More deception and dishonesty in Heartland's May 1 press release announcing results of Memo investigation

Following the unauthorized publication of confidential Heartland Institute documents by Peter Gleick on February 14, 2012, Heartland’s president Joseph Bast identified one document that he claimed was forged. Starting on February 16, Heartland employed Protek International, a firm that conducts digital forensic investigations, to investigate whether or not the allegedly fabricated “2012 Climate Strategy” memo (aka the Memo) had been authored at The Heartland Institute. On May 1, 2012, Heartland published Protek’s investigation report and that the report supported Heartland’s claim that the Memo had not been created by anyone at The Heartland Institute.

While Protek’s report does provide some very limited support for that announcement, the short press release goes far beyond what the report actually says. The press release, taglined to Bast but almost certainly written by Heartland’s communications director Jim Lakely, falsely and repeatedly claims that Protek’s investigation points to Peter Gleick as the author of the allegedly fabricated Memo.

Lakely’s press release is only five paragraphs long (excluding the background information), yet it makes the false allegation about Peter Gleick three times. Lakely’s first sentence says

The Heartland Institute today released more evidence that Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick was the likely author of a fake “climate strategy memo”

Lakely writes in the third paragraph that

The new report contradicts disgraced climate scientist Gleick’s claim to have received the memo from someone affiliated with The Heartland Institute and adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to Gleick’s guilt.

And then Lakely quotes Bast, who says that

“The Protek International forensic report is one more piece of evidence that Peter Gleick created the fake document….”

These are all dishonest allegations for the same reason – Protek’s investigation report doesn’t actually say any of these things.

First, Protek’s conclusion is only that the Memo “was not created on Heartland’s computer systems and never existed there, or within Heartland’s email systems, prior to its posting online on February 14, 2012.” This statement simply means that Protek found no evidence that anyone associated with The Heartland Institute wrote the Memo. But lack of evidence is not proof – to prove no-one at Heartland authored the Memo, Protek would have had to positively identify the actual author and demonstrated that he was not a Heartland employee. Protek did not do that, and it wasn’t what Heartland hired them to do.

Furthermore, the Protek investigation was not sufficiently thorough to justify its conclusions. In the case of a thorough investigation, absence of evidence can strongly suggest evidence of absence, but as S&R’s analysis of the Protek report demonstrated, there were many significant flaws in the investigation. Most of the flaws were a result of a too narrowly focused investigation – too focused on just a few file formats, just one type of computer, just hard drives (and not the off-site backups), and just the computers at The Heartland Institute’s Chicago headquarters, for example.

It is a logical fallacy to claim that Protek’s limited evidence pointing away from Heartland means that the evidence must point toward Gleick, yet both Lakely and Bast make that very mistake the quotes above.

Second, Lakely is lying when he writes that the report contradicts Gleick’s claim to have received the Memo in the mail. When Gleick admitted he had obtained all the other documents by assuming a false identity, Gleick wrote

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in [the Memo]. [emphasis added]

This bears repeating – Gleick specifically wrote that he does not know the source of the Memo, and in direct opposition to Lakely’s claim, Gleick did not claim to have received it from anyone associated with The Heartland Institute.

More than this, however, is the fact that Protek’s own investigation provides some limited and indirect support for Gleick’s claim that he had received the Memo in the mail. Protek found that the .pdf version of the Memo was a scan of a printed document that had been converted to .pdf. The printed document had been scanned by an Epson device on February 13, 2012, at 12:41:52 Pacific time (see page 8 of the Protek report). This analysis indirectly supports Gleick’s claim that he receive the Memo in the mail because if Gleick had written the document himself, he wouldn’t have needed to scan it. And given that Gleick anonymously released the documents the next morning, it would be logical for him to have scanned the Memo as he was preparing the entire batch of documents for publication. This doesn’t prove that Gleick’s version of events is correct – Heartland could counter-claim that Gleick forged the Memo, printed it, and then scanned it to cover his tracks, for example. But it does demonstrate that Protek’s analysis does not contradict Gleick’s claim but does contradict Lakely’s statement.

While the rest of Lakely’s press release appears to be strictly accurate, he quotes the conclusions of a textual analysis of the Memo without sufficient context. Back in March, a textual analysis of the Memo was conducted by Juola & Associates, and the results seemed to finger Gleick as the likely author based on sentence structure, word choice, and the like. But an S&R analysis of that report found that its conclusions were only weakly supported. For example, S&R found that the analyst, Dr. Patrick Juola of Duquesne University, assumed the only two possible writers were either Gleick or Bast, and Juola ignored the possibility that either man could have been assisted by PR/communications experts like Lakely or by their various administrative assistants and fellow Board members (of either The Heartland Institute or the Pacific Institute). But the most serious flaw in the textual analysis is that the Memo is too short to correctly attribute its authorship to anyone – one of the references found that attributions using textual analysis of such short documents were correct only 20-25% of the time. Yet Lakely failed to mention this critical point in his press release.

Lakely is Heartland’s director of communications, and as such he’s paid to spin news in a way that favors The Heartland Institute. In this particular case, however, both Lakely and Bast went too far when they lied about what the Protek International report said.

Image Credit: The Heartland Institute

5 replies »

  1. How I’d love to see Peter Gleick run with this as grounds for a defamation suit.

  2. IMO, that’s pretty unlikely. Gleick did admit to misrepresenting his identity to Heartland employees in order to gain access to the files that he sent to bloggers and the media, and he admitted that doing so was unethical. Given he was just reinstated by the Pacific Institute to his position as president of the Institute, I think he’ll probably want to leave this entire episode behind him as much as he can.

    I think it’s more likely that Heartland will hope that Obama will lose the election and that their request to the FBI to investigate will be taken up by a presumptive Romney administration. And if there are no charges, I think Heartland may choose to sue Gleick in civil court. I think that would be unwise, given they have a lot more to lose than Gleick does via the legal process of discovery, but they still might.

  3. Heartland needs to spend more on photos. This looks like a booking mug shot.

  4. Yeah, that’s not the most flattering picture I’ve ever seen. But it’s the official picture at Lakely’s bio, so I went with it.