I’m currently reading Paul Offit’s Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, in preparation for an interview with him that I’ll be recording later this week. I’ll let you know about the interview, but at this time I can say that I’m very much enjoying the book. The publisher’s description:
What happens when ideas presented as science lead us in the wrong direction?
History is filled with brilliant ideas that gave rise to disaster, and this book explores the most fascinating—and significant—missteps: from opium’s heyday as the pain reliever of choice to recognition of opioids as a major cause of death in the U.S.; from the rise of trans fats as the golden ingredient for tastier, cheaper food to the heart disease epidemic that followed; and from the cries to ban DDT for the sake of the environment to an epidemic-level rise in world malaria.
These are today’s sins of science—as deplorable as mistaken past ideas about advocating racial purity or using lobotomies as a cure for mental illness. These unwitting errors add up to seven lessons both cautionary and profound, narrated by renowned author and speaker Paul A. Offit. Offit uses these lessons to investigate how we can separate good science from bad, using some of today’s most controversial creations—e-cigarettes, GMOs, drug treatments for ADHD—as case studies. For every “Aha!” moment that should have been an “Oh no,” this book is an engrossing account of how science has been misused disastrously—and how we can learn to use its power for good.
The story of opium reminds me of that movie, Very Bad Things. Remember that?
Also, I did a podcast, the guest rather than the interviewer (I go both ways), on Geeks Without God, which will be up on the 16h, here. I think that if you are a subscriber you can get it early, like, now. The interview was about the Heartland Institute‘s recent recent mailing of anti-science materials related to climate change, sent out to a very large number of teachers.
There is a book called “The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania” produced by the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is famous for doing all that work to prove that smoking is not bad for you, and more recently, that climate change is not real or is not important or is not human-caused etc. etc. Heartland is a libertarian “think” tank that receives money form big corporate interests like Tobacco and Petroleum and then uses that money to advance the interests of those corporate entities, regardless of the actual truth of the situation. They also use some of their money to threaten law suits against people like me who object to their activities. (But they do so very ineffectively.)
This spring, I began receiving calls and emails from colleagues about a strange little book that was mailed to environmental science professors around the country. This was a big mailing, in total, a reported 100,000 copies were sent out. What was it about this little book that got us talking? Many things. First….
CLICK HERE to read John’s excellent blog post. You won’t want to miss this. Also, while you are there look at the other posts at John’s new blog, written with Dana Nuccitelli.
Peter Gleick has been reinstated in his position as president of the Pacific Institute.
The Pacific Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Peter Gleick back to his position as president of the Institute. An independent review conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the Institute has supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute. This independent investigation has further confirmed and the Pacific Institute is satisfied that none of its staff knew of or was involved in any way.
Dr. Gleick has apologized publicly for his actions, which are not condoned by the Pacific Institute and run counter to the Institute’s policies and standard of ethics over its 25-year history. The Board of Directors accepts Dr. Gleick’s apology for his lapse in judgment. We look forward to his continuing in the Pacific Institute’s ongoing and vital mission to advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity.
“I am glad to be back and thank everyone for continuing their important work at the Pacific Institute during my absence,” said Dr. Gleick in a statement. “I am returning with a renewed focus and dedication to the science and research that remain at the core of the Pacific Institute’s mission.”
Peter Gleick has been cleared of faking a key memo. Who is Peter Gleick, and what is this memo of which we speak? Here is a refresher of events over the last 3 1/2 months:
You will recall that last February 14th, we were all given an interesting Valentine’s Day present: A cache of documents had been acquired from the Heartland Institute, and these documents revealed important details about Heartland’s effort to interfere with science education and otherwise agitate and lobby to promote climate science denialism. The documents were released to the public by an as then unknown activist, and then redistributed by numerous bloggers including this one.
Heartland is the organization that made itself famous by working for the tobacco lobby in their effort to prove that smoking cigarettes was not really harmful. Over recent years, Heartland has received funds from a wide range of organizations and individuals to support climate denialism. Most recently, Heartland gained considerable notoriety (the bad kind) with their noxious and ill-conceived billboard campaign that equated “believing in global warming” with being a deranged serial killer (Tool Time: Heartland, Ted Kaczynski, and Education).
So, it turns out that Heartland was behind the Heartland leak after all.
The evidence seems to suggest that Heartland’s Joe Bast wrote a memo, then he and/or Heartland-symp blogger Steven Mosher sent it secretly to Peter Gleick. Peter Gleick then obtained additional material from Heartland, which came to him at his request but all to easily to be explained as a mere oversight on the part of some administrative or secretarial staff. The only thing missing here is evidence that Bast or Mosher or someone suggested to Peter that he verify the memo by asking for related documents from Heartland. But that would be too easy.
Anyway, it now seems clear that the document, the allegedly faked internal strategy memo with the most damning text in it (but nothing really different from what is shown in other verified Heartland documents) was fed to Gleick, presumably in an effort to engineer his downfall as an incipient board member of the National Center for Science Education.
Brilliant. Heartland: 1 … NCSE: 0
The evidence for this is the analysis just published by Shawn Otto. Shawn does not go quite as far as I do in suggesting the details of this conspiracy, but maybe he’s just a nicer guy than I am. Shawn notes that Heartland did not expect the tables to be turned on them. I’m thinking they did, and that the outcome that occurred … setting the NCSE back in their efforts to address climate science denialism … is what they were looking for, and what they managed to engineer. Shawn Otto’s analysis is here.
As you know, there is much discussion about whether or not a “strategy memo” leaked from the Heartland Institute is a fake. We are told by a trustworthy source that this policy memo was leaked to him, and that he then tricked the Heartland Institute to supply him with additional documents, which he then used to verify the “strategy memo” based on cross reference of factual information. Only after the apparent veracity of the memo was determined did that individual, Peter Gleick, release all of the documents to the public.
Subsequently, a number of untrustworthy sources, such as Heartland related people and the usual gaggle of Science Haters, have insisted that the original strategy memo is a fake. One set of evidence used to suggest this is that the memo was different from the other documents in several ways: It was a photocopy or a fax with different formatting, etc. This of course is evidence of nothing. There is nothing that requires that all of the documents associated with a particular institution, or even a particular event such as a board meeting at an institution, be created, formatted, and distributed with the same look, feel, and technology. It it obvious to me that if this is the case of Heartland getting caught red handed, they might then be grasping at straws.
However, we can use science to address this question further, and this is exactly what Shawn Otto has done. In a piece posted moments ago (here and soon to be at Huffington Post) Shawn carries out an analysis using a standard and widely respected software system to compare a sample of Gleick’s writing, some samples from Heartland, and the “strategy memo.” In this analysis, the memo is entered as an unknown, and the software shows the difference between that unknown document and the known document. Read Shawn’s analysis to see the details; the conclusion is that the strategy memo was more likely written in house at Heartland than by Peter Gleick. Continue reading Is the Heartland "Strategy Memo" a Fake? Let's try using science!→
The Heartland Institute, a smallish Libertarian “Think” Tank recently made famous by the leak of a rather embarrassing set of incriminating documents, is now slated for investigation by the Congress of the United States.
The chair and ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Raul Grijavla, has initiated an investigation of Indur Goklany, an administrator at the Science and Technology Policy of the US Department of the Interior. It appears that Goklany was being paid by Heartland which raises a significant potential for conflict of interest.
First, let me catch you up. On Valentine’s Day, there was a release of documents from the Heartland Institute documenting their budget and the status of their fund raising, as well as their strategy for protecting corporate interests in light of overwhelming evidence that Anthropogenic Global Warming and other climate change requires us to alter our global energy strategy. Heartland has been involved in science denialsm for some time. They are one of the groups that worked to deny evidence of the negative health effects of smoking, among other things. Heartland, a Libertarian “think” tank is a relatively small player in the overall climate discussion, and the documents indicate that the annual balance of their budget has been diminishing owing to reductions in contributions. Nonetheless, the documents painted a picture of systematic dishonesty. In particular, the documents seemed to indicate that Heartland was launching a bought and paid for effort to interfere with the teaching of good science in our K-12 educational system, replacing honest science with the willful misdirection we know of as science denialism. Continue reading Peter Gleick, The Heartland Revelations and Situational Journalism→
The best available evidence now suggests that the most damning of the “Heartland Documents” — the strategy memo which explicitly states that Heartland’s strategy is to interfere with good science education in order to advance their political agenda — is legitimate. The legitimacy of the document was being questioned because it was physically and stylistically different from the other documents with which it was released. We now know that the strategy memo was sent to climate scientist Peter Gleick and that Peter then took steps to acquire corraborating documents from Heartland (see “The Origin of the Heartland Documents.”) The “one of these things is not like the others” defense is now obviated. Continue reading The Heartland Science Denial Documents and the Future of the Planet→