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The President of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. Mike McPhaden did a public of shaming Dr. Peter Gleick yesterday, in terms reminiscent of Salem, Mass. In the over 30 years I have been a member of the AGU, the organization has never infuriated me so. Peter Gleick may have made a mistake, but it was a sincere and honest attempt to do something about the malicious, dangerous lies perpetrated by Heartland Institute. He did not deserve a public shaming.

Dr. McPhaden's message reads like it could have been written by the Pope, with scientists serving as priests. This approach is wrong because it encourages personal attacks by the climate change denial industry on individual scientists. Scientists aren't saints. The individual virtue of scientists is not what makes the science work. Scientists have human failings like everyone else. The only things that are sacred in science are the data and the scientific method. Humans are assumed to be fallible.

I have bolded the religious words used by McPhaden. I think that the religious words are very unfortunate because the AGU is not a church and scientists are not its priests.
 

During the third week of February our global community of Earth and space scientists witnessed the shocking fall from grace of an accomplished AGU member who betrayed the principles of scientific integrity. In doing so he compromised AGU’s credibility as a scientific society, weakened the public’s trust in scientists, and produced fresh fuel for the unproductive and seemingly endless ideological firestorm surrounding the reality of the Earth’s changing climate.

Peter Gleick resigned as chair of AGU’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics on 16 February, prior to admitting in a blog post that he obtained documents from the Heartland Institute under false pretenses. His transgression cannot be condoned, regardless of his motives. It is a tragedy that requires us to stop and reflect on what we value as scientists and how we want to be perceived by the public. Here are a few things that come immediately to mind:

My Response e-mailed to the President of the AGU:

Little did I know that I was joining a priesthood when I began to study science. The earth scientists I knew were a hard-nosed bunch of people who could get by under tough conditions in the field. The data and the scientific method were the only things that were sacrosanct. The scientists were profane. What you have written about Peter Gleick is preposterous nonsense.

"In doing so he compromised AGU’s credibility as a scientific society, weakened the public’s trust in scientists, and produced fresh fuel for the unproductive and seemingly endless ideological firestorm surrounding the reality of the Earth’s changing climate."

Peter Gleick was involved in a political problem involving Heartland's dissemination of disinformation about climate science. He did what many journalists and law enforcement officers do to pursue important information that was being kept secret. He deceived an organization engaged in deception to gain access to documents. This may have been a miscalculation because of adverse unintended consequences, but it had nothing to do with data or the scientific method. He was dealing with a huge political problem.

The firestorm about climate change has nothing to do with Gleick. It will continue, just like the firestorm about smoking continued, because very large powerful companies and individuals will lose money if we do something about it. The trustworthiness of scientists will continue to be attacked by front organizations associated with the fossil fuel business. Get used to it. We could all take vows of abstinence and we would still get attacked by Heartland.

Here's my suggestion to you and AGU.

Do more to fight climate change. Do more to educate the public.

Perhaps, if AGU fought harder Dr. Gleick wouldn't have felt he had to take on Heartland all by himself. Perhaps he wouldn't have been pushed to his personal limits. I'm not going to call him a hero, but he isn't the villain either. Heartland and it's sponsors are the villains. Dr Gleick fought them with good intentions. When you fight in the trenches, you get dirty.

I don't see that you have done much fighting.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The full President's Message follows the burnt orange croissant.

President's Message
We must remain committed to scientific integrity

27 February 2012

During the third week of February our global community of Earth and space scientists witnessed the shocking fall from grace of an accomplished AGU member who betrayed the principles of scientific integrity. In doing so he compromised AGU’s credibility as a scientific society, weakened the public’s trust in scientists, and produced fresh fuel for the unproductive and seemingly endless ideological firestorm surrounding the reality of the Earth’s changing climate.

Peter Gleick resigned as chair of AGU’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics on 16 February, prior to admitting in a blog post that he obtained documents from the Heartland Institute under false pretenses. His transgression cannot be condoned, regardless of his motives. It is a tragedy that requires us to stop and reflect on what we value as scientists and how we want to be perceived by the public. Here are a few things that come immediately to mind:

    * The success of the scientific enterprise depends on intellectual rigor, truthfulness, and integrity on the part of everyone involved. The vast majority of scientists uphold these values every day in their work. That’s why opinion polls show that public trust in scientists is among the highest of all professions. Public trust is essential because it provides the foundation for society’s willingness to invest in scientific exploration and discovery. It is the responsibility of every scientist to safeguard that trust.
    * As a community of scientists, we must hold each other to the highest ethical standards. This is why AGU established its Task Force on Scientific Ethics, in 2011, to review and update existing policies and procedures for dealing with scientific misconduct. Long before the Heartland incident, we recognized the need to have clear and broad principles and procedures that expressed the value of scientific integrity and ethics embodied in our new strategic plan. More than ever, AGU needs a clear set of guidelines that encompasses the full range of scientific activities our members engage in. The task force, now under the leadership of Linda Gundersen, director of the Office of Science Quality and Integrity at the U.S. Geological Survey, will complete its work with a renewed sense of urgency in view of recent events. Union leadership will ensure that these standards of ethical conduct are widely communicated to the membership and that they become an integral part of AGU’s culture.
    * All of this must be done with an eye to the future and to nurturing the next generation of Earth and space scientists. Today’s students must learn, especially through the example of senior scientists, that adherence to high standards of scientific integrity applies in all that we do: from research practices, to peer-reviewed publications, to interactions with colleagues, and to engaging with the public and policy makers. The lofty goal we set for ourselves of providing benefit to society through our research can be achieved only if we pursue our mission with the utmost honesty, transparency, and rigor.

This has been one of the most trying times for me as president of AGU, as it has been for many AGU volunteer leaders, members, and staff. How different it is than celebrating the news of a new discovery or a unique scholarly achievement. These rare and sad occasions remind us that our actions reverberate through a global scientific community and that we must remain committed as individuals and as a society to the highest standards of scientific integrity in the pursuit of our goals.

Mike McPhaden

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Comment Preferences

  •  Sometimes I'm a jerk. That doesn't change science. (0+ / 0-)

    This excommunication of Peter Gleick from the AGU priesthood sends the wrong message to the public about how science works. We don't have to be saints for science to be effective.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 11:51:58 AM PST

  •  No one listens to us (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Smoh, jimraff, Creosote

    when we're on a pedestal...

    The Will of the People shall be the Law of the Land. - Robert M. LaFollette

    by stcroix cheesehead on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 04:47:40 AM PST

  •  Special circumstances? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DRo, matching mole, FG, Catte Nappe

    I am only vaguely aware of the situation.  It looks to me like the main reason he resigned was not because of the transgression, but because of his post as chair of the ethics committee.  If Gleick was just a member at large would he have been "excommunicated"?  It seems that because of his position, he should have acted more ethically.  

    I quite agree with your comment that canning him sends the wrong message about science.  And in this day in age when a group is actively subverting science for economic gain, and environmental ruin, they have to be exposed.  Gleick may have been the wrong person to do it though.

    After the Republicans burn down the world, they will prove the Democrats did it.

    by jimraff on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 05:08:47 AM PST

    •  He was a brave man to do what he did knowing it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Heart n Mind, jimraff

      would bring a world of hurt down on his head. As far as I'm concerned Gleick acted as an investigative journalist and I applaud his actions.

    •  Not sure that Gleick acted unethically .. (9+ / 0-)

      even though resignation as chair of an ethics committee made / makes sense to me.

      What is 'ethical' or 'unethical' action in facing criminal activity? What is 'ethical'/'unethical' when dealing with people actively undermining truthful discussion on an arena with such large implications?  Gleick's actions are a tremendous case study for ethics classes ... but we are far from able to say that he "acted unethically".

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 06:14:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  more to the point, what is unethical about... (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel, imsodizzy, rja, native, jimraff

        .... exposing an organization whose activities are directly contributing to a human dieoff hundreds of times the size of the Nazi Holocaust and comparable to a nuclear war?

        Who among us, if given access to a time machine, wouldn't set the dials for the early 1930s and shoot Adolph Hitler, thereby preventing World War II and the Holocaust?  Will our descendants come to the same conclusion about today's promoters of global climate catastrophe, as the death toll hits the one billion mark and heads for two billion?

        Compared to the likely conclusions of the judgement of history, Gleick acted with admirable restraint, and nonviolence worthy of a saint.  What we need are more nonviolent actions like his, while there's still time.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 09:31:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The truth shall set you free, and your ass fired!! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          G2geek

          "Professional" scientists.... yeah, I'm ethically impressed by this stance, big time.
          What side are you ultimately on, McPhaden?
          The planet swings in the balance.  We can't really move anywhere else...
          Next time point that weapon AWAY from the group before firing, thanks.

  •  I think what Glieck did was a pretty minor (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pat208, Catte Nappe

    ethics violation. However, it makes sense that a person committing a very public ethics violation, even if it's not a major one, shouldn't be a chair of any ethics committee.

  •  Doesn't anyone here grasp the PR disaster (0+ / 0-)

    that AGU is facing?  Heartland gets a huge gift from this since the basic information that Gleick exposed is hardly surprising and the most "embarrassing" document is a fake.  AGU correctly views this episode as damaging to its stated mission.

    There are plenty of large, well-funded advocacy groups that can duel with Heartland, but AGU or APS have nothing to gain and much to lose by taking that path.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 08:17:22 AM PST

    •  grasp (0+ / 0-)

      Yes. It was an ill-considered (but hardly tragic) act by Gleick, because likely counter-productive to his own ends, and most of the information was available anyway, from what I have heard Oreskes (?) say. I would not have couched things quite the way AGU did, but they had little choice but to distance themselves. His action will not stop people bent on destroying the future, and therefore was not necessary.

  •  In the future(if we make it) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, rja

    people like Gleick will be hailed as heroes. Freedom fighters of sorts. There's no doubt that in the future we'll need many more Gleickies in our ranks. And I personally think people should do anything necessary to stop assholes hell bent on destroying the future for our ancestors because of greed.

  •  I wouldn't expect a scientist (0+ / 0-)

    to be any more ethical than the next person. And I'm dubious of people who display their professional qualifications like a badge of merit.

    Dr. McPhaddden sounds awfully pompous here, and your response to him is brilliant.

    "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." - Oliver Hardy

    by native on Fri Mar 09, 2012 at 01:56:15 PM PST

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