Background information is important.

This is what I was thinking while I was reading “The Twenty Three (and Growing) Smoking Guns of Global Warming” on the Heartland Institute website, while researching for quotes to use in my post A Well-Documented Strategy. The introduction reads,

“Before you read this essay, I ask you to forget everything you have learned about global warming…..Your job is to review the study with unbiased eyes, and grade the project based upon how sound the science is in supporting the conclusion.”

Robert Wagner, the author, seems to equate background information and expertise with bias, as “[climatologists’] funding depends on carbon being the cause of global warming.” He does not trust climatologists, or any sort of expert in this issue, as their salary seemingly depends on AGW.

If you read the article while “forgetting everything you have learned about global warming”, it has an internal logical flow. If you rely upon your background information and expertise – even if you’re not a scientist, just a nerdy volunteer blogger like me – their conclusions fall apart.

This is most obvious when the article pulls out the old “CO2 lags Temperature” crock. It makes perfect sense – how can carbon change temperature if it’s actually the other way around? – until you read a little further into other sources.

Then they go on about Christy’s satellite data. Which seems to support their conclusion, until you find out that it’s been discredited multiple times and Christy has now retracted his data.

They have a throwback to the early days of climatology when everyone believed that the bands of radiation CO2 absorbed overlapped so much with water vapour that extra CO2 wouldn’t make a difference. They phrase this in a way that makes it seem like this is the current theory.

They take the correction that GISS made, where 1934, not 1998, was found to be the warmest year in the US, and conveniently remove “in the US”, implying that 1934 was the warmest year globally.

All of this works…..as long as you don’t read anywhere else. The author says to you, “Forget everything you know, and only accept what I tell you, as well as the blog posts and newspaper articles that I cite.” Knowledge from anywhere else is seen as “biased” because climatologists are just out for grant money to increase their personal wealth. Yes, the only credible source out there is the Heartland Institute. So of course their articles have an internal logical flow…..as long as you obey their instructions to only believe their articles.

What a creepy form of censorship. What an underhanded way to manipulate the reader. How is the Heartland Institute allowed to exist without some sort of disclaimer? How does anyone take them seriously?


12 thoughts on “Logic

  1. Fantastic post. The problem is, we’re so bogged down with information across the internet, and are bombarded with so many issues, It’s difficult to find the background information sometimes. It seems that there is always something out there to prove you wrong. I’ve tried to stick to the details on my blog http://www.iaminformed.wordpress.com . My personal opinion finds it’s way in often enough though. And the amount of time it takes to do some serious research is overwhelming, especially when you’re only doing it as a hobby and not a job or career.

  2. This approach makes perfect sense. It sure sounds like they’re being unbiased, doesn’t it? Leave all your preconceptions behind, and all that. The problem is, science is not pure logic. It relies on empiricism. Creationists (in particular Ken Ham and AnswersInGenesis) use the same tactic.

  3. Michael Dickens: At least Ken Ham is honest enough to mention up front that they will not accept any information that contradicts their preconceptions (statement 4.6). Not trying to defend the guy or anything (I’ve already thrown my lot in with someone much friendlier), but it is a step up from the Heartland Institute.

    Speaking of, if you weren’t aware of it, they do seem to apply this paradigm both ways. They obviously forgot their knowledge of “checking things in advance” when they decided to post Frank Bi’s parody video on their ‘conference’ home page.

  4. Ack, hit “submit” when tabbing back to add in another reference: The Frontier Center for Public Policy’s climate quiz, arguably the best example of funneling – structuring a series of questions to appear neutral while actually exploiting cognitive loopholes and blind spots to get people to reach a preferred conclusion. It, unlike Heartland, pretends that you should keep what you know about climate change, but asks questions framed in a way to get you to think what you know is wrong (arguably a more dangerous strategy).

  5. Kate:

    “[climatologists’] funding depends on carbon being the cause of global warming.”

    Actually, this doesn’t add up either, especially when you combine it with the fact that they also mention Christy. I mean, Christy is a ‘skeptical’ climatologist, yet he was able to magically obtain funding for his research!

    In other words, Wagner’s essay isn’t internally coherent either.

    * * *

    Brian D:

    Thanks for the thumbs-up again. :-B   Also, the FCPP’s quiz is here; I forgot that I had mentioned it in passing as part of a blog post on how right-wing think-tanks view New Media.


  6. Frank: I was actually intending to link Greenfyre’s dissection of the quiz, but the internets ate the HTML.

    By the way, you suggested that you were working on a script to run reverse whois on several inactivist websites earlier (as part of the Twisty Maze)… any chance of securing that script? I’m woefully weak in my terminal-fu, and I’d be interested in applying it to some of the US health reform astroturf groups. I bet there’ll be some significant overlap, since most of the groups in the climate inactivist web are also libertarians.

  7. Brian D:

    I was actually intending to link Greenfyre’s dissection of the quiz

    Ah… I liked that. :)

    any chance of securing that script?

    Here’s the most recent version (although it’s still not very recent). It needs the Perl package DBD::SQLite, by the way.

    * * *


    I didn’t want to skew their stats.


  8. Brian D:

    By the way, the program doesn’t do reverse whois, it only does domain name lookups and reverse lookups. (Doing mass whois lookups doesn’t seem to be good manners, and may not be legal either…)


  9. Brian D:

    Oops, I forgot to say this — you can stop the program any time (with Ctrl-C) and then rerun the program later to resume the crawling.


  10. And going back to the topic — I particularly like Heartland’s display of independent, and non-partisan thought that was shown here. ;-)


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