Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Heartland Documents: Cargo Cult journalism on The Science Show

The following complaint has been lodged with the ABC about a report on The Science Show titled:
Lodged via ABC's complaint contact page, 11/3/2012.

In a discussion about activist scientist Peter Gleick's actions in stealing documents from the Heartland Institute by an email deception Robyn Williams states:
"Peter Gleick actually his clever trick was to confirm by pretending to be someone else that some papers that somehow got into his hands were in fact the same ones he got from from the Heartland Institute by these other means so that they would confirm that they were real."
This is (presumably) based on a statement made by Peter Gleick on his Huffington post blog where he admitted being responsible for the theft of the Heartland documents.
In that post Gleick states: "At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.
Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget."

The document that Gleick allegedly "received" was in fact a fake, and significant speculation surrounds the authorship of the document. This was not well covered by the program and only mentioned in passing by the interviewee.
A fact not mentioned by Robyn Williams is that considerable evidence points to Gleick himself being the author (of the faked strategy document). The alleged motivation being to besmirch the Heartland Institute after documents he obtained illegally turned out to be rather banal. This paints the theft, or "trick" as Robyn Williams painfully describes it, in a rather different light.
While it may be factually correct to state the events as suggested by Gleick (though the source of Robyn's statement is not provided) it is remiss of The Science Show not to provide its listeners with the full facts as they are currently known. The story is highly contested and the full truth may only arise out of legal action that may yet be taken in the USA.
The report lacks accuracy as a result, and breaches ABC's editorial policy.


  1. I didn't see the show but surely they would have mentioned the fact that under Californian Law, Gleik has committed an offence, punishable by a custodial sentence. What he did is not clever, but illegal and he stands a very real chance of going to prison for it!

    What he did is identity theft, exactly the same as anyone anyone forging and uttering a cheque, or misusing another person's credit card.

  2. Well done.

    Facts that may clash with group-think don't generally see the light of day on the ABC.

    It's no longer my ABC. It's THEIR ABC!

    I gave up on Radio National and the Science Show in particular, a long time ago because of Robyn Williams' inability to present balanced programmes.

    It infuriates me my tax dollars are paying for brains to be washed.



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