"Faked" Heartland Institute Doc is Authentic

You know about the Heartland Strategy memo. It is one of several documents produced and used internally by the Heartland Institute, a minor Libertarian "Think" Tank, demonstrating some rather unsavory activities, which are now under preliminary investigation by the US Congress. The memo contains little that is not found in other documents already admitted by Heartland to be genuine but there are a few details added and a much finer point is put on such nefarious programs as intruding into the public school system to trick teachers into "not teaching science" in science classes.

This memo is so embarrassing that Heartland has been insisting that it is fake, but a new evaluation of the document demonstrates that it is not.

Brendan DeMille and Richard Littlemore report a line by line study of the document. It is rather long and involved and is reported in its entirety here. They conclude that the "analysis demonstrates that the Climate Strategy Memo is an accurate executive summary of the information contained in budget and fundraising documents ..." and they see ".... no basis whatsoever for Heartland's assertion that the Climate Strategy memo is a 'fake" which contains "obvious and gross misstatements of fact.""

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Peter Gleick has been cleared of faking a key memo. Who is Peter Gleick, and what is this memo of which we speak? Here is a refresher of events over the last 3 1/2 months: You will recall that last February 14th, we were all given an interesting Valentine's Day present: A cache of documents had…
This seems to be fairly big news. The Heartland Institute is a conservative and libertarian "think" tank that cut its teeth on denying the dangers of cigarette smoking back in the 1990s. These days the Heartland Institute seems to be focused on Anthropogenic Climate Change Denialism and Science…
I just got this email. I have no way of telling if it is authentic: February 18, 2012 By e-mail to: greg@gregladen.com By Federal Express to: Mr. Greg T. Laden Greg Laden's Blog 44788 265th Lane Aitkin, MN 56431-4807 Re: Stolen and Faked Heartland Documentshttp://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/…
The best available evidence now suggests that the most damning of the "Heartland Documents" -- the strategy memo which explicitly states that Heartland's strategy is to interfere with good science education in order to advance their political agenda -- is legitimate. The legitimacy of the document…

You really find that "analysis" to be compelling?


You aren't just saying that because you would like it to be authentic?


I'm sorry, but given the irregularities of the document itself, it's dubious provenance, and the fact its champion (Gleick) has already admitted to unethical behavior in this episode, anyone who find the analysis of Desmogblog (whose only credentials to be "authenticating" anything seem to be that they are climate activists) utterly convincing would have to be either foolish or naive.

Indeed, the Desmogblog "analysis" makes a perfectly convincing case that the memo WAS constructed entirely from the items Gleick defrauded Heartland from, as the memo contains NO facts (except the factual errors) which were not in the purloined documents.

Ah well...enjoy your world with its mauve sky, a place where Megan McArdle and Andy Revkin are part of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

By Rich Horton (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

But...that *can't* be right Greg - if what you're saying were true, that would mean that Heartland was *lying*.

I don't believe it. No way is the excellent Mr Joseph Bast a liar.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

No obvious misstatements? How about this:

[blockquote] two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.[/blockquote]

By William Wallace (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

... taking into account Peter Gleickâs explanation of the origin of the Heartland documents...Only someone who had previous access to all of that material ...

i'll say it again: this is like a chrissy snow gag from three's company:

"(*scoff* *snort*) C'mon, Jack! If there's no man on the moon, who's s'posed to eat all that green cheese up there?"

I find this unpersuasive. This doesn't address the main reasons that it looked strange. The document doesn't read like what one expects a strategy memo of this sort to read. There's very little of the standard puffery one would expect. There's the problematic discrepancy with what the Koch money was going to v. where the memo seems to think it was going to. Those are only the biggest issues, and they aren't substantially addressed here. At first I thought the memo was real, but I'm becoming increasingly uncertain. I still would assign a greater than 1/2 chance to it being real, but not much more than that.

So, are you asserting that Heartland actually did prepare the strategy memo for internal distribution, and distributed it? That seems extraordinarily unlikely to me.

I think this might be a case where the willingness to engage in motivated reasoning and confirmation bias to defend an untenable position ("the strategy memo is legitimate") ultimately will do damage to the reputations of those who engage in it. It would be a tragic irony if this became another incident like Climategate in terms of actually lessening public support for action to address climate change, but I see a real risk that that's where this will end up if people on the science side indulge in defenses of Gleick's actions that are perceived as irrational by the general public. And that's how a defense of the strategy memo as legitimate is going to be perceived, I suspect.

Should be interesting when DeSmog has to prove it in a court of law.

By William Teach (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

Excellent! The point about the subset spread and its consequences on dissemination and increasing incentive of denial hadn't hit me, nor the separate route of the initial memo pointing to Gleick as the one without the print-to-pdf original.

I was initially dubious about the memo. But I had to turn around when Gleick confirmed the other DenialGate material as source better than the ones used for the 'ClimateGate' manufactroversy. And even better, why the original memo needed to be correct in order to obtain the other material afterwards.

So this is just icing on the cake.

I note that both The Charles Koch Foundation and Bob Carter provides independent confirmation on confidential details in the released material.

More hearteningly still, DenialGate has already cost the Heartland Institute a speculative $200 000 and future access to a donor and its "network of philanthropists". Yay!

By Torbjörn Lars… (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

William, it will come out in discovery. Will everyone at the HI be willing to lie under oath about it? Have they been 100% effective at wiping all the HI computers completely clean?

The hard copy that was sent to Gleick was printed on a printer. Where is that printer? If it is at the HI, then the document is very likely authentic.

What is the timing between when the HI documents were received by email and when they were sent out by Gleick? If it is just a short time, then there wasn't enough time to read them and compose a bogus summary document.

I suspect that the HI is now going through a system upgrade and replacing all of their computers and printers. If they do destroy the evidence then they can't sue Gleick because they destroyed evidence in the case and their destruction of evidence is obstruction of justice.

That is why the HI won't sue Gleick over this.

@ John:

I don't think "produced and used internally" of a text translates to "prepare the strategy memo for internal distribution, and distributed it". It is the document itself that suggests it was to be distributed to a subset of "Institute Board and senior staff." Whether there existed one or more copies, and whether they were distributed aside from the leaked copy, is unknown.

However, that it was intended to be distributed to a subset shores up a point of deSmogBlog.

Of course we should be skeptic, and an analysis and a following conclusion is part of that. In no way does that consist of "a defense".

And a defense of what, high expectations? At this point it doesn't matter whether the memo can be raised up to the same reliability as the other leaked documents. This is already better than what started a manufactroversy over climate science, so we can't expect to do worse considering this is a _real_ controversy over political silencing of "opposing voices" and of "teaching science", as well as tax fraud.

The reason to get this minor point done with, whatever the outcome, is because denialists use it as a shield against the real controversy.

By Torbjörn Lars… (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

Contrary to most of the troll-like comments here, the burden of proof is on Heartland to prove the document is fake. So far, they have done nothing to prove that. The comments here do less. C'mon guys, you want to troll like an expert? Come up with something more than just vague attacks on DeSmogBlog's extensive analysis. You can't just wish the document to be fake. You have to prove it.

Since Joe Blast went to the national press with the bald assertion that Gleick fabricated the document, I suppose we can expect Gleick to be filing a defamation and slander suit against HI any minute now.

Nice title Greg. Their "analysis" is not at all convincing level and its obvious to anyone not overwhelmed by hatred for Heartland.

+1 to everything Rich Horton said

Jeff HI has a history of lying and manipulation. Peter Gleick does not. Any reasonable person would therefore give the benefit of the doubt to the person without the prior dubious reputation.

I'm not trolling. I'm a sincere advocate for taking climate science seriously. I believe, though, that taking it seriously includes thinking about how we're going to deal with the sizable chunk of people who are politically conservative and get much of their information from dubious sources like Fox News. If we can't peel off a significant number of those people and get them to recognize the truth about climate change, we don't have a chance of implementing the kind of collective strategy climate change requires any time soon.

We're not going to get those people with dubious arguments like this. And dubious it is: If we can't divorce ourselves from what we want to believe long enough to appreciate the evidence in the strategy memo that argues for it being a fake, then in my view we are falling short of the requirements of honest skepticism.

Yes, the denialists (the worst of them, at least) are legitimately villainous. It's understandable that the combination of fear and anger that their actions provoke would push anyone toward a polarized position and a desire to push back against their lies with assertions like the one being linked to here.

It's an understandable temptation. But the temptation must be resisted. If Peter Gleick's mistakes teach anything, it is that the consequences of succumbing to an ends-justifies-the-means erosion of principles can be severe. Yes, we need to confront the fallacies, mistaken beliefs, and outright falsehoods coming from the denialist side. We are in a battle for hearts and minds. But if we get so caught up in the battle that we are willing to treat the flimsy arguments offered by DeMille and Littlemore as compelling, we will lose the war. The vast majority of currently-undecided third parties are not going to look at the evidence and conclude that the strategy memo is authentic. They are going to conclude that we are irrationally committed to our position, and that the denialists are probably right when they say that the scientific consensus is a sham produced by people who are being similarly irrational.

They will be wrong to conclude that. But by the time the climate has worsened enough for them to realize it we will have lost valuable time to address the problem.

I see the response to the denialist's dishonesty as being analogous to a cytokine storm. We're like an immune system reacting to a pathogen. But in the case of Peter Gleick's actions, and of those who are now defend him to the extent of calling his actions heroic and arguing that the faked strategy memo is authentic, our reaction threatens to do more harm to the patient than the pathogen ever could.

I recommend what Megan McArdle has written about the strategy memo. I don't agree with everything she's written about it, but she's got a good take on the degree to which the defense of Gleick's actions by climate activists threatens to undermine our position in the larger debate.

I don't know if Gleick forged the strategy memo himself. But I think it's clear that someone forged it, and that whoever committed the forgery had access to the legitimate documents. I remain intrigued by the idea that this was a false flag operation, in which someone who had access to Heartland's internal documents leaked the fake memo to Gleick hoping he would release it, after which he could be denounced and neutralized as an opponent. I don't think that scenario is nearly as far-fetched as McArdle seems to think. But I don't actually know. And neither do most of us, at this point.

The only people who know for sure whether Gleick is telling the truth about the fake strategy document is Gleick, and, if Gleick is telling the truth, the person or persons who forged it and sent it to him. If this ends up in court, and if Gleick has evidence to corroborate his account of the timeline, this could get really interesting, since that would mean he could mount a pretty convincing case that he was, in fact, set up by someone with access to internal Heartland documents.

I don't know what the chances of that are. But I know that being skeptical means I need to keep an open mind about the competing explanation favored by the denialists: That Gleick is just lying, and that he forged the strategy memo himself as a way to try to make the document leak "sexier".

John, I suspect you've already made up your mind about the 'memo', and its possible authorship, but I would urge you (and others) to step back and look at the actual evidence.

Heartland has basically confirmed that the other documents are real (and we can ignore their cries of 'stolen' as misdirection), and we have data from publically available documents which have been analysed by John Mashey. The stuff that is in the 'memo' is reflected in the other paperwork, as Demelle and Littlemore have shown. At the very least, the 'memo' is made up of of material which Heartland has not contested.

Is the 'memo' a fake? If you mean that the document is not in the same format as the others, then thats understandable if you accept Gliecks explaination (which is a reasonable one). If it is a fake, then why do it? I think we can reject the Atlantic's spin on it - why release a fake document which says things that are in real documents?

The only explaination which makes sense is Gleicks - that he got the original in the post and scanned it to cover up who it came from (very sensibly), and fooled Heartland into sending out documents which confirmed the originals authenticity.

For the sake of example, lets say the 'memo' is a fake, or simply does not exist. What difference does it make? The rest of the material is highly damaging. That's where you should be looking. Follow the money, follow the data.

We should also reject the nonsense about being a massive setback to climate science. No one cares. If you saw this on Fox News, would you be more or less likely to believe in climate change? If you looking at Fox News, its unlikely that you think AGW is real anyway, so it hasn't changed your mind, although even you might feel a little queasy knowing how much tobacco money is going into Heartland.

As for McArdle, Revkin, etc? Again, the average person does not care. They didn't care during the East Anglia hacks where the info came from (or how it was obtained), they were interested in the story (no matter how badly it was reported). The public will be interested in this one too, and the manner it which most of the documents were obtained will no matter one jot.

Stop pearl clutching - at best it looks weak, and at worst it looks like concern trolling.

Headsup on the the BBC reporting both the documents and Glieck on the 'World Tonight' on the BBC World Service. They had some pearl clutching from one scientists, and Bob Ward was even less exciting than usual, but it shows that its made the leap into broadcast, and makes it more likely that the BBC in general will pick it up. Its a slow burn, but it will catch.

Gleick is a prominent scientist, although he used false means to obtain the documents the documents themselves have caused quite a stir. Do I think one of the documents is a fake? No, why on earth would he sabotage his career to do so? All parties involved haven't come out looking the best as Gleick and his credibility are now questioned and Heartland get to play the victim in all of this.

However using documents that are readily available for public consumption it appears that Heartland was/is a, 'front-group for hire by some of the world's deadliest industries'. So what Gleick did expose is hardly surprising, he has merely put Heartland back into the news for all to digest.

What Gleick has succeed in doing is getting the topic of Climate Change back into the news and I for one salute him for doing so. I wrote a interesting piece on Climate Change here

I'm not sure what pearl clutching or concern trolling are, but if I'm engaging in them I apologize. From where I sit, I'm just being as honest as I can about how I see the issue.

I haven't "made my mind up" about the strategy memo, except that after considering it carefully, I do believe McArdle's assertions about its implausibility are compelling. The specifics of what it says and the way it says it don't pass the smell test. It simply isn't credible as an actual internal Heartland document intending to lay out their actual strategy for some sort of limited internal distribution. There are plenty of good analyses of this question out there already, so I don't think I need to go into them. If you disagree, that's fine, and it's your prerogative, obviously. But if you haven't examined the question in detail, I encourage you to take another look, beginning with McArdle's arguments from last week.

I'm not simply crediting Heartland's claims that it is "fake". But their willingness to make that claim, early and often, does factor into my thinking in this way: If the document were legitimate, and was actually prepared for its described purpose, then it would presumably have been distributed to multiple people within Heartland. That raises the stakes for Heartland to denounce it as they have. If there are other copies of it, perhaps other versions of it, floating around within Heartland it becomes a much greater risk for them to make the statements they have, since at any time one of those copies could come to light.

The people running Heartland disagree with me, and are willing to baldly assert things that are untrue; I've seen them do it. But they're not stupid. Taken together with the content and style problems of the document itself, their willingness to put themselves out there calling it a fake and making it the centerpiece of their response to the leak is enough for me to conclude that yeah, they're probably telling the truth, at least in a very narrowly construed sense, when they say that.

As I've said repeatedly, I think the question is still very much open as to who it was who forged it, and for what purpose, so in that sense my mind isn't made up about the document at all. But I do believe that the position being endorsed by Greg Laden in the item above is dubious. So I guess you're right about my mind being made up on that point. I'd be interested in hearing counterarguments, but I don't think those made by DeMille and Littlemore in the linked-to item are compelling. I think their confirmation bias is showing.

The inclusion of an ad hominem tends to undercut your credentials as a reliable guide to what true skepticism would look like. But thanks for the link.

Question: why is anyone taking Megan McArdle's analysis seriously? She's not an objective source and has a terrible track record when it comes to science (or anything else really).

It won't change the minds of deniers, they'll just attack you for how you got the document. For deniers there's one standard for scientists and another for politically funded organizations.

the strategy document is obviously faked, since it is written from the left worldview, not the Heartland Institute worldview, for example:

"His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain â two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science."

This is written by someone who believes that "science" is official truth. Obviously people in the Heartland institute believe that science is not whatever truth is officially proclaimed at the official truth, but rather knowledge produced by the scientific method, and that when teachers teach global warming, they are teaching not science, but Gaia worship.

> This is written by someone who believes that "science" is official truth.

It works equally well being written by someone who believes that "science" is frequently corrupted and manipulated and driven towards pre-determined "outcomes" by (the "other side's") political beliefs and/or sociological forces - and hence "truth" is not generally found in "science" per se.

See if you can find surveys of Young Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates on their attitudes to "science".

By Lotharsson (not verified) on 24 Feb 2012 #permalink

Well, there's certainly evidence in the strategy memo that it was written by someone who either consciously or unconsciously made its language reflect the anti-denialist perspective. But again, there are multiple ways to account for that. It could have been that Gleick forged the memo, and it includes that perspective because he happens to think that way, and couldn't help writing that way. Or it could be that Gleick forged the memo, and it includes that perspective because he consciously put it there in order to make the strategy memo "sexier" in terms of advancing the anti-Heartland media narrative he hoped the document release would lead to.

Or it could be that it was put there by someone else who was targeting Gleick, and wanted the document to both 1) be more appealing to Gleick as constituting a powerful smoking gun of Heartland evil, and 2) be more easily portrayed as a forgery produced by Gleick, should Gleick release it.

Under any scenario, we're necessarily dealing with people who are lying, and trying to manipulate public perception to support a false narrative. Given that, I think it's important to be skeptical, and not try to shoehorn the evidence into supporting any particular a priori theory.

John, I think your trying so hard to be 'skeptical' that your twisting yourself in knots (although your not alone).

You seem to be reading the memo as being 'written by someone who either consciously or unconsciously made its language reflect the anti-denialist perspective'. Why? I suspect that people are starting to see what they want to see in the memo. Certainly nothing particularly stands out to me as having the style of an 'anti-denialist'.

Ignore Megan McArdle. She has written four articles about the Heartland documents, and not one of them actually says anything about the documents. Its all about the 'fake', the leaker, and the various (amazingly complex) ways in which this could have come about. This is someone who is missing the real story (and engaged in a fair amount of projection and conjecture), in much the same way that bad whodunnits throw in so many red herrings - it deliberately confuses everyone and bumps up wordcount. The fact that she is so outraged that Glieck played a small trick to get the authentic paperwork, makes you wonder how much of a journalist she really is.

OK. so lets assume that Glieck forgered it. Pro bono? Glieck has although commited mailfraud (according to McArdle, so why forge a document when you've a load of perfectly good ones around? If it was a fake, then it hasn't helped him.

Lets then ask if someone else faked it and sent it to him. It certainly had some stuff which is real, and even though the Koch claim is wrong (or possibly a garbled version of the fundraising memo), reading through the document doesn't actually make you wonder all that much. The 'anti climate' phrase could simply have been short for 'anti climate change'.

If someone did fake it, it seems likely they had access to original material, although they slightly botched some of the details. So is this a fake, or a slightly garbled version of a real document?

Lets kill the idea that its some sort of 'false flag' operation. Heartland is a PR/lobby shop, pretending to be a thinktank, pretending to be a charity. The first rule of a PR is not be the story, and a central rule of a lobbiest is to work under the radar. Your lobbying should be visible only to those that are important, and certainly don't have it spoken about in the NYT. You will have problems with the IRS if certain aspects of the way you do business comes out, and your donors have no wish to be be identified with a campaign to fool schoolchildren, or have their names rleased to the public, especially if it reveals how casually you gave them out.

And why would you want to burn Watts, a man obviously so useful that your going to give him $88000 a year?

Scholars and Rogues have a very interesting article on the statements that Heartland have given out - they kind of say no, but the words are very evasive. There might be a reason for this.

All this reminds me of amatuer dectives looking at a real case, and bringing in all the baggage of reading Agatha Christie for thirty years. Real police don't work like Inspector Morse. They tend to go for the obvious and logical, because it usually is the obvious and logical.

Stop making real lfe so complicated. Don't try to fit everything into some grand plan, and apply Occums Razor. Ignore the memo if you want, just look at the other stuff.

I wish McArdle and others would...

Heh. Point taken. The fact is, the mystery story that keeps coming to mind for me is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", which I suspect is a reference that Greg, whom I believe is a Holmes fan, might recognize.

I'd be really interested if you could expand a bit on why we should kill the 'false flag' theory. The objection you give here (that it would be something that Heartland wouldn't do, because they want to stay under the radar) sounds problematic to me on at least one point: It assumes that the "false flag" operation would only have been conducted as an officially sanctioned action. A lot of people I've heard object to the "false flag" scenario seem to feel it's prohibitively unlikely because it would require some big, complicated conspiracy at Heartland. But it doesn't require that. All it requires is one person with the following three things:

* access to the internal Heartland documents.

* the skill required to successfully thread the needle between forging a document real-seeming enough to take in Gleick, but fake enough (and with enough Gleick "fingerprints") to be credibly denounced and tied to Gleick if and when he tried to use it.

* the sketchy morals to conceive of and carry out such a plan.

Occam's Razor would suggest that the Gleick-forged-it-himself explanation is simpler, and therefore preferred. I see the logic of that, and it's definitely a factor in my thinking. But there's also this (which you may have seen me mention before; if so I apologize for being repetitive): It's in some ways simpler, to my mind, to imagine Gleick being successfully conned into mistakenly including the forged memo in the release in the belief that it was authentic, than it is for me to imagine Gleick being unable to predict that forging and including the fake memo along with the legitimate documents would both hand Heartland an easy way of taking the moral high ground (as has actually happened) and would be planting a glaring clue pointing to Gleick himself as the leaker.

I talk about this in more detail in a comment I posted to climatesight.

Basically, I feel like Gleick-as-forger requires us to think he was both surprisingly cunning (to come up with the entire plan, including forging the strategy memo) and surprisingly stupid (to fail to predict how the strategy memo's inclusion would play out). Glieck-as-victim only requires us to think he acted naively and showed bad judgment under pressure.

Anyway, you're probably right that I'm making this all too complicated. The truth, should it ever emerge, will probably be completely different (and in hindsight, more obvious) than anything I could think up.

My reasoning to kill the 'false flag' idea is simply becaue false flags tend to be..false.

The 'memo', on the other hand, is basically correct, with details of payments, the schools stratergy and who is stumping up the cash. If you didn't have the other documents, it would be pretty useful, but with the others, its laregely a precis.

Only a complete idiot (and I wish people at Heartland were this stupid) would send this out into the world. False flag operation, such as the work of 20 Committee from the Second World War, consist of sending the enemy information they already know, information which they don't no but might be low grade or out of date, high grade stuff which is wrong (they changed the plans) or too late to do anything with (the invasion is happening now!).

If your going to make Glieck look an idiot with information you've fed him, you need it to look plausable, but then easily disproved. The problem with that plan is that the stuff you given him is true, and is provable.

Forgery by him makes even less sense. Not only are you guilding the lily (you've got all these other documents), but you manage to get the stuff about Koch wrong.

It was the Koch mistake that made me wonder. Its exactly the sort of snafu you make when your writing a draft of something without all the data in front of you - you kind of remember them giving you money 2010-11, but got the amount mixed up with how much you hope to get out of them this year. I reckon its a (slightly snipped) version of a draft document. Some of the language is a bit strange (anti-climate), because its just a draft. If it was written by someone outside the staff, or a version was passed out other parties for comments, then Heartland's denials of it not being on their computers or by their current staff would be truish.

How did it get out? Someone mught have had an ephiany, or (more likely), someone has a grudge. Another document refers to the number of people who they had to let go, so it could be because the person who leaked it just got canned. And don't forget that being a thinktank/PR/lobbiest is a business, and has competitors. If you wanted to knock someone out of the business, then this is not a bad way to do it.

I just wish that the media would look at the story, and not the shiny penny. Still, give it time...

What I see from those claiming the document is fake mostly consists of vague, difficult to quantify notions of what the document "should" look like.

What I see from people claiming the document is authentic is quantitative textual analysis and line by line corroboration with other available documents.

It's not really all that hard for me to decide who I lean toward. Statistics > intuition.