That Genius stuff was always a distraction.

This is preposterous.   “Water leadership up for grabs as deception fells Gleick.” There are several things wrong with that statement, which I will list for you.

1. Deception isn’t going to “fell” Dr. Gleick.  The dude has a track record of decades.  Pearl-clutchers are going to clutch their pearls for another week, and within a month or two, Dr. Gleick is going to get invited to conferences again for the same reasons he always was.  He knows the data, makes his point(s) clearly and is a good speaker.

2. This level of “deception” shouldn’t fell Dr. Gleick even if it could.   This was a situation in which there were two morally impure effective outcomes, and a morally pure ineffective outcome. 

a. Morally impure effective outcome #1.  Gleick does nothing; the Heartland Institute continues to deny climate change, damaging what we recognize as a comfortable world.  Billions of people in the Third World suffer more than they otherwise would.
b. Morally impure effective outcome #2.  Gleick uses subterfuge.  Heartland Institute is discredited, maybe can do less damage from here on out.
c. Morally pure, ineffective outcome.  Gleick tries to get more out of the Heartland Institute in an above-the-board fashion.  Nothing happens, except that the Heartland Institute now has the knowledge to hide the fact that they’re bought and sold denialists.

Of those options, Dr. Gleick chose the one that causes the least damage, which is the right thing to do.  The folks who whine on and on about being perfectly morally pure aren’t acknowledging that there are moral costs on the other side of the balance.  Sometimes all you can do is choose the least bad option.

3. “Water leadership” doesn’t depend on Dr. Gleick’s presence.  Outside the field, people are super impressed with him.  If I had to choose only one message to get out to laypeople, it would be Dr. Gleick’s, because it sets an enviro standard.  But inside the field, he is one good thinker among a half dozen, and he’s lost a fair amount of credibility with people who simply cannot agree with the Pacific Institute’s claims that there is substantial wet water to be gained from agricultural water conservation.  Lots of people agree there are very good reasons to manage ag water very closely, and many of them think that getting big yields of transferrable water is not one of those reasons.  I don’t think Dr. Gleick should be discredited over the Heartland emails anyway, but if he were, it wouldn’t create a leadership void in the field.

After saying all this, which I could summarize by saying that I’ve got the same respect for Dr. Gleick that I always did, I cannot resist needling him some.  He’s disapproved of my pseudonymity for years, but perhaps this has given him a new appreciation for separating your work from your identity.  The reason I have the same respect for him that I always have is that he does damn good work.  He does everything I want to see:  collects and shows data, shows his derivations, shows how he arrives at conclusions.  I have every reason to think that the next report they put out will be exactly the same, since he’s been doing that for thirty years now.  When I read that report, I’ll do what I always do, which is to look at all those, and either agree or be able to point to where we diverge.  It won’t matter to me that it now comes from Big Fat Liar Gleick or that it used to come from Sainted Holy Gleick.  Fuck that noise.  None of it should change how I read his reports.  If it did before, that was always laziness and taking the shortcut of going by reputation. Which is a big part of why I blog under a pseudonym.   I could be an extraordinarily debonair type with a wall full of illustrious degrees.  More likely, I am a debauched lout who blogs from a bar covered in the remnants of my most recent meal.  But you don’t know.  You will have to read my work to evaluate it.  Which is what I want you to do.  And how I hope you’ll evaluate Dr. Gleick’s stuff from now on.  And how you always should have.

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7 responses to “That Genius stuff was always a distraction.

  1. Marcus

    I think you’ve captured Gleick’s value and role in the water world just right, but your three outcomes misses one:

    d. Morally impure ineffective outcome.

    Not to get all scold-y, but it’s hard to see how Gleick’s recent actions are going to help the cause of climate change, or help to discredit the Heartland Institute. If anything, it is going to give them the high ground, cause them to gain sympathy from the general public, spur donations to them, and generally not help the cause of those advocating for action to slow/stop climate change. Also, it generally just muddies the water in the climate debate. Not a very effective outcome in my mind. Seems pretty straightforwadly counter-productive.

  2. John Mashey

    Actually, if I’d known about this, I’d surely have asked Peter not to do this or to delay a while (at the least), since Feb 13 I’d finished Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax the day before, with the derived IRS complaint sealed to go on teh 14th. Then life went crazy.

    The strategy document confused people into thinking Heartland was just planning on attacks on education. That wasn’t new, see Fakeducation For Years From Heartland..
    It also distracted everybody from the real info in the Budget and Funding documents.

    The results are mixed. There has been much confusion … but then I’ve gotten more calls from mainstream media and Congressional staff in last week or so than in quite a while. One Congressman has already called for an investigation of one Heartland-related government employee, letters have gone to 6 universities regarding staff who might have conflicts of interest, many people are pushing on corporate donors, we’ve learned Heartland is getting even more money from tobacco companies, and a large number of people besides me have suddenly gotten interested in 501(c)(3) and following money trails. Some of that would have happened without the leak, some not. Of course, the Anonymous Donor is almost certain to be Barre Seid, something useful to know.

  3. Particularly well argued.

  4. The question isn’t whether you think Dr. Gleick should be discredited. Of course he shouldn’t be. But he got caught, and nothing brings out the knives faster from media and megaphones. It’s a shame that his pseudonymous alter ego wasn’t as good at subterfuge as the real guy is with collecting and analyzing data. Gleick operates publicly in a highly politicized context where facts are often less useful than appearance. He gave his opponents a great deal of rhetorical grist, with which they will do everything they can to discredit him, despite the rigor of his work.

  5. Mr. Kurtz

    This episode might make him a better person, and a better scientist, if he takes his sincere and well-put apology to heart. He let his desire for an outcome get ahead his duty to be honest. Once he discovered that the Koch “millions” turned out to be 25 grand,and that Heartland itself is a tiny little outfit, he should have spiked the whole thing; and that’s another piece of bad judgement. If he can next be honest with himself about the vast ocean of water that agricultural conservation (overseen, of course, by a posse of experts from places like Maryland) is supposed to produce, we might be getting somewhere.

  6. onthepublicrecord

    He is already a good person, and one who will stand up in front of a room of irrigators and say ‘Actually, we should save the smelt because it is morally wrong to let creatures suffer the harms of our way of life, and we don’t need to kludge together instrumentalist reasons.’. That isn’t easy to do. He doesn’t have to improve himself or learn redemptive lessons out of this. He should simply return to his usual form. I should also say that he doesn’t have to come around to my way of thinking on the potential for ag water conservation for me to admire his ethics. His advocacy pulls the conversation about ag water conservation way left, which I am glad for. Makes me look reasonable.

  7. Mr. Kurtz

    SO it’s OK to obtain information by fraudulent means and invade individuals’ (not government’s) expectations of privacy (when no crime has been committed), as long as its done by someone with the right opinions? What if Heartland had hacked KPFA’s voicemail? It was an arrogant and dishonest act, and Gleick, to his credit, has admitted as much. His arrogance has been a big hindrance in getting his message beyond his hard-core acolytes. If this makes him more thoughtful, maybe more people will listen to him. Maybe not agree, but listen.