Heartland Institute billboard continues a long pattern of dishonesty

Posted on May 14, 2012


Update 5/15/2012: On either May 13th or 14th, The Heartland Institute moved the “Our Billboards” essay and an associated press release from the website associated with Heartland’s seventh International Climate Change Conference to the Press Releases portion of the main Heartland website. The essay was also renamed from “Our Billboards” to “‘Do You Still Believe in Global Warming?’ Billboards hit Chicago.” In addition, both documents have been backdated to May 3rd and 4th, the dates when they were published at their original home. The original link remains in the original post below, but the new links have been added here: “Our Billboards” essay and the billboard take-down press release.. In addition, Heartland president Joseph Bast has been identified as the author of the essay.

Part three of a series.

When The Heartland Institute launched their perverse billboard comparing climate realists to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, they published an accompanying essay titled Our Billboards.” The essay continues their long history of dishonesty by repeating well-known errors as if they were true. In the process, Heartland demonstrates that they are being dishonest about Climategate, about the state of climate science and the IPCC, and even about Ted Kaczynski’s own views about human-driven climate disruption.

Heartland’s dishonesty about Climategate

“Our billboards” dishonestly alleges that Climategate revealed

a conspiracy to suppress debate, rig the peer review process to keep out of the leading academic journals any scientists skeptical of catastrophic man-caused global warming, hiding data, fudging research findings, and dodging Freedom of Information Act requests.

Of the five claims made, only one is true. Of the other four, one is too vague to assess it’s accuracy, and three are false.

The one allegation that “Our Billboards” makes is about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It’s true that several investigations found that Climatic Research Unit (CRU) scientists had tried to avoid FIOA requests. As a result, the CRU’s supervisor at the time, Phil Jones, was removed by the University of East Anglia from his position.

The “suppress debate” allegation, however, is so vague that it could mean almost anything. Without more information than is provided in “Our Billboards,” it’s impossible to know what Heartland means.

The “hiding data” allegation could mean one of three things, but which of the three isn’t clear. The first possibility is that Heartland is referring to how Independent Climate Change Email Review (ICCER) found Phil Jones did keep some of his data from his critics. This possibility is correctly a subset of the FOIA allegation, however, not a separate allegation. The second possibility is that Heartland is referring to Michael Mann’s data which was allegedly not available to his critics. This allegation was investigated at least three times (ICCER, Penn State’s own investigation, and a follow-up National Science Foundation (NSF) investigation) and each investigation found the same thing – Mann’s data was publicly available when it was being requested. The last possibility is that Heartland is referring to the surface record data maintained by Phil Jones as part of the HadCRUT surface temperature datasets. The ICCER investigated this claim extensively and found that a) the bulk of the data was publicly available, b) anyone could reproduce the HadCRUT’s conclusions using the publicly available data, and c) the small amount of private data was protected from release by contractual agreements between CRU and the source(s) of that data.

The “rig peer review” allegation was rejected by the ICCER after a thorough investigation of the facts of three specific incidents. In the first incident the evidence demonstrated that papers had been rejected “on scientific grounds,” such as the extremely poor quality of the analyses or a failure to address prior criticisms. The second incident was dismissed by the ICCER because no evidence in support of the accusation of rigging peer review was supplied – the accuser was unwilling or unable to support her accusation. And the third incident was dismissed because new emails (that were not part of the original Climategate record) demonstrated that the accusation was incorrect. The third case in particular demonstrated that the published Climategate record did not contain sufficient context to prove most of the allegations, as anyone who has ever used email in an academic or technical context should have been aware.

The final allegation, that of “fudging research findings,” has been found by every review to be without merit. At least three major projects since the Climategate emails were released and a host of smaller projects have all found that the HadCRUT results are robust, and the aforementioned Penn State and NSF investigations of Michael Mann’s research and publications have found the same. There has been no fudging of data, no manipulation of analyses, no scientific misconduct of any kind by any of the Climategate-associated scientists identified to date.

And it’s not viable to believe that The Heartland Institute could still be unaware of these facts, in some cases two years after they were independently corroborated by one of the many Climategate investigations.

Heartland’s dishonesty about the IPCC and recent developments in climate science

“Our Billboards” also dishonestly alleges that the IPCC ignored “natural causes of climate variation.” This is easily shown to be false. First, there’s FAQ 2.1 from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report’s Working Group 1 (AR4 WG1), titled “How do Human Activities Contribute to Climate Change and How do They Compare with Natural Influences?” Clearly, if there’s a FAQ about human vs. natural causes of climate disruption, natural causes haven’t been “ignored.” Figure 2.1 below, from that FAQ, shows what the best available science said about the different sources of climate warming in 2005 (The report was issued in 2007, but the deadline for scientific data to be included was 2005. Only a couple of exceptions were made.).

Furthermore, Chapter 2.7 in the WG1 document focuses exclusively on natural forcings, specifically solar variability and volcanic activity. The IPCC reported in 2007 that neither was sufficient in magnitude to cause the observed climate disruption.

In the five years since, there has been quite a bit of research into natural sources of climate disruption, with a few claiming that natural variation is responsible for the changes scientists are observing in climate. The most recent paper making this claim is one by Roy Spencer and William D. Braswell titled “On the misdiagnosis of surface temperature feedbacks from variations in Earth’s radiant energy balance.” Unfortunately, the paper was identified as “fundamentally flawed” and so filled with errors that it “should therefore not have been published.” As S&R reported at the time, the Editor-in-Chief of the publishing journal resigned because over it.

In addition, a very recent paper by Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf used statistics to remove the three greatest influences on temperature measurements, namely solar variability, volcanoes, and El Nino/La Nina. If the observed global warming were a result of those three sources, then removing their influence from the measurements would have resulted in a flat trend. As you can see from the graph below (generated by Skeptical Science), the trend remains.

The Foster & Rahmstorf 2011 data also disproves another allegation found in “Our Billboards,” namely that “the warming trend of the second half of the twentieth century century already has stopped.” Clearly, that’s not the case.

For an organization that is so focused on human-driven climate disruption, it’s not viable to believe that they are ignorant of the actual contents of the IPCC AR4. It’s also not viable to believe that they’re ignorant of the Foster & Rahmstorf paper, especially since some of their own “global warming experts” have written about it, including Heartland ally Anthony Watts.

Heartland’s dishonesty about Ted Kaczynksi

But perhaps the most egregious falsehood is that Ted Kaczynski was a “climate change believer.” As S&R reported previously, Kaczynski’s manifesto says nothing about the subject.

S&R [searched for the phrase “greenhouse effect”] and found exactly two examples – one of which is a general statement, the other of which asks (without providing an answer) what the impact of the greenhouse effect will be [paragraph 169]. There are no uses of “climate change,” “global warming,” or “carbon” either. In fact, the word “climate” is used exactly once, in reference to having the right kind of clothing necessary for a given climate [paragraph 35].

Ted Kaczynski was not a “climate change believer,” as The Heartland Institute and the “Our Billboards” essay would have you believe.

It’s been two and a half years since the Climategate emails were hacked and released online. It’s been five years since the IPCC released AR4 in 2007. Heartland has been repeating a false claim about Ted Kaczynski’s supposed belief in climate change since at least 2006. And Heartland has dozens of global warming experts to correct their legions of factual errors. It’s not realistic that The Heartland Institute could be ignorant enough to make so many errors for so long without being corrected. That leaves only two possible explanations. Either Heartland is not anywhere near the climate disruption experts they claim to be, or they’re being dishonest.

Image Credits:
Heartland Institute
IPCC AR4 WG1 FAQ 2.1 Figure 2.1
Skeptical Science, using data from Foster & Rahmstorf 2011