NewsMarch 10, 2012

Beleaguered Scientist Emerges but Is Mum on Heartland

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Jeremy Miller, KQED ClimateWatch

Pacific Institute founder Peter Gleick steered clear of his current controversy in his remarks at a water policy conference in L.A.

Nearly three weeks after admitting that he had faked his identity to obtain documents from a conservative think-tank, noted California scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick, returned to the public arena.

Gleick spoke at the annual California Water Policy Conference in Los Angeles and was warmly received by a crowd of roughly 300 California scientists, regulators and advocates.

Peter Gleick speaking at a water policy conference in L.A. Credit: Jeremy Miller/KQED.

Notably missing from Gleick’s talk — which focused on a wide range of global and regional water issues central to the Pacific Institute’s core mission — was any specific mention of last month’s confession that he had impersonated of a board member of the Chicago-based, libertarian Heartland Institute to obtain internal documents outlining the group’s anti-climate change campaign.

“I should make it clear that today I am speaking as an individual, which I am always speaking as,” Gleick told the audience. “I will not be addressing the recent contretemps between me and the Heartland institute. At this point I am going to let my last Huffington Post piece and the Heartland documents speak for themselves,” he said. “And if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about you’re better off.”

Almost immediately after Gleick’s post appeared on the Huffington Post website, his admission was met a torrent of criticism — particularly from conservative commentators and politicians. Criticism was not exclusive to those on the right, however. Andy Revkin of the New York Times Dot Earth blog noted that his “reputation was in ruins.”

Others, however, praised his actions and some suggested that he should be afforded whistleblower protection.

“It isn’t always clear that the public, or even colleagues, appreciate it when scientists stray too far into the public arena.”

Since the incident, Gleick has taken temporary leave as president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute and the organization has appointed a third party to investigate the matter. Heartland has announced it is contemplating legal action.

“I am a scientist by training and it isn’t always clear that the public, or even colleagues, appreciate it when scientists stray too far into the public arena. But I am a concerned and interested and citizen as well, as are all of you,” he told the audience.

Gleick would not discuss the specifics of his leave with me but hinted in his talk that he would continue to oppose those who seek to discount mounting scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.

“Those who deny this science and this evidence are becoming increasingly desperate in their efforts to attack the science and scientists and fool the public and prevent any rational discussion of a climate or energy policy from being adopted,” he said in his remarks.

KQED Climate Watch is a Climate Central content partner.