Heated Debate in the Heartland

How Political Pit Bulls Distort Scientific Debate

Ken Silverstein | Feb 22, 2012


During our school days, the kids who stayed late in the library or the science labs were often sneered at. It’s not much different today, although it now depends on which side of the political aisle one sits. At issue are those who have devoted their lives to study of climate science.

Honest people disagree over the central causes behind global warming and whether it is a man-made phenomenon. Unfortunately, the public discussion has not been held to a higher standard; rather, it has devolved into the political mud pits with each side’s pit bulls taking center stage. Stated differently, the political hacks have infiltrated the debate on behalf of their high-paying clients.

Case-in-point: The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which has been exposed. True, a true-believer conned a secretary at the think tank into “resending” a list of the organization’s donors and political objectives. The scientist, who has since gotten a scolding from his peers, disseminated the confidential information. But at this point, the story is less about how the documents were obtained and much more about how the Heartland operates.

The group is at the forefront of trying to negate the alleged effects and causes of global warming. It bankrolls those scientists who will support its premise. One such professional is Craig Idso, who gets $11,600 a month from the Heartland Institute. That is over-and-above what he gets from his day-job. Idso, who says that the money does not influence his findings, never divulged this critical fact.

As for the Heartland Institute, it is acknowledging the heartfelt emotions on both sides but says that it simply cannot condone the methodologies used by its opponents. It never said such a thing, however, when some computer hackers wormed their way into the Climatic Research Unit of University of East Anglia in Britain and stole 1,000 emails. That led to the whole “ClimateGate” episode in which some private conversations were twisted and then used as propaganda.

“Observations throughout the world have led to overwhelming consensus among scientists that global warming is occurring and is the result of human activities,” says Jennifer W. Harden, research soil scientist and a 30-year Bio-geochemist with U.S. Geological Survey, in a talk with this reporter. “The scandal is the theft and distribution of private emails, and not their contents.”

Smear Campaigns

Science should trump politics. To that end, the National Academy of Sciences released a survey in 2010 asking 1,372 highly acclaimed climatologists whether climate change is caused by the burning of excessive fossil fuels or whether it is  natural occurring. Ninety-seven percent of them fingered the human factor.

People of goodwill have legitimate disagreements as to whether the warming trend is either urgent or man-made. This debate also comes down to whether citizens think it a wise use of public resources to promote the development of newer but less proven green technologies at the expense of minted but less environmentally-friendly ones.

Those who tend to advance the coming of the next-generation economy are in favor of this re-allocation of resources. Conversely, those who say that the earth’s warming is natural are insisting that billions will be wasted trying to fix a problem that does not exist.

Fair enough. But the bloodhounds -- through graft and smear campaigns -- have confused the debate. Some politicos and their paid consultants are taking positions because they are trying to curry political or financial favor with certain constituencies.

As such, the Center for Responsive Politics is reporting that the coal industry gives 73 percent of its money to Republicans while giving the rest to sympathetic Democrats. Oil and gas interests, meantime, give 75 percent to Republicans. Is it a coincidence that the two parties are taking opposing views on global warming?

"Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist (global warming) message," says a Heartland document.

Public policy debate is healthy. Politicizing the field of science is not. Even if one accepts that global warming is less than “urgent” and more like “uncertain,” slamming the door and hoping for the best is untenable. The proper tack is not to drown out or demonize the other’s position. It is, instead, to listen carefully to what their solutions are — and to incorporate a practical path forward that heads off a potential problem in a cost-effective manner.

Hopefully all sides will heed the message, especially the Heartland Institute.


EnergyBiz Insider is the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has also been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.

Follow Ken on  www.twitter.com/ken_silverstein


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L' Affaire Heartland


Ken –


I think there are a few important contextual issues missing from the discussion of the Heartland Affair:


1) Gleick’s defenders significantly understate the criminality of what happened in this situation. With the CRU-email situation, the best evidence is that they were leaked through incompetence: evidence suggests that someone (probably a system administrator based on the file structure) left a giant file prepared for FOIA submission on an open website, and it was snatched up and parceled out. If anything, this was close to whistle-blowing: the person did not put their name in the data (in a self-important way), and in fact released a memo suggesting a clear whistle-blowing mentality in the second round of revelations. With the Heartland papers, you have wire-fraud, and various other clear-cut crimes, AND the personal information (such as compensation levels) of many regular working-stiffs were released to the public. 


2) Most people, I would guess, completely misunderstand the nature of libertarian/free-market/free-enterprise think tanks, and the people who work in them or for them. The best way to understand the institutions is as free-enterprise champions, or alternately, people who hate initiative-coercion. Virtually all such groups view coercion as a fundamental wrong, and focus on what they see as abuses of government power (including cronyism) because only the government can legally use coercive power.


These groups were founded, and are largely supported by people who think government power is a dangerous thing requiring constant observation and containment. Their only legal tactic is persuasion based on principled argumentation. Not only is coercion illegal to them, it's largely illegal for them to even attempt to sway a decision-maker’s vote whatsoever. That's considered lobbying, which is illegal for a 501c3 organization.


3) The people who work for think tanks are not, by and large, driven by the pursuit of wealth: Almost everyone I know in the think tank world could make far more money in the private for-profit sector or government than they do in the non-profit world. They are not driven by money, they are driven by ideas. They are attracted to think tanks because they share the broad set of values, and want to team up with like-minded people to have greater impact. None of the people mentioned in the Heartland memo are going to get rich given what Heartland was paying them! I would guess that the AVERAGE player on any professional sports team makes more in salary than the top-tier workers at free-market think tanks.


4) The dread "climate skeptics" cited as working for Heartland were mostly doing little more than contract technical writing or paid public speaking. There is absolutely nothing "questionable" about paying someone to summarize a few dozen highly technical articles, to explain basic scientific principles, to do technical editing, or whatever. They were not lobbying the government, and their positions in the government had little or nothing to do with influencing climate policy.


Tell me if these things would be wrong:

  1. Over time it's discovered that a drug company's claims regarding a drug were not accurate. While most doctors stick by the drug, others try to point to the drug's bad side-effects. Is it wrong for a consumer-health group to pay the doctors to write up a layman's summary of the literature they claim shows bad side-effects are larger than the drug companies claim?

  2. Someone discovers that a car company has been covering up an issue regarding brake failures. Most supporters of the industry (who are tied to it in some way) argue that such claims are overblown, or only found in "one or two studies," etc. A few independent engineers, who work in related areas (but not directly on brakes) get interested, dust off their engineering training, do some studies on their own, and conclude that the brakes really are bad. They're hired by an consumer-safety group to write up their findings, and explain them to lay audiences, testify to legislators, etc.

Finally, I’ve heard some people say that they only care about this from a standpoint of “transparency.” There are problems with this claim.

1.      1. The rationale is insincere. Activists want think tanks and others to reveal the name of their donors and the amounts given so they can use that information to suggest that the authors are essentially unprincipled mercenaries, not simply for the sake of having all the cards on the table.

2.      The rationale is discriminatory. Nobody asks government workers to qualify exactly what share of their government income stems from the promotion of a given idea, or suggests that they are unprincipled mouthpieces. Instead, whistleblower laws promote the idea that government workers are highly ethical people who will oppose wrong-doing by their own paymasters. 

Reporters aren't assumed to represent advertisers (though we know they have avoided outing major advertisers in the past). Environmentalists aren't assumed to represent cronies or special interests (though we know they have, and they do), but anyone from right-of-center is assumed to be a sock-puppet for evil megacorps if they take a dime from anyone. It's as if we're the one group of people who are supposed to work for free. Though, if we were rich enough to do that, they'd just slander us for being rich. It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't sorta thing.

3.      Giving out this data would enable violence. The people wanting the data have dubious records of lawfulness. The left has shown it will use violence in a way the right does not: the Tea Parties were peaceful, Occupy was not. The right might protest, but they don't surround people's houses, and terrorize their wives and children. If violence or destruction happens, they’re mortified. The left takes pride in social violence and erect monuments to it leaders: violent labor strikes, violent protests, violent tactics such as eco-terrorism and animal-rights terrorism, violence against property (pouring paint on people wearing furs; assaulting conservatives with “pies” and eye-injuring buckets of glitter), etc. Given overt calls for violence by the left, giving out the names of those who support free-market think tanks would be a bit like giving out the home address of the relatives of people testifying against the mafia. 



Ken Here

Global warming is one of those intensely emotional debates. I know. I've covered it. I hear from all sides both on and off the record. I hear from my own publisher. The thing I want to say is that I very much appreciate how loyal our readership is whether they agree or disagree with the premise of the story. I also deeply appreciate the fact that I have a publisher who, while they may disagree, still believes in the right of free speech. As you have heard me say, this column is just the beginning word; it is not the last word and your letters are proof of that. Moreover, even though the notes I've gotten are numerous and heatfelt on both sides, they are thoughtful, decent and civil. I am very proud to write for this audience. I truly am. I'm proud to work publishers who stand behind the First Amendment. And I'm proud to be a reporter, who calls them like I see them. Ken

And Obama is a Kenyan islamofascistzionist Trotskyite...

It's bafling that the Heartland "Institute" gets treated as credile in the real world.  It was originally founded to churn out "scientific" reports that claimed there was no scientific basis for the assertion that smoking was hazardous to health.  They are one of many faux insittutes used to generate specious information for a price.

And that WSJ op-ed by the 16 "scientists"... none study climate, most are retired oil company people.  One, the former astronaut Schmidt, was laughed out of New Mexico for these views when his name came up for a cabinent position with the new governor.  Another case of "If 16 experts say it isn't so, then we can ignore the thousands that are telling us differently."  Similar to the canard you hear f"It's incredibly cold in Miami, guess that means this global warming stuff is bunk."

There was nothing faked abut the emails released from East Anglia, and there was absolutely nothing shown to indicate a conspiracy or a fraud or a different conclusion regarding climate change, despite how things were spun by those who took things out of context.  All that was revealed was the pettiness and backbiting that goes on in most academic environments.

The positions of the deniers are so cliched there's even an iPhone app that keeps track of them.  The simplest  research on any right wing climate headline usually reveals contortions, spin, misrepresentation by the usual suspects.

What we have is a lobbying syndicate that identified a strategy to engage the extreme right: exploit their creeping socialism and one world government paranoia.  Global climate rules are part of the plot to have us all under one global socialist government!  It's a conspiracy of scientists motivated only by their need to get more funding (pity the poor fossil fuel industry up against such financial might!).

And its deja vu all over again.  We went through a nearly identical set of circumstances over sulfur emissions and cap and trade.  Exact same players funding the anti's, exact same arguments: junk science; it will cause utility bills to skyrocket; there's no such thing as acid rain; it will kill the ecoomy.  Of course, none of that happened and SO2 cap and trade has worked fine for 25 years. The big difference is that there was no internet then and there was no collection of entertainers pushing an agenda on TV and radio.

The real debate that needs to happen is whether or not there is anything that can be done about carbon emissions; if there is what are the proper measures to take; and what can we afford.  Instead we are forced to contend with this moronic debate over whether or not the earth is warming due to human activity with a terminally gullible group unwilling to accept anything that conflicts with their ideology.  

And Obama is .....


The last paragraph in the above describes, I believe, the very crux of the matter, and I quote:


“The real debate that needs to happen is whether or not there is anything that can be done about carbon emissions; if there is what are the proper measures to take; and what can we afford.”


Yes, there are things that have already been done. There are practical solutions out there, and some can actually earn money as they reduce greenhouse gas and criteria emissions. One technology in particular is entirely non-disruptive – it can work together with any other means of GHG mitigation. It is technically feasible, proven by precise engineering calculation, and it appears to be commercially viable. Most importantly, it is affordable.


So, what is preventing these solutions from being accepted and put into practice as of this moment?


Leaving aside voluminous rhetoric and arguments stemming from many points of view, it is my opinion that it all boils down to a single problem. We have come to disbelieve much of what we see and hear. Hype, disinformation, half-truths, and misinformation all conspire to undermine communication, from scientific pronouncements through to the expression of opinions. Even statements of proven fact become tainted and prone to distrust. The outcome is a natural and understandable reluctance to take actions that cannot be defined or quantified in a verifiable form.


We know and accept that, arithmetically at least, two plus two equals four. The truthfulness of the statement no longer depends on who says it. The result is fact, a concept that is fundamental to the disciplines of science and engineering.


On the other hand, the heading of the comment I am responding to is an opinion, and all opinions deserve to be heard. It can be taken in any number of ways, but its interpretation now depends mightily upon who expressed it. Since it could easily be skewed in one way or another, it is imprecise and cannot be relied upon as fact nor can it be taken as such.


Pervasive skepticism is the real enemy we all face as we attempt to resolve our energy issues. We should question and challenge what we read, walking around the subject matter to gain as many different perspectives as possible before arriving at sound conclusions. At the very least we might learn something new; the art of debate, perhaps?


Alan E. Belcher.


Nice Article, Ken

Thank you, Ken, for once again taking on a difficult issues and taking a balanced approach to it. I totally agree with your notion that this issue has been way too politicized. I have never understood why people from a particular party would pay less attention to science and to so strongly let their political views influence their interpretation of science. I also agree that both parties do this theough maybe to different degrees.

Honest Political Debate?

For me, the most telling aspect is the abhorrence on the man-induced change side to all things nuclear.   According to them ‘the sky is falling’, but nuclear power is off the table.   I think that position speaks volumes about hidden agenda, i.e. I think this is about funneling funds to green industries who give predominantly to Democrats. 

Actually, more broadly...

it is about global governance and income redistribution.

The idea is that the remaining ~1 billion of us would live in a global, carbon-free vegan commune.

A different View



The new report by computer scientist, researcher and DeSmogBlog contributor John Mashey (next post), completely corroborates the authenticity of leaked Heartland Institute budget, planning and fundraising documents released on the DeSmogBlog earlier today.

Mashey's report also produces evidence that Dr. S. Fred Singer, who Heartland keeps on a $5,000-a-month retainer to spread disinformation about climate change, claimed Dr. Frederick Seitz as the chair of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) for two full years AFTER Seitz died.

As always when Mashey is involved, this new report is painstakingly detailed and carefully referenced throughout. It both corroborates and is corroborated by the leaked Heartland documents, which reinforce Mashey's conclusion that Heartland is a for-profit public relations and lobbying firm that is operating with non-profit status by misrepresenting the nature of its activities in its own tax filings.

Specifically, Mashey's report, Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax, documents the following conclusions:

1. Singer is a lobbyist, not a scientist (at least, he has not produced any significant work of science in several decades) and is therefore in violation of limits to undeclared lobbying activity.

2. The Heartland Institute has a long-established reputation as an organization dedicated to providing legitimacy to industries that want to confuse the public about science. For example, Heartland's President Joe Bast has been a leading defender of such things as the "Joe Camel" campaign to encourage children to take up smoking - even while the tobacco industry was funding Heartland's operations. This was corroborated by the Heartland budget documents which show that both Phillip Morris and Reynolds American continue as Heartland donors.

3. Heartland's publication, Environment and Climate News, is rife with "science" stories that are demonstrably untruthful or misleading.

4. Heartland has spent lavishly on conferences whose only apparent function was to sow confusion about climate science. It also has paid government employees and politicians to attend these events.

5. Heartland has sponsored Fred Singer and Craig Idso to produce the so-called Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change s a regular and organized attack on the legitimate reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This too was corroborated in the Heartland budget documents, which show that both Idso and Singer on on retainer at Heartland.

All of this is, again, corroborated by the Heartland documents leaked earlier today. This, for example, is Heartland's description of its Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms Project, which it is paying Dr. David Wojick to Develop to dissuade teachers from teaching science.

Finally. An Objective Source - DeSmogBlog


"Fake but accurate" rides again.

Paging Dan Rather.

Duplicate deleted.

Duplicate deleted.

Try a bit of alternative reading rather than just IPCC reports

Try reading Climate of Extremes and Climate Coup for a bit of rebuttal to the IPCC Report on Global Climate Change.  Those books contain some well-referenced information that refutes some of the IPCC work and specifically points out some of the data manipulation used by the IPCC authors.  These books also address information that certainly questions the allegations of "unprecedented" climate/weather events supposedly occuring now.

If I remember correctly, I read that the National Academy of Sciences 2010 survey mentioned in the article was conducted at a conference on global climate change.  Hardly a random survey.

My principal problem with the subject is not as much the argument about global climate change as much as the reaction to the IPCC report which is a call for OECD countries to invest vast sums of money into generation technologies that have not been fully developed thereby wasting the money of its citizenry, either through doling out of taxpayer dollars as production tax credits or cash grants or through feed-in-tariffs or other things that result in causing businesses to uproot and move to China and India and other countries that are building coal-fired powerplants without environmental mitigation.  The green technologies being invested in so heavily are so variable and so indispatchable that they must be fully backed up with fossil power, much of which is of low efficiency due to the fact it older plants kept in service or simple cycle gas turbine plants.  The government enforced proliferation of wind and solar is distorting the energy market making investment in newer, more efficient, and cleaner operating facilities an unattractive proposition.  The net impact of green investment has been zero reductiion in worldwide CO2 emissions and increased emission of SOx, NOx and other toxic materials.

Survey cited is not exactly a good statistical measure

"To that end, the National Academy of Sciences released a survey in 2010 asking 1,372 highly acclaimed climatologists whether climate change is caused by the burning of excessive fossil fuels or whether it is a natural occurrence."

I believe that survey was sent to persons who were published in a few select journals and magazines that tend to promote a strong anthropogenic climate change message.  This was not a random survey of climatologists.

It is not even close to a good statistical measure.

Heated Debate in Heartland

It is unfortunate that this possibly extremely important issue was strongly politicized early on.

The Wall Street Journal carried an opinion piece Tuesday February 21, 2012 "The Not-So-Vast Conspiracy" lending credence to the position that the strong influence peddling is actually done by the AGW supporters.

The fact remains that the knowledge and models of the workings of the atmosphere are simply too weak to justify the enormous expense fostered upon the public. Perhaps an apt description of the current state of affairs can be found in Hans Christian Andersen "The Emperors New Clothes”

Honest People Disagree - Really?

Your statement that "honest people disagree" is only true to the extent that that honest uninformed people disagree. Honest and unbiased scientists hae no disagreement as to the fact that human activity is a major cause if not THE major cause of global warming.

Articles such as yours only contributes to the diversionary confusion purposely caused by people and organizations with a financial interest in keeping the USA from taking any useful and significant action to mitigate global warming and also to get the USA gradually weaned off of imported oil.

I suggest you read The Inquisition of Climate Science by James Lawrence among other sources.

Very truly,

Ron Hollmeier

Yes. Really.

Ad hominem attacks and argument from authority aren't very convincing.

The globe has both warmed and cooled previously, on multiple occasions. For most of these historical occurrences, we can state definitively that human activity was not a major cause, or even any contributor to the cause. Science really does not understand the mechanisms which caused the historical warming and cooling events. However, science claims to understand the cause of the current, though now paused, warming event. Their claim is largely based on data that aren't and models that don't.

For some interesting observations on the "scientific process" underway to prepare AR5:


The Global Warming Scam

The atmosphere acts as a blanket both during the the day and the night. In the day it insulates the earth so less radiant energy hits it. At night it insulates the earth so that some of the radiant energy leaving the earth bounces back and it doesn't cool as fast. However, the insulating effect at night is miniscule compared to the insulating effect in the day.

A little correction to the blanket analogy

I am not an expert on radiant energy however, from what I understand, objects appear a certain color because they reflect the energy in the particular wave-length band(s) that are characteristic of the color.  The remaining radiant energy is absorbed and typically causes the object to heat up.  GHGs are essentially transparent to visible light so do not really blanket the Earth effectively from these.  Thus the Earth absorbs varying amount of visible light, depending upon the color of the soil, plants etc. and heats up.  Reradiation of that heat is in the form of invisible (to the human eye anyway) infrared which is not virtually transparent to GHGs.  This infrared energy heats up the GHGs and they reradiate the energy, some into space and some back to the Earth.

I do not agree with the IPCC report conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 is the principal cause of global climate change but mankind does make a contribution--just the amount of heat released by exhaust gases, cooling of condensers and other hot items related to energy production, forest destruction, and simply living and breathing.

My primary argument is that our rush to green energy is being done very expensively due to the present level of development of these technologies.  The PTCs and cash grants given to these industries are distorting energy markets--particularly electrical energy markets--thereby destroying market drivers to more efficient energy technology.  The result is that the backup energy required by the green technologies because of lack of dispatchability and of the high variability of these technologies is not resulting in decreased CO2 emissions.  The fact that China, India and the other developing countries are using the GHG ploy to artificially hamper industry in the developed countries while they build coal-fired power facilities at a rate that is astounding means that, worldwide, the results of the green energy drive has been to hamper OECD economies while driving manufacturing and other industries into countries that are now pouring out more CO2 than OECD countries cut back.  The rush to green has reordered the world economy in favor of a group of countries that could care less about helping others cope with natural or manmade disasters, epidmics of diseases, and other catasthrophic events.

Mark Wooldridge

"Facts" not in evidence

This post assumes several facts not in evidence and merely adds to the political heat.

First, there is currently no basis on which to assert that the Climategate e-mails were "hacked", or that their release was an illegal act. The British authorities are attempting to determine the "who" and "how", but have not yet done so. There remains a very real possibility that the Climategate e-mails were "leaked" by a frustrated insider. There is also the possibility that they were "parked" on a publicly accessible FTP site and then publicly accessed.

Second, there is no proof that the content of the Climategate e-mails was distorted, though the authors, for obvious reasons, claim that they were. The authors claimed a lack of context, which has since been provided through the release of the Climategate 2 e-mails. In context, there is clear evidence of attempts to skew and frustrate the peer review process, to avoid releases of data required by Freedom of Information laws in both Britain and the US. There is clear evidence of efforts to destroy the careers of skeptics. There are clear acknowledgements that the science is hardly as "settled" as the scientists' public utterances would indicate.

Third, there is no indication, to my knowledge, that any of the materials released in Climategate 1 & 2 were "fake".

However, it is already admitted that the internal Heartland documents were obtained fraudulently. Your "true believer" has admitted that publicly. Those documents do not reveal any nefarious or illegal activity by Heartland.

In addition, there is a very high probability that the the "strategy document" released by your "true believer" is a "fake", rather than a document stolen from Heartland.

You might consider doing a search for users of the terms "denier", "anti-science", "climate zombies", etc. You should get lots of hits.

The argument today is not about whether climate has changed in the past, is changing now, or will change in the future. There is little argument that there has been some human influence in the changes which have been occurring more recently. The issue today is the extent of the human influence; and, the sensitivities and forcing factors acting in the environment.

What we do know is that the quality of the data collected and used by the climate science community is uncertain, at best, and unusable without adjustments. What we also know is that the global climate models have a relatively limited skill at reconstructing past climate changes during the period of the instrument record; and, have demonstrated relatively limited skill in predicting the climate changes which have occurred since they were developed. None predict the current pause in global warming. 

These GCMs represent a very shaky basis on which to justify the investment of roughly $30 trillion in the US, or roughly $150 trillion globally, to transition to a carbon free economy, especially on an urgent basis.

Heartland's Legal Options

FEBRUARY 19 — The Heartland Institute has sent legal notices to numerous Web sites, blogs, and publications asking them to take down the stolen and forged documents and what it views as malicious and false commentary based on them.

The following statement by Heartland Institute President Joseph L. Bast may be used for attribution. For more information, contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely at jlakely@heartland.org or 312-377-4000.

“We realize this will be portrayed by some as a heavy-handed threat to free speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect Internet fraud, and there is no right to defamatory speech.

“For 28 years, The Heartland Institute has engaged in fierce debates over a wide range of public policies – school reform, health care, telecommunications policy, corporate subsidies, and government waste and fraud, as well as environmental policy. We frequently and happily engage in vigorous, robust debate with those who disagree with our views.

“We have resorted in the past to legal means only in a very few cases involving outright fraud and defamation. The current situation clearly fits that description, and our legal counsel has advised that the first step in defending ourselves should be to ask the blogs to take down the stolen and forged documents.”

Joseph L. Bast
The Heartland Institute