I haven’t posted about this yet, though I’ve been following it from the get-go (obviously). But at this point it’s made the jump to mainstream news, so here goes. From the the NYT: Leak Offers Glimpse of Campaign Against Climate Science:
Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.
The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.
The documents first appeared on anti-denialist blogs after reportedly being emailed to the blogs’ operators by someone going by the name of “Heartland Insider”. The Heartland Institute itself, after taking a day to prepare a response, is now saying that the documents were obtained by a social-engineering hack in which someone phoned them, identified himself or herself as a donor with a recently-changed email address, and requested that the documents be emailed to the new address. For myself, I think it’s quite credible both that someone would have used that approach and that Heartland would have fallen for it. That’s social engineering 101.
One of the documents, a two-page memo headed “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy, has been described by Heartland as “a total fake”, though presumably the rest of the 100-page release is legitimate.
The question of whether the strategy memo is, in fact, a fake, is interesting to me. It certainly seems possible. The document has PDF metadata that differs from that of the other documents, indicating that it was created via a different process and at a different time. Of course, that information was visible to Heartland as well as everyone else once the documents were published, which means Heartland had time to notice and (perhaps) craft the “total fake” line as a way of trying to muddy the waters. Or it could be true that that document was indeed a fake, added to the mix by the leaker in an effort to distill some of the juicier tidbits from the rest of the documents (with which the strategy memo is more or less consistent) into a more readily-digestible format.
I think I’m inclined to go with Heartland on this part of the story, mostly because the claim that the memo is a fake raises the stakes. If the memo is legitimate, then presumably others among Heartland’s board and donors have copies of it as well, which means it would only take one of them to blow the whistle on the Institute’s lie. I wouldn’t put it past Heartland to take that risk, but the benefits of disowning that one document don’t really seem worth it to me. It’s easier for me to think that the malicious hacker who leaked the memos (who was already running a significant criminal risk as a result of the social engineering, assuming that part of Heartland’s story is true), was willing to try to juice the news value of the story via the additional fabrication.
That still leaves the rest of the damning information untouched, though. It’s not like it’s really news that prominent voices in the denialist community have been quietly getting money from Heartland (Craig Idso, $11,600 per month; Fred Singer, $5,000 per month, etc.), but it still puts the discussion on a different level to have the numbers from Heartland’s own budget. And there’s this (from the NYT article):
Heartland’s latest idea, the documents say, is a plan to create a curriculum for public schools intended to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and budgeted at $200,000 this year. The curriculum would claim, for instance, that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy.”
I loved the Times’ response:
It is in fact not a scientific controversy. The vast majority of climate scientists say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however.
This is from a straight news story, people. Damn those pesky facts, with their well-known liberal bias. Kudos to the Times and its reporters for resisting the journalistically lazy practice of granting false equivalence to both “sides” of a scientific “controversy” that is not, in fact, scientifically controversial.
Moving on, I suspect this is the part that is most worrisome for Heartland:
The documents raise questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a potential violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. For instance, the documents outline “Operation Angry Badger,” a plan to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections and related fights this year in Wisconsin over the role of public-sector unions.
Tax lawyers said Wednesday that tax-exempt groups were allowed to undertake some types of lobbying and political education, but that because they are subsidized by taxpayers, they are prohibited from direct involvement in political campaigns.
For them to lose their tax-exempt status for engaging in political activity would definitely hurt them (while helping the rest of humanity). So I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that part.
- Steve Zwick in Forbes: Heartland Feels The Heat Over Anti-Science Climate Change Strategy
- David Atkins at Hullabaloo: Climate Hacking Hypocrisy
- Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones: Internal Heartland Institute Email Blasts “Lamestream Media” for Climate Leak
On to the comments. Unleash the hounds!
Update: Megan McCardle in The Atlantic makes a fairly convincing case for the strategy memo being, in fact, fake: Leaked Docs From Heartland Institute Cause a Stir—but Is One a Fake? She points out several things I hadn’t noticed in my quick read-through of the whole packet, but which seem in hindsight to be strongly suggestive of fakery by an ideological opponent of Heartland. Also, she updates the posting with an observation that comes close to being a smoking gun: The mischaracterization of Koch’s funding in the strategy memo (but only in the strategy memo), as being for anti-global-warming advocacy, rather than for healthcare advocacy, as seems to be the case based on the legitimate documents.