On January 24, Mark Boslough of the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories wrote an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican in which he criticized the Heartland Institute and Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut and retired geologist turned climate disruption denier. In response, the Heartland Institute ran several posts on their blog and submitted an op-ed to the New Mexican from the Institute’s president.
The blog posts and the op-ed each contain multiple errors and misrepresentations that are in character for an organization that has a thoroughly documented history of manipulating facts and misrepresenting science to serve their ideology.
In his New Mexican op ed, Heartland President Joseph L. Bast makes a number of erroneous claims. First, he claims that “31,000 American scientists” have rejected human-caused climate disruption. This is a reference to the “Global Warming Petition Project” that defined anyone with a Bachelor’s of Science degree as a “scientist.” S&R investigated the petition and found that, by the petition’s own criteria, 31,000 was approximately 0.3% of scientists, far less than even the 3% surveyed in recent published papers.
Second, Bast says that “there is no broad agreement as to the causes of the warming.” Bast must know is a lie. It’s not realistic to believe that someone in his position would be unaware that 19 national Academies of Science, dozens of other scientific organizations, and multiple studies of practicing scientists all agree that humans are the cause of most of the climate disruption being caused by global warming.
Third, Bast wrote
Boslough falsely accuses Harrison Schmitt of making a false statement in 2009 about Arctic sea ice having returned to 1989 levels, and then failing to correct the error.
This also not true. What Boslough actually said is this:
In 2009, Schmitt submitted a white paper to NASA. He stated, “Artic (sic) sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage.” I wrote to him, politely pointing out that this was not true, and directing him to the data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (the ice extent in 2009 had not recovered, and as of this writing is at an all-time winter low). He responded, but never made the necessary correction. Anyone can make a mistake, but scientific integrity requires that authors own up to mistakes and fix them. (emphasis added)
The emphasized portions clearly show that Bast was lying about what Boslough said – Boslough accused Schmitt of making a mistake and then failing to correct it when the error was pointed out, not of lying.
The passage Boslough quotes is at the end of the second paragraph on page five of Schmitt’s paper, available here.
Furthermore, Bast himself would have committed an ethical breach were he a scientist. He claimed that “the National Snow and Ice Data Center records show conclusively that in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels.” As Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute showed in the image below, Bast very carefully selected April as it was the only month in 2009 where Arctic ice extent was actually greater than in 1989 – the rest of 2009 was far below 1989 levels. This is known as “cherry-picking” and is considered unethical by scientists.
In addition, the principle scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center wrote their own letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican in which they took issue with both Bast’s and Schmitt’s claims regarding Arctic ice levels. They wrote that “the 2009 maximum extent, minimum extent, and annual average extent values were all well below 1989. Based on these facts, it would be incorrect to suggest that 2009 represented a recovery of Arctic sea ice to 1989 levels. ”
On February 8, in response to Gleick’s demonstration cherry picking on the part of Bast and the Heritage Institute, James M. Taylor, a lawyer with no science training who edits Heartland’s Environment & Climate News publication wrote in a blog entry that “Boslough publicly accused Schmitt of lying about Arctic sea ice data in a paper Schmitt wrote and submitted to NASA in early 2009.” Taylor also wrote that “Boslough accused Schmitt of lying.” These are essentially the same claim that Bast wrote in his New Mexican op ed, and it’s just as false for the same reasons – Boslough accused Schmitt of making a mistake and failing to correct it, not of lying.
Taylor also attempts to redirect Gleick’s criticism of Heartland to Schmitt instead. Taylor wrote that Glieck accused Schmitt of cherry-picking his Arctic ice data. This is incorrect – Glieck accused Heartland of cherry-picking, not Schmitt. Schmitt wrote in the paper in question that ice levels in 2009 had recovered to 1989 levels. It was Bast who cherry-picked April:
the National Snow and Ice Data Center records show conclusively that in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels. (emphasis added)
Given that Taylor wrote his criticism of Gleick on February 8, no “clairvoyance” on Schmitt’s part was required, only a clear lack of scientific ethics on the part of the Heartland Institute. S&R
This isn’t the first time that Heartland has misrepresented and lied about facts, data, and critics’ own words. S&R found that a Heartland press release about a Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) published study distorted the study’s conclusions. Furthermore, publicly available documents show that the Heartland Institute was created in part to cast doubt upon any science that might put free market ideology at risk. In fact, in the course of researching their book Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway found that Phillip Morris “used Heartland to distribute reports that they (Phillip Morris) had commissioned,” that Heartland had “met with members of Congress on behalf of the tobacco industry, organized ‘off-the-record’ briefings, wrote and placed op-ed pieces, and organized radio interviews and letters to editors.” For this, Phillip Morris paid the Heartland Instituted $50,000 in 1997 alone. Oreskes and Conway found that this work was done in support of casting doubt upon the science underlying the health risks of second-hand smoke.
The Heartland Institute has a long history of misrepresentation and outright lies. When it comes to facts and science vs. ideology, for the Heartland Institute, ideology always wins. It is instructive to note that Bast, the president of an institute that prides itself on free-market, libertarian ideals and that publishes regularly in support of free speech would call for Boslough to “be banned from future debates on this topic [climate disruption].”
Other sites that have discussed the Schmitt/Boslough/Heartland exchanges:
- Knight Science Journalism Tracker
- Climate Crock of the Week Video
- Bad Astronomy at Discover Magazine
- Skeptical Science
- Climate Progress
- Prof. Scott Mandia