Heartland Institute exposed as a propaganda outfit

On February 14, news broke about a leak of documents from an organization known as the Heartland Institute that detailed how they are funded by the billionaire Charles Koch and other global warming opponents and how it adopts many of the same strategies that were used by the tobacco industry to cloud the health issues surrounding tobacco, by pretending that there exists a much greater scientific disagreement and controversy than is the case and trying to discredit those scientific organizations that were sounding the alarm.

The Guardian reported that “The documents confirm what environmental groups such as Greenpeace have long suspected: that Heartland itself is a major source of funding to a network of experts and bloggers who have been prominent in the campaign to discredit established science.” The same newspaper had a follow up article that spelled out in more detail how the Heartland Institute operates.

Heartland has tried to whip up a secondary controversy over the fact that respected climate scientist Peter Gleick, the one who received the original leaked documents, then used a false name to get more information which he then passed on to others anonymously. Greg Laden has a good article about that particular issue.

Tbogg, in is own inimitable style, takes to task what he sees as self-serving hand-wringing over the ethicality of Gleick’s actions by establishment journalists like Andrew Revkin at the New York Times, noting in passing that Heartland identifies Revkin by name as a potential ally in their efforts at global warming denial because of his penchant to play the ‘both-sides-must-be-given-equal-weight’ game that works in favor of those with an anti-science agenda.

You can’t have a “rational public debate” with people whose whole reason for existence is to obfuscate the truth by paying big bucks to scientist/whores for whom ‘scientific inquiry’ means first posing the question “How much does it pay?” to be followed (after a brief period of haggling) with “What do you want it to say?”. From there corporate fronts like the Cato Institute, the Hoover Institute, the Heritage Foundation take the scientific 3-card monte game that has been handed to them and they round the edges, smooth out the rough spots, couch the language and cherry-pick the most easily digestible nuggets of bullshit which they dole out on 3×5 cards to Fox News, English tabloids, and an assortment of conservative bloggers and lesser whores who are paid to appear objective and thoughtful. What completes this Puke Funnel Circle Of Life is for national writers (like, for example: Andrew Revkin) to write very concerned why-can’t-we-all-get-along columns bemoaning the fact that, even though we know the world is round, there are those who believe otherwise and, in all fairness and with all due respect, their voices must be not only heard but given equal weight.

This is part of the anti-science assault by certain big business interests, aided and abetted by leading politicians and their surrogates in the media, that has led Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to sound an alarm at their annual meeting held last week in Vancouver.

“We are sliding back into a dark era,” she said. “And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.”

As Fedoroff pointed out, university and government researchers are hounded for arguing that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are changing the climate. Their emails are hacked while Facebook campaigns call for their dismissal from their posts, calls that are often backed by rightwing politicians.

“Those of us who grew up in the sixties, when we put men on the Moon, now have to watch as every Republican candidate for this year’s presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution. That is a staggering state of affairs and it is very worrying,” said Professor Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, San Diego.

Oreskes is co-author, with Erik Conway, of Merchants of Doubt, an investigation into the links between corporate business interests and campaigns in the US aimed at blocking the introduction of environmental and medical measures such as bans on smoking and the use of DDT, laws to limit acid rain, legislation to end the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere and attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

In each case, legislation was delayed by years, sometimes decades, thanks to the activities of a variety of foundations – such as the Heartland Institute – which are backed by energy companies such as Exxon and billionaires like Charles Koch.

I first heard about the Heartland Institute (founded in 1984) late last year when I looked at the release of the results of a major new global warming study that was done by University of California-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller who had been openly skeptical about the previous multinational IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) study that strongly indicated global warming. His new study promised to be a more thorough analysis of the temperature data over time and was funded by the Koch brothers and other right-wing skeptics, presumably in the hope that it would provide ammunition against the scientific consensus.

Their hopes were dashed because the results of his own study led Muller to conclude that “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.”

Of course it didn’t. His conclusions were immediately dismissed by his former backers like the Heartland Institute who now called his work ‘meaningless’ and attacked his credibility, even to the extent of saying that Muller may have been trying to deceive people. In the process of looking at that issue, I came to the conclusion that the Heartland Institute is basically a propaganda outfit masquerading as a ‘think tank’. These new leaks seem to confirm that and we should not let the relatively minor issue of Peter Gleick’s actions be allowed to be used by them as a smokescreen to hide that.


  1. slc1 says

    Of course, the global warming deniers now claim that Muller was not a global warming skeptic all along. Their screeds can be read on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog and they show up every time he posts a thread about the subject. I think that the best concise statement of their position can be summed up in Richard Dawkins description of YEC Kurt Wise. The views of the global warming deniers, although their motivation is quite different then Wise’s (economic rather then fundamentalist religion) follow the same lines as shown in the emboldened text.

    Whatever the underlying explanation, this example suggests a fascinating, if pessimistic, conclusion about human psychology. It implies that there is no sensible limit to what the human mind is capable of believing, against any amount of contrary evidence. Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.


  2. says

    Shalom Mano,

    I first became aware of the Heartland Institute through the work of Lynn Scarlett back in the early ’90s when I was regularly covering environmental issues.

    The organization has never been anything but a wrong-wing noise machine.




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