You know that Heartland is a non-profit “Think” tank dedicated to ruining science and science education, which became famous for supporting the Tobacco Industry’s position that smoking is not harmful. More recently, Heartland has been involved with science denialism of the anti-climate science variety, opposing the widely held position that global warming is real, human caused, and important.

i-a8a735163f4f87d5720212daf85dd231-ClippyTheClip-thumb-237x213-74204.jpgYou also probably know of Heartland’s recent billboard campaign showing pictures of people like The Unibomber (who killed mathematicians by mailing them bombs) and Osama bin Laden (no relation), and indicating that only crazy mass murderers like these “still believed” in global warming.

That billboard campaign was pretty typical of Heartland’s thinking and way of doing things, but packaged up in such a way as to make it obvious even to people who were otherwise not paying much attention. There was outrage. They were forced by this outrage to take the billboards down only hours after they went up (electronically).

Many corporations support Heartland. Much of this support has probably been tricked out of these corporations, perhaps like the Discovery Institute tricked major corporations out of money to use promoting creationism in school classrooms; by lying about what the money was for. Other corporations are acting in their own self interest giving Heartland money, because they will get something out of Congress and the American People becoming stupified in relation to climate science. Still others have given money to Heartland entirely by accident.

Some companies have pulled their support of Heartland, others are currently under pressure to do so. But the case of Microsoft is interesting, and possibly unique among the donors to Heartland.

Here’s the story:

Microsoft has a program which grants free licences to certain categories of non profits, to support non profit work. They do not distinguish among different companies or what their missions are. MS gives away a LOT of software this way, and I suppose that for them, it is easiest to set up obvious and easily documented criteria and just give all the software to those non-profits. As a result, non-profits that may be quite antithetical to Microsoft’s philosophy may occasionally get free stuff from them.

When Microsoft was confronted with the fact that they were inadvertently supporting a non-profit that was equating mainstream scientists with mass murderers, they responded fairly strongly with a statement repudiating the Heartland Institute and what they stand for. You can read it here. I’m not a big fan of Microsoft Corporation for various reasons, but I’m glad they made it clear that they do not support what Heartland does.

However, Microsoft is not changing their system to disallow Heartland from getting this sort of support in the future. They are not doing this because they don’t feel they can manage this sort of grant in that way fairly. They simply will allow some of their free software to go out to places that they don’t like rather than making judgments or expending what would probably be a fairly large effort to vet everybody who applies for this software via some sort of criteria that at present do not exist and certainly would not be easy to define.

OK, fine. I’m glad that Microsoft gives non-profits this software. I did not know they were doing that. I’m presently involved in developing a non-profit and I intend to get a piece of the pie if we are eligible (some of my colleagues will probably want to use Microsoft software no matter what I say!).

The important point here is this: Microsoft Corporation dislikes the Heartland Foundation. When you see the “Microsoft” logo or the name “Microsoft” on a list of supporters for Heartland, that is not Microsoft supporting Heartland, it is Heartland at the Microsoft Trough scarfing up some free grub, and nothing more.

Which brings me to my suggestion. If you are going to give away a big pile of stuff with only loose criteria for who gets it, make a rule: If you want the free item, take it, but do not put our name on your web site or anywhere else without our expressed permission. Microsoft or any other large corporation giving away free stuff can certainly advertise, and thus capitalize on this fact, without letting just anyone use their logo or name and certainly should want to avoid accidental association with nefarious interests.

Microsoft should be, and in fact appears to be, chagrined to be supporting the nefarious boobs at Heartland. I can certainly understand that the mass giveaway system makes control hard, maybe impossible, and I accept that. But still, the simple fact is that Heartland uses Microsoft’s name to gain credibility. Microsoft needs to either live with that or fix it in some way, and the suggestion given here would be an efficient way of doing the latter.


  1. #1 jahigginbotham
    May 7, 2012

    The cynic in me suggests Microsoft gets tax credit for contributions based on list price of the software.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2012

    I’m sure they do. No cynicism needed. Giving such tax breaks makes “charity” happen, it’s not a bad thing. No sense in accidentally assuming Microsoft is being nice out of niceness!

  3. #3 Ed Darrell
    May 7, 2012

    “Promotional consideration.”

    Remember, HAL (the computer in 2001) got his name because IBM wouldn’t allow the use of its name. Microsoft has enough lawyers to figure this one out, don’t you think?

    Come on, Microsoft.

  4. #4 F
    May 7, 2012

    Maybe a simple rule would help in general: It isn’t “charity” to give to “non-profits” run by and for the wealthy.

  5. #5 Brian Schmidt
    May 7, 2012

    Michael Tobis has pointed out that Microsoft’s name wasn’t advertised – this is info that came out from the documents that Gleick got.

    Greg, you might want to not that in your post because your solution wouldn’t have solved this problem.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    May 7, 2012

    Lists of donors are used all the time to get other donors, gain credibility, etc. I don’t know that MS was used in this way at this time or not, but it could have been. My suggestion is that if you take from the trough, you can’t tell anyone that MS is a donor in any way, any more than you can say Stables or Office Max is a donor or sponsor if you buy a printer cartridge from them and they give you a free refrigerator magnet.

    Most of Heartlands donors were kept secret to the general public, that is true, but that does not mean that the list of donors is not used as a fundraising tool and for other purposes. It normally would be at some point.

    But yes, it is worth noting what you noted.

  7. #7 Brian Schmidt
    May 8, 2012

    “it is worth noting what you noted.”

    Not my idea, it was Tobis and I think Tamino.

    What I would say has been noted now in the comments is that your idea doesn’t apply to or solve the headache Microsoft has with Heartland. I don’t think the original post really works at this point, although I suppose you could modify the suggestion by explaining that it could be useful for some hypothetical situation that isn’t the current one. Like the hypotheticals you suggest in your followup comment.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    May 8, 2012

    What I failed to make clear in my post is that a list of donors has a lot of uses, including and in some cases mainly internal to the organization and as something use informally and unofficially, and not only to hang on the lobby wall or to display at conferences and such. This is true even of a list that is kept “secret” or that is not public. A fundraiser approaching Acme Widgets is going to mention that Ace Widgets already donated, and visa versa.

    Putting what I said another way: Microsoft can have its cake and eat it too if it asks that the “free” part of the software be considered as a full discount and not a donation. (as in the Staples/Office Max analogy). I don’t know if that affects the tax related benefits to the donor, though.

    Either way, this may all become irrelevant soon. When many of the “actual’ donors … the ones that gave chunks of money … have left Heartland there will be a short list left. That short list will include a handful of nefarious interests plus whoever decided that they couldn’t spend the time and resources paying attention to whom they supported. When the list of donors to Hearland looks like this:

    Barnabas Collins
    Snidely Whiplash

    …. then Microsoft might send some intern down to the office where they do things to manually search through the database (running on a Linux machine no doubt) to find problems.