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No sympathy for the devil

I don’t get it. First there was Climategate, in which hackers illegally broke into a server at the University of East Anglia and stole a pile of emails from climate researchers. The denialists seemed to be fine with that, and quote-mined the heck out of the documents to find damning statements, lying and claiming that they showed that the scientists faked their data (they did no such thing, of course). All the sturm and drang at that time was over the contents of the emails, not the illegal method of their acquisition.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank with an agenda of willful dishonesty, leaked, and leaked hard. Someone mailed a collection of internal documents to Peter Gleick, and Gleick responded by sending a request to Heartland under a fake name, and got additional copies that confirmed the accuracy of the documents. Was this wrong? It doesn’t seem to be illegal, and I think it’s an open question whether it was unethical — it would be unethical if Gleick lied and misrepresented the contents of those documents, as the denialists did with the East Anglia emails, as the Heartland Institute did with those emails.

And there’s Peter Gleick beating himself up for exposing the Heartland Institute’s mendacity. I really don’t get that. He’s a scientist. Scientists gather data to make informed decisions. Gleick got the data the Heartland Institute tried to hide. You can’t on one hand condemn Gleick for asking for the information and getting it handed to him, while praising hackers for breaking into a server and illegally taking data.

And then Mann, Trenberth, Bradley, Overpeck, Santer, Schmidt, and Karoly write the most naïve letter ever, pointing out the hypocrisy of the denialists while deploring the acquisition of the documents, and saying this:

We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to “think about what has happened” and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.

Really, people? Seriously? This is what the Heartland Institute wants, the poisoning of the debate and the undermining of public understanding. They probably read that letter and said, “Yay! It’s working!”

How about if we focus on the content of the leaked documents instead? They do reveal a deep truth: that the Heartland Institute is a propaganda organization with great support from right-wing political organizations and individuals, and that their mission is to parcel out money to disinformation agents like Anthony Watts and Fred Singer, who sow unfounded doubt and confusion about real science. And they plan to poison American education.

Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. 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. We
tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.

No matter how it was obtained, the Heartland Institute has confirmed that it stupidly mailed out internal documents. The denialists are trying desperately to claim that one of the documents is fake, which just affirms that all the others are accurate.

That ought to be the central story here.

(via Greg Laden)

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. kieran says

    The documents may give a greater insight into how Heartland works but we don’t need them to show it is just the roper propsal write large. They even took money from tobacco!

  2. says

    Trash from the Heartland Institute is the “documentation” at the center of much pseudoscientific scoffing at climate change and its environmental impact. It’s the kind of stuff that many right-wingers take as gospel truth (not that “gospel truth” is all that reliable either).

  3. Conor Sans Pantaloons says

    I thank you for the (previously unknown to me) phrase “sturm and drang,” I will use it with great aplomb. Also, any failure of a person who wants something to be “effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science” is classified as a villain in my book.

  4. christophburschka says

    dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.

    I have this sick sense of fascination for someone who is unashamedly and knowingly evil. Many of the denialists are themselves deceived, just like theists honestly believe themselves to be right. I cannot believe, based on this extract, that this man puts any stock in the lies he attempts to spread.

  5. dobby says

    1. There is no huge echo chamber to keep repeating this. We are still hearing about “climategate” long after it has been debunked. The right wingers don’t care about facts, just their ideology and paychecks.

    2. This is not a big news story. People expect groups like the Heartburn Institute to act like this, so it gets less coverage.

  6. mikelaing says

    It’s just as big an evil when mass media doesn’t pay heed to this. This story is large, not just for exposing GW denialism as a fraud, but also for showing people just how corrupt the system as a whole can be.
    Do people really want their kids being taught lies and attitudes that will severely hinder them getting secondary educations, for instance? Do people realize how badly big business and politicians are in conspiracy to lie to voters?

  7. Holms says

    Has there ever been any evidence released to the effect that the CRU materials were stolen? I see that repeated most of the time, but of course any investigators are keeping the details under wraps while the search continues. The only analysis I have read myself has said that theft via hacking, while not impossible, would have been incredibly difficult and thus less likely than an internal leak:

    http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/FOIA_Leaked/

    I’d give a summary, but the last time I did that someone seized on my gross oversimplification as a chance to dismiss the article itself as being meritless without reading it. It led to a very annoying conversation.

    As for the new batch of documents, while I make no comment as yet over the rest of them, the one claimed to be fake does indeed seem to be so, according the The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/02/leaked-docs-from-heartland-institute-cause-a-stir-but-is-one-a-fake/253165/

    You should have a read of that article if the question of document fakery is of interest to you, and it should considering it is an analysis of the one document containing the most damning text of the lot (“dissuading K-12 teachers from teaching science” or some such, if memory serves). Since this is the specific passage doing the rounds and causeing the majority of chatter, this document is central to the general fuss at the moment.

    It’s also the same article linked to in the DeSmogBlog article in PZM’s second to last sentence, above. It is unfortunate then that DeSmogBlog misrepresented her statement on that document entirely by quoting her as calling it “entirely too accurate” in a manner mischaracterising her take on the subject. McArdle herself takes DeSmogBlog to task over that point, and goes further into the question of how and where the fakery may have been done:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/heartland-memo-looking-faker-by-the-minute/253276/

    I think the take-home statement on the sinister ‘dissuading K-12 science’ comment can be well summarised by “In the first 24 hours, I saw a lot of comments along the line of “See! They’re really just as amoral and dangerous as we thought they were!” based on a memo which I now believe to have been written by someone who, well, thinks that AGW skeptics are amoral and dangerous.” – From the link immediately above.

    It saddens me to see anyone stoop to such trumped up smear methods; more so when the people doing the stooping are on my side. Guys, criticise a denier you encounter / read of by using the evidence. There is no need to put a forged document to their name when we have the temperature record and such to point to instead.

  8. Trebuchet says

    Heartland has been threatening to sue people for reporting the story. It occurred to me this morning that it might be a good thing if one of those actually comes to court, forcing Heartland to open their books if they hope to prove anything.

  9. abb3w says

    Sorry, I have to second Holms recommendation @9 of the analysis over at the Atlantic. It’s easy enough to find copies of the source documents and look at the metadata yourself; the alleged “fake” is the only one created by scanner rather than (as I recall) Acrobat. It’s not conclusive, and I don’t agree with the assessment McArdle makes about tone, but it does increase the uncertainty on the one document’s provenance.

    Mind you, the other leaked documents are pretty revealing, though not outright damning; and the Heartland Institute are making legal threats to try and get the documents out of circulation — unsurprising, as its a standard damage control tactic (some people still don’t understand the Streissand Effect), although rather hypocritical given Heartland’s actions in the ClimatGate leaks. It’s also probably foolish — a lawsuit would open them up to potentially even more embarrassing discovery motions.

  10. julietdefarge says

    Nov 2011:
    Benedict, who has been dubbed the “green pope” for his environmental concerns, launched an appeal Sunday to government representatives attending the Durban conference to craft a responsible revised Kyoto deal.

    Why isn’t Rick Santorum falling into line?

  11. says

    I think I’ll summarize my initial take on how this should be handled:

    If one of the documents is a suspected fake, I’d argue in favor of setting it aside and focusing on the others. If the suspected fake turns out to be authentic, be sure to present the evidence of its authenticity before citing or quoting it. If it’s found to be fake, go ahead and say so, and move focus back onto the undisputed documents, where it belongs. Be prepared for plenty of nuts to keep focusing on the fake like Piltdown-obsessed Creationists.

    I’m only getting into the loop now, so I apologize if I’ve missed issues or nuances.

  12. Holms says

    @10
    I take it that you read McArdle’s article before dismissing it? Anything less would be presumptuous, but of course someone as wise as you already knew that.

    @11, 12
    Yes exactly – there is no need to invent lies when there is plenty of real world evidence already.

    @13
    Benedict is atually taking a step forward in terms of recognising environmental science? It’s a miracle!

  13. abb3w says

    Update, from a HuffPo statement by the responsible party (spotted via the Guardian, NYTimes, BoingBoing and Fark). Responsibility for the leaked documents has been claimed by Dr. Peter H. Gleick. From the article, it sounds to me like the “fake” was the one he received anonymously via snail mail. This explains why that PDF is different from the others – rather than being digitally created from the electronic original, it was scanned in from the dead-tree form.

    This leaves the provenance on the “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” original unknown. Which leaves open two easy possibilities:
    1) Gleick fabricated it to try and put the worst possible spin on the information he was able to obtain, and is trying to hide this most egregious of his sins.
    2) Gleick received the document from an anonymous source as claimed; and though obtained by foul means, all the other information is consistent with the contents. Which in turn suggests either a leak fabricated by a relatively well-informed insider (which seems to require motives too baroque for me to credit), or a genuine leak of an actual Heartland document. In either case: someone in Heartland is the source of the “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” document.

    Since there’s still a question of provenance on the “effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science” smoking gun, I’d certainly note that question before quoting that line. However, it looks to be down to two suspects: Gleick, and Heartland.

  14. rr says

    As detailed in the papers, Heartland’s plans for this year included paying an Energy Department consultant $100,000 to design a curriculum to teach school children that mainstream global warming science is in dispute…

    David Wojick, a Virginia-based federal database contractor, said in an email that the document was accurate about his project to put curriculum materials in schools that promote climate skepticism.

    “My goal is to help them teach one of the greatest scientific debates in history,” Wojick said. “This means teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less.”

    Chicago Tribune/Associated Press

  15. anchor says

    Like the silly questions on the authenticity of one of the email documents. How do we know that the Heartland Institute didn’t purposely plant a fake (kind of a doppleganger poe – THINK about it first) and then be able to claim charlatry on the part of its detractors who supposedly hacked into them. The thing is, 1. They’re experts at misdirection and obscuring the truth, and 2. Nothing they say can possibly be trusted.

  16. Azkyroth says

    This illustrates an important point, and the key element of reciprocal altruism: an ethical system that compels you to accept your ethics being used as a weapon against you is worthless.

  17. Therrin says

    Has there ever been any evidence released to the effect that the CRU materials were stolen?

    Yes. Or have you redefined “stolen” to mean something other than taken without permission?

    From your link:

    The simplest explanation in this case is that someone at UEA found it and released it to the wild and the release of FOIA2009.zip wasn’t because of some hacker, but because of a leak from UEA by a person with scruples.

    Yeah. Scruples. Hey look, another analysis of the file structure, and this one’s not by a science denier. Feel free to click around his site, he’s spent quite a bit more time on the topic than the aforementioned systems administrator.

    Just spent five minutes (I have yet to develop my burning-stupid callouses) reading some of the spin on your link’s homepage. If anyone were deserving of an ad hom brushoff, he’d be a top contender.

  18. unclefrogy says

    the funny thing about “the controversy”
    no matter how much debate goes into it, no matter who says what, it is not some abstract idea with out real consequences. It is saying something about the real world and the last time I checked reality did not seem to depend on what I or anyone else believes. The experiment is running and the results will be the results regardless.
    The other thing about this that confuses me is that it seems that the people who have the most to lose namely the rich and powerful voiced through the reactionary-conservative political parties are fighting the most the science the most. That does not really seem very conservative to me, in fact it seems a rather reckless short sighted gamble. Where is the prudent hedging behavior one would expect to ward off what looks like some very negative effects expected.
    Even the DOD has made studies and contingency plans to cope with the negative effects of GW.
    While the denialtsts just churn out more the same type of crap that the tobacco companies turned out long after the effects of smoking were well known.
    the rich and powerful depend on the stability of society more than anyone else the one prediction that seems accurate is that the climate along with society and international politics will likely become more unstable as the warming increases and until it reaches some new equilibrium when that occurs is anybody’s guess.

    lying wont change anything!

    uncle frogy

  19. rr says

    [CRU hack]…wasn’t because of some hacker, but because of a leak from UEA by a person with scruples.

    Saw that too. But I’m sure he’s really “on our side.”

  20. Ogvorbis: Now With 98% Less Intellectual Curiousity! says

    The other thing about this that confuses me is that it seems that the people who have the most to lose namely the rich and powerful voiced through the reactionary-conservative political parties are fighting the most the science the most.

    Except that it is in their interest.

    Where does the money come from for people to be rich? From corporate profits. Where are their investments? The wealth of the rich is invested in stocks, bonds, and other financial papers. And they want their money to grow.

    Anyone who is in the upper levels of private industry knows that the way to keep your job is to keep making more profits, quarter after quarter. Except in unusual circumstances (which means the ability to make even more shitloads of money later), CEOs are very resistant to investment in anything with a payoff measured in more than a year or two.

    If I am the CEO of Exxon/Mobil, and I know that actually paying full economic costs for the carbon moved from underground storage into the atmosphere will cost my company billions in profit, it is a no-brainer. Investment in the Heartland Institute will, for a few million dollars, make it possible to keep making those short-term profits so I, as the CEO, can make my own obscene money. If the world actually began dealing with AGW as a real threat, Exxon/Mobil’s profits would drop precipitously. Which means the CEO would be out on his arse. Quickly.

    This is why government intervention is necessary. Only the government can actually plan far enough out in the future to accomplish what society needs. But investors, and the companies in which they invest, know that government intervention will kill the short term profits for some companies. And those companies are the ones funding global warming denialists. Because that is a smaller price to pay than the CEO losing his job over declining earnings.

  21. unclefrogy says

    exon for example depends on a stable world market in that the market continues regardless of price fluctuations. There is nothing that would threaten that more in my opinion than international instability. Exon again must like all industries that depend on extracting resources from the ground or have long lead time like power companies need to think and plan out much further like 5 years not just a few quarters out. Everything you said may be true but I still find it incredibly short sighted to only think out to the next quarter or two.
    it is an awful big gamble.
    many of the resources that the world and us will depend on are in places that are not established first world countries like those in west africa, south america and the Russian republic they are not in west texas or southern california that is the past. Changes in weather patterns are going to effect food production negatively, there is a connection between the heat wave and subsequent decrease in crop yield in the wheat fields of russia and the arab spring
    and the fall of the Egyptian regime.
    I guess I should not be so surprised the current world economic trouble is the result of the smart guys being incredibly short sighted.

    uncle frogy

  22. abb3w says

    @18, anchor:

    How do we know that the Heartland Institute didn’t purposely plant a fake (kind of a doppleganger poe – THINK about it first) and then be able to claim charlatry on the part of its detractors who supposedly hacked into them.

    Know? Not with certainty.

    However, for this to be the case, Heartland Institute must have predicted in advance of making the fake that Gleick would seek corroboration rather than simply releasing it with a “well, this showed up anonymously with a _____ postmark, and I’ve no way of corroborating it, but here it is” — or simply round-filed it as unverifiable, wasting their efforts in creating it. I do not think that Heartland has been able to develop a sufficiently predictive model of human psychology for the former, nor that Gleick is a sufficiently major threat to their efforts that they would spend effort constructing and sending a bogus document to him fraud for the sole purpose of discrediting him.

    The notion seems more plausible than Ken Ham gets, but still well into tinfoil hat territory.

  23. Charlie Foxtrot says

    ‘The Anonymous Donor’ just screams white persian cat and island fortress, doesn’t it?

  24. ckitching says

    24. unclefrogy says:

    I guess I should not be so surprised the current world economic trouble is the result of the smart guys being incredibly short sighted.

    Except it’s not about any smart guys. Even if we were to assume that the CEO, Director and board members are the best and brightest society has to offer (and that is certainly not going to be true), the company’s behaviour is going to be modified to suit the demands of the shareholders. The shareholders don’t act like informed smart guys, but rather as a nervous herd of easily startled animals who will stampede away at the slightest provocation. With the rise of technology that enabled easy day trading of stocks, the herd only became more skittish.

  25. huntstoddard says

    @5
    “2. This is not a big news story. People expect groups like the Heartburn Institute to act like this, so it gets less coverage.”

    No, it’s not a big news story because Rupert Murdoch is suppressing it.

  26. Holms says

    @18

    How do we know that the Heartland Institute didn’t purposely plant a fake (kind of a doppleganger poe – THINK about it first) and then be able to claim charlatry on the part of its detractors who supposedly hacked into them.

    We can’t dismiss it with 100% certainty, but close to it, as the planning required would be pretty damn ridiculous.

    @20

    Yes. Or have you redefined “stolen” to mean something other than taken without permission?

    From the context of my post above, it should have been clear that I meant to distinguish between a leak or hacking.

    Meanwhile, it was real good of you to dismiss the sysadmin’s post simply because she appears to be conservative. You even note that such a dismissal is a logical fallacy, but proceed to do so anyway. Nice.

    As for your link, I’m actually reading it for more than five minutes.

    @21

    The other thing about this that confuses me is that it seems that the people who have the most to lose namely the rich and powerful voiced through the reactionary-conservative political parties are fighting the most the science the most.

    In my opinion, any time the conservative political groups side with the science of any issue, it is not because they respect the methods of science, but because the issue coincidentally suits their own interests.

  27. DLC says

    File metadata means nothing. a forger of quality would ensure that his document matched the metadata exactly. You wouldn’t be able to tell the fake from a genuine once it was placed within the series of documents. Read Gleick’s statement again. he says it for you. Heartland could easily unmask any fake just by pointing to the inconsistencies in the documents, and have not. More likely they cannot.

  28. says

    From the context of my post above, it should have been clear that I meant to distinguish between a leak or hacking.

    Holms, we know, with certaincy, that whoever distributed the files in questions hacked into RealClimate and uploaded the files (they were quickly discovered and removed). Why try to get the crimminals involved the benefit of the doubt about how they obtained them?

    Also, why would anyone leak the files? Unlike the Heartland Institute files, they showed no underhanded tactics or anti-scientific behavior.

    No, Occam’s Razor and all that: The files were stolen through hacking, like they were attempted distributed through hacking.

  29. Therrin says

    Yes. Or have you redefined “stolen” to mean something other than taken without permission?

    From the context of my post above, it should have been clear that I meant to distinguish between a leak or hacking.

    Oh I see. Being that these were private e-mails, and the consent of the writers was not given for their release, whether they were leaked or hacked is irrelevant. They were taken without permission. There’s a word for that, and it’s not gyrestolen.

    Meanwhile, it was real good of you to dismiss the sysadmin’s post simply because she appears to be conservative.

    Thanks! I didn’t dismiss it merely because she (sorry for earlier assumption) is crazy“conservative”. Given that he has spent more time researching it, and that he has at least an equal knowledge of server operations (from what I can tell of their explanations), I am likely to value his extrapolations higher than hers.

    And the fact that she’s crazy“conservative” doesn’t win her any awards (although I’m sure Heartland would be happy to arrange one).

    In my opinion, any time the conservative political groups side with the science of any issue, it is not because they respect the methods of science, but because the issue coincidentally suits their own interests.

    Pretty much.

    There is just no point attempting to communicate with some people.

    Oh dear, has my irony meter gone and broke itself again? Sure don’t make’em like they used to.

  30. anchor says

    @#25, abb3w: —“The notion seems more plausible than Ken Ham gets, but still well into tinfoil hat territory.”

    I agree. I simply posed the possibility in the interest of completeness, not because I subscribe to the likelihood. Its obvious that the scenario is weak at best.

    The thing is this: why NOT play the same game of SPECULATION in the guise of serious hypothesis they themselves constantly play in order to ‘discredit’ the science and the scientific community, as a potent demonstration of ironical absurdity? Related words for it are “parody” and “satire”.

    —#25, abb3w:”However, for this to be the case, Heartland Institute must have predicted in advance of making the fake…”

    —@#29, Holms: “We can’t dismiss it with 100% certainty, but close to it, as the planning required would be pretty damn ridiculous.”

    Not necessarily. They can declare a genuine document to be a fake after it is revealed, or they can have manufactured bogus documents years ago and tucked them away for exactly this sort of contingency. They don’t have to predict any PARTICULAR person hacking them, all they have to do in their full-flowered paranoia is to keep such documents handy and ready for denial, in the expectation that they’ll get what they themselves dish out. Either way, they’d be disingenuous, to put it mildly. Remember, these are cynical bastards who think everybody has something to hide and that its normal to lie, cheat, and steal just like they do, or will characterize whatever they come across in the lousiest possible light to advance their agenda. So it isn’t very far-fetched for them to take such measures that ordinary people would never dream of thinking up. Analogously, James Randi, for example, knows the depths to which con-artistry sinks better than straight-laced scientists and researchers do. Recall how he demonstrated numerous instances where scientists failed to detect the bullshit. Same principle operates here. Honest folks often forget: deviousness has no bounds. That’s why “fools” typically come fromn the honest contingent.

  31. llewelly says

    The Gleick-leaked HI documents contain very little not previously discovered by John Mashey’s research:

    http://www.desmogblog.com/fake-science-fakexperts-funny-finances-free-tax

    and

    http://desmogblog.com/science-article-recognizes-john-mashey

    These very important investigations, previously conducted by John Mashey without any fake names or other dodgy tactics, confirm almost every important detail found in the HI documents Gleick leaked. They also reveal a great deal of other damaging information about HI, and about many other denialist think tanks.

    Mashey has been doing amazing investigatory work for years, (his investigations into the Wegeman report showed that document, a centerpiece of denialist presentations before the US Senate, was extensively plagiarized, and contained much other dodgy work) but most of the press has failed to recognize his findings. Ironically, if widely recognized, they have far more potential to damage the denialist machine than the recently leaked HI documents.

    (Yes, this is similar to my post in TET, because I ought to have posted that in this thread in the first place.)

  32. eddarrell says

    Wait a minute. Heartland has an anonymous donor who wants to pay $100,000 to a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy to write a hoax curriculum?

    Did the consultant disclose that deal to Energy? I think it’s required.

    I had thought Heartland generally not afoul of criminal laws, but I may have to rethink.

    Was anything ever done on that fool project? Did any of it bleed over into Department of Energy business?