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Noble Cause Corruption; Fakegate and All

When ethics is kicked out of public life, it returns in the wrong place - denying the ethical wrongness of criminality, denying that there can be expected standards of behaviour, even towards one's opponents, indeed, denying the rights of complete innocents, such as their right to privacy or protection from violence.


Fakegate is the name that has adhered to the latest debacle in the global warming hoax. For the brief background: In 2009 and again in 2011, two series of emails were released from the email archives of the University of East Anglia. It has never been discovered how these were obtained, but they bear all the hallmarks of a whistleblower, since they revealed a long and astonishing history of deceit, possible criminality, and dirty tricks by central figures in the "climate change" aka "global warming" movement. Hence the moniker, "Climategate".

Then, in mid-February, it suddenly appeared as if the tables were turned: an astonishing memo and other documents appearing to come from the Heartland Institute revealed that they were planning a campaign to dissuade teachers "from teaching science" and "keep opposing voices out"! At last, the warmists were vindicated: all the opprobrium they had endured in the wake of Climategates 1 and 2 was about to be repaid upon the skeptics, now exposed as anti-science and anti-free speech, amongst other things.

The only problem: it soon emerged that the memo containing the devastating statements (widely republished by the world's media, whose staff hold journalism degrees and would have been taught to check their sources) turned out to be a fake. The other genuine documents released alongside it were fraudulently obtained from Heartland by the President and co-founder of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, Dr Peter Gleick. Numerous commentators have indicated that they believe he is the most likely, or perhaps only, candidate for concocter of the fake document as well. Donna Laframboise writes:

Several days before Gleick admitted to having any connection to this matter, Steven Mosher noticed that the writing style of the strategy document is similar to Gleick’s own writing style (see here, here, and here). In many people’s minds, it now seems likely that this document was faked by Gleick himself (see here, here, and here).

Meanwhile, the genuine documents have been circulated far and wide, revealing identities of private parties and their financial affairs, all within a context of "exposing" them for wrongdoing. Is there any doubt that this is dangerous, even physically so, to the innocent parties involved, especially when the likes of Greenpeace can put on their website:

We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.

Noble Cause Corruption

Noble cause corruption is insidious: it can potentially sneak up on any of us. It is the temptation to do evil in a good cause: lie, cheat, commit fraud, whatever it takes if the "good" is good enough. The Principle of Goodness directly tells us not to get involved in corruption for a noble cause: no amount of benefit justifies doing harm to the innocent.

What is so astonishing about the Gleick affair is the sheer number of global warming alarmists who have been swept up in it. For example James Garvey, philosopher and author of The Ethics of Climate Change has defended Peter Gleick:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

In other words, Heartland was innocent of the accusations based on the fake memo, but it was good to spread that defamation anyway, or "the end justifies the means". Wise people have seen the fallacy of that for about 3,000 years, at least since Krishna told Arjuna to not be attached to the fruit of works.

Donna Laframboise identifies some others who have defended Peter Gleick:

Two weeks later I remain horrified by the moral vacuity demonstrated by the many, many people who think Gleick’s behaviour is no big deal. An alarming number of them appear to be employed in the sciences. In the view of “anthropologist and science communicator” Greg Laden, for example:

My respect for Peter Gleick is unmoved. He is a great scientist, an excellent communicator, a brave guy… [backup link here]

Great. Brave. Scientist. On what planet could any of these words possibly be applicable?

For his part, American research scientist Michael Tobis has written a blog post titled In Defense of Peter Gleick, Muckraker (backup link here). He says that because some journalists have also behaved unethically, Gleick’s actions shouldn’t be criticized by the media. In Tobis’ view, Gleick’s behaviour may serve “the greater good” by raising awareness.

When the average person learns that climate scientists steal confidential information from people with whom they disagree – and are applauded by their colleagues for doing so – their awareness may well be raised. But perhaps not in the way that Tobis hopes. Even more bizarrely, he says that New York Times‘ journalist Andrew Revkin

should be defending [Gleick] for taking personal risks in the pursuit of what, in the end, was a journalistic endeavor.

When, exactly, did behaving unethically get equated with taking personal risks in the name of journalism? But perhaps I’m being too hard on Tobis. Scientific American did run a column last week in which a former staff writer, John Horgan, argued that

[Immanuel] Kant said that when judging the morality of an act, we must weigh the intentions of the actor. Was he acting selfishly, to benefit himself, or selflessly, to help others? By this criterion, Gleick’s lie was clearly moral, because he was defending a cause that he passionately views as righteous… [bold added]

Even though Horgan qualified this conclusion in the next paragraph, readers were still invited to view Gleick as morally blameless, if strategically clueless:

We also have to look at consequences. And if Gleick’s deception has any consequences, they will probably be harmful. His exposure of the Heartland Institute’s plans, far from convincing skeptics to reconsider their position, will probably just confirm their suspicions about environmentalists. Even if Gleick’s lie was morally right, it was strategically wrong. [bold added]

An ocean away, Stephan Lewandowsky, an Australian cognitive scientist, also fails to condemn Gleick’s actions. Under the headline The morality of unmasking Heartland, he says that Gleick merely:

lied to a conservative think tank to access climate change documents…

But minutes of Heartland’s board meeting, and details of its budget, are not “climate change documents.”

The list of people and organisations that have fallen to noble cause corruption is long and growing: scientists, Scientific American, newspapers, respected institutes, even universities. In this case all this is justified by what it supposedly reveals about the evil heartland Institute; yet even an alarmist article in the heavily biased New York Times had to admit:

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Heartland documents was what they did not contain: evidence of contributions from the major publicly traded oil companies, long suspected by environmentalists of secretly financing efforts to undermine climate science.

In other words, nothing untoward was discovered about the funding of the Heartland Institute, and the accusations of bad faith against them were all in the fake document, not the genuine ones. So what point was there in revealing the private details about donors? It is hard to see that anything was accomplished except misleading those who didn't follow the story too closely, and intimidating said donors to stop donating. "We be many, but you be few." I hope and pray that anyone reading this can see what a hell of a world we will be building if we allow this kind of noble cause corruption to win out against genuine ethical behaviour.

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