion.
Gareth over at Hot Topic:
Nevertheless, Gleick should not have done what he did. However valuable the public service he performed in exposing the reality of Heartland’s climate lobbying and the roots of its funding — and that information is hugely important to any “rational discussion” of why, more than 20 years after the problem was first identified, the USA and the world remains unable to take meaningful action on emissions reductions — the means he chose were not those we would expect from a respected senior scientist.
However this plays out in the longer term, it’s clear that Peter Gleick played the role of whistleblower, bringing the attention of the world to the nefarious activities of a well-funded right wing lobby group with mysterious “anonymous donors” and zero accountability for their actions. It’s a job that any worthwhile investigative journalist would have loved to have done — and which should have been done long ago.
And Revkin over at Dot.Earth is scathing of Gleick:
One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family).
The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the “rational public debate” that he wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.
Michael Tobis over at Planet 3.0 is supportive of Gleick, and critical of Revkin’s stance:
Peter didn’t manage to cover his tracks very well, possibly leading to trouble for him, which is unfortunate. (I don’t want to speculate on the details and their legal implications. This will presumably be soap opera fodder for some time.)
But to suggest that this sets the rational public debate back…? I fail to see it.
Let’s talk about how ill-informed but self-important super-wealthy people with pet obsessions distort the public conversation, and to add insult to injury, deduct the expenses from their taxable income.
If Peter’s acts stimulate that awareness, they will have served the greater good and moved the possibility of rational debate uncolored by oligarchs and their paid minions forward. In my opinion, you should be defending him for taking personal risks in the pursuit of what, in the end, was a journalistic endeavor.
Stephen Stromberg at the Washington Post thinks the incident hurts climate science:
Peter Gleick violated a principle rule of the global-warming debate: Climate scientists must be better than their opponents.
Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, admitted Monday night that he dishonestly obtained fundraising and strategy documents from the Heartland Institute, an obnoxious anti-climate science think tank. In the process, he’s done more to discredit himself and his work than he has to expose cynicism and collusion among global-warming deniers.
It’s very tempting for scientists and their allies to employ to tactics of their over-aggressive critics. Yet the global warming camp must make an affirmative case for ambitious action on carbon emissions. Critics need only poke holes in the scientists’ arguments, or, as is so often the case in global warming debates, merely insist they’ve done so. Manipulation and perfidy work much better for the deniers.
Of course, the denial blogs have exploded with indignation. “Sceptical” blogger and recipient of Heartland funds Anthony Watts threatens legal action:
For the record Dr. Gleick, I am not “anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated” as you suggest. And you have damaged me and my business. I suspect I’ll be seeing you in court to protect my rights, along with many others, sir.
There is much to digest and discuss in this latest “scandal”.
P.Z Myers has written an incisive post, titled “No sympathy for the devil“:
How about if we focus on the content of the leaked documents instead? They do reveal a deep truth: that the Heartland Institute is a propaganda organization with great support from right-wing political organizations and individuals, and that their mission is to parcel out money to disinformation agents like Anthony Watts and Fred Singer, who sow unfounded doubt and confusion about real science. And they plan to poison American education.
The Gleick affair raises vital questions about the climate change debate, the role of think tanks and how scientists engage the public.
How do we view the actions of Gleick?
Do we claim them as a form of electronic civil disobedience?
Do we castigate him for perpetrating an illegal act that reflects poorly on those advocating action on climate change?
We’ve entered an era when the disclosure of information can shape political discourse: this is the age of Wikileaks, Climategate, Denialgate and the actions of Anonymous and Lulzec.
Stephen Lewandowsky discusses the ethics of Gleick’s actions:
“…Gleick has apologised for his use of subterfuge. His actions have violated the confidentiality of a think tank but they have also given the public a glimpse into the inner workings of the climate denial machine.
Had he not done so, no one’s confidentiality would have been violated, but then the public would have been kept guessing about the internal workings of one of the world’s most notorious serial impersonators of science. The Heartland Institute takes pride in its chimerical pseudo-“scientific” conferences and it is allied with “scientific” work that denies that mercury is poisonous.
In the real world, mercury is poisonous. In the real world, the number of weather-related natural disasters has tripled in the last 30 years, and the World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people are already dying annually from the effects of climate change. In reality, many of the IPCC’s 2007 predictions have been found to be overly conservative rather than alarmist. And the latest IPCC report has reiterated the risks we are facing in the all-too-near future if we delay action on climate change.
Revealing to the public the active, vicious, and well-funded campaign of denial that seeks to delay action against climate change likely constitutes a classic public good.
It is a matter of personal moral judgment whether that public good justifies Gleick’s sting operation to obtain those revelations.”