Deniers leak secret plan to miseducate US schoolchildren

A secret fundraising document from a shadowy anti-science institute was accidentally made public. The document candidly lays out the anti-science agenda of group, including efforts to undermine science education in public schools, but also plans to broadly redefine society.

The year was 1998, and the document was from the Discovery Institute. Nicknamed "The Wedge Document" by opponents of the Disco. 'tute's brand of creationism, it details plans to use attacks on evolution like the thin edge of a wedge, opening a crack which in time would break society free of "scientific materialism." Ultimately, the document explains, the Discovery Institute's plans would "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

On Valentine's Day of this year, the story repeated, but instead of exposing the anti-science agenda of creationists, it reveals the equally anti-science agenda of climate change deniers.

The Heartland Institute is a major player in the climate change denial movement, and the release has produced masses of discussion. Their files â including public IRS forms, private details of a board meeting in January, and fundraising and budget documents distributed for that meeting â were accidentally emailed to an unknown third party, who shared them with journalists including Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog. The documents answer many questions about Heartland, demonstrating their ties to the ultra-conservative Koch family, continuing ties to the tobacco industry (Philip Morris funded their work in the '90s), funding to supposedly independent climate change deniers like Anthony Watts, and plans to develop a $100,000 climate change denial curriculum.

Where the Wedge Document reflects the enthusiasm of a new organization, the Heartland files reveal more mature planning. The fundraising document contains few of the grand claims for societal transformation that characterize the Disco. 'tute's inaugural fundraising pitch. Instead, Heartland lays out a long campaign against science, including plans for increased funding from climate change denial's sugardaddy Charles Koch, and a program to fund prominent climate change denier Anthony Watts as he tries to find new ways to pretend weather records don't tell us about climate change.

i-2c4e96aa66cb7337d1d16259c242faee-Heartlandclimatecurriculum-tm.pngMost intriguing to science education advocates is their plan to invest at least $100,000 over this year alone to produce and distribute a curriculum laying out their climate change denial message. The thumbnail at the right links to a full-sized version of the relevant page, which explains:

Many people lament the absence of educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isnât alarmist or overtly political. Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success. â¦

Dr. David Wojick has presented Heartland a proposal to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools that appears to have great potential for success. â¦

Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on âmodulesâ for grades 10-12 on climate change (âwhether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversyâ), climate models (âmodels are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversialâ), and air pollution (âwhether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissionsâ).

Wojick would produce modules for Grades 7-9 on environmental impact (âenvironmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weatherâ), for Grade 6 on water resources and weather systems, and so on.

We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $5,000 per module, about $25,000 a quarter, starting in the second quarter of 2012, for this work. The Anonymous Donor has pledged the first $100,000 for this project, and we will circulate a proposal to match and then expand upon that investment.

The file also claims "Dr. Wojick has conducted extensive research on environmental and science education for the Department of Energy," but the Department clarified: "David Wojick has been a part-time support contractor for the Office of Scientific and Technical Information since 2003, working to help the office manage and organize its electronic databases. He has never advised or conducted research for the Department on climate change or any other scientific topic, and the office he works for is not a research organization." His background in philosophy and engineering hardly qualify him to devise an educational curriculum, either.

Aside from the substantial donation Heartland has already received for the curriculum from an unnamed donor, and the significant additional funds they plan to solicit, there are some important revelations here. Heartland's efforts to influence educators are not news: they've bragged about mailing out climate change denying DVDs and handouts to teachers before. But because the educational system is so decentralized, it's hard to know how effective those mailings have been. This document suggests that those efforts have largely been a flop.
What's also noteworthy is the language Wojick is quoted using. It is consistently the language of doubt and controversy, and he has returned to that well in his public defense of the program, telling AP reporter Seth Borenstein: "My goal is to help them [teachers] teach one of the greatest scientific debates in history⦠This means teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less."

His goal is to sow confusion among teachers and students about what the science of climate change actually says. This is a strategy familiar to aficionados of creationist rhetoric (as is the idea of "both sides of the science"), but more importantly to those familiar with the history of tobacco industry obfuscation. As a famous memo to the tobacco industry argued in 1969: "Doubt is our product." Fewer people know that that line continues: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the best means of establishing a controversy." (The link is more than rhetorical: Philip Morris gave significant funding to Heartland in the '90s, and the same document lists Philip Morris parent company Altria as a major donor today.)

Establishing a controversy and undermining public understanding of the body of fact on climate change are central to Heartland's account of their new climate change curriculum, and long-standing keys to Heartland's broader agenda.

For a sense of that agenda, and Heartland's history, it's worth turning to a profile in Nature last July. In that profile, Heartland honcho Joe Bast explains his agenda now that Congressional action on climate policy had been stalled:

"We've won the public opinion debate, and we've won the political debate as well," Bast says. "But the scientific debate is a source of enormous frustration." â¦

Bast's assault on climate research takes two forms: challenging the credibility of the science, and disputing the claim that there is a scientific consensus on climate change.â¦

Heartland plans to spend $1.8 million on its climate programme this year. Of that, $413,000 will go to supporting the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a small group of sceptics who have set themselves up as a counterweight to the IPCC. ⦠The NIPCC ⦠ignores mountains of evidence about the adverse effects of global warming and instead strings together a confident story that makes rising carbon dioxide concentrations seem entirely beneficial. â¦

Bast, Heartland and the NIPCC all approach scientific data as attorneys, simply trying to sow doubt and justify political inaction.â¦

Bast happily acknowledges hand-picking data to support his position, but argues that scientists on the other side do the same thing when they are building a case for global warming. He also says it is only natural that a libertarian like him would decide to question the scientific foundation for climate change.

The climate change denying curriculum is a logical extension of the Heartland agenda, and parallels the rhetoric and strategies of creationists as well. Just as Wojick calls for teaching "both sides" and to cover "more science, not less," the Discovery Institute's official policy claims: "Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks ⦠a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories ⦠there is nothing unconstitutional about voluntarily discussing the scientific theory of design in the classroom." (This wrongly assumes that there is such a scientific theory, that evolution has such weaknesses, etc.)

The Heartland memos also reveal an effort to create an echo chamber of science denial, much like the pseudoscientific infrastructure created by the creationists since the 1960s. Heartland spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund NIPCC, a group meant to undermine the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body which produces synthesis reports on the state of climate science for use by world governments. The extent of Heartland's funding, and the degree to which they controlled that project, has never been clear, and these memos show that Heartland is calling the shots. Heartland funding goes directly to publicize NIPCC's work, but also goes to individuals involved in NIPCC, including Fred Singer, the godfather of climate change denial. Singer has never acknowledged such funding before, and indeed has denied any such funding.

i-a22cf2b4baf136478eb12d771f64bf05-Heartlandweather-tm.pngIn addition, the fundraising memo shows that Heartland is coordinating an effort to raise funds for a new website raising confusion about the causes of record temperatures. In order to push back against media coverage of the role climate change plays in record-breaking weather, they propose to pay prominent climate change denier Anthony Watts $88,000 to put up a website reformatting weather data from the National Weather Service. The money comes from the same unnamed donor funding the climate change curriculum and many other Heartland initiatives.
It isn't the first collaboration between Heartland and Watts. As the memo observes, Watts has promoted the claim that flaws in the US-government operated weather station network are so great as to invalidate the claim of global climate change. The memo says this was "work that The Heartland Institute supported and promoted." That Heartland promoted the project is not news â they publish a booklet Watts drafted on the topic â but how did they "support" it?

The report only mentions Heartland as the publisher, not as a supporter of the work (which I take to be financial support). Nor does the website Watts created for the project ever mention support from Heartland. He acknowledges volunteers and technical assistance from individuals, but the only mention of Heartland's role is a note in the printed report explaining: "Opinions expressed are solely those of the authors. Nothing in this report should be construed as reflecting the views of The Heartland Institute, or as an attempt to influence pending legislation." Either Heartland is inflating their role in Watts's earlier work, or Watts failed to disclose Heartland's support.

This tangled web of hidden funding and hidden influence is a tool for creating an echo chamber. Heartland quietly funds Watts, Watts produces reports for Heartland to publish. Watts retains a semblance of independence. Heartland can then point to his work and tout its independence, claiming that they are simply reporting what others discovered. Then NIPCC can cite his work, without acknowledging any coordination between their effort and Watts's. And Watts can cite NIPCC without having to say anything about his shared funding source. To outsiders, it seems like there are multiple independent sources all arriving at the same position, instead of a coordinated media campaign by Heartland.

We don't know who distributed the Heartland memos, or exactly how they were obtained. But by doing so, the leaker provided a profound public service, one that we can all be grateful for. These memos provide an inside look at the climate change denial machine, revealing how they talk about their work behind closed doors, and revealing their machinations to sow doubt about some of the most important scientific issues of the day.

We also don't know who the anonymous donor is who funded the denialist curriculum and the weather station project. All we know for certain is that he's a man who has taken great interest in Heartland's work since at least 2007. As table 5 of the fundraising memo shows, he gave over three and a quarter million dollars in 2007, another $4.6 million in 2008, and is expected to give $1.25 million to Heartland in 2012. Much of that donation is unrestricted, allowing Heartland to spend it as they choose, while he's given between $3.3 million and $630,000 in previous years specifically to support Heartland's climate change denial efforts. For context, public records show that the 2010 budget for the National Center for Science Education was $1.1 million, only slightly more than the $964,150 that Heartland's anonymous donor gave for climate change denial in the same year (only a fraction of their total climate change denial funding). It's also well less than the $2 million that the Discovery Institute spent on their creationist efforts in 2010.
If that imbalance concerns you (and it should), I'd suggest donating to NCSE (and I'm not saying that as an employee).


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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…
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I don't get it. First there was Climategate, in which hackers illegally broke into a server at the University of East Anglia and stole a pile of emails from climate researchers. The denialists seemed to be fine with that, and quote-mined the heck out of the documents to find damning statements,…
Someone has leaked a treasure trove of insider documents from the Heartland Institute, which until now has been a major source of climate change obfuscation in the U.S. There's plenty of illuminating information to chew on, including detailed budgets and an IRS 990 form. Shades of "climategate"…

@Anthony McCarthy: No one ever makes the reverse accusation. Alarmist commenters are so awful at their job that no one would believe they were getting paid. Case in point: crazy people who believe, without a shred of evidence, that people are paid to combat you lunatics. The word to describe people like you is "credulous." You will believe ANYTHING.

You are opposed by free men and women around the globe. Unafraid and unpaid. We outnumber you and we will definitely outlast you.

By Mike Mangan (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

Sadly to extremist Republicans and Christians, 99% of all environmentalists are already considered radical, extremist, controlling humanity with a hoax, are the only product of colleges and the feds, hunters, fisherfolks, and are practicing a religion. Only 1% of "environmentalists" are good and who own coal mines, invest in Esso-Kochs, on the board of directors of groups like the Cornwall Alliance and the George C. Marshall Institute, and are good corporate whores at Heartland.

ozonater~ you mean the 97% that is based upon .74 % of the 10,257 scientists surveyed, of which only 3100 answered, and then a sub-set of 79 people were chosen to base the number upon?

Oh btw, the main piece of 'evidence' from HI was proven a FAKE within hours of being vomited up.

First. The word denier is libellous. This is gutter journalism and if you can't treat those with different views with respect then don't expect anyone to respect your views.

Secondly, as I recall Al Gore's video which was intended to be shown to School children was condemned by a judge in the UK because of all the falsehoods.

At let us not forget the 10:10 video encouraging eco-terrorism, showing a school teacher blowing up children because they did not accept her non-science of global warming.

Real science tells us that a doubling of CO2 could result in a 1C rise in temperature over a decade. Compare that to natural climate variation when e.g. in the 1690s Scotland saw a 2C drop in temperature (during the last Maunder minimum) and it is estimated a quarter of the population died.

In the UK there are 23,000 deaths in the cold months. Over the next century that would be 2.3million early deaths ... in a modern fossil-fuel economy giving historically low fuel prices.

If the greens have their way, many many more people will be unable to heat their homes. Scale that up to all of Europe and American, and it is literally a holocaust due to cold and rising fuel prices due to the non-science which takes the real 1C rise and inflates it up to 6C.

Warmer climate saves lives. Millions of people will be saved by a warmer climate. Millions of people will die earlier because of higher fuel prices.

Who are the real holocaust deniers?

By Mike Haseler (not verified) on 19 Feb 2012 #permalink

the main piece of 'evidence' from HI was proven a FAKE within hours of being vomited up.

No. It was claimed to be a fake.

The word denier is libellous.

Don't be silly. The self-styled skeptics deny the evidence, yet gullibly accept without question any nonsense that they see as attacking the concept of global warming. There are few other words that satisfactorily describe them - the word they like - 'skeptic' - is ludicrously inappropriate.

By Richard Simons (not verified) on 19 Feb 2012 #permalink

@Mike firstly, climate change may not result in warmer climate for all parts of the planet, espically for the UK. Second, you talk about people freezing to death at a time of low furl prices and then contradict yourself in the next sentence. Also, I don't think undertaking radical adjustment of the atmospheric heat engine to save on fuel bills is a good idea!

By EvilEuropean (not verified) on 19 Feb 2012 #permalink

Global warming deniers - and I don't care how libelous they think the term is, it's accurate, because they get their information from people who don't even study it - prefer to stick their heads in the sand than adapt.

By Katharine (not verified) on 20 Feb 2012 #permalink

First. The word denier is libellous.

Truth and accuracy are an absolute defense against a charge of libel in the United States. Your charge of "libel" in this case would be far libelous because it is false.

This qualifies as the most important blog post I've read in a week, maybe a month.

I think there should be a serious discussion in this country about legislation to prevent active misinformation campaigns. If there is a right to education, there should be freedom from mis-education!

I mean, the government can't become the arbiter of scientific truth on global warming and evolution... but surely something is possible!

Thanks for the informative (if long!) post. Best,

Mike Haseler, "warmer climate saves lives": Try taking a global average. Much of the earth's population lives in the subtropics and tropics, where heat kills people, especially when coupled with the drought which often accompanies it.

I don't see the problem with this. I am SO SICK AND TIRED of these politically correct people brainwashing our kids about climate change! It is all fake. Everyday, my wife and I have to correct them and teach them the truth. We will NOT let you brainwash the children!

Russ, just continue to lie to your children about science: it'll make the kids who grow up with an understanding of science and the issues it deals with that much more competitive.

Based on the comments on this thread, the Koch's money has been very effectively spent.

By Malacandra (not verified) on 20 Feb 2012 #permalink

The headline "Deniers leak secret plan to miseducate US schoolchildren" is assinine. Just because they are pushing for children to be told BOTH sides of this exceedingly complex story in no way means the children would be being miseducated. They are however being msieducated right now since they are taught only the true believers position, not that of the thousands of scientists who got off this bandwagon a long time ago.

Heartland Institute says the main piece of evidence used by the warmists is fake. The writing style is poor. The document properties do not match other documents. If you want to say that it is not fake, then the burden of proof is on you. Climategate was admitted by the emailers to be legitimate. Heartland says that one doc is a fake.

So, has this website been created yet? Has the money been funded to Watts? Should someone release their funding before they get funding or even have started the project for which the funding was made available?

Wow! This post has turned out to be quite the crank magnet, Josh. They certainly get defensive when their propoganda strategies get exposed.

By winnebago (not verified) on 20 Feb 2012 #permalink

Two things seem to really piss AGW denialists off the first is scientists doing science and second is denialism being transparent as politically motivated propaganda. Since this is the latter expect alot of blather consisting of falsehoods, half-truths, ad hominems, tu quoque, and just about anything else avoid the issue.

"politically motivated propaganda"

robertm, you mean like IPCC/United Nations fabricated consensus? Not that it matters that "consensus" is not science. Saying you believe something is true is far different than proving it scientifically. Signing a document stating you agree with the conclusions and are a part of "consensus" is not science. It's dishonest to claim that it is science. It's also politically motivated propaganda. After all, apparently we need a "world tax" in order to deal with global warming.

Note to those confused about climate change impacts of global warming: increasing concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does not yield to uniform warming impacts. The global climate system is a complex beast that is far from fully understood, the freezing conditions in Europe perhaps being due to changes in polar wind patterns is only the most recent case in point. Positive feedback effects and tipping points are another story, and the naive and simplistic "warming is good" crowd should be careful what they wish for. Deniergate couldn't possibly have happened to a more deserving bunch of deluded and manipulative misinformers, and I hope they try to sue me too for saying so.

By Brent Hoare (not verified) on 20 Feb 2012 #permalink

Yep, tu quoque(well the IPCC did this and that), avoiding the issue(the heartland institute), and a political motivation(no world taxes by teh UNz).

AGW is accepted by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, their opinion is abased on multiple lines of evidence showing the earth is warming due human activity. An widespread agreement among experts based evidence is a pretty good indication that it is science.

Heartland had embarrassing documents released, so now climate deniers show up to spout denier tropes.

@ wiglaf:

You are correct. The "world Tax" is another rip off designed to redistribute wealth much like this global wamring ponzi scheme. If it were left up to me I would round up all of the wealthy talking heads and morons who thought up this plot and place them in a prison somewhere very hot and very brutal.

By Guardian Knigh… (not verified) on 20 Feb 2012 #permalink

and global warming/cooling alarmists AREN'T miseducating our children?

"denialism being transparent as politically motivated propaganda" unlike the truly politically motivated propaganda generated by the AGW crowd. just look at the millions of dollars of government money handed over to AGW proponents compared to what industry provides as grants to skeptics.

So much for free speech.

By Benny Vallejo (not verified) on 21 Feb 2012 #permalink

I strongly suspect that we're seeing the carbon extraction industries paid cyberturf patrol. It seems to happen whenever these issues are discussed on blogs. The corporate state is as likely to do that as the Chinese government is.

"Wu mao" is a Chinese slang term for web commenters. It literally means "50 cents" â the term is used to describe people who can be easily paid-off to support the governmentâs agenda.

actually, I consider the school board as misleading our children when they teach that climate change is settled. It is not. It is still actively under debate. Thank GOD for these efforts to debunk the propoganda of this administration. Whenever this comes up at home, my wife and I have to continually correct our children and set them straight on this subject. It's a continual battle but we are winning it.