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Gullible-gate

February 19th, 2012

There’s not a lot new to be said about the leak of documents from the Heartland Institute, revealing that the Institute was channeling funds from far-right billionaires and corporations to a large number of self-described sceptics, notably including our own Bob Carter, who’s apparently on a monthly retainer, despite his prior claims of independence. Carter is of course, linked to the IPA, which has a long history of rejecting science for cash, most notably in its decades of work (still continuing) for the tobacco industry.

A few points might be worth restating, though:

* As regards the way in which the documents came into the public domain (still unclear, but Heartland alleges they were tricked into emailing them to the wrong person), Heartland and most of their supporters have shown themselves, unsurprisingly, to be stinking hypocrites. Heartland was among the leaders in publicizing and promoting the use of misleading excerpts from private emails in what they and others called “Climategate”. Now they scream about “stolen” documents, backed up by lots of the usual suspects. There’s an amusing response, with which I agree entirely, from some of the scientists victimised by Heartland and its criminal allies in the past.

* There is no such thing as an honest climate sceptic. Those who reject mainstream science are either conscious frauds or gullible believers. I can confidently predict that of the thousands of “sceptics” who made great play of the CRU email hack, no more than a handful will change their views, either on the substantive issue or on the credibility of people like Carter and institutions like Heartland, over this. Those who aren’t, like Carter, on the payroll are credulous dupes. While many low-information “sceptics” have simply been misled by reading the wrong material on the Internet, or trusting the wrong sources, the great majority of active opponents of climate science are complicit in their own deception, preferring to believe obvious lies because it suits their cultural and political prejudices.

* It may be worth restating the absurdity of the claim that genuine scientists (unlike Carter) are motivated by money. Leaving aside the absurdity of the suggestion that the scientists make their career choice because they were after a highly-paid job, there’s the fact that mainstream climate science has the overwhelming endorsement of scientists in all fields. It’s certainly true that the global warming problem has meant more funding for climate science, but there’s only so much in the budget, and much of this money has come at the expense of other fields which are no longer given priority status.

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  1. rog
    February 20th, 2012 at 18:47 | #1

    Now Terje is equating Heartland with someone’s grandmother. No, hang on, it’s your grandmother.

    Too silly for further comment.

  2. Mel
    February 20th, 2012 at 19:40 | #2

    JQ:

    “The third part (including the AGW acronym) reads like a standard piece of delusionist rhetoric.”

    What the heck? “AGW” is a neutral term and used by all sides. I also clearly state that action on AGW is indicated and I have done so since 2006 when I first commented on this blog. To not act on AGW would be reckless and stupid.

    “False beliefs about vaccination and fluoridation aren’t part of the policy position of major leftwing parties … ”

    This claim is misleading. In Oz fluoridation of water supplies is a state issue and the state Greens parties take a variety of positions on the subject. The Victorian Greens policy for example is to leave it to local communities to decide if they want fluoridation and various country branches have indeed opposedfluoridation, for example in Ballarat and Warrnambool. Gillian Blair is a prominent anti-fluoride campaigner and convenor of the Victorian Greens Wholistic Health Working Group.

    Sadly, some Greens parties in other countries, for instance the Greens in the UK, totally oppose water fluoridation.

    Nonetheless, it is true that historically it has been the nutty right more than the nutty left that has opposed water fluoridation and vaccines.

  3. February 20th, 2012 at 20:30 | #3

    This is ‘on topic’ because Mel raised it in the context of denialism generally:

    Fluoride is one of those issues that can only go against Bligh.

    The case was never made, there was no “mandate”, consultation was non-existent, it cost at least $35M (Gov figures) to set up, like Traveston we were simply told “the deal is done” and no doubt the LNP would have done precisely the same thing. In all the circumstances, and given the real scientific debate around Fluoridation’s pros and cons, the POLITICAL handling of the issue was arrogant and undemocratic.

    Leaving aside all the reasonable arguments, as well as the outright loopy, for and against (eg: if it’s so important, why not have free fluoride drops for those who want them – along with one of those “awareness” campaigns our politicians love so much?)- the people of Qld had it imposed on them by a unicameral government operating in a mono-media State.

    As with climate denial, this type of “governance” or “leadership” does none of us any good.

  4. John Quiggin
    February 20th, 2012 at 20:48 | #4

    @Mel, I bow to your encyclopedic knowledge of Green policy, but would reassert that a couple of local branches of the Green party opposing fluoridation isn’t remotely comparable to the US Republican party opposing climate science. Similarly I wouldn’t class the English Greens (1 per cent of the vote)

    @Megan Granted that a unicameral government in a mono-media state is not very satisfactory, I don’t see that the fluoridation decision is any less democratic than other policy decisions made by the government without a prior election commitment, of which there are many examples. It’s not like privatisation where the government clearly promised not to do it, and the party had a policy to that effect. And of course, people had a chance to vote against the government in 2009, and can vote for the Australian Party now if they want to.

  5. Mel
    February 20th, 2012 at 22:01 | #5

    John:

    According to wiki, the Greens Party of England got 8.7% of the vote in the last European Parliament elections. They also have 136 local councillors and one House of Commons seat.

    The Greens Party in NZ has a similar policy to the Vic Greens, has numerous anti-fluoride nutters in the ranks and got 11% of the vote in the last NZ elections.

    I think Megan is a perfect exemplar of the new class of leftists that have doubts or even a vehement opposition to vaccines and/or fluoride. If you have not noticed this problem it is because you haven’t been looking (or hung out with enough self-described greens).

    BTW, I still consider myself a Greenie and acknowledge that many fellow Greenies are intelligent and scientifically literate folk.

  6. Dan
    February 20th, 2012 at 22:10 | #6

    Not concerns I’ve ever heard expressed by anyone regardless of political stripe, except by proxy in the context of Northern NSW and the pockets of anti-vaccination superstition there.

  7. Mel
    February 20th, 2012 at 22:35 | #7

    Dan,

    I live on an acreage just outside a town with a sizeable arts and alternative lifestyle community in central Victoria. Anti-Vac and anti-fluoride sentiments are not uncommon here.

  8. Happy Heyoka
    February 20th, 2012 at 23:09 | #8

    @Freelander

    Heartland and associated [...] Lets hope those who eventually pick up torches and pitchforks have their addresses.

    In my darker moments, I expect the pitchforks to be pointed the other way : “why didn’t you warn us earlier…”

    @wmmbb

    Interestingly if American research is a guide the public is not divided into “alarmists” and “deniers”, but spread across a six group audience segmentation..

    I just dl’ed and skimmed it, but it looks really interesting, and certainly couched in more diplomatic language than I would use :-)

    @Mel

    outside a town with a sizeable arts and alternative lifestyle community in central Victoria

    I’m guessing that would be between Bendigo and Ballarat? You may well be describing some friends of mine.

    As someone of with an unashamed concern for ecology and a math/science background, I think it’s really important when you encounter these people to get them to reconsider the depth of their commitment to the wackier ideas (eg: homeopathy)

    I suspect the mindset of anti-vaxers and AGW deniers has some similarity – people who don’t have time or horsepower enough to do the independent study should be encouraged to understand that there’s no shame in admitting not understanding and therefore holding no opinion. If the opinion they hold is demonstrably wrong, then they should be planed for it – politely if they’re friends.

  9. February 21st, 2012 at 00:23 | #9

    Mel:

    “I think Megan is a perfect exemplar of the new class of leftists…”

    “Up Yours, fascist!”

    Would that be a bit more in keeping with your projections?

    Now, got anything more than frippery to back up your assertion? If you want to trade insults we could be here for a very long time and you would end up on your arse.

  10. Mel
    February 21st, 2012 at 01:08 | #10

    Happy Heyoka:

    “I’m guessing that would be between Bendigo and Ballarat? You may well be describing some friends of mine.”

    You got it!

    “As someone of with an unashamed concern for ecology and a math/science background, I think it’s really important when you encounter these people to get them to reconsider the depth of their commitment to the wackier ideas (eg: homeopathy)”

    I’ve always found this to be a waste of time and I don’t have the patience.

    Megan:

    “Now, got anything more than frippery to back up your assertion? If you want to trade insults we could be here for a very long time and you would end up on your arse.”

    I had a squiz at your blog and amongst the dribble I found nonsense like this:

    “Premier Bligh, forced mass medication [water fluoridation] is against the Nuremberg Code and against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When did Queensland become Nazi Germany and you become Dictator Bligh?”

    Umm, Nazi? Nuremberg Code? Dictator Bligh? You sound about as sane and rational as “Lord” Monckton after a delinquent night with a bottle of cheap Absinthe and a couple of dancing ferrets.

  11. John Quiggin
    February 21st, 2012 at 06:37 | #11

    Please no flame wars between commenters. Mel, if you have a problem with Megan’s blog, take it there. Megan, you’re close to a Godwin violation.

  12. Sancho
    February 21st, 2012 at 10:00 | #12

    Oddly, the only anti-vaxer I’ve met is an opthalmic surgeon. He’s not strident about it, but he hums and haws about, you know, well, those kids DO seem get autism after their vaccinations…

  13. Dan
    February 21st, 2012 at 10:12 | #13

    And again we come back to what the expert consensus says. It’s possible that some dreadlocked homeopath in the Lismore hinterlands might be on to something, but exceedingly unlikely.

    The actual story itself is decidedly shady and, ultimately, tragic:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy

  14. Troy Prideaux
    February 21st, 2012 at 10:13 | #14

    @Sancho
    As it happens, last night my wife was telling me about this very thing happening to her colleague’s son quite recently. I have no opinion on it, and never really thought to question it until now.

  15. Troy Prideaux
    February 21st, 2012 at 10:28 | #15

    Qualification to my post: The son experienced significant speech and some behavioral issues since receiving the vaccine, but that’s not to say it is a form of autism.

  16. February 21st, 2012 at 11:13 | #16

    It’s only fair that I point out that I did NOT write the text selectively quoted above.

    As is explicitly clear at the end of that piece, it is a copy of a letter to MPs from an ‘anti-fluoride’ campaigner. Honesty in these discussions is important.

  17. Sancho
    February 21st, 2012 at 13:56 | #17

    I’m by no means an expert, Troy, but my understanding is that disorders like autism and ADD first manifest around the same age vaccinations are due.

    There’s a lot of research about the (lack of) correlation, but it’s amazing how much stories about wive’s colleague’s children can grow in the telling.

  18. Freelander
    February 21st, 2012 at 14:21 | #18

    I am by no means an expert, Sancho, but my understanding is that the disorders first manifest themselves sometime after the child’s second or third birthday party? Any correlation? Not sure. But surely an area for research when the solution could be so simple.

  19. rog
    February 21st, 2012 at 14:37 | #19

    The admission by Peter Gleick that he used deception to obtain Heartland docs has been a win for Heartland, at this point in time.

  20. Sancho
    February 21st, 2012 at 14:46 | #20

    Interesting choice for Gleick. He may be disclosing his role as a way of de-fanging any future outing of him as the source.

    Obviously, the denial industry will spend the next couple of weeks shouting about the awful dishonesty of his methods, but when that’s over the documents will still probably be genuine and they’ll have to explain why the CRU email thieves were never identified.

  21. rog
    February 21st, 2012 at 17:23 | #21

    Heartland did say that one of the docs was a fake, now they can prove it?

  22. Dan
    February 21st, 2012 at 17:48 | #22

    Isn’t it neither here nor there whether the document was original or not? Surely the more pertinent issue is whether its content is true. Heartland haven’t disputed any of that, by the by.

  23. Mel
    February 21st, 2012 at 18:02 | #23

    Freelander:

    “But surely an area for research when the solution could be so simple.”

    Would you mind elaborating?

  24. Mel
    February 21st, 2012 at 18:15 | #24

    I have no problem with an investigative journalist or a hacker making public confidential documents from the major denialist outfits but in this case we have an own goal because there is nothing interesting in the Heartland documents. Bob Carter’s pin money retainer is hardly a game changer, nor is anonymous donations given that the annual budget of Heartland is miniscule compared to the money floating around in environment organisations like Greenpeace and the mainstream science. Hopefully someone with more smarts than Gleick will produce a real smoking gun.

  25. rog
    February 21st, 2012 at 20:29 | #25

    I think it boils down to exposing the backers and having them cease funding to avoid publicity.

  26. Sancho
    February 21st, 2012 at 21:01 | #26

    I reckon there’s a bit more to it than that, Mel.

    Greenpeace, the example you used, is transparent about its funding, doesn’t accept money from “companies, governments or political parties”, and gets a large amount of its budget from public donations, which it secures by explaining its goals and asking people to support it on principle.

    I’m sure I don’t need to explain how that’s pretty much the opposite of how Heartland operates.

    The other assumption implicit in the cynicism is that people who admired the Heartland Institute previously won’t care about the leaked documents, and most of them probably won’t.

    A minority, however, may have the wool lifted from their eyes. It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which right-wing politics thrives on fear and uncertainty, and Heartland’s role is to pretend that everything’s okay with the environment, and all you need to do is vote conservative to make the scary scientists go away.

    Some of the people who take comfort in Heartland’s “product” may now be more skeptical of the think tank’s statements.

  27. Mel
    February 21st, 2012 at 22:19 | #27

    Well, no, Sancho, I think you’ll find nothing would change if Heartland shut up shop tomorrow. Conservative populists like Andrew Bolt in Oz and James Delingpole in the UK are much more important. If these types of characters came out and said “oops, I was wrong about climate change” we’d have a whole new ball game.

  28. TerjeP
    February 21st, 2012 at 22:43 | #28

    In his admission Gleick says:-

    I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

    I’m not sure why it is a sin to be well funded and coordinate but there you go. Of more amusement is the suggestion that we desperately need a debate.

  29. February 22nd, 2012 at 00:33 | #29

    Terje:

    The suggestion in the quote is not, as you put it: “that we desperately need a debate”.

    It is that a “rational public debate is desperately needed”.

    Two entirely different things.

    Mel:

    The key difference in this is Heartland’s dishonest misrepresentation of what others have written (you did see, in your research, that I didn’t write the material you attempted to attribute to me didn’t you? If not, you are sloppy. If so, you are dishonest).

    Their role in the spurious “climategate” email charade contrasts poorly with their, now revealed, program of deception and ‘trolling’ on a range of topics, most interestingly climate change.

    To spell it out: They accuse others of lying about climate change. They lie about climate change.

  30. rog
    February 22nd, 2012 at 06:52 | #30

    Terje omits “rational” from the debate but there you go.

  31. Dan
    February 22nd, 2012 at 08:33 | #31

    @Mel

    Heartland and its ilk, by astroturfing a controversy in the scientific community, provide intellectual cover to people like Bolt (and people who like Bolt).

    That intellectual cover disappears, they lose a whole lot of legitimacy and find it harder to make their case.

  32. Troy Prideaux
    February 22nd, 2012 at 09:03 | #32

    @Dan
    I’m not quite so confident they would. Bolt always resorts back to the Barnaby Joyce argument about the trivial influence Australia has on Global emissions and that appears to resonate well with his viewers whether it’s correct or not. Let’s also not underestimate where the real power is – Murdoch! Rupert and his even more right wing son Lachlan.

  33. TerjeP
    February 22nd, 2012 at 11:08 | #33

    rog :
    Terje omits “rational” from the debate but there you go.

    Sure let’s be rational. Let’s go around saying it may never rain again and the sky is falling. Let’s put people on the public payroll to say this sort of “rational” stuff. Let’s doll out taxpayer cash to “brilliant” green ventures that pay penance for our guilt. Well this nonsense is “rational” to some people.

    Maybe the time for debate is over. Maybe it is time to simply stand back and let the public backlash against leftist wet dreams simply run it’s course. After all why let reason get in the way of a worthy cause? The left seems untroubled by reason or restraint.

  34. Dan
    February 22nd, 2012 at 11:11 | #34

    Hey Terje, did you ever apologise or ‘fess up when you got taken to the cleaners by JQ last time you talked climate change here? As I remember you just went quiet. If I’m wrong, can you please post a link?

  35. Sancho
    February 22nd, 2012 at 11:35 | #35

    Out of curiosity, Terje, do you believe the arguments against climate change are fundamentally different from the arguments against evolution, the tobacco-cancer link and against the HIV-AIDS connection?

  36. David Irving (no relation)
    February 22nd, 2012 at 11:56 | #36

    Terje’s a glibertarian. Expecting rational argument from him is misguided.

  37. Tom
    February 22nd, 2012 at 12:23 | #37

    @TerjeP

    I believe that you might have confused yourself over the people’s attitude towards climate change.

    First, climate change science is not created by the left but by the scientist society so by saying that the left should back away from debating about whether if climate change is real or it’s left’s wet dream does not make sense. The debate was supposed to be between the climate change scientists and the deniers (which holds no political interest in the beginning just pure scientific argument); also it is absurd to say that all climate change scientist are leftist (maybe not even half of them are before the evidence were gathered and the debate started). The scientist had supported the left’s view most likely because the left supports to act on climate change but not because the scientists are leftists to begin with. If that is the case why it is left’s wet dream?

    Secondly, the debate between climate change between the left and the right has changed over time. The arguments at first was how should people act on it based on scientific evidence, now it has become whether if it exist. Which the left happens to support to act on it before it’s too late and the right happens to deny it. The claims by the right recently has been completely non-sense such as “climate change is a leftist conspiracy” when the left has nothing to do with the research and establishment of the climate change science itself in the first place.

    I don’t know if you understand me or not, but I hope you can think about this.

  38. Sancho
    February 22nd, 2012 at 12:40 | #38

    It’s not the argument I’m interested in so much as the apparent inability to recognise that climate change “skepticism” is a version of Intelligent Design, driven mostly by the same people and institutions who argued to the end that smoking is unrelated to lung cancer.

    PFAW has an excellent account of the way climate “skeptic” organisations are specifically recruiting creationists by appealing to their suspicion of evolutionary science:

    http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the-green-dragon-slayers-how-the-religious-right-and-the-corporate-right-are-joining-fo

    Here’s some wisdom from E. Calvin Beisner, member of the sensibly skeptical Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, speaking at a conference alongside Chris Monckton:

    “Raising the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration…is not going to cause catastrophic global warming.”

    “Our God is a more intelligent designer than to make a system so fragile, and a better judge to call such a system ‘very good’ after he made it,”.

  39. Dan
    February 22nd, 2012 at 12:52 | #39

    @Sancho

    The conservative in me thinks that if something is ‘very good’ you’d go to some lengths not to dick with it.

  40. Sancho
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:02 | #40

    And that’s the approach some religious groups take, Dan. They regard themselves as stewards of the planet rather than exploiters.

    The evangelical view is tied up in the idea that when the earth is wrecked Jesus will have to come back to rescue the faithful. They actually want an environmental apocalypse, so it’s no surprise that groups like the Heartland Institute tailor their message to suit fundamentalist audiences.

  41. Dan
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:06 | #41

    Ah – ‘redemptive reactionaries’ in Mark Lilla’s taxonomy.

    ‘Morons’ in mine.

  42. Troy Prideaux
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:08 | #42

    “Our God is a more intelligent designer than to make a system so fragile, and a better judge to call such a system ‘very good’ after he made it,”

    Wonder what they say about the God of Venus then?

  43. Sancho
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:16 | #43

    Dan :
    Ah – ‘redemptive reactionaries’ in Mark Lilla’s taxonomy.

    …”accept that the revolution occurred and can’t be undone, and so they want to trigger a second, counterrevolution, with the hopes of undoing the first set of changes, in a sort of political hard reset.”

    Exactly. Interestingly, libertarianism – or the the form of right-wing extremism that calls itself that – is the new communism, in that its believers appear to want to destroy everything achieved since the Enlightenment and start over again, with Ayn Rand replacing ancient philosophers for guidance.

  44. Tim Macknay
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:29 | #44

    Interestingly, libertarianism – or the the form of right-wing extremism that calls itself that – is the new communism, in that its believers appear to want to destroy everything achieved since the Enlightenment and start over again, with Ayn Rand replacing ancient philosophers for guidance.

    I’ve always found ‘libertarians’, with their doctrinaire utopianism, their one-fit solution for all problems, and their ability to insist that reality confirms to their beliefs in the face of the obvious, to be more reminiscient of a student Trotskyist group than any other political tendency. It’s almost like libertarians and Trotskyists are mirror images of each other.

  45. rog
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:35 | #45

    Is this the same intelligent designer that allows war to be waged?

  46. Mel
    February 22nd, 2012 at 13:44 | #46

    Terje sounds as unhinged and hysterical as an anti-fluoride nutter. Why not just stick with the science?

  47. Sancho
    February 22nd, 2012 at 16:11 | #47

    The same reason conservatives didn’t stick with the science on geocentrism, germ theory or evolution: it undermines the aristocratic hierarchy that authoritarians depend on to feel safe and interpret their place in the world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarian_personality

  48. February 23rd, 2012 at 00:19 | #48

    I don’t want to derail this thread any further, but feel compelled to point out that Mel’s description of the Vic Greens position on fluoride is out of date. About two years ago that clause was removed from our policies, over the anguished screams of about five anti-fluridationists (some of whom promptly left the party). To do so required a 75% vote of state council, and from memory it passed fairly comfortably. No explicitly pro-flouride policy was inserted to replace it, but had anyone proposed one I think it would have passed.

    I have met a couple of anti-vaccinators in the party, but the fact is they’re a tiny minority. Cranks can get control of small branches, but I there’s no support on these issues from the party’s MPs. Rather different from the Republicans or Liberals on AGW.

  49. Chris O’Neill
    February 23rd, 2012 at 02:39 | #49

    @TerjeP

    I’m not sure why it is a sin to be well funded and coordinate

    A bit like saying, I’m not sure why it is a sin for crime to be well funded and coordinated.

  50. Sancho
    February 27th, 2012 at 11:38 | #50

    Just following up with a vid of Potholer skewering the anti-vaccination myth:

    http://polo-jasso.deviantart.com/gallery/

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