The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

The demons begin to stir

The forces of Sauron gather (from "The Lord of the Rings")
The forces of Sauron gather (from "The Lord of the Rings")

Peter Gleick’s unethical subterfuge to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute has begun to give some interesting insights into this anti-science institution. While not all of the documents have been confirmed, enough has been confirmed from independent sources (including those named in the documents) to begin shedding light on the dancing shadows of anti-science. “The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” [1]

The Washington Post provided some useful insights into the alleged strategy that Heartland intends to take [2]. Rather than fight science in the science literature, they are doing exactly what the forces of anti-science are trying to do with Biological Evolution: end-run around the scientific method and try to inject ideology directly into American classrooms.

The documents claim that Heartland has hired a coal-industry consultant to construct teaching modules to be directly distributed to schools. The Washington Post confirms that the consultant has independently confirmed that this is true, and that he has received $100,000 to develop these modules (incidentally, $100,000 is about enough money to support a full-time post-doctoral researcher, a full-time graduate student, and pay grant overhead to the managing institution, all for the purpose of accomplishing actual scientific research).  As The Post reports:

These modules would include material for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”) and carbon pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial”). In fact, none of these issues are scientific controversies — the vast majority of climatologists believe, with a high degree of confidence, that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions are heating the planet.

Here I have a bone to pick with The Post. It’s not that “climatologists believe” – it’s that “climatologists have been convinced by the evidence.” Those are two different things; a belief can be based on things other than evidence, while a conviction based on evidence is the hallmark of true scientific and critical thinking.

Of course, the two issue modules mentioned above are also based on logical fallacies; the first, “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy,” is based on a lie – there is no scientific controversy about this; the second, “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial,” is based on a “red herring” fallacy – CO2 is a greenhouse gas, not a pollutant, and it’s only been classes as a pollutant  by the EPA in order to get some kind of regulation under the existing EPA framework. That’s a semantic, not a scientific, issue.

Heartland’s strategy is a copy of that pursued by The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think-tank that is a cookpot for anti-science ideas. Their aim was to eradicate science and replace it with a theistic framework [3] by weakening public perception of Biological Evolution. As The Post reports:

[NCSE member] Rosenau says that Heartland could do what creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have been doing for years and simply mail out supplemental materials to educators far and wide.

While the Heartland documents were obtained under questionable circumstances, they are beginning to shed light on the forces of anti-science.


[1] Sagan, Carl (2011-07-06). Demon-Haunted World (Kindle Locations 603-604). Ballantine Books. Kindle Edition.