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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Heartland Institute scandal



Writing my first post in ages feels like a return to a sordid habit. Blogging is an addiction -- one which may do more societal harm than do most other addictions. The availability of so much free verbiage makes life tougher for writers who like paychecks.

Well, "sobriety" was useful, but the blog-bottle calls and I must hit it.

Our topic today is the Heartland Institute, the subject of a short video which appeared on this site during the worst days of the Fukashima nuclear disaster. I'm rather proud of that production.

Heartland's primary goal is to reverse public opinion on man-made climate change. Not so very long ago, even the Bush administration confessed (albeit with great reluctance) that global warming was real. Now, denialism has become the only permissible position for Republican political candidates.

The Heartland Institute deserves much of the credit -- or discredit -- for that change.

Although a fellow named Jay Lehr serves as Heartland's "science director," the institute does not, in fact, do any science. It is a lobbying group. We may even call it a propaganda outfit devoted to spreading the gospel according to Ayn Rand. Lehr himself is a former convict sentenced for lying to the EPA; I doubt that he could find a job working for any reputable lab. Nevertheless, Lehr has become a ubiquitous presence on cable news -- and not just on Fox.

The title "Science Director of the Heartland Institute" certainly sounds grand. Most people who hear those words never pause to wonder: Just who funds this group?

A few years back, the public learned that Lehr's propaganda-spewers received big money from Big Tobacco when the institute published reports about the harmlessness of second-hand smoke. That unwelcome financial revelation taught the group to be more secretive about its backers.

Earlier this month, blogger Greg Laden and the DeSmog Blog revealed "insider" documents which shed some light on the mysterious funding of the Heartland Institute. The new documents prove that the infamous Koch Foundation, along with an "Anonymous Donor," have provided millions. The goal is to create a program to teach global warming denialism in classrooms across the country.
Development of our "Global Warming Cirriculum for K-12 Classrooms" project. Principals and teachers are heavily biased towards the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming cirriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort wil focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain -- two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.
This sure sounds like Koch-think in action.

Four days after Laden published his story, he received a remarkable message from someone named Maureen Martin, who claims to be a lawyer for the Heartland Institute. Here are a couple of noteworthy passages:
1. The Fake Memo document is just that: fake. It was not written by anyone associated with Heartland. It does not express Heartland's goals, plans, or tactics. It contains several obvious and gross misstatements of fact. Publication of this falsified document is improper and unlawful.

2. As to the Alleged Heartland Documents your web site posted, we are investigating how they came to be in your possession and whether they are authentic or have been altered or fabricated. Though third parties purport to have authenticated them, no one - other than Heartland - has the ability to do so. Several of the documents say on their face that they are confidential documents and all of them were taken from Heartland by improper and fraudulent means. Publication of any and all confidential or altered documents is improper and unlawful.
Well, which is it? Are the documents fake, or are they genuine and confidential?

Heartland is not the CIA; a "confidential" stamp on one of its documents does not carry the force of law. The public has a right to know more about this well-funded effort to teach libertarian pseudo-science in elementary schools.

One can only be amused by the spectacle of a Heartland attorney accusing others of trafficking in faked documentation. Isn't that the reason Jay Lehr had to take an embarrassing vacay in the Big House?

A few days ago, Peter Gleick -- who, unlike Jay Lehr, is a real climate scientist -- revealed that he was the one who liberated the Heartland documents.
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.
Conservatives have assailed Gleick for using this tactic, and I find their expressions of outrage very droll. Those same conservatives routinely defend the antics of James O'Keefe.

Really, what did Gleick do? Simply this: Using another name, he asked to see some documents. Heartland sent them. If the group was willing to mail off that paperwork to an outside inquirer, how "confidential" can those texts truly be?

And if Heartland is the sort of group that discloses the truth to the like-minded while lying to everyone else -- well, that policy speaks ill of Heartland, not of Gleick. I personally believe that he did nothing wrong and need offer no apology. Woodward and Bernstein used similar strategies when they investigated Watergate: They would pretend to have already verified a data point in order to trick a source into confirming the information.

As you weigh Gleick's action, keep in mind that Jay Lehr -- who gives testimony before congressional committees, and who never misses a chance to appear on television -- has proclaimed himself an "economist" even though he has no credentials in that area. Moreover, he never discloses (unless forced to do so) that he has not published any peer-reviewed material in the areas of nuclear technology or climate change. And he never mentions his stint in prison.

Does Heartland accuse Gleick of misrepresentation? That's like the Red Skull saying that Bill Clinton has rosacea.

Let's get back to Gleick's statement:
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. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.
Libertarian fanatics have, of course, accused Gleick of fabricating the documents himself.

What other reaction should we expect from those guys? They never miss a chance to do an impersonation of Joe McCarthy on meth. As my video documents, Jay Lehr is the kind of conspiracy kook who tells audiences that communist plotters have engineered global warming "extremism." That's right: If the vast majority of scientists state that man's activities have changed the climate, blame Bolshevism.

A recent piece by Greg Laden sums up the controversy:
The best available evidence now suggests that the most damning of the "Heartland Documents" -- the strategy memo which explicitly states that Heartland's strategy is to interfere with good science education in order to advance their political agenda -- is legitimate. The legitimacy of the document was being questioned because it was physically and stylistically different from the other documents with which it was released. We now know that the strategy memo was sent to climate scientist Peter Gleick and that Peter then took steps to acquire corroborating documents from Heartland (see "The Origin of the Heartland Documents.") The "one of these things is not like the others" defense is now obviated.
The documents themselves already showed a lessening of financial support for Heartland's efforts to steer our national and international policies towards the cliff of unmitigated Anthropogenic Climate Change. Some of the donors, like Microsoft Corporation, were probably giving money to Heartland without realizing how bad an idea that was. Those donations will dry up.
Now you have another reason to skip Windows 8.

(Thanks to SkyDancing for the head's up.)
Comments:
Welcome back, Joe. You were missed.

I listen to conservative talk radio on my commute to and from work. The canard is that any steps taken to combat global warming are a ruse by Obama to take away our freedoms. The argument is similar to the contraception controversy as an attack on religious freedom.

As the radio hosts compete in the race to Lunatic Mountain the charges are becoming more surreal. Obama the closet Muslim is being resuscitated on on show. Of course they find a ready listening audience here in Alabama county PA.

My guess is the little bit that Obama has done to end the recession and reign in Wall Street is too much for the republican party.
 
Ah, that puts a lot into perspective. Little Green Footballs also got the cease and desist from the same woman. I get their tweets so that's what alerted me this mess. These pseudo science freaks out to be shut down.

Thanks for unraveling this!
 
Of course, it goes without saying that anytime we're talking about the motivations of the debate's major players and who said/wrote/leaked/suppressed what rather than what we should be doing about climate change, it's a win for the denialists.

SB
 
Well, their tactics have worked on me. I am neutral on the issue of global warming.

What would help convince me of global warming is if the three to five most prevalent facts were uniformly stated by global warmists.

I assume rising sea levels would be one, if so, how much, how often, and is it possible the levels fluctuate?

Is it possible that global warming is caused by taking petroleum out of the ground, resulting in more below the surface friction, resulting in more underground heat which is what is really melting the ice caps, assuming they are melting and not re-freezing.
 
"Der Spiegel" discusses it
Headline :"Climate-scientist steals secret papers from lobby-group"
->
http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/0,1518,816964,00.html
 
OMFG ==> "Is it possible that global warming is caused by taking petroleum out of the ground, resulting in more below the surface friction, resulting in more underground heat which is what is really melting the ice caps" really, OMFG! do some homework before spewing stupidities. One more reason why i get my science from Revkin, Kukla, Desmog, and Chris Mooney and not from "Regional Emmy Winners"

Incidentally, Wojick has been fighting "warmers" (as well as some deniers, but mostly climate scientists) for decades... he's known to suck on big coal's teet. I used to have a lot of fights with him in the early 90s on the Cch list servers. Back then you had to assume he was on the fossil fuel dole (he was also running some of the list servers) now it's easy, go to sourcewatch or desmog. The guy is a turd. Never published one peer-reviewed paper.

Joe, we miss you!
 
I really don't understand why we can't just sidestep this entire climate change/global "warming" (which used to be called global "cooling") controversy and simply reframe the entire issue as environmental stewardship so that consensus is inevitable. We shouldn't plunder and pollute. Simple. Locking horns over conjectured catastrophic worst case scenarios is tribal warfare and actually feeds the "deniers" ---who cares for this chest-beating human hubris that We, capital W, are to "blame" for the demise of whales and glaciers etc etc? Entire species were wiped out before we existed. It should be possible to decide on a balance to help preserve our wild horses, wolves, rivers, etc, without all the pointless histrionics on both sides. We should tread on our resources as lightly as possible but change is inevitable and we're still discovering new species adapting to our environment. Life will go on. The warring rhetoric is counter-productive.
 
You know, for an avowed contrarian, you sure are on board with the "consensus" on this issue :-)

For what it's worth, I agree with prowlerzee's comment. Also, the amounts of money on the denial side are positively dwarfed by the amounts of money on the "consensus" side. This is relatively easy to verify. I'm not versed enough in climate science to take a strong stance either way though, and I think that we are going to be in desperate need of an alternative to oil sooner, rather than later. I also think that carbon exchanges are another way to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.
 
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