The Heartland Documents, Doubt is their Product

Everyone is writing about desmogblog’s leak of internal documents from the Heartland Institute. But to me I think leaked documents are nothing compared to their fully public, out-in-the-open history of being openly contemptuous of science, funding cranks with advanced degrees (though not in climate) to disparage the field, and their hosting of denialpalooza.

James rightly points out that much hay is being made of a single sentence that, could “easily be the result of sloppy editing, or at perhaps a Freudian slip.” This is of course is a sentence describing a curriculum developed by the HI that “shows the topic of climate chance is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective in dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

But other aspects of the document instead suggest to me that these people are true believers. Even in context this quote sounds horrible, but I don’t think it reflects a conscious desire to deceive. After all, they think their beliefs are true. They are so blinded by ideology they are literally incapable of acknowledging facts that run counter to these core beliefs. I think, if anything, this sentence is interesting because it shows that they are picking up tactics from previous denialist campaigns by those that were intentionally deceptive, such as the DI anti-evolution campaign and tobacco company denial of health effects of smokng. They are not interested in actual science but rather are interested in methods of sowing doubt. Similar to the cigarette company strategy of denying the harm of tobacco smoke, “doubt is their product”. We already knew these guys were merchants of doubt, some of them are the very same people that deny tobacco smoke is harmful.

I don’t think these documents are going to be a game changer. They’ve largely told us what we already know. HI is funded by oil interests. They pay cranks with degrees good money (11k a month to Idso – sweet!) to lend legitimacy to denialist pseudoscience. Their overriding goal is to undermine any science that conflicts with free market fundamentalism. They are trying to undermine climate science through sowing doubt and confusion in the public rather than pursuing actual scientific inquiry. To those that think HI is great, they think methods like this are just fine. To those of us who have seen how denialists operate, from the tobacco companies to the Discovery Institute, this is just another confirmation of their overarching strategy – to create doubt where there should be none.

7 thoughts on “The Heartland Documents, Doubt is their Product”

  1. The strongest line of spin by the denialists in this case is that the Strategy Document – the one with that “dissuade teaching science” in it – is supposedly a forgery, because it is a Word doc and not a PDF.

    Yet Desmogblog and other sites are reporting that the internal date/time stamp of the Strategy Document show it was last edited within 2 minutes of the PDFs – whose authenticity has never been denied, and which in any case include signatures. Also, the Strategy Document was last edited by a “jbast,” as in, Heatland Institute’s Joseph Bast.

    Basically, this is what happens when people who don’t know how computers work try sockpuppeting, then when caught they repeatedly deny it even in the face of clear technical proof because they don’t know that such proof can actually exist and/or how to read it.

  2. TTT, I don’t think your comment is technically correct. The “Climate Strategy” document is a scan from paper, not a Word document. As such it doesn’t appear to have any authoring metadata except for the model of the scanner (at least not that I could find). The only other scanned document in the set is the Form 990 (which appears to have been scanned on a different device); the others appear to be .pdf files created from Word Perfect.

    I think the most interesting thing in the metadata for the .wpd/.pdf files is that they appear to have been created on two different machines. One set was created by “Joseph Bast” and originally stored at the root of the C: drive with a file naming convention of “(Date) File Name.wpd”, the other was created by “jbast” and originally stored under “P:JBastTopicYear*.wpd”. I would think that one was a home machine and the other was at the office, but there are two files with different paths and author names with creation timestamps less than an hour apart. Maybe Bast has a personal laptop at work? In any case, it seems like a very strange thing to fake, and in my view adds to the plausibility of those documents (which the HI hasn’t denied, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter).

    But I think it’s important to be careful about quoting that “Climate Strategy” document for several reasons:

    1. Most of the substantive content is repeated in the more reputable documents, so there’s not much need to cite it beyond the “gotcha” soundbites.
    2. It doesn’t have much metadata showing common provenance with the other documents.
    3. It is very different from the other documents in format.
    4. Dan Rather. If HI somehow managed to prove that document was a fake, many people would look really stupid.

    For what it’s worth, I think all the documents are probably real – I think the “Climate Strategy” document was probably brought to the board meeting as a hard copy summary, and was scanned afterwards, which would account for all the differences I’ve noticed – but I still think we should be wary of it until we have more evidence.

  3. The P: sounds like a network drive. Probably the two machines are a laptop for use in meetings, and a desktop for heavy use.

    But WordPerfect? Have the Mormons taken control? Or is Microsoft trying to hide their participation in the funding of HI?

  4. Yes, doubt is being manufactured by those who created the “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” document. I fully concur.

  5. It’s too early to say what kind of effect these documents will have. It isn’t gaining the kind of traction in big media outlets that the “climategate” emails got. But they will get repeated referred to. Sometimes truth just drips out.

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