Peter Gleick, the scientist who exposed the Heartland Institute's attempt to deceive the public about global warming, has apologized, even though the documents he exposed showed deception that included a conscious effort to "dissuade teachers from teaching science." Digby gets it right when she points out that his tactic -- once someone had inadvertently e-mailed him an incriminating document he used a false name to get more -- was no different than the use of false identities by journalists to expose corporate and government malfeasance, as when Upton Sinclair went undercover for seven weeks to do research for The Jungle. Digby is also right to call Gleick’s apology “foolish.”
It's extraordinarily ridiculous that an organization engaged in such massive, systematic deception about the most important issue of the day has been able to successfully attack Gleick with charges of deception. It would be like, 40 years ago, calling deceptive a scientist who went undercover after being mailed incriminating tobacco industry documents to expose that industry’s lies. But Heartland has successfully shifted the debate away from their climate change lies to Gleick’s undercover actions. That is their tactic: accuse their accusers, and it works because too many on the Left go along with it.
I don’t know why Gleick decided to backtrack -- perhaps he’s worried about Heartland’s weak litigation threats or has other personal or professional reasons -- but this is NOT political fortitude. It only feeds their cycle of bullying. He ought to be proud of what he did in exposing Heartland's destructive and cynical climate denial, he put the climate deniers on the defensive for doing so, and he should NEVER have apologized. Apologizing only legitimizes their strategy, which is to make themselves out to be the victims, and it puts all the other climate protectors back on defense. And for that he ought to be ashamed.
Liberals, dammit, make this your iron rule of political debate: NEVER APOLOGIZE IN AN ARGUMENT WITH THE RIGHT. EVER. Not even when you are actually wrong - which, when compared to them, is rare. They will show you no mercy, you should show them none. They will exploit any opening you give to the limit, so give them none. Gleick won on the merits, and began to change the debate, and then he reversed the momentum by being a simpering milquetoast. That capitulation harms all the rest of us.
Update (2/23/11 21:45): My argument here is not to say that one should succumb to an arrogant, unquestioning faith in one’s beliefs. It is good to admit error with those who discourse with you in good faith. My argument here is entirely strategic: because conservatives generally don't argue in good faith, but exploit any opening to their advantage (and to the detriment of the world since they are not reality-based thinkers), you can't give them that opening at all. Hubris is not the Left's problem right now, diffidence is. I'd rather have us, when arguing with the right, be wrong a few times and not admit it than be right and yet continually apologizing for it, as we do now.