I grew up in academia. My mother took a job at a college when I was 12 years old. There were professors and administrators I would interact with in college who knew me from a young age. In this environment I grew to love learning, and to love the process of generating knowledge. Out of an interest in politics I’ve naturally been drawn to science that is the topic of political controversy. Unfortunately in my analysis of these topics, all too often I come across hacks who have tossed aside the virtuous pursuit of increasing the depth of the well of knowledge, and instead try to poison it with misinformation. The Heartland Institute and the scientists it hires, are just such hacks.
This week Fox News reported that the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an organization of climate-change deniers with close ties to the Heartland Institute, released a report that discredited global warming. Putting aside the fact that the report isn’t actually new (it is an abridgement and translation for the Chinese National Academy of Science), the scientists involved in the development of the original reports were bought and paid for by the Heartland Institute. The NIPCC attempts to mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the group run by the UN that produces reports every few years with over 500 lead authors and 2,000 expert reviewers, all of whom are volunteers. But in contrast to the IPCC, the 2011 NIPCC report had three lead authors with eight other contributors all together. This isn’t new behavior for Heartland. In fact, considering how much money the organization has received from fossil fuel companies and groups that would have substantial interest in climate change not being real, it is very much par for the course. Heartland isn't a think tank, it's a propaganda mill.
Heartland has made a point to go after science and scientists anytime they are inconvenient to the fossil-fuel industry, and that industry will pay them for it. Heartland, for example, has consistently attacked the concept that second-hand smoke causes cancer. “No victim of cancer, heart disease, etc. can 'prove' his or her cancer or heart disease was caused by exposure to secondhand smoke,” claimed Heartland CEO Joseph Bast. As a scientist interested in policy, one of my first thoughts when I see a contrarian claim like this is: Is someone receiving cash from a group that would benefit from this issue going away? Lo and behold yes, they are. Heartland receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from Phillip Morris. The organization is also highlighted in a document from Phillip Morris detailing PR strategy.
Heartland isn’t a think tank. Its scientists aren’t impartial observers attempting to better understand the planet and the world around us. It is a group of hacks paid by industry. These "scientists" don’t publish in prestigious peer-reviewed journals like Nature or Science, where actual data proving second-hand smoke doesn't cause cancer or that climate change isn't anthropogenic would immediately make the front page. Heartland instead poisons the well of knowledge with industry-funded propaganda. Their scientists are professional contrarians. This behavior breaches the academic and scientific codes of ethics I — and everyone else who grew up in an academic setting — grew up with.