Ignorance is the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. In many ways it should be the main one, seeing as it is ignorance that is the root cause of so much of the evils assigned to the better-known four. I am not of course talking about people who are uninformed, I mean instead the sort of willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism that is unfortunately so common. It is the people with the resources to learn but who decide to remain rooted in myth and ideology, the ones who refuse to alter their positions or even admit complexity when confronted with logic, reason and evidence who are the true ignorants. These people are terrible and unfortunately often put in positions of influence. This brief lament of willful ignorance is a wonderful set up for a post about the Heartland “Institute.”
The continued existence of the Heartland Institute is one of those sad facts that gives me little hope for the future of humanity. Their idiocy and ignorance is epic, and they have historically taken whatever ill-informed position they feel will either fatten their bank accounts or reinforce their blind ideology the most. Their economic positions are dumb, but even this ass-hattery pales in comparison to the outright buffoonery and comically ignorant positions on science and the environment. The science team at the “Institute” would have a hard time passing a high school science class, and often puts out statements and opinion pieces that make The Onion seem reliable. Anyone who has followed the politics of different environmental and scientific debates has undoubtably, and unfortunately, come across this group, their stupidity is the unavoidable background blabber of public discourse, but sometimes they out-do even themselves.
Enter the Heartland Institute’s recent Climate Change direct mail campaign. I only saw this because they decided to send a stool sample (mailer) to a faculty member of the Earth Science department where I work, and s/he left this turd in the mailroom recycling bin. Maybe this shows their conviction, but for people like me who have a hard time envisioning anyone actually buys their propaganda, including the idiots producing it, I have to wonder. Anyways, this entire flier was so full of dumbassery, I decided I should share.
Before I start, I’d like to remind us that not accepting the reality of anthropogenic climate change requires one to be either ignorant or untruthful, neither of which are desirable traits in people wanting to lead or make policy. Those are the only two options. You can be skeptical, but skepticism is still rooted in evidence and logic, and those are both firmly on the side of the scientific consensus position, as has been demonstrated time and time again. Climate “skeptics” are actually science deniers, people who hold on to a provably wrong position despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and in my mind are grouped with the anti-vaccine crowd and the people who think the moon landing was faked. Their complaints are so predictable that you can debunk them with a twitter-bot. I won’t link to all of the science here, but if you are interested please try my primers on teaching climate science here here and here.
So let’s take a look at this fecal masterpiece.
The cover art attempts to hypnotize the unsuspecting recipient and disconnect their brain from all centers of reason. This allows for them to paste random untruths, exaggerations, and lies, and make them sound true and scary, when in all likelihood they were divined via Ouija board or by summoning the ghosts of Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan and asking them to make up more shit.
Here we get our first glimpse of some of Fartland’s strategy (I know it is a sophomoric joke but it fits and helps illustrate the reality of the smelly mess Heartland emits). On this page they try to set themselves up as an authority on climate science. They start by advertising their “conferences” which appear to be held yearly-ish. For those of you who attend scientific conferences, this format might be a tad bit odd. For example, they don’t appear to have many scientists presenting new data, the hallmark of actual scientific conferences. They have featured a science-denying Austrian rapper, you know, to reach out to the millennials, and to be fair it only costs $129 to attend, but calling this a conference is a bit of a stretch. From what I’ve been able to watch (it takes a strong stomach), it is the same string of oddly selective data and out of context graphs, figures with no axis labels, weird anecdotes, and obvious misunderstandings that plague all denier websites. No new science, no serious discussion, just poop. Not a conference, but a pep rally for ignorance.
I can actually understand why some people buy this. Science can be confusing enough and nit-picky enough that if you are truly on the fence you assume that these people are actually experts, or at least not liars. Not everyone is lucky like me to have been able to spend their life in science.
The “research” they advertise focuses on Fartland publications that are meant to look as much as possible like the IPCC reports. This Nongovernmental International Panel has been easily debunked many times, mainly because it is full of crap and fantasy. In addition though, I have to wonder if Fartland is even trying anymore? The claims they make in this book are the same dumb points they make that anyone with a passing knowledge of physical science can easily refute. CO2 is good for plants, science is never settled, blah blah blah. All distortions, misconceptions, or pure horse dookie. And for the love of God, everything they claim has been debunked SO MANY TIMES ALREADY.
For a group that complains about alarmists they sure aren’t shy of the scare tactics. Oh, and I think the boxer is a reminder that the Institute’s positions only makes sense to people with severe brain damage. The “What You Should Know” is a list of things that are just wrong and again, easily refuted. Interestingly you see here their strategy of “climate change isn’t real but if it is it’s good for us.” Also two things that aren’t correct.
So the main spread of the mailer is this centerfold of “experts” who disagree with the scientific consensus. Although even 40 or 50 people would be nothing compared to 97% of all climate scientists and every major scientific society that agrees with the central findings of the IPCC, as well as all published science in peer-reviewed journals, it is important to note that very few of these people featured in this spread are actually scientists, even fewer of them climate scientists. There is Chief Doofus Fred Singer of course, who is famous for being on the wrong side of every scientific debate he has ever waded in to, including his continued assertion that secondhand smoke isn’t unhealthy (go ahead parents, close those windows and light up!) He is the Nick Cage of the anti-science crowd, pay him enough and he’ll show up to anything (seriously, the Left Behind movie?). Apparently at one point in his life he was some sort of physicist, but he has demonstrated repeatedly his basic ignorance of other scientific fields in which he was never trained. Most of the people listed here would be better defined as “self proclaimed experts,” based on their lack of training and background.
You also see a lot of “Ph.D’s” on the list. Although Ph.D’s are hard to get, I don’t think a Ph.D. in immunology prepares you to handle climate science, just like I shouldn’t be designing vaccines. There are also a lot of economists and pundits, which don’t really count as science experts. I started going down the rabbit hole of googling some of these people, found some links about defending young-earth creationism and some other gems, but honestly that isn’t the point. The main point is that if you have valid scientific arguments then make them in peer-reviewed journals. If you articles aren’t being accepted, then put them out yourself and defend the science. Stop knit-picking, stop misleading, just present your fricking science. Not in a debate (we see how well presidential debates allow for actual discussion), but in a well-reasoned and defendable scientific paper. The literature Fartland does produce is so easily refuted that the only reasonable conclusion is that they have no valid scientific arguments. Likewise the talks I’ve suffered through on YouTube from their conferences are the same old predictable and incorrect junk, anecdotes, figures out of context, misleading statements, and exaggerations.
What these “experts” do seem to have in common though is an association with anti-government free-enterprise groups. Not my cup of tea, but of course your political or economic philosophies should have no bearing on whether or not you accept realities. There is no libertarian position on gravity, for example, or socialist version of relativity. This reminds me of a central point made by Naomi Oreskes in her fantastic book Merchants of Doubt, namely that many deniers refuse to accept the obvious science because they fear that the only solutions would require government actions, and that goes against their belief that the free market fixes everything. I don’t know if the only solutions come from the government, but the consistent alignment of science deniers with free market worshippers is undeniable.
The back of the poophlet (poop pamphlet, a wonderful term I just coined) is one of the best misleading graphics of all. The column on the left are all things that don’t matter or just aren’t true, nothing new for Fartland. The graphic on the right though implies that Al Gore and Barack Obama have something to do with climate science. Of course they don’t, they happen to be reasonably intelligent people who know that when decades of research and 97% of a scientific community comes to a conclusion, that it is reasonable to take action. Willie Soon and Robert Carter might be scientists, but they certainly don’t represent the scientific community (in the same way Fred Singer didn’t represent the scientific community when he claimed that the evidence for cigarettes being harmful wasn’t conclusive). Carter in fact has a history of making obviously wrong and misleading statements about climate change and CO2, including the old denier standbys “it’s cooling” and “CO2 is plant food” (see a list here). Soon has had a few ventures into climate science publishing but has not managed to make any claims that actually stick, and has not successfully rebutted the critiques of his published work. He has received a great deal of funding from the Koch brothers, petroleum and coal interests, which in itself proves nothing, but combine that with his lack of defendable science, and well you can see why he is in the tiny minority amongst climate scientists. Regardless, a proper graphic would show Soon, Carter, and one other denier amongst a field of 97 climate scientists with strong publication records.
Incidentally, I teach the “Al Gore” test. If you are ever debating climate change and someone brings up “Al Gore” they are admitting that they don’t know anything about science, and are instead letting their dislike for a politician guide their decision making process. It makes as much sense as telling kids to do drugs because you disliked Nancy Reagan. If you watch the Fartland conference talks or listen to deniers more generally and take a drink every time someone mentions “Al Gore” you will be drunk quickly enough to avoid the pain of watching the rest of the talks. So perhaps that is a good thing?
In summary, I feel bad for the tree that had to die to make this flier, it deserved better, and would have been covered in less poop had it been turned into toilet paper. I think I can answer the question posed in the title of this post by substituting in “and/or.”