Please Turn Around, Dr. Gundersen, You’re Blowing Your One Chance!
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I was ruminating about Peter Gleick, and the AGU Task Force on Scientific Integrity, when I came across a very apropos quote. This is from another arena of life entirely, that of professional baseball. No one was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Voters seem to have been turned off by the steroid scandals, which involved some of the players eligible this year. The pitcher Curt Shilling was what you might term “collateral damage”—he had nothing to do with steroids, was always clean, and yet he didn’t get in to the Hall of Fame this year. Shilling has his supporters and detractors, but yesterday he made one of the most mature comments I could ever imagine. I can only hope that climate science holds players as honest and responsible about their own profession as is Curt Schilling. He said:
“If there was ever a ballot and a year to make a statement about what we didn’t do as players — which is we didn’t actively push to get the game clean — this is it.”
“Perception in our world is absolutely reality. Everybody is linked to it. You either are a suspected user or you’re somebody who didn’t actively do anything to stop it. You’re one or the other if you were a player in this generation.
“Unfortunately I fall into the category of one of the players that didn’t do anything to stop it. As a player rep and a member of the association, we had the ability to do it and we looked the other way, just like the media did, just like the ownership did, just like the fans did. And now this is part of the price that we’re paying.”
In the same way that selective blindness happened in baseball regarding steroid use, mainstream climate scientists and the AGW supporting blogosphere and the media and the journals and in the latest example, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), all of them have “looked the other way” regarding such things as the scientific malfeasance of the Climategate folks, and more recently the actions of Dr. Peter Gleick. Let me briefly review the bidding of the Gleick saga.
Dr. Peter Gleick was the Chair of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Task Force on Ethics and Integrity in AGU Scientific Activities. As he tells the tale, he received a document from an anonymous sender purporting to come originally from the Heartland Institute. He wanted to verify the accuracy of the document. So far, so good. At that point, it seems like a man with integrity would go to Joe Bast at Heartland and say “Hey, Joe, I got this crazy letter. Is any of this true?”. If Peter was rebuffed there, he could consider other options.
Not Peter. Instead of taking the straight path, he went corkscrew. He called up some poor hapless secretary at the Heartland Institute, and impersonated a Company Director in order to obtain confidential company Board of Directors briefing papers. There’s a technical name for that kind of action. It’s called “wire fraud”.
Now, if Peter’s tale were true, about wanting to verify the accuracy of the document he’d received, you’d think he’d look at the actual papers he obtained through wire fraud. Then he’d compare the authentic Board briefing papers to the document he’d received, and then throw the document he’d received in the trash.
Why? Because it was an obvious forgery. Both the style and the content, including critical details, differ radically from the other documents he had, documents he knew were authentic for a simple reason—because he had stolen them himself.
Once he saw that the document he’d received was fraudulent, you’d think Peter would have stopped there and destroyed everything. But not our Chair of Scientific Integrity. Corkscrew wins again. Instead of taking it all straight to the shredder, he took the document, mixed it in with the authentic documents, and secretly and anonymously emailed them all to various recipients without any mention that one of them was fraudulent.
Now, I don’t know if there’s a crime in the latter part. Stealing secret business documents is one crime. Is revealing them to the public a second crime, particularly when there is one known forgery added to the bunch? Distribution of a forged document? I don’t know about crime, but I do know … that’s slime.
Fast forward a few months. After being exposed and having no other way out, Peter confessed to all except forging the initial document, and he may be right. It doesn’t matter. None of it justifies wire fraud and an attempt at scurrilously damaging Heartland’s reputation by his circulation of a very deliberately deceptive package of documents including a known forgery.
So Dr. Gleick resigned from the Task Force. He’d demonstrated he didn’t have enough integrity to be Chair of the AGU group charged with considering and encouraging Scientific Integrity. He was replaced as Chair, presumably by the person among the other Task Force members with the next highest amount of integrity. This was a woman named Dr. Linda Gundersen.
In a post I wrote almost a year ago, called “An Open Letter to Dr. Linda Gundersen“, I congratulated Dr. Gunderson on what I saw as a difficult post to fill. I pointed out the very public nature of her promotion, due to the precipitous and most theatrical pratfall of her predecessor, Dr. Peter Gleick. I also noted that she had a huge opportunity, which was to start by having the task force consider the lack of scientific integrity of her predecessor.
You have the opportunity to actually take a principled stand here, Dr. Gundersen, and I cannot overemphasize the importance of you doing so. Dr. Gleick’s kind of unethical skullduggery in the name of science has ruined the reputation of the entire field of climate science. The rot of “noble cause corruption” is well advanced in the field, and it will not stop until people just like you quit looking the other way and pretending it doesn’t exist. I had hoped that some kind of repercussions for scientific malfeasance would be one of the outcomes of Climategate, but people just ignored that part. This one you can’t ignore.
Well, I suppose you can ignore it, humans are amazing, anyone can ignore even an elephant in the room … but if you do ignore it, in the future please don’t ever expect your opinions on scientific integrity to be given even the slightest weight. The world is already watching your actions, not your words, and you can be assured that those actions will be carefully examined. If you let this chance for meaningful action slip away, no one out here in the real world will ever again believe a word you say on the subject of integrity.
I cannot urge you in strong enough terms. Do not miss the boat on this one. The credibility of your panel is already irrevocably damaged by the witless choice of your first chair. The move is yours to make or not, the opportunity is there to take the scientific high ground. You will be judged on whether you and the Task Force have the scientific integrity to take action regarding Dr. Gleick, or whether you just take the UN route and issue a string of “strongly worded resolutions” bemoaning the general situation.
Now, lest you think that my claim that “the world is already watching” in the quote above is mere hyperbole, I suggest you google ‘Dr. Linda Gundersen’, no need for quotes. Note that the most highly ranked link, first on the Google list, is my post “An Open Letter to Dr. Linda Gundersen” here on WUWT.
I closed that post by saying:
I am hoping for action on this, but sadly, I have been in this game long enough to not expect scientific integrity, even from scientists who sit on scientific integrity task forces … and I would be delighted to be proven wrong.
In any case, my warmest and best wishes to you, Dr. Gundersen. I do not envy you, as you have a very difficult task ahead. I wish you every success in your work.
In short, I did what I could to let her know that I wished her success, that her actions in this regard wouldn’t go unnoticed, and to encourage her to take the path of scientific integrity and at a minimum to perform and make public a non-adversarial inquiry into, and the lessons learned from, the downfall of her predecessor.
I thought that it was critical to deal with Glieck’s actions because they perfectly exemplify a huge problem in climate science, called “noble cause corruption. This occurs when someone is so convinced of the correctness and the importance and the nobility of their cause that they start shading the numbers, just a little at first, not much, just highlighting … and in the later stages of noble cause corruption they may well find themselves manufacturing the numbers wholesale, without any idea how they got to that point. It’s not your usual kind of corruption, the kind for money or fame. Instead, it’s corruption in the service of a “noble cause”, as they tell themselves. The problem, of course, is that noble cause corruption is still … well … corruption. Lethal and antithetical to science.
Climategate revealed that beyond fudging the numbers, some climate scientists were so convinced that they were saving the earth that they were willing to secretly commit a variety of highly unethical and even illegal acts in the furtherance of their noble cause. That’s the end result of noble cause corruption that starts with shading a few numbers, or as I sometimes call it as regards climate science, “Nobel cause corruption”.
Now, a year later, I find that my pessimism regarding Dr. Gundersen was wholly justified. Steve McIntyre went to the latest AGU meeting. He discusses some of what went on in a post worth reading, entitled “AGU Honors Gleick“. Dr. Gundersen, it seems, has done absolutely nothing regarding l’affaire Gleick. Well, not quite nothing. Sounds like she did a very credible impersonation of Pontius Pilate, wherein she washed her hands of the whole business, says it’s nothing to do with AGU in the slightest. No reprimand, no UN-style “strongly worded letter”, no commentary. No discussion of the issues exposed by the affair, no interview with the currently un-indicted Dr. Gleick to try to clear the waters, not what Steve McIntyre calls the scientific equivalent of a “one-game-suspension”, not even some vague, plain vanilla statement deploring the kind of actions without mentioning any names. Nothing.
Now that would be bad enough. But it gets worse. The AGU leadership honored Gleick by inviting him to make a presentation! That’s double-plus ungood, as the man said.
It’s bad enough that the AGU leadership did not censure him, or even discuss his actions in the abstract to see what lessons might be learned.
It is a whole other message, however, to invite him to speak. That is an honor. That sends that message that the AGU understands poor Dr. Peter. It says he took one for the team, and that wire fraud in the defense of a noble cause is no big thing … So much for the scientific integrity of the AGU, in this case at least they just showed they have none at all.
Finally, remember, this is not just some ordinary member of AGU that has done something totally lacking in integrity. It’s not even just an AGU official who stands self-condemned of a huge ethical lapse. Heck, it’s not even just a member of the AGU Task Force on Scientific Integrity being found with his hand in the cookie jar. This is the Chair of the AGU Task Force on Scientific Integrity, caught red-handed and self-confessed … and Dr. Gundersen says this has nothing to do with the AGU Task Force on Scientific Integrity or the AGU?
In any case, Dr. Linda Gunderson, in a move that I truly don’t understand, has now taken one for the team as well. She has stood as the steadfast bulwark against the malevolent creeping scourge of scientific integrity, by refusing to even consider the process whereby she got the job that she holds …
Ah, well. I suppose it must have earned her, if not the respect, at least the gratitude of her colleagues. They must have been afraid for a minute that she might do something. Glad that’s straight. Her name must serve as a beacon of hope among wire fraudsters everywhere, at least the ones with integrity. I just hope that keeps her warm at midnight, when she considers the cold wind of history whistling through the shredded remains of her own reputation …
Finally, it’s not too late, she could pull out of the nose dive. Dr. Linda could still do the right thing. She could still open a discussion about noble cause corruption, and what it has done to the field of climate science. She could still talk about the increase in scientific fraud, and what that means to science itself.
Heck, every good theoretical paper needs an example. So she could even talk about how noble cause corruption and blind fanaticism blighted first the Climategate unindicted co-conspirators, then Dr. Peter’s career, then Dr. Linda’s career, and eventually has cast a shadow over the AGU itself …
Alternatively, she could write up a piece and publish it here on WUWT, I’m certain Anthony would have no objections. She could tell us all just why she has done nothing regarding Dr. Gleick’s actions. That’s what I’d do in her shoes. Well, no, actually if I were in her shoes, I’d open a non-adversarial inquiry, to see what we could all learn from Dr. Peter’s fall. But my point is, the game’s not over yet, she could pull through, and I would be very happy to see her do so.
Or not. She could do nothing. But it’s not just her. The problem is the silence of all the rest of the lambs. As Curt Schilling said,
You either are a suspected user or you’re somebody who didn’t actively do anything to stop it. You’re one or the other if you were a player in this generation.
Dear friends, science is in trouble. Retracted papers and inadequate peer-review and horribly slanted papers and even forged papers are all on the rise. If the AGU is unwilling to stop honoring those who actively promote forged documents, then why should anyone place any credence any of them? People are becoming disillusioned, losing faith and trust in science because of the unethical, unscientific, immoral, and sometimes even illegal actions of people like Dr. Gleick and the Climategate crowd … and Dr. Linda Gundersen and the AGU leadership seem to have put themselves firmly in the camp that Curt Schilling called those who “didn’t actively do anything to stop it”.
I’m not made that way. Now I admit, I can’t do much, any more than many of us can … but I will not go gentle into that good night, and I encourage you not to either. This is me raging against the dying of the scientific light. We all need, in Curt’s words, to “actively push to get the game clean.”
APPENDIX: The actual charge of the AGU Task Force, from here:
Task Force on Ethics and Integrity in AGU Scientific Activities
The Task force will:
• Review the current state of AGU’s scientific ethical standards in the geophysical sciences and those of other related professional/scholarly societies.
• Based on this knowledge update AGU’s protocols and procedures for addressing violations of its ethical principles
• As appropriate revise and augment AGU’s current ethical principles and code of conduct for AGU meetings, publications and for interactions between scientists with their professional colleagues and the public.
• Propose sanctions for those who violate AGU’s ethical principles.
• Consider whether AGU should adopt a statement of ethical principles as a condition of membership or for participation in certain activities of the Union. If so, develop a recommendation on how the principles would be applied to AGU members and or participants in AGU activities.