UPDATE Too many readers have made witty comments on this post to highlight them all, as I initially promised (and the witless ones, courtesy of HotScot and compatriots, would be even more tedious to catalog).
But I’m afraid the winner of Funniest Tribute to Peter Gleick has to be the prestigious magazine Nature’s tribute.
To Rajendra Pachauri.
Just swap some names in your imagination and you’ll see Gleick is in good company:
Nature 450, 1127 (20 December 2007)
Nature is pleased to name Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian engineer and economist, and chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as our inaugural Newsmaker of the Year.
Science is perhaps less reliant on the concept of ‘personality’ than any other major realm of human endeavour. At the same time, …science, like history, is forged by individuals—even though both are forged on the back of a past whose inhabitants may have faded into anonymity.
A recurring point of lamentation here at CliScep is the dearth of good parody in the climate debate—an area that’s surely ripe for ridicule, or no area is.
Reader Canman today alerted us to what might just be a cultural turning-point, however. The prestigious 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization will go… <I SHIT YOU NOT>… to Gleick.
Psychic literary critic and ‘scientist,’ Peter Gleick.
Founded by Aduro Biotech, the annual prize is awarded by Wonderfest, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Beacon of Science since 1997. Actress Marisa Tomei (pictured) is tipped to present the winner with his $5,000 check—money well spent, as far as this lover of the theatre of the absurd is concerned.
What makes the announcement so significant is that previous winners appear to have been chosen on merit; this will be the first year an overtly comedy recipient is honored.
Gleick (pronounced /glik/) isn’t exactly known for his scientific discoveries—it’s doubtful he’s ever made any. But his name rings a bell because, back in 2012, he committed a spectacular act of credibility seppuku in full view of the media. Posing as an anonymous whistle-blower from the Heartland Institute—an American climate-skeptical think-tank—Gleick had spent several days shopping around a counterfeit HI memo, seeking to pass it off as an authentic document written by adults. (In what we can only assume was an attempt at adding some verisimilitude, he buried the pseudo-memo in a dossier of unsexy irrelevantia he’d obtained earlier by wire fraud.)
The fake document almost had the world fooled, too, until someone read it.
Gleick’s babyish, semi-English idiolect was so obvious that one Steven Mosher—who struggles with the finer points of English orthography himself—knew the identity of the enigmatic ‘Heartland Insider’ long before he’d confessed publicly.
It’s the thought that counts, though, and what the activist ‘scientist’ had wanted to do was to trick* eight billion people into thinking critics of his ‘science’ were akin to “villains in a Batman comic,” as Megan McCardle of The Atlantic put it.
The genesis of Gleick’s vendetta against Heartland appears to be the Institute’s history of bullying and intimidating him by…. offering him money to debate them. Gleick was, of course, too smart to fall for these traps, which would only have distracted him from the true work of a Popularizer of Science: debating people who already agree with him.
His infamous attempt to sabotage the popular understanding of the climate debate in 2012—which we would call Fake News if he perpetrated it today, and we had no imagination—has lost its power to appall us because, far from violating the norms of ‘environmental science,’ it’s become The New Normal. It may never be the new moral, or ethical, but (he said in an uncannily-good Basil Fawlty accent) it’s the new absolutely fucking typical.
We therefore extend muchos kudos to Wonderfest’s Board of Directors, who’ve drawn on the power of shock-comedy to snap us out of our resignation to the existence of these charlatans. Coffee-sneezing, after all, is one of the best antidotes to the mundanity of evil.
In case anyone missed the Onion-like layers of perversity, the Sagan Prize’s website brilliantly juxtaposes a double-tap headshot of the mendacious obfuscationist with a passage from Broca’s Brain, the book in which Carl Sagan declares anathema on everything Gleick stands for:
In exchange for freedom of inquiry, scientists are obliged to explain their work. If science is considered a closed priesthood, too difficult and arcane for the average person to understand, the dangers of abuse are greater. But if science is a topic of general interest and concern — if both its delights and its social consequences are discussed regularly and competently in the schools, the press, and at the dinner table — we have greatly improved our prospects for learning how the world really is and for improving both it and us.
The joke is especially cruel in light of Gleick’s close ties to the cell of academic obscurantists dubbed Data Haram (from the Arabic for ‘data forbidden’). The group’s de facto sheikh, Stephan Lewandowsky, was first on the scene to defend his acolyte’s acts. In a predictably repulsive apologia that begins by misquoting Churchill, Lewandowsky argues that since science equals war, and war equals deception, Peter Gleick deserves a medal.
Well, now he’s got one.
Just when popular amnesia was threatening to let the lying worm off his own hook, the 2018 Sagan Prize will come as a well-timed reminder: Lest We Forgive.
Incidentally, I added my own words of moral support as a comment on Lewandowsky’s smokescreen-cum-puff-job:
Dear Professor Gleick,
nolite te bastardes carborundum (don’t let the forces of carbon bastardry delegitimize you)!
The forge du diable you’re going through now—for the crime of standing up for honesty, effectiveness, and the balance between them—cannot silence you. It can only forge character.
It’s never easy being a Phisher of Men, but that’s why we call people like you heroes.
So grit your teeth and forge on, forge on, forge ever on.
And remember, persecution is the forge of virtue!
(The Conversation’s moderators inadvertently deleted my comment, for which they must have kicked themselves over and over again. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Cory Zanoni et al.—accidents happen. We’ve reproduced it now, so let the free exchange of ideas we all claim to value roll on!)
A quick note to WUWT readers: please don’t feel the need to explain the irony of all this to Tucker Hiatt, the Executive Director of Wonderfest (e.g. by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m pretty sure the custodians of the Prize get the gag. They made it.
Likewise, people like Stephen Isaacs, the CEO of sponsor Aduro Biotech (email@example.com), and Aljanae Reynolds, the firm’s Corporate Affairs Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org), are presumably in on the joke too [h/t reader Dave Burton]. Stephen and Aljanae may be money-rich but I’m sure they’re too time-poor to thank everyone who explains the punchline to them.
And no clichés about Carl Sagan “rolling,” “spinning” or “vomiting” in his grave either, please. By all accounts, the great man had a healthy sense of humor. I can just see him pointing down from Science Heaven as we speak and having billions and billions of lolz at the joke that is Peter H. Gleick, even if the object of our derision hasn’t caught on yet.
Readers, feel free to submit your own tributes to Professor Gleick’s career in science outreach below. I’ll highlight the funniest ones.
Oh, and Pete old boy: when you receive your novelty oversized check, don’t forget to examine the watermark with a critical—dare I say skeptical?—eye. Sadly, there are people out there who aren’t quite as honest as (say) the average Chairman of the AGU Task Force on Scientific Ethics and Integrity.
*In a scientific context, the word trick simply means ‘a clever way to solve a problem by tricking people.’ [Source: nearly eight dozen independent investigations by UK politicians into the illegally-stolen, suspiciously-timed Climategate emails.]
Reader DFHunterDougieH gushes that one out of three ain’t bad:
To be nominated for the Sagan Prize, an individual must:
1.Have contributed mightily to the public understanding and appreciation of science.
2.Be a resident of one of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.
3.Have a history of accomplishment in scientific research.
Congrats to Peter, he meets point 2 at least.
Informant Canman regrets the bar-lowering with which climate limbo has become synonymous:
Besides this 5K check, I believe he also got a substantially larger mega-buck check for being a MacArthur Genius Award winner. I wrote a blog post about him:
Along with sayings like, “two out of three ain’t bad”, a lot of things are being redefined down.
Speaking about Gleick’s genius, the upcoming History of the Climate Debate, Jo Nova Edition (Part 3) will speak about Gleick’s genius:
- Acutely aware that the ‘Heartland Institute strategy memo’ he’s about to “leak” could define his entire biography, Peter Gleick spends days wrestling with age-old questions of morality, legality and font choice.
- By hitting Print, the MacArthur Genius will sacrifice his career and reputation in order to blow the lid on Heartland’s secret misgivings about the CAGW hypothesis, raising widespread awareness of the think-tank’s criticisms of the state of climate research. But even his peers in reputability agree that Gleick’s good name and scientific legacy are minuscule prices to pay for this.