James’ Theory

Unlike his usual tightly reasoned and sober output, I find James Annan’s theory on the Gleick affair bizarrely overwrought and implausible. I am happy to report that his posting has led to an outbreak of further wild speculation.

As for myself, the theory that Steve Easterbrook propounds was the one that first occurred to me: Heartland lost control of the hard copy of a draft of a memo somehow, and a copy thereof arrived in Gleick’s postal mail, probably via a third party that didn’t know what to do with it.

But I encourage all manner of speculation about it, as long as it keeps this story alive, because the more this is talked about, the more people will consider who and what Heartland is.

Comments:

  1. Sweet, another excellent thread to speculate!

    While we're speculating, there is a line in the disputed memo:

    He [The Anonymous Donor] has promised an increase in 2012 - see the 2011 Fourth Quarter Financial Report.

    But we've never seen the Fourth Quarter Financial Report. And neither has Gleick. Why on Earth would try and fake a memo, then point to a document that he's never read, making even more easy to refute the authenticity of it. How the hell would he know what shadowy donors are discussed as promising more money in 2012 in that doc?

    Am I missing something?

    • Yes, I did miss something, it's in the Binder.

      $700,000 – Anonymous donor: The anonymous donor reduced his giving from $1,664,150 in 2010 to $979,000 in 2011. We are extinguishing primarily global warming projects in pacewith declines in his giving, and we were careful not to hire staff based on his past generosity.

  2. The real mystery in this affair is why the AGU president showed no sign of having exploited the services of the sole ethics specialist on the loosely-termed AGU "Task Force on Scientific Ethics" (aka "Small Army of Experts Out of Scope" to formulate a more reasoned public response to Gleick's transgression, before bolting for the hills in a lather.

    This was a inadvertent, costly opportunity to talk about the challenges scientists face when communicating to the public in the same world where professional liars may freely operate on the minds of the same public, the costs of that, why some scientists may undertake desperate acts in the face of this situation, but that did not happen. Instead all we heard was "So sorry we're not perfect, we'll pretend harder that we are." Costly opportunity wasted.

    James Annan has arguably simply continued down the course suggested by the AGU, so don't be too hard on him.

    • People speaking for institutions are constrained in what they can say. This awkward little piece was inevitable. Anything more complex would have been explosive.

      The world really owes James a far better career path than the one he is on. I consider it a matter of profound injustice and a testament to the limitations of contemporary science that nobody in a position of influence has lifted him and Jules out of the peculiar corner they have painted themselves into. Someone bloody well ought to, though.

      That said, although in many ways creative and insightful and witty, J & J are also surprisingly stodgy in some ways. I wouldn't have expected anything other than posh propriety from them on this one. And that's for the best. In case somebody does manage to open up a proper career path for them, there won't be the stain of ethical relativism to give their opponents on the hiring committee a weapon. Not to suggest that James isn't sincere. He's just a bit of an anachronism.

      I, however, am resigned to having toasted my career. Consequently I can speak freely, and I don't have any particular tradition or culture to which I hew. I am not surprised that most of Peter Gleick's defenders are, like me, on the fringes of science.

      Peter himself can't bring himself to try to excuse himself!

      No, the official disavowals are absolutely inevitable. They contain no information. Consider them in part an indication of how small-c conservative the tenor of science really is, and in part an indicator of the extent to which science's position in society is under threat.

  3. And don't forget the very high-powered PR advice Peter is getting. I suspect the upshot is to shut up entirely, let the PI's own investigation out, and otherwise hope that attention leans back to Heartland itself ASAP.

    I think James' error is to assume that a scientist with an otherwise distinguished record would keep committing deranged (from James' POV) acts once the first one had been committed. But it's hard to apply Bayesian reasoning to individuals. They're just too erratic.

    Well, Gavin seems to be treating James very nicely of late. Plus the latter has hardly trashed Hansen at all, so perhaps there is a future at GISS.

    • Thank you for your reflections. I remain amazed to see where our attention becomes misdirected; the meta-story here is much bigger than picayune details of which particular scientist finally was goaded into forgetting their training, took the bit between their teeth, kicked the traces (whoa, I'm locked on equine metaphors, help!). Losing the plot even further by conducting seances on Peter Gleick's precognition and other metaphysical matters adds miles to the miss, is even more baffling.

  4. It ought to be duly noted that Michael Tobis has engaged in a public bet with Steve Reynolds, a bet perhaps best characterized as "metaphysics versus empiricism."

    Bet may be found here.


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