Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's Good for the Goose...

When theologians and philosophers write about "situational ethics," I don't think that they have in mind anything like the Heartland Institute's comparative reactions to (a) the theft and revelation of climate scientists' e-mails from the University of East Anglia in 2009 and (b) the theft and revelation, just this week, of its own internal documents detailing an anti-climate policy agenda.

The Heartland Institute is a conservative-libertarian think tank in Chicago that is pro-property rights, pro-markets, and anti-regulation. It has an annual budget of $6 million, which it claims comes from 1,800 supporters (see here), including  some of the country's largest corporations (which I hasten to add is not a bad thing in and of itself).

First, consider how the Heartland Institute reacted, after computers at the Climate Research Center at the University of East Anglia were hacked and thousands of e-mails from climate scientists published for all the world to see (on which see here). Its president Joseph Bast, presuming without evidence that the emails were released by an internal whistle-blower, positively celebrated (here) the revelation for creating:
"an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position. The experts they trusted and quoted in the past have been caught red-handed plotting to conceal data, hide temperature trends that contradict their predictions, and keep critics from appearing in peer-reviewed journals. This is new and real evidence that they should examine and then comment on publicly."
Without waiting for confirmation of the authenticity of the climate scientists' e-mails or waiting for any explanation of their contents, he summarily concluded that "The emails appear to show a conspiracy to falsify data and suppress academic debate in order to exaggerate the possible threat of man-made global warming.

This week, after Heartland's own internal documents were hacked and leaked, its reaction was very, very different. According to published sources (see, e.g., here), the leaked documents revealed an agenda for subverting climate science, including how climate change is taught in schools. Here is part of the Heartland Institute's official reaction (from here):
How did this happen? The stolen documents were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address. Identity theft and computer fraud are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment. We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes....
... honest disagreement should never be used to justify the criminal acts and fraud that occurred in the past 24 hours. As a matter of common decency and journalistic ethics, we ask everyone in the climate change debate to sit back and think about what just happened. 
Those persons who posted these documents and wrote about them before we had a chance to comment on their authenticity should be ashamed of their deeds, and their bad behavior should be taken into account when judging their credibility now and in the future.
Why didn't the Heartland Institute simply presume, as it did in the case of the climate scientist emails from the University of East Anglia, that the leak came from an internal whistle-blower? And why didn't Heartland consider it a "matter of common decency and journalistic ethics" to withhold comments on the East Anglia emails until their authenticity was confirmed. Apparently, at the Heartland Institute what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

At the time the East Anglia e-mails were leaked, I wondered why far more attention was being paid to the content of the e-mails than to the fact of the theft (see here). And I think this week's theft of the Heartland Institute's internal documents is of greater concern than the frankly unsurprising contents of those documents. Nor am I surprised, sad to say, by the Heartland Institute's ethical inconsistency in its approach to the two cases.

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