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.

Climate scientists still besieged

S&R interviewed Martin Vermeer, first author of a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper on sea level rise, about how much context the published CRU emails contained. In addition to answering questions about the emails’ context, Vermeer pointed out that some of the context “bears the mark of a scientific community under a politically-motivated siege.” Gavin Schmidt, climate researcher at the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, agreed with Vermeer when asked. As a result, S&R examined interviews conducted with climate scientists and critics for evidence that climate scientists and climate research were besieged at present. Not surprisingly, there was a great deal of evidence that climate scientists remain besieged today. Evidence includes false claims made against scientists for work done on the IPCC Third Assessment Report, erroneous and/or unsupported claims made against several scientists involved in the writing of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and unreasonable claims of bias against the CRU email inquiries performed to date. Continue reading