What becomes of the broken Heartland?

The ramifications of last week’s leak of internal documents from the Heartland Institute — the US lobby group up to its neck in organised climate denial in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and perhaps elsewhere — continue to make news. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Heartland money was used to fund Aussie climate denial campaigners in 2009 and 2010, with funds channelled through the “American Climate Science Coalition” — a member of the coterie of climate “science” coalitions spun off from the New Zealand original with Heartland funding. Heartland’s charitable status in the US — which allows donors to the group to claim a 30% tax deduction (effectively a tax-payer subsidy of Heartland activities) — is being called into question as a result of the latest Mashey report into the links between Fred Singer and Heartland, and the dodgy nature of Heartland’s overseas grants. There have also been calls for some of Heartland’s large corporate donors to cease providing financial support for an organisation so steeped in climate denial.

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The real Climategate: Heartland’s hypocrisy on display

It’s been a bad week for the Heartland Institute — the US lobby group recently shown to have funded New Zealand climate denialists. Documents leaked this week expose Heartland’s fund-raising and climate strategies to the cold light of day, and a major new piece of research by John Mashey demonstrates that Heartland has been acting outside of the rules governing the tax-exempt status it claims for itself.

Documents relating to a Heartland board meeting held in January were sent to a number of bloggers earlier this week, and have been made available by DeSmogBlog. The papers give a very full account of Heartland’s budget and plans for 2012, right down to individual staff salaries, and provide details of funding streams from players big and small. The largest — described as the “anonymous donor” — provided Heartland with $8.6 million over 2007-11 for its climate campaigns (see pps 20 and 21 of this document).

Key points from the documents:

  • Heartland plans to create a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Schools” that “isn’t alarmist or overtly political”, and plans to pay Dr David Wojick $25,000 a quarter to develop the materials.
  • Heartland is planning to fund Fred Singer’s Not the IPCC project to the tune of $1.5 million over 2010-13, and is budgeting monthly payments of $11,600 to Craig Idso, $5,000 to Singer and $1,667 to Bob Carter during 2012.
  • Anthony Watts (of µWatts fame) is being funded to the tune of $88,000 to develop a web site featuring US temperature data.
  • Current funders include tobacco companies, fossil fuel interests, and even Microsoft.

Heartland claims the documents were stolen, and that one — relating to their strategy on climate denial — was faked, even though the main points in that “confidential memo” are corroborated by the other documents. The Heartland response includes threats of legal action against web sites and media carrying stories based on the documents, and says:

…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.

Those persons who posted these documents and wrote about them before we had a chance to comment on their authenticity should be ashamed of their deeds, and their bad behavior should be taken into account when judging their credibility now and in the future.

Back in 2009, when the emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia first hit the web, Heartland president Joseph Bast wrote:

The release of these documents creates an opportunity for reporters, academics, politicians, and others who relied on the IPCC to form their opinions about global warming to stop and reconsider their position. The experts they trusted and quoted in the past 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. This is new and real evidence that they should examine and then comment on publicly.

The hypocrisy burns…

Meanwhile, the news that Bob Carter is retained by Heartland to undermine the work of mainstream science through the NIPCC is making waves in Australia (Graham Readfearn, SMH), but hasn’t yet been picked up in New Zealand. Carter’s role as a “science advisor” to the Heartland funded NZ Climate Science Coalition and its ICSC spin-off, as well as to Nigel Lawson’s secretive Global Warming Policy Foundation raises serious questions about just how lucrative denial can be, as well as illuminating the international web of climate denial.

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The catechism of climate crank cliché

“A cliché,” according to the late Brian O’Nolan, “is a phrase that has become fossilised, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life. If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.”

O’Nolan is perhaps better known as Flann O’Brien, the author of such staggering works of comic genius as The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds, but for many years he contributed a column to the Irish Times under the pen name Myles na Gopaleen. One of the highlights of that column was the occasional appearance of extracts from Myles na Gopaleen’s Catechism of Cliché.

I was reminded of that catechism when I stumbled upon the “core principles” of the International Climate Science Coalition, a list of the doctrines the ICSC expects its members and supporters to believe and promote. Like Myles’ least favourite constructions, they are certainly fossilised and deprived of any intrinsic meaning but have the added attraction of being for the most part untrue.

A catechism, as the more literate (or Catholic) reader will know, is:

…a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well. [Wikipedia]

Amongst the doctrinal manuals available for today’s climate sceptic there are the popular scriptures by Plimer and Wishart, the undergraduate philippics of Carter and Allegro, and the industrial grade biblical length blockbuster produced by Fred Singer and his Not the IPCC project. So much to choose from, such a lot to read. How is the would-be denier to thread their way through such a maze of doctrinal complexity, uncertainty and contradiction? Let us help them by preparing a climate crank catechism in the style of Myles…

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Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

Why should four distinguished American physicists ally themselves in their later years with movements to fight the scientific evidence and spread confusion on many of the most important issues of our time?  That’s a question Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway address in their admirable new book Merchants of Doubt. Three of the physicists were Fred Seitz, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow. The fourth, Fred Singer, is still living.

The issues in which the men, jointly or severally, played a part cover a wide range.  A surprising range at first sight.  What have tobacco smoking, the strategic defence initiative, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoking and climate change got in common? They were not areas of professional expertise for the four scientists. Oreskes and Conway point to the fact that they all involved the possibility of government regulation of market activities in the interests of the environment. Regulation was the road to socialism. All four men were stout defenders of free market capitalism and strident anti-communists. Nierenberg and Seitz hated environmentalists, viewing them as Luddites.

As eminent scientists who had played important roles on a national level they were men of influence and did not hesitate to use it when opportunity offered. The book traces in considerable detail the way they added their weight to the battle against regulation in the fields they engaged with. Seitz, on retirement, was employed by R J Reynolds Tobacco Company to oversee the distribution of a very large grant to biomedical research. To some degree this worked to create friendly witnesses for the tobacco industry.  Seitz agreed with the industry’s position that there was “no proof” that tobacco caused harm.  When in later years the battle moved to secondhand smoke, the Environmental Protection Agency called the epidemiological evidence conclusive. Seitz and Singer leapt in to create confusion. Singer claimed that the EPA was taking “extreme positions not supported by the science.” He and Seitz became advisers to The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition which attacked the science and campaigned against it. Singer argued that the EPA assumed the risk from second-hand smoking was directly proportional to the exposure, whereas it should have assumed a “threshold effect” – that doses below a certain level would have no effect.

Ozone depletion is a serious matter on which to oppose the science, and fortunately the science won out in the Montreal protocol of 1987 and its subsequent revision in 1990.  But Singer, at the time chief scientist at the US Department of Transportation wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal dismissing ozone depletion as localised and temporary and insisting that there was no proof that CFCs were responsible. The ozone hole he accounted for as part of Earth’s natural climate variability. There was therefore no need to regulate CFCs. His writing on this issue had three major themes: the science is incomplete and uncertain; replacing CFCs will be difficult, dangerous, and expensive; and the scientific community is corrupt and motivated by self-interest and political ideology. It reads like a striking prefiguring of the attacks on climate science that persist today.

The four men were closely involved in the attack on climate science in the early days. In 1980 Nierenberg chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee report in which economists Nordhaus and Schelling argued, contrary to the natural scientists’ contributions, that because there were enormous uncertainties about climate change and its potential costs, policymakers should do nothing but fund more research. The report synthesis followed the economists’ line.  It was heavily criticised, but not by the White House which used it to refute two EPA reports advising immediate action to reduce coal use. Then in 1989 the Marshall Institute produced a report written by Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg which rejected Hansen’s 1988 claim that warming as a result of CO2 emissions was detectable and instead blamed rising temperature on the sun. It went down well at the White House. “They are eminent scientists. I was impressed,” said one member of the cabinet affairs office. Singer joined in during the 90s with a litany of complaints at the findings of the 1996 IPCC and a vicious attack on climatologist Ben Santer for alleged unauthorised changes to the chapter of which he was a lead author.

The book tracks the ways in which these four men lent their considerable scientific prestige to a series of issues in which vested interests tried to deter government action to regulate business activities. They did so not by engaging with the science but by downplaying it or attacking it. The motive was ideological. It’s a sad story.

Part of the interest of the book is its reflections on the nature of science. Science doesn’t provide certainty or proof. What it does provide is the consensus of experts, based on the organised accumulation and scrutiny of evidence. Thus the geological theory of plate tectonics, for example, has emerged as accepted scientific knowledge. Modern science is a collective enterprise. What counts as knowledge are the ideas that come to be accepted by the fellowship of experts, the jury of one’s scientific peers.  If a claim is rejected the honest scientist moves on to other things. When Robert Jastrow and his colleagues first took their claims to the halls of public opinion rather than to the halls of science, they were stepping outside the institutional protocols that for four hundred years have tested the veracity of scientific claims. Many of the claims of the climate science contrarians had already been vetted in the halls of science and had failed to pass the test of peer review. Many were never even submitted for vetting.

Modern journalism often misunderstands the process. It’s considered only fair to give due consideration to another viewpoint. Journalists don’t always understand that the contrarian has already received due consideration by peers. And contrarians are often very insistent that they should be given a hearing. In the case of the four men who are the subject of this book journalists were also fooled by their stature as scientists. But the authors point out that they were never really experts on the diverse issues in which they engaged “in their golden years”. They couldn’t be. Modern science is far too specialised for that. Physicists can’t also be epidemiologists, ecologists, atmospheric chemists or climate modelers.

The sensible conclusion of the book is that we  must trust scientific experts who work in and through the scientific community of which they are part. The credentials of the experts matter, of course, but they are scrutinised by scientific bodies. We should take seriously the judgments of such groups as the National Academy of Sciences or the IPCC when they report on their searches of the science. It doesn’t make sense to dismiss the consensus of experts because someone dissents, especially if the dissenter is superannuated, disgruntled, a habitual contrarian, or in the pay of an interest group.

I took some comfort from the fact that this book is incidentally a record of the ultimate defeat of  those who attacked the science in the issues the authors cover. But in every case the attackers succeeded in delaying appropriate action. When one considers the magnitude of some of the dangers they denied, their confidence seems irresponsible in the extreme. There is little doubt that the science of climate change will also ultimately prevail. But delay is costly and dangerous. It is to be hoped that many journalists and policy makers read this book and learn from it to ignore the specious attacks climate science still suffers from deniers who play little or no part in its patient work.

[Buy via Fishpond NZ, Amazon.com, Book Depository UK]

Well, I’ll be… blowed

The estimable Bomber Bradbury has been wondering why all the climate cranks have gone quiet since the exoneration of Phil Jones and the CRU by a British parliamentary enquiry — and, surprise, has since received something of a challenge from Cameron Slater at his Whale Oil blog. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t go anywhere near Slater’s site, but I did notice that a little while ago he was moved to post this

Is Gareth Renowden a complete twat?

Is he a fraud as well?

Ok what about as deluded as “Quota” Smith?

Oh come that is too harsh for any one surely?

Can we mark believers with a tattoo so when they later claim they didn’t “really” believe they were just trick ing we can kick their lying balls real hard?

Distasteful, I think you’ll agree. Perhaps he has shares in a tattoing business? In any event, he’s earned a riposte. Let’s look at his “challenge” and see if it stands up to scrutiny.

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