Scientists Reply to Heartland Institute Scandal

Posted on February 18, 2012

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Documents recently released from the Heartland Institute reveal a cynical plan to teach climate disinformation to children, show a pattern of pay-offs to prominent climate deniers (some of whom I have written about in previous posts) and the organization’s efforts to malign climate scientists and keep real science and opinions they don’t like out of magazines like Forbes.  The following is a letter published in the Guardian newspaper from some scientists who have been victims of some of the Heartland Institute’s dirty work in the past.

An Open Letter to the Heartland Institute

As scientists who have had their emails stolen, posted online and grossly misrepresented, we can appreciate the difficulties the Heartland Institute is currently experiencing following the online posting of the organization’s internal documents earlier this week. However, we are greatly disappointed by their content, which indicates the organization is continuing its campaign to discredit mainstream climate science and to undermine the teaching of well-established climate science in the classroom.

Right-wing lobby group budgeted major anti-science climate disinformation campaign aimed at school children

We know what it feels like to have private information stolen and posted online via illegal hacking. It happened to climate researchers in 2009 and again in 2011. Personal emails were culled through and taken out of context before they were posted online. In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said.  Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails. When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.

So although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilizing and distorting emails stolen from scientists.

We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to “think about what has happened” and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.

These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become. Major scientific assessments from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United States Global Change Research Program and other authoritative sources agree on these points.

What businesses, policymakers, advocacy groups and citizens choose to do in response to those facts should be informed by the science. But those decisions are also necessarily informed by economic, ethical, ideological, and other considerations.  While the Heartland Institute is entitled to its views on policy, we object to its practice of spreading misinformation about climate research and personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.

We hope the Heartland Institute will begin to play a more constructive role in the policy debate.  Refraining from misleading attacks on climate science and climate researchers would be a welcome first step toward having an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change.

[signed]

Ray Bradley, PhD, Director of the Climate System Research Center, University of Massachusetts

David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

Michael Mann, PhD, Director,Earth System Science Center,PennsylvaniaState University

Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

Ben Santer, PhD, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Gavin Schmidt, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Kevin Trenberth, ScD, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research