Chair of scientific ethics committee has ethical lapse

The Task Force on Scientific Ethics for the well-respected American Geophysical Union has quietly expunged the name of committee chairman Peter H. Gleick from its website -- following Gleick’s admission that he used a false identity to obtain confidential documents from The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank.

The ethics task force is responsible for guiding the AGU on ethics and integrity in scientific activities. By his own admission, Gleick’s actions reflected a serious ethical lapse -- especially for the chair of the committee.

"In a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received ... materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name,” Gleick wrote in a blog post Monday evening.

“My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts -- often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated -- to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate … nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case.”

Ann Cairns, a spokeswoman for the AGU, told that Gleick quit the ethics board last week.

“Peter Gleick resigned from the task force on Thursday, February 16. His resignation was accepted and his name was removed from the task force web page,” she said. He cited “personal, private reasons,” Cairns told, "and expressed concern that he would not be able to fulfill his responsibilities as chair."

AGU President Michael McPhaden issued a statement Tuesday following Gleick's departure.

"AGU is disappointed that Dr. Gleick acted in a way that is inconsistent with our organization's values," McPhaden said in a statement. "While this incident is regrettable, it should not obscure the fact that climate change is occurring or interfere with substantive scientific discourse regarding climate change."

AGU announced that Lisa Gunderson, director of the Office of Science Quality and Integrity, USGS, would replace Gleick as the new chair of AGU's Task Force on Scientific Integrity, effective immediately.

The National Center for Science Education issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging that Gleick had tendered his resignation from that science group as well -- and condemning his lapse of integrity.

“Gleick obtained and disseminated these documents without the knowledge of anyone here,” executive director Eugenie C. Scott said. “We do not condone his doing so.”

Gleick -- an internationally recognized hydroclimatologist and author of the respected annual report “The World’s Water” -- said he received an anonymous document in the mail that tipped him off to what he described as Heartland’s efforts to muddy public understanding of climate science and policy. He released the documents to expose their efforts “to cast doubt on climate science.”