Heartland's Unabomber billboard

Bast responds to Laden et al’s criticism of The Heartland Institute

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

In late December a group of climate journalists, bloggers, and scientists led by Greg Laden generated a list of the top 19 climate stories of 2012. Superstorm Sandy, sea level rise, and a new record low for Arctic sea ice topped the list, but down at #19 was a brief mention of The Heartland Institute. Specifically, Laden et al wrote that Heartland “suffered major damage” in 2012 because of funding revelations from the unauthorized publication of confidential Board meeting documents and because of Heartland’s billboard comparing authentic climate realists to the Unabomber.

In response, Heartland’s president Joseph Bast wrote a post for Heartland’s Somewhat Reasonable blog where he erroneously claimed to correct Laden et al’s statements. Several of Bast’s claims are at odds with documented facts while others are deceptive, continuing both Bast’s and Heartland’s habit of dishonest, deceptive, and hypocritical behavior.

Heartland does deny industrial climate disruption

Bast took umbrage at Laden et al for calling the Heartland Institute a “climate denial ‘think’ tank,” writing that “no Heartland spokesperson ever denied the existence of the climate, or even climate change.” It’s unrealistic that Bast is unaware of the fact that “climate denial” is rhetorical shorthand for “human-driven climate change denial.” For that reason, Bast’s response is a disingenuous attempt to distract the reader with a false appearance of candor. Bast’s statement does not address Laden et al’s statement in any way because Bast does not actually say whether or not the Heartland Institute denies that human industry is largely responsible for climate disruption.

For the record, at least two Heartland spokesmen do deny that climate disruption is dominated by human causes – Joe Bast and James M. Taylor. Bast wrote in a deceptive blog post that “natural variation in climate readily explains the small changes in temperature that occurred in the twentieth century.” And Bast and Taylor co-wrote an error-filled primer that “the more we learn, the less likely it becomes that human greenhouse gas emissions can explain more than a small amount of the climate change we witness.”

Accounting of Heartland “experts” doesn’t support Bast’s claim

Laden et al also wrote that Heartland suffered major damage in 2012 as a result of the Unabomber billboard debacle. Bast disagreed, writing that they

more than doubled the number of policy advisors (to 237), and set records for press attention and online traffic for our sites.

Heartland’s own website suggests that Bast is either lying or is grossly misinformed about the number of policy advisors that Heartland gained in 2012. As of 1/7/2013, the total number of “policy advisors” identified on the Heartland website is 162, not 237 as Bast claimed. If Bast actually meant to include every category of expert instead of limiting his statements to just “policy advisors,” then the number is 307. Furthermore, there is at least one documented example of Heartland listing someone as an “expert” without permission.

In addition, as of 5/4/2012 (just after the start of the Unabomber billboard controversy) there were 279 total experts identified on the website, compared to 307 as of 1/7/2013. This is an increase of 28 total experts, about 10%, not the 100% increase Bast claims. And the Unabomber billboard controversy resulted in a net loss of six “Global Warming Experts” including Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, Bjorn Lomborg, and Roger Pielke Jr, among others. In the weeks following the billboard a total of 18 experts were removed from the ranks of Heartland “experts.”

Not only did Heartland lose some prominent “experts” from their rolls last year, but Heartland was forced to spin off an entire section of their organization too. The Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate was spun off directly as a result of the Unabomber controversy. Insurance companies are one of the few United States industries that has largely accepted the overwhelming scientific data underlying industrial climate disruption, and journalists reported at the time that the billboard was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As for website traffic, such metrics say nothing about whether or not an organization is healthy or in decline. Controversy generates traffic, after all, and Heartland was at the center of several controversies in 2012. Just because topless photos of Lindsey Lohan might generate lots of attention doesn’t mean that it’s good attention. A far more realistic metric by which to determine the health of a think tank is total donations (revenues), and on that account Bast also makes a number of deceptive claims.

Increased “receipts” does not mean total dollars donated increased

According to Bast, Heartland “increased receipts by about 15% from 2011″ and “increased the number of donors nearly four-fold,” while admitting that Heartland lost “a few” corporate donors. These claims are curious, given that nowhere in his response to Laden et al does Bast claim that Heartland’s total revenues increased in 2012.

Bast claims that the number of donors increased by nearly four times. While this claim can be taken at face value, the claim itself is irrelevant to whether or not Heartland suffered “severe damage” in 2012. It’s entirely possible to increase the number of donors by a factor of four without increasing the actual dollars donated.

Similarly, the use of the word “receipts” in reference to donations is strange, as “receipts” means different things to different people. To accountants it means “cash payments,” while to the IRS it’s an alternate word for revenues. To use such equivocal language is misleading and deceptive.

Furthermore, as with the increase in the number of donors to Heartland, it’s possible to increase the number of receipts by 15% without also increasing the value of those receipts. As an example, if a retail store has 15% more customers from one year to the next, but each customer spends 25% less money, the store increased its receipts but still lost 10% of its revenue in the process. Heartland’s 2012 IRS Form 990 (expected to be released sometime over the summer – the 2011 Form 990 was available in August 2012) should clear up this confusion. And in January, 2012, when Peter Gleick published Heartland’s 2012 fundraising plan, Heartland expected a 66% increase in total donations from 2011 to 2012. Even if Heartland increased their revenues by 15% (something that is ambiguous given Bast’s use of the word “receipts”), that’s still a reduction in expected donations of 51%.

In addition, Heartland lost about 45% of their major corporate donors (21 of 46), which is more than just “a few,” as Bast claimed. This is especially true given that those corporations accounted for about 30% of the total corporate donations expected (and about 17% of total projected fundraising, according to the published 2012 fundraising plan) expected in 2012.

It is a tenet of public relations that you trumpet your successes and downplay (or spin) your failures. If total donations in terms of dollars had increased from 2011 to 2012, then Bast would have said so using plain, unambiguous language. He wouldn’t have needed to rely on a vague term like “receipts” to downplay the impact of the loss of $1.315 million worth of corporate donations.

Bast’s equivocations about “receipts” and donors continue his long history of deception.

Heartland's Unabomber billboard

Heartland’s Unabomber billboard

Bast continues to defend Heartland’s indefensible Unabomber billboard

In response to Laden et al, Bast wrote about Heartland’s Unabomber billboard that it

did not “equat[e] people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers.” The billboard simply pointed out that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, still believes in global warming, and asked viewers if they do, too. We know why lefties went nuts over it – Kaczynski, after all, is one of their own – but it wasn’t inaccurate or offensive. (emphasis added, link original)

In that short paragraph, Bast lies three times, demonstrates his own hypocrisy once, and tries to deceive the reader while also doubling down again on his error-ridden claims about the billboard,

It’s true that Heartland ran only the one billboard and only for one day, so technically speaking Heartland publicly compared authentic climate realists to only one serial killer. However, Bast dishonestly neglects to mention that Heartland planned on making similar comparisons to serial killer Charles Manson, mass murderer Osama bin Laden, and communist strongman Fidel Castro using other billboards. So Laden et al are correct that Heartland did compare climate realists to “serial killers” – it’s only the uproar over the Unabomber billboard that prevented Heartland from doing so in full view of the general public.

Bast’s also incorrectly claims that the billboard was accurate. S&R did a search of the Unabomber’s manifesto and found that “greenhouse effect” was mentioned exactly twice,

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. 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.

As S&R documented in May of 2012, Bast has been repeating his false claim about the Unabomber “believing” in industrial climate disruption since at least 2006. It’s not plausible that Bast is still ignorant of the facts seven years later.

Bast also knows that his billboard was offensive, his claims to the contrary notwithstanding. As mentioned above, Heartland lost 18 “experts” over the issue, many of whom left after BigCityLiberal emailed Heartland’s experts asking if they supported the billboard. Ross McKitrick, an industrial climate disruption denier associated with Steve McIntyre and the website Climate Audit, backed out of Heartland’s International Climate Change Conference in May, climatologist Chris Landsea said that the billboard was “not in good taste,” and entymologist Paul Reiter wrote that he was “more than appalled, I am disgusted.”

Furthermore, Bast continues to apply a hypocritical double standard to his and Heartland’d behavior compared to the behavior of others. Bast is on record accusing authentic climate realists of playing “a disgusting rhetorical trick” in order to “inflame” emotions by using the term “deniers.” According to Bast, the phrase “climate change deniers” is meant to invoke Holocaust denial (a claim that Bast make both at the Santa Fe New Mexican link above and here, and Heartland’s communications director Jim Lakely does the same thing here, just for starters). Bast is claiming that his billboard merely asks a question, but that question isn’t meant as an implication – yet he’s complaining about the alleged implications of the phrase “climate change denier.”

It doesn’t help that Bast’s claims about the Unabomber are factually wrong, while the claim that his organization is devoted to “climate change denial” is correct given several dictionary definitions of the word denial:

  1. refusal to admit the truth or reality (as of a statement or charge)
  2. refusal to acknowledge a person or a thing
  3. a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality

Finally, Bast deceptively ties the Unabomber Ted Kaczynksi to all liberals (“lefties” according to Bast) and links to approving comments of Kaczynski made by ecoterrorist group EarthFirst! Bast’s implication here is no different than the implication that he made originally with the billboard he’s defending – all liberals are terrorists and serial killers. And this comparison is just as offensive as the original billboard was.

It’s understandable that Bast wouldn’t want to passively accept Laden et al’s criticism of The Heartland Institute for its behavior in 2012. But there comes a point when you have to admit you messed up and try to move forward. Heartland still hasn’t done that with respect to their billboard and the massive financial fallout from it. And rather than admit his many errors of judgement over the years, Bast has chosen to continue doubling down on his factually deficient, offensive claims.

Bast wrote that he expects Heartland “to play an even larger role in 2013.” S&R will be here all year too, documenting Heartland’s behavior. Based on the first week of 2013, it looks like we’re in for more of the same.

6 comments on “Bast responds to Laden et al’s criticism of The Heartland Institute

  1. The following is nonsense:

    “It’s unrealistic that Bast is unaware of the fact that “climate denial” is rhetorical shorthand for “human-driven climate change denial.” For that reason, Bast’s response is a disingenuous attempt to distract the reader with a false appearance of candor.”

    Of course he knows that it is a dishonest rhetorical trick. But it is important to call it what it is, namely a nasty, ad hominem logical fallacy intended to demonize those who do not agree that humanity’s CO2 emissions are causing dangerous climate change.

    Stop it or expect us to call you on it every time.

    • Tom, while I’m happy to see that someone from Heartland swung by to defend Bast (you are listed as one of their experts, after all), I’m afraid that you’ve incorrectly identified what I said as a logical fallacy.

      In your response above, you incorrectly refer to my statement as an “ad hominem logical fallacy.” It’s not. My statement might be considered insulting by you, Bast, or others at Heartland, but insults are not ad hominem. Ad hominem is when someone attacks an irrelevant aspect of the person (in this case Bast) in order to create a distraction (see this excellent site for detailed information on the ad hominem fallacy, among others). Had I said something like “Of course Bast would deny industrial climate disruption, he has a beard, and bearded men are more likely to deny climate disruption,” that would have been an ad hominem fallacy.

      But that’s not what I said, is it? I said that “it’s unrealistic that Bast is unaware of the fact that ‘climate denial’ is rhetorical shorthand….” And that is directly relevant. Bast has been writing and speaking about climate since 2003, nearly a decade at this point (according to a Google Search with the terms “joseph bast climate change” and filtered by year). After all that time it is not credible that he is unaware that “climate denial” is rhetorical shorthand for “the denial of human influence as the dominating driver of the observed increases in modern temperatures,” aka “global warming denial” or “anthropogenic climate change denial” or “industrial climate disruption denial.” I knew about this particular rhetorical shorthand before I started writing about climate at S&R back in early 2007. Even if Bast didn’t know about the shorthand when he started writing in 2003, it’s not credible that he didn’t learn it within the first few months after starting. Bast has had at least nine years of experience in which he’s been aware of the rhetorical shorthand that he’s feigning ignorance of in his own comments.

      I suppose that I should be up front and admit that there is another alternative explanation for Bast’s statement. It’s possible that he’s merely incompetent instead of disingenuous. However, I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt on that count.

      As for my claim that Bast is being disingenuous, how else would you describe someone who is pretending to be candid in an attempt to mislead the reader into forming an incorrect conclusion? According to Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary, disingenuous is exactly what Bast was being: “lacking in candor; also : giving a false appearance of simple frankness.”

      The facts are clear here, Tom. You and your friends/allies at Heartland may not like the facts, but they’re clear nonetheless.

      • Commenting on your response:

        “Tom, while I’m happy to see that someone from Heartland swung by to defend Bast”

        - sarcasm

        “you are listed as one of their experts, after all”

        - guilt by association logical fallacy and motive intent logical fallacy. The fact that I am an unpaid advisor does not imply that I blindly support them. That is simply a leap in faith on your part.

        “In your response above, you incorrectly refer to my statement as an “ad hominem logical fallacy.” It’s not.”

        - It is a rhetorical trick, not mere “shorthand” as you say, often used in propaganda, since use of the word denier is intended to conjure up thoughts of Holocaust denial so as to elicit a negative emotional reaction in the listener. Whether it fits your text book def of ad hom is beside the point. It is despicable and ruins constructive dialog. Expect us to cal you on it every time since it is a lie besides for obvious reasons. “Fag” may be shorthand too but it is equally unacceptable.

        “It’s possible that he’s merely incompetent instead of disingenuous.”

        Third possibility: Joe Bast is right.

        “pretending to be candid in an attempt to mislead the reader into forming an incorrect conclusion?”

        It is a correct conclusion, though not one you apparently agree with.

        • I’m not being sarcastic at all, Tom. I am quite happy to know that someone with an association to Heartland (even if unpaid and advisory) got sufficiently annoyed by my original post to write not one, but two comments. It means that my writing is getting someone’s attention, and that’s a good thing. After all, facts can be annoying things to people who don’t want to hear them. So no, I’m not being sarcastic in any way, shape, or form.

          I’m afraid that you’ve misattributed two more fallacies to me, in addition to your original misattributed ad hominem. I didn’t use your association with Heartland in my argument in any way, so I can’t have committed a guilt by association fallacy. And I assumed no motive on your part other than you were motivated to defend Bast and his disingenuous claim. Given you’ve bothered to respond to me again, I think that was a safe assumption. However, I will gladly correct the record if your defense of Bast’s claim was not motivated by a desire to defend his claim (and/or Bast himself).

          I flat out reject your claim of victimhood regarding the word “denier,” however. Someone who denies something is a denier of that thing. People who deny the efficacy of vaccines are “vaccine efficacy deniers” (or, in another example of rhetorical shorthand, a “vaccine denier”). People who deny evolution are “evolution deniers.” Similarly, people who deny that human industry is the dominant driver of observed climate disruption are “climate disruption deniers.” This is pretty basic English.

          To be fair, there are lots of synonyms I could use instead. According to an online thesaurus entry for the word “deny,” I could use any of the following: contradicter, disaffirmer, disallower, disavower, disclaimer, disconfirmer, disowner, gainsayer, negater, negativer, refuter, rejecter, or repudiator. But they’re all much more confusing words that unnecessarily complicate plain language. So while I could use those alternatives, I won’t. “Denier” is the simplest and most effective word that accurately describes what people like you and Bast are doing with respect to industrial climate disruption (or climate change, or global warming – whichever you prefer).

          As for the possibility that Bast is right, I spent quite some time in the original post and my first response to you building the definitional and logical case that demonstrates he isn’t right. And your arguments to date have not cast a single shadow of doubt on the logic or the terms I used. Furthermore, you haven’t actually addressed the logic of my original argument in any way – you claimed my argument was an ad hominem attack (which it wasn’t, as you admitted in your second response in a roundabout way), then you claimed it was a reference to Holocaust denial (which it’s not, as I demonstrated above). Those are both red herrings to the actual points I made. Allow me to ennumerate my actual logic:

          • Point 1: Bast has been writing about climate for 9+ years.
          • Point 2: “Climate denial” is rhetorical shorthand for “anthropogenic climate change denial”
          • Point 3: I knew that “climate denial” was shorthand (albeit messy) when I started writing about climate science and politics in 2007.
          • Point 4: Anyone competent who writes about climate will become aware of the shorthand nature of the phrase “climate denial” in short order after starting writing (I assumed no more than six months).
          • Assumption: Bast is competent (unstated, but given he’s been effective at running Heartland for a while now, it’s reasonable).
          • Point 5: Given the assumption and Point 4, Bast is aware that “climate denial” is shorthand.
          • Point 6: Given that Bast specifically doesn’t acknowledge the shorthand nature of “climate denial” when he must know about it, he is being disingenuous.

          Seems pretty clear cut to me.

          Even if you were right about “climate denial” being an attempt at equating industrial climate disruption deniers with Holocaust deniers, that wouldn’t change the logical argument in any way. “Climate denial” is used as rhetorical shorthand, and Bast must know that to be the case, therefore he is being disingenuous. Which demonstrates that your Holocaust denial comparison is a red herring logical fallacy (possibly an Appeal to Emotion or a Straw Man) intended to distract readers from the fact that you haven’t actually addressed the argument.

  2. What was clear from the budgets and briefings that Peter Gleick made public is that Heartland is part of the Long Con described by Rick Perlstein at the Baffler
    The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.
    The stress on fund raising in those documents was, to Eli, the most telling part

  3. Pingback: Words Matter: a “denier” is someone who denies, nothing more or less | Scholars and Rogues

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