Heartland Documents: Whose Biases are Being Revealed Here?

I could not resist commenting on the brouhaha around the stolen Heartland Institute documents in my column at Forbes.  The key one that is the "smoking gun" now appears to be fake.  I wrote in part:

One reason I am fairly certain the document is fake is this line from the supposed skeptic strategy document:

His effort will 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.

For those of us at least somewhat inside the tent of the skeptic community, particularly the science-based ones Heartland has supported in the past, the goal of "dissuading teachers from teaching science" is a total disconnect.  I have never had any skeptic in even the most private of conversations even hint at such a goal.  The skeptic view is that science education vis a vis climate and other environmental matters tends to be shallow, or one-sided, or politicized -- in other words broken in some way and needing repair.  In this way, most every prominent skeptic that works even a bit in the science/data end of things believes him or herself to be supporting, helping, and fixing science.  In fact, many skeptics believe that the continued positive reception of catastrophic global warming theory is a function of the general scientific illiteracy of Americans and points to a need for more and better science education (see here for an overview of the climate debate that does not once use the ad hominem words "myth", "scam" or "lie").

The only people who believe skeptics are anti-science per se, and therefore might believe skeptics would scheme to dissuade teachers from teaching science, are the more political alarmists (a good example was posted today right here at Forbes, which you might want to contrast withthis).  For years, I presume partially in an effort to avoid debate, certain alarmists have taken the ad hominem position that skeptics are anti-science.  And many probably well-meaning alarmists believe this about skeptics (since they may have not actually met any skeptics to know differently).  The person who wrote this fake memo almost had to be an alarmist, and probably was of the middling, more junior sort, the type of person who does not craft the talking points but is a recipient of them and true believer.

At the end I make a sort of bet

 If the strategy memo turns out to be fake as I believe it to be, I am starting the countdown now for the Dan-Rather-esque "fake but accurate" defense of the memo -- ie, "Well, sure, the actual document was faked but we all know it represents what these deniers are really thinking."  This has become a mainstay of post-modern debate, where facts matter less than having the politically correct position.

But in the first update I note the winner may already be delcared

Is Revkin himself seeking to win my fake-but-accurate race?   When presented with the fact that he may have published a fake memo, Revkin wrote:

looking back, it could well be something that was created as a way to assemble the core points in the batch of related docs.

It sounds like he is saying that while the memo is faked, it may have been someones attempt to summarize real Heartland documents.  Fake but accurate!  By the way, I don't think he has any basis for this supposition, as no other documents have come to light with stuff like "we need to stop teachers from teaching science."

  • NormD

    The scariest part of the AGW debate is the implications for Science in general.

    If, as seems more and more likely, the AGW case is overblown/wrong, how will the public react? Its absolutely bizarre how many scientists, who have absolutely no knowledge of climate science, have staked out absolutist positions supporting it. Virologists, Astronomers, Chemists, Doctors, Engineers, Paleontologists, String theorists, etc.

    It seems the obviously correct thing for them to say is "I am an XXX, I can offer an informed opinion about XXX not climate science"

    What does this say for their own fields?

    Are they full of bad results, questionable assumptions and doctrinaire thinking as well?

    In the AGW mindset if AGW Science is wrong then all Science is wrong. Why would other scientists want to hook their cart up to this horse?

  • a leap at the wheel

    What does it say about capitol S science? Nothing. It's always been an ideal worth striving for.

    What does it say about scientists? Just that they are normal humans and not the tweed or lab-coat clad clergy that some people want to think they are. They are just as prone to group think, scientist, herd mentality, and just straight incorrect determinations as any other group. Once again, Hayek and Depeche Mode were right. People are people.

  • http://harries@free.fr blokeinfrance

    The benefits of a modest increase in CO2 are well understood. An increase of less than 100ppm results in increased crop yields of around 30%, with no further deforestation, enough to feed the expected growth of world population.
    The costs are a matter of controversy: how much wealth do we lose, do tropical diseases proliferate, does sea level rise matter, do we all fry, what habitats are lost? And so on.

    But I don't think this is the right moment to accuse the hockey team of being baby-killers. Maybe later.

  • litehouse

    Unfortunately, I am not able to judge whether all of the documents are real or not (the Institute admitted that "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", so I presume some of them could be for real).

    Certain enough, the Heartland Institute celebrated the hacking of Emails of Climate scientists at East Anglia University in 2009, and demanded that "this is new and real evidence that they [reporters, academics, politicians, and others] should examine and then comment on publicly".

    Now they state: "But 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."

    Seems quite a change of mind to me...

    link: see http://heartland.org/policy-documents/climategate-opportunity-stop-and-think

  • Panzersage

    Lite, there is a huge difference between Climategate 1&2 and the Hearland documents.

    1: There is a large debate over how the UEA emails were obtained. There is a large amount of evidence showing that it was someone within the organization who leaked it and that they weren't broken into by an outside source. With Heartland a person impersonated a board member and stole the documents.

    2: UEA had been denying and fighting FOI requests. They were a public organization and they were deliberately(as the emails showed) doing everything in their power to keep people from getting information that was rightly available to the public. The Heartland is a private organization, not bound by FOI, and the documents show no signs of collusion or wrong doing.

    3: The Climategate emails were authentic and the CRU has never denied their authenticity. They were written by the people who they claim to be written by. The fake Heartland memo is the only real damning thing in the 9 document leak and all signs point to it as being fake. Go to pretty much any alarmist blog and the line they all use is "dissuading teachers from teaching science", a line so ridiculous as to have been written by a man in a cape and top hat twirling his mustache.

    The reason that the have yet to fully comment on the others has a simple explanation(this is just an assumption, but a reasonable one). They are checking the other documents against the originals to see if anything was altered before confirming or denying them. It will be much harder to say, "We know we said this document was real, but now we think it is fake."

  • Gil

    The inverse of the "not all skeptics are science-haters" is to find eschatologists who always look for the Next Big Disaster and go into overkill mode (Doom & gloomers say the world will end in 2012 yet the Mayans never said that) and make them the standard for which A.G.W. will judged by. As said a 3 degree increase in global temperature would actually benefit many countries such as England.

  • morganovich

    this is just the last gasp desperation of a failed movement.

    the data has gone against them so badly that they have nothing to back them up and their past data has been rocked by scandal after scandal and the IPCC revealed to be horrendous liars.

    the surest sign it's over is al "weather-vane" gore jumping ship and finding a new cause to whip up fervor over.

    mark my words "sustainability" is the new AGW.


    it's going to be all the same folks demanding all the same actions and powers, but for a new reason.

    the global government fascists are always going to be with us. they will just keep morphing into something new.

    global cooling? we need world government and no fossil fuels!

    global warming? we need world government and no fossil fuels!

    unsustainable capitalism? we need world government and no fossil fuels!

    it's not going to end.

  • NL_

    It's possible that the author did not mean to imply that he wanted teachers to avoid the subject of science itself, just that making a certain scientific subject seem controversial would cause teachers not to deal with it.

    I agree that that line in the memo seems weak, but it could just be poorly worded. Although it's plausible that the memo was not written by a true believer, that doesn't mean it was written under a false flag. I worked on a political campaign and probably had fewer meaningful political discussions there than at a lot of my non-political jobs.

    The people weren't any dumber, they just saw politics as a struggle between two sides rather than as an effort to promote good policy or good governance or whatever. So I wouldn't be surprised that an activist is more focused on winning than on making good faith arguments.

  • Mark2

    The Church didn't excommunicate Galileo because he discovered bodies orbiting around Jupiter. The church already knew many of the "scientific" notions they espoused were falling by the wayside in the onslaught of science.

    What the church wanted was for Galileo to write his scholarly work in Latin, so that it could be kept amongst the scholars. What Galileo did was write it in Italian and make sure the book was easily accessible to the common man.

    There isn't an exact parallel here. Just another instance of scientific cover-up to keep the masses believing misinformation.

  • caseyboy

    a leap at the wheel - You are being too kind in saying that it is only human for the alarmists to make mistakes. I'd agree except for the huge research grants at stake for those who perpetuate the myth. Yes they are human, but in many instances the weakness isn't innocent mistakes, but greed and ego.

  • litehouse

    1. "There is a large debate over how the UEA emails were obtained." Yes, and most probably they were hacked. Anyway, what exactly would the difference if someone working in the institution steals the emails or an outsider? The emails were definitely made public without consent of those who wrote them or they were intended for.
    2. Scientist affected by the email theft were exempted for any wrongdoing by 9 independent commissions.
    3. Out of the over 100 pages of Heartland documents that were made public, only one has been claimed to be fake. The verifiable facts of the documents (donors, salaries for denial-scientists) have largely been confirmed.

    People working for the Heartland Institute should sit back and think twice about what happened.

  • Goober

    Litehouse, yopu seem to be attempting to point out some inconsistency or hypocrisy in the Heartland Institute's stance on this, but you are failing. To outright fabricate evidence of some scandal is much different that producing actual evidence of a scandal. Heartland isn't saying that releasing their documents is wrong - they are saying that fabricating out of whole cloth, documents which are not Heartland institute documents in order to smear them is.

    I would think that Heartland would have felt the same way, and given the same press release, had it been determined that the CRU docs were faked.

  • litehouse


    the HI is indeed saying that releasing their documents is wrong, i.e. "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."

    And yes, the HI is taking on a perverse double standard here. With regard to the recent leakage, they are asking the public to refrain from commenting on the documents (although almost all of them seem to be for real). In the case of the CRU incident, however, the HI still claims that the URC experts "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", although we know from 9 independent investigations that these are false accusations.