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Heartland leaker comes clean, stirs ethical debate

Black smoke billows from the chimney of an  industrial plant.
Black smoke billows from the chimney of an industrial plant.
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Last week we brought you the story of several documents that were leaked from The Heartland Institute regarding their plans to push an anti-climate change agenda in public schools. Heartland is an organization based in Chicago that is a consistent voice against the climate science and global warming.

Heartland claimed the documents were stolen from them and further, that one of them is a fake. On Monday the person responsible for duping Heartland out of their papers and posting them online came clean. He’s a well known climate scientist and journalist named Peter Gleick.

In a statement posted on the Huffington Post, Gleick says he was anonymously sent one document that had described Heartland’s education strategy. In an attempt to confirm the details in the original email he used a false name to get more documentation from Heartland. He calls this a serious lapse in “professional judgment and ethics.”

And it appears many of his colleagues agree with him. From the Union of Concerned Scientists to the National Center on Science Education, a group that Gleick was about to take a board post on, all condemn his methods while insisting that the real bad guys here are still Heartland for attempting to undermine climate change education. Others say Gleick’s leaking of the Heartland documents has finally exposed the groups methods and motives and least he had the guts to take responsibility for this actions.

Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Judith Curry, however, doesn’t see it that way. She says Gleick has allowed Heartland to claim the moral high ground and destroyed his career in one fell swoop.

So, what’s the real story here? Heartland’s education agenda? Or Gleick’s failure of integrity? Most scientists agree that climate change is real and it’s manmade. If that’s the case, did Gleick’s ends justify the means? And what of Dr. Glieck himself? He testified to congress about scientific ethics, he wrote about the subject a lot. Did he snap?


Scott Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences, Suffolk County Community College; co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a group that connects climate scientists to lawmakers and the media.

Judith Curry, Chair, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology