Dealing in Doubt

Part 2: Denier Tricks and Tactics

Page - September 10, 2013
Dealing in Doubt --> Part 2: Denier Tricks and Tactics --> CASE STUDY: The Heartland Institute: a clearing house of climate denial campaign tactics




It is important to distinguish clearly between those scientists who have challenged the theories of global warming in good faith, seeking to put forward other possible explanations for our changing climate, and the efforts of the denier campaign to undermine the credibility of the scientific establishment.

Arguments about sunspots, the earth’s rotation about the sun, the accuracy of temperature measurements, the likely severity of global warming and other theories have all played out over the last 20 years through the scientific literature. The IPCC’s conclusions reflect the fact that the only remaining theory, supported by the evidence, is that global warming is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases, and that human activity is therefore responsible.

The IPCC consensus is now upwards of 95 percent certainty on this point, enough to convince the National Academies of Science across the world, all major scientific institutions and even the US military.

In contrast, a handful of scientists supported by the denial machine have sought to muddy the waters of the political debate through interventions in the academic literature. The denier campaign has consistently sought to present its publications and claims in the style of genuine science, tactics modeled after Big Tobacco.

This effort again is aimed at delaying action. Uncertainty and “doubt”, especially in the media and minds of non-expert policymakers, is the objective.

Part 2 of this report documents instances of this, and we focus on the tricks pulled by one think tank, The Heartland Institute, as an example of the kinds of tactics used.

We look at examples of scientists who have come under sustained personal attack for nothing more than reporting their results, and the new campaign tactics that have sprung up since “Climategate” to intimidate leading scientists and discredit their work.

We also look at the effect of these campaigns, especially on the political system in the US, with the rise of the Tea Party. 

The Heartland Institute: a clearing house of climate denial campaign tactics 

If we were to focus on one think tank that has been a leader in the campaign against climate science in recent years, deploying the variety of tricks most other think tanks and individuals also use in climate denial campaigns, it would be the Heartland Institute.

The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based “free market” think tank and 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has become a hub for the network of individuals and organizations denying the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. 

The Heartland Institute has received:

  • at least $676,500 from ExxonMobil since 1998, (but was dropped by Exxon in 2007)
  • $14,498,497 from the combination of the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund 2002-2011, including very large grants over the past five years. 

In the 1990s, the Heartland Institute worked with tobacco giant Philip Morris to question the science linking second-hand smoke to health risks, and lobbied against government public health reforms around tobacco. Philip Morris executive Roy Marden was on Heartland’s board, it funded the think tank, and CEO Joseph Bast had been a long-time campaigner on the issue.

Bast set out his views on climate change in 2003, in a list of “eight reasons why global warming is a scam,” including statements like

"Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth's climate"


"The IPCC did not prove that human activities are causing global warming," 

before moving on to say that

"Efforts to quickly reduce human greenhouse gas emissions would be costly and would not stop Earth's climate from changing."

Heartland continues to maintain a "Smoker's Lounge" section of their website which brings together their policy studies, Op-Eds, essays, and other documents that purport to "[cut] through the propaganda and exaggeration of anti-smoking groups." 


In February 2012 a series of internal Heartland Institute documents came to light that exposed Heartland’s inner workings.

These documents make it clear how Heartland funding increased rapidly as it became a hub organization of the climate denial machine. Heartland was heavily funded by an “anonymous donor,” later found to be Barre Seid.

The documents also revealed:

  • Heartland was planning a roll-out of climate denial education tools for schools across the US
  • a fundraising strategy that discussed plans to appeal to the Koch brothers for funding, as well as a major “anonymous donor” funding their campaigns [the Kochs later rejected this – they weren’t funding Heartland for climate denial, but to attack Obama’s health care plans]
  • Heartland was paying climate denier scientists across the world to work on its “NIPCC”
  • Heartland was also funding one of the most vocal denial blogs:’s Anthony Watts for his work on temperature records. 

Heartland did its best to deflect the leaked documents by cooking up a “fakegate” scandal around the leaker, scientist Peter Gleick, who had been in a contentious ‘discussion’ with staff at Heartland and then duped them into emailing him their documents which he forwarded to bloggers. While Heartland tried to argue that one of the documents was forged, experts disagreed.  Many of the facts present in the contested document are replicated in other internal Heartland documents. 


Following on from the leak debacle, and in an effort to claim back some credibility, Heartland decided it would host another of the eight “scientific” conferences it has held since 2008 with the “anonymous donor’s” money, the International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC). It was to be the eighth and final of these conferences and CEO Joseph Bast would, by the end of it, announce that he would hold no more, after the furore caused by his advertising campaign.

As part of the build-up to the conference, Heartland ran the first of what was to be a series of digital billboards that was to repel many of its corporate funders. Over a tagline of I believe in global warming, do you?” the billboard featured a photo of Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” a recluse who had waged a 17-year mail bombing campaign across the US.

Heartland’s press release revealed its next billboards would feature Charles Manson and Fidel Castro and Bin Laden. Bast initially pumped up and tried to defend the billboards, but was later to drop them and claim they were an experiment.   

Bast never apologized. In the wake of the backlash around the billboard, Heartland’s backers dropped their funding in droves, causing the closure and spinoff of an entire program, Heartland’s Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate in Washington.

The funders continued to drop out all year, culminating in pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in December, 2012, also walking away from Heartland. In total, Heartland didn’t receive at least $1.3 million of its prospective funding from corporations in 2013. 


March 2008 was the first of Heartland’s “scientific” conferences, held in a Times Square hotel in New York for effect. They were offering $1000 to anyone who wanted to speak at it.

The climate scientists at RealClimate, some of whom were invited, posted a blog entitled “What if you held a conference and no (real) scientists came?”

“Normal scientific conferences have the goal of discussing ideas and data in order to advance scientific understanding. Not this one. The organizers are surprisingly open about this in their invitation letter to prospective speakers, which states:

“The purpose of the conference is to generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective.”

RealClimate concluded: “So this conference is not aimed at understanding, it is a PR event aimed at generating media reports.”

The conference was attended by hundreds of people but, as Andrew Revkin noted in the New York Times: “The meeting was largely framed around science, but after the luncheon, when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so.”

The Times also pointed out that the keynote denier scientist participants were out of synch,

“One challenge they faced was that even within their own ranks, the group — among them government and university scientists, antiregulatory campaigners and Congressional staff members — displayed a dizzying range of ideas on what was, or was not, influencing climate.” 

ABC news’s coverage of the event included an interview with career climate denier Fred Singer, who admitted during the interview that he had once received an unsolicited grant from ExxonMobil for $10,000. The story created a storm of rage from the denier blogosphere, with Heartland and the other sponsors of the conference putting enormous pressure on the broadcaster who refused to retract the story.

Heartland has now held eight conferences, in New York (1,2), Washington (3,6), Chicago (4,7), Sydney (5) and Munich(8) and dubbed ‘Denial-Palooza’ by Greenpeace.  None of the speakers have come out with any conclusion other than the premise of the conference they set out to “prove” – that “global warming isn’t a crisis/isn’t happening.” Heartland was found to have been funding related groups in New Zealand, Canada and likely Australia.

The NIPCC – or “Climate Change Reconsidered” – or “Not the IPCC”

The “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” was a project begun in 2003 ahead of the AR4 by S Fred Singer and his organization, the Science and Environment Policy Project.  The Heartland Institute jumped in soon after, and published the first iteration of this report, to very little media response, in Paris in April 2008, followed by a full version released at one of its conferences, in New York 2009.

Skeptical science points out all the ways the NIPCC is different from the IPCC:

  • Its purpose is not to give clarity on climate science, as the IPCC does, but to critique the IPCC, according to the Heartland leaked documents
  • The scientists working for the NIPCC get paid; the IPCC scientists don’t
  • The NIPCC report only critiques papers published by deniers, whereas the IPCC critiques all papers, including those published by deniers. 

One document in the Heartland leaks outlined the list of deniers being paid for their work on the NIPCC. They included Craig Idso, Fred Singer, Bob Carter, Willie Soon, Robert Balling and Joe D’Aleo.


In June 2013, Heartland announced it was to launch the new NIPCC in China, and, to great fanfare, that the report had been “published” by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Science. Except it hadn’t. The CAS pointed this out very clearly in a series of press statements.

President Joe Bast was quoted in a Heartland release as saying “This is a historic moment in the global debate about global warming.” Except it wasn’t. Heartland quickly took the statements down off its website and walked back from its original statements, but not before some bloggers had saved the text. DeSmogBlog has the full story.  

NIPCC “lead author” Craig Idso, Bob Carter and S Fred Singer went to China with Bast for an event, which gained little traction in China.

Heartland is now expected to launch its next iteration of the NIPCC in September 2013, ahead of the release of the IPCC’s AR5 report.


Also revealed in the 2012 leaks of internal Heartland Institute documents was a fundraising document outlining a strategy to get climate denial taught in the US K-12 classroom curricula. The person they wanted to pay $100,000 to do this was US Department of Energy (DOE) official David Wojick, a long-time climate denier who runs the listserve and used to work with the Greening Earth Society. 

The Heartland fundraising plan spelt out how:

Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective.”

The plan went on to say:

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

Heartland’s documents list David Wojick’s credentials: “a Ph.D in the philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh, and a B.S. in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech.” Wojick’s does not carry any degrees in the natural sciences nor has he published any peer-reviewed research in the field of climate science, according to DeSmogBlog.

More on David Wojick’s climate denial work for Heartland can be found in the Washington Post.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes U.S. state laws mandating climate denial in schools:

The Heartland Institute’s work to make U.S. students doubt the scientific evidence of global warming has been ongoing for over a decade. In addition to mailing books and promotional material that dismiss climate change to teachers across the United States, Heartland has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to pass state laws that create additional barriers for teachers wishing to give their students an accurate overview of climate change.

ALEC’s model state bill, the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act,” requires a false “balance” in deciding which textbooks and other materials can be used to teach students about climate change. The bill forces materials to be vetted by a “Council” of people who, most notably, are not allowed to have any credentials in “environmental science.” See DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch for more on the creation of ALEC’s bill.

Between ALEC and the Discovery Institute (which also promotes laws to deny evolution and include creationism in school curricula), at least 12 U.S. states have seen legislative attempts to weaken the scientific rigor of climate change education.

At least four states passed laws weakening teachers’ ability to accurately present climate change science to their students (Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota, Louisiana). 

One key denier links Heartland and ALEC: Sandy Liddy Bourne, the daughter of convicted Watergate co-conspirator, G. Gordon Liddy. Alexandra "Sandy" Liddy Bourne ran a now-defunct oil industry front group called the American Energy Freedom Center with former ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol. Bourne was a Heartland senior fellow for environmental issues and formerly Heartland's vice president for policy and strategy. Prior to joining the Heartland Institute, Sandy Liddy Bourne was ALEC's Director of the Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Task Force for the from 1999-2004, before being promoted to Director of Legislation and Policy, where she oversaw all of ALEC's task forces and helped boost state enactment of ALEC's corporate bills from 11 percent to 20 percent of 50 states. In Bourne's time directing ALEC's environmental task force, the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" was created and approved by ALEC's board in June, 2000. 

ALEC Funding:

ALEC has been around for 40 years, and claims that two thirds of all US state level political representatives are members, both Republican and Democrates. But it’s not the politicians who fund ALEC, it’s the corporations.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, which runs the website ALEC Exposed, Almost 98% of ALEC's cash  is from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, trade associations, and foundations.” Major foundations supporting ALEC include the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust and the Castle Rock Foundation.

ALEC’s due-paying member companies involved in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force include major oil, gas, coal, nuclear and chemical interests such as Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Peabody Energy, the Edison Electric Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, CropLife America, Dow Agrosciences, and the American Chemistry Council.

The State Policy Network: an Umbrella of Climate Change Denial 

ALEC and the Heartland Institute are officially affiliated through an umbrella network of corporate-funded U.S. front groups known as the State Policy Network, or SPN. SPN helps coordinate political issue campaigns and fundraising outreach between large companies and corporate foundations, SPN’s 59 state-based members (like ALEC and Heartland), and its national affiliates, like the Koch Industries-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. At least 34 Koch-funded SPN members and affiliates are involved in the multifaceted campaigns to create public doubt over climate change in the USA. From 2002-2010, SPN was the eighth-highest recipient from Donors. 

More information on the State Policy Network: