The Heartland Institute Crankfest

There is no way I could let the Heartland Institute’s Global Warming conference go by without comment, especially since it’s so beautifully conformed to my expectations of what a gathering of cranks would be like. I think DeSmogBlog’s coverage has been the best.

But back to my expectations, we have experts of dubious quality speaking to a group of people that clearly have no ability to judge sources (from the WSJ ):

Given that line-up, and the Heartland Institute’s stated mission–“to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”–two of the presentations seem a bit jarring: They’re given by Vladmir Putin’s science advisor and Mr. Putin’s former chief economic advisor.

We have the complete disregard for synthesis – that is, real scientists don’t get together and celebrate their complete inability to create a cohesive picture of the data (from the NYT article

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.

This is a feature of cranks we discussed in our Unified Theory of the Crank almost a year ago. There is no interest in creating an explanatory theory or framework to incorporate the data into a useful picture, just a desire to crap on that which they don’t want to hear.

It explains the tendency of cranks not to care if other cranks (and denialists in general for that matter) have variations on their own crazy ideas, just as long as the other cranks are opposing the same perceived incorrect truth. Cranks and denialists aren’t honest brokers in a debate, they stand outside of it and just shovel horse manure into it to try to sow confusion and doubt about real science. They don’t care if some other crank or denialist comes along and challenges the prevailing theory by tossing cow manure, as long as what they’re shoveling stinks.

And consistent with the HOWTO their struggle comes with a built-in sense of persecution:

such events were designed to foster the impression of “little Davids battling the Goliath of the environmental establishment.”

It’s too bad the author of the article didn’t know that the standard comparison is to the fight between Galileo and the Catholic Church.

In perusing the various discussions of the conference I have to admit that this time Nisbet does have a point. I disagree with him that the crankfest will really amount to much, but I do agree with him that the real problem here isn’t scientific but personal. Global warming crankery, more than anything, isn’t a generalized dismissal of science but an extreme dislike for the people identified with the science. Consistently through these arguments you see this streak of defiance, that no one should be able to tell anyone else how to live. If they want to spend their free time disposing their used motor oil by pouring it onto a pile of burning tires, that’s their business, and Al Gore can go screw himself.

The main targets at the meeting were former Vice President Al Gore, who has portrayed global warming as a “planetary emergency,” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change…

That’s a much harder problem to face. I can’t make Al Gore more likable to the psycho libertarian wing of the country, and since he, for better or ill, is intimately attached to the science we might just have to call it a wash. After all, there is no actual knowledge of the science associated with such dismissals. The popular dissent over global warming doesn’t come from people pouring through scientific journals and thorough reading of material that’s challenging even for specialists in the field. It’s about personality.

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.

Know what I mean? Global warming isn’t being rejected because the science isn’t sound. It’s critics don’t tend to be scientists, and the ones that are, well, let’s just say they could have fooled me. The issue is the effective framing of the scientists and supporters of global warming as snooty liberals who want to tell you what to do and the media who want to scare you (they do have a point there). What is surprising is that how ineffective environmental groups have been at fighting this impression.

For one, there has not been a consistent attack on bad news reporting on climate. Things like the list of things caused by global warming are illustrative. While the author John Brignell is a crank who brings up the same old canards like how it used to be global cooling etc., there is a point to be made here. Media coverage of climate is poor, and there will always be some crummy news organization who will try to turn the smallest piece of scientific minutia into a scare story. Is this the fault of the scientists? No. Maybe their university press offices could stand a good spanking but it doesn’t tend to be the direct intention of the typical scientist to try to create a scare-a-minute for news ratings. Is this something that contributes to the formation of cranks on this issue? Sure!

People hate being told to be afraid all the time and will lash out at what they perceive to be the source of this kind of crap information. It’s been shown again and again, doom and gloom doesn’t work, it just generates resentment and apathy. And we shouldn’t be surprised that this is the result. After all, we’ve seen fear used to control people politically so much, should we be surprised when people interpret fearmongering stories about global warming to be any different?

We need to communicate a need to correct these problems without allowing the media to turn every new finding into a scare-story which is their natural tendency. To some degree our hands are tied, it is difficult to communicate scientific issues to a large number of people without using the media, and it’s like trying to hold the tiger by the tail – you can’t predict where they’ll go with the information science generates.

The second issue is changing this from being about Al Gore. As absurd as the personal attacks and conspiracy theories about AGW existing only to enrich Al Gore are, it’s still a problem as long as people are receptive to such nonsense. Al Gore did a great job communicating the problems we face environmentally to those receptive to such a message but that is where it ends. If we care about convincing the remainder of Americans, or at least diminishing crankery on this topic, we also have to make the people who despise Al Gore care, and that is where Nisbet’s framing can be helpful.

For one, we must continually point out that being stubborn about using fossil fuels doesn’t make you a rebel but rather OPEC’s bitch. By letting the cranks frame this around Al Gore we’ve missed out on a lot of ways to make this matter to a larger group of people. For one, we could do a better job pointing out that all that money we spend on oil goes to the repressive governments we like least in the world. There’s a good reason Putin’s underlings showed up at this event. Oil money is what props up his regime. Same for Ahmadinejad. Same for the genocidal thugs in Sudan. I think the best frame is “Save the environment, stop sending your money to these assholes”.


  1. Brendan Speer

    I think one very key component of Global Warming Denialism is the money involved.

    Large Businessmen know they can squeeze out that extra .5% profit (if that) from their factories / businesses without stricter government regulations surrounding environmental care.

    I think this is a very large portion of this movement. I think that these guys spread enough money around that denialism becomes profitable.

  2. Front and center, UVAs’ own, Pat Michaels and Fred Singer. Is Mr. Hoofnagel going around with a bag over his head these days?

  3. Interrobang

    I think an even better frame might be “Stop sending your money to these assholes (and save the environment too),” with the last part optional. I think if one put it that way, for some audiences, one might be able to pull in some of the folks who genuinely really don’t care about the environment qua the environment (because only hippie commie pinko libruls care about the environment) but do care that asshole tinpot dictators halfway around the world have them by the short and curlies (as we’d say in the pungent idiom of my misspent yout’).

    Of course, how one frames it should be entirely contingent on one’s audience at the time. I think that’s something a lot of science communicators don’t get — that the way one delivers one’s message needs to change depending on to whom one is speaking. Some of them seem very hard-headed about this aspect. They’d no more consider giving a graduate-seminar-level lecture to a crop of brand-new undergrads in a first-year course than they would consider saying certain things to their mothers, but when it comes to communicating science to the public, they genuinely seem to believe that the facts should speak for themselves (no audience analysis required), and that if someone has to do the communicative heavy lifting, it ought to be the audience in question. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of communication knows it doesn’t work like that.

    So where the “stop sending your money to these assholes” frame will work, use it. Where capitalising on Al Gore will work, use it. (There’s a hard one for me — I respect the hell out of the guy, but actually having to listen to him speak sets my teeth on edge because of his accent.) Where saying, “Save the environment and stop being OPEC’s bottom” will work, use that. Et cetera.

  4. Oldfart

    There is much to be said for reframing the whole discussion. Pressing home the point that (1) you (we) are at the mercy of foreign countries for our oil and much of our infrastructure and (2) becoming energy independent is a good way to avoid (1) without even mentioning AGW could very well work in those portions of the country where and individual’s right to live as he wants to supersedes the common good. Since such people are very much subject to fear-mongering, one could possibly point out the inherent danger in allowing the dreaded and feared Muslims to be our main supplier of oil or allowing the Chinese to build our tanks and missiles or make our steel…..and that energy independence is a very American thing to do completely hiding the fact that the only route to energy independence is also the route to cleaner energy.

  5. Bill H

    There were probably some good presentations, some bad ones and some laughably bad ones at that conference. Accept the good and discuss them. Take the bad and show why they were bad.

    It is far to easy to call everyone who disagrees with you a crank and pat your self-righteousness on the back. That is the way of the crank, the denialist and the creationist.

  6. That’s a much harder problem to face. I can’t make Al Gore more likable to the psycho libertarian wing of the country

    I think their distaste for Al Gore is directly related to his effectiveness in communicating the science to the American public. You find a lesser degree of the same bile directed toward James Hansen, who is an actual climate scientist, although with not quite as high a public profile as Gore. The only scientists that they find likable are those who stay closeted in their labs and don’t interfere with their efforts to mislead the American public.

  7. It is far to easy to call everyone who disagrees with you a crank and pat your self-righteousness on the back. That is the way of the crank, the denialist and the creationist.

    I call people cranks when they act like cranks and denialists when they use the tactics we routinely describe here at the blog. The terminology actually means something, and the reason these guys get called cranks is because thats what they are. Desmogblog profiled the contributors, and I stand by the description. I’ll also add the descriptors liars, shills, and crooks.

  8. Bill H

    Anthony Watts presentation was on the condition of USHCN weather station sites, obviously expecting temperature measurements to conform to standards is crankery.

    Do those bad stations make a difference in the average surface temperature measurements?

    If so how much difference?

    Is to discuss such things is denialism or crankery?

    If someone says there is no greenhouse effect, that is denialism.

    If someone says that nitrogen and oxygen are greenhouse gases, that is crankery.

  9. It is far too easy to call everyone who disagrees with you a crank and pat your self-righteously on the back. That is the way of the crank, the denialist and the creationist.

    Really? I thought the way of the crank/denialist/creationist was to call yourself Galileo and call everyone who disagrees with you an oppressor.

    Is there any particular reason that this post about cranks in a blog about cranks needs to be a different post that discusses a different subject more suited to a different venue, other than it’s what you feel like reading? “Hey! You didn’t write the post I wanted to read (for obvious reasons)! That means you’re wrong!”

  10. Do those bad stations make a difference in the average surface temperature measurements?

    If so how much difference?

    Is to discuss such things is denialism or crankery?

    Don’t you see? Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre and the rest haven’t even attempted to answer those questions. My feeling is that it’s because they know that those things don’t make a difference in the global trend. Even if one throws out the surface temp. records, there is still the satellite record (which agrees quite well with the surface record, even on a regional basis).

  11. (1) Anthony Watts is conducting a survey of the stations which is about 40% or so complete. (Query: Why wasn’t this done before the stations were pick? Answer: It was assumed that there were enough good stations so that statistical analysis would weed out the bad, too bad they took the easy way out.)

    (2) It doesn’t matter if it makes a difference or not, it is about the right way to do science. If by using bad data you arrive at the the correct result is it good science or luck?

    (3) Why call someone a denialist when you haven’t look at their work?

  12. My name is Brian Costin, and I am the Assistant Director of Government Relations at the Heartland Institute and I would like to point out the following information in response the blog posting and addressing our event as a “Crankfest”.

    To say that the panelists that attended the conference are not numerous, or accomplished in the field of the climate change is simply unfounded if not deliberately misleading. The panelists at The Heartland Institute�s International Conference on Climate Change include scientists and economists who have been published thousands of times in the world�s leading scientific journals and have written hundreds of books on the issue of climate change.

    This group of more than 200 panelists hail from Australia, Canada, England, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
    They are from the University of Alabama, Arizona State, Carleton, Central Queensland, Delaware, Durham, and Florida State University. From George Mason, Harvard, The Institute Pasteur in Paris, James Cook, John Moores, Johns Hopkins, and the London School of Economics. From The University of Mississippi, Monash, Nottingham, Ohio State, Oregon State, Oslo, Ottawa, Rochester, Rockefeller, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. And from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Suffolk University, the University of Virginia, Westminster School of Business (in London), and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Also, let us not forget the honorable President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Claus. Also, more than 50 international NGO�s were represented at the event.

    Also, private individuals with no connections to the energy industry funded the entirety of our conference. The combined amount of the modest honoraria offered to the speakers amounted to less money than Al Gore makes for a single speech. A large number of speakers nevertheless turned down any honorarium whatsoever.

    You can check out the bios of the entire conference lineup at: and for more background on The Heartland Institute�s position on climate change legislation at

  13. Steve Bloom

    Brian Costin wrote: “scientists and economists who have been published thousands of times in the world’s leading scientific journals and have written hundreds of books on the issue of climate change”

    Oh, that is *such* a big fib.

    I’m quite familiar with the conference line-up, so familiar in fact that your list of universties presented me with an opportunity to mentally match up the names of individual cranks/denialists with their institutions. I got about 80% of them. Kind of a small world, isn’t it?

  14. 1. Mr. Hoofnagle might want to consider the attached link to a post by Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet on the formers’ blog in which they state that cranks like the clowns from the Heartland Institute should be ignored. I guess that’s just framing.

    2. Re Brian Costin

    Yessir, the Heartland Institute sure put on a good conference with many distinguished speakers. For instance, there was the estimable Prof. Fred Singer, a world class denier who denies not only global warming but also cigarettes/lung cancer and CFCs/ozone depletion. What a guy!

  15. Oh, dear, the HI (and an Assistant Director of Government Relations, no less) reduced to wrestling in the mud of the blogosphere. How the mighty have fallen. Maybe Chris Mooney is right, and GW denialism has jumped the shark.

    Also, let us not forget the honorable President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Claus.

    Though let us acknowledge that remembering how to spell his name is beyond our mental powers.

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