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A Case Study in Hypocrisy: Peter Gleick, Climategate, and the Politics of Scandal

POSTED ON: February 21, 2012

By Patrick Robbins

Yesterday, water and climate analyst Peter Gleick admitted to soliciting materials from the Heartland Institute under a fake name. These materials detailed the budget allocations of the climate skeptic think tank, as well as several items of their agenda for the coming year. While they have condemned and threatened Gleick (who posted his disappointingly obsequious admission on his blog yesterday evening), many of the most damning items in the leak have since been confirmed—such as the funding of a K-12 curriculum that would teach children that climate change isn’t happening.

By any standard, this should be the real story—major fossil fuel funders are trying to use their money to teach our kids junk science (Mike Ludwig at Truthout does an excellent job of cataloguing the content of the leaks here). Instead, we are seeing hand-wringing from the New York Times and other major news outlets about Gleick’s ethics.

Two things immediately stand out from this situation. First of all, the hypocrisy of Heartland’s position is breathtaking. As you will recall, Heartland was only too happy to post information gleaned from hacked emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia in 2009. I examined those emails myself during that time—I have a background in climate science, and I was as curious as everyone else to see whether or not they indicated flaws in the science of climate change. As far as I could tell, the most damning contents of these emails was an indicator of discrepancy in a particular set of tree-ring data, which was rightly greeted with yawns by the majority of the climate community. By contrast, the leaked information from the Heartland Institute details a well-funded attack on objective science, something that should be far more newsworthy than the East Anglia emails. The scientists who wrote these emails have since posted a letter pointing out this hypocrisy here.

Second of all, let’s have a real conversation about Gleick’s ethics, please. This is a man who has risked his reputation and his career so that the public at large may better understand the mechanics of the climate skeptic machine. It will be up to the courts to decide whether or not Gleick broke the law in doing so. That said, we have a long and rich tradition in this country of individuals who break the law so that all others living under that law may benefit. The proper word to describe those individuals is “heroes.”


  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.