Sunday, May 3, 2015

#1357: Joe Bast

We have to include a short entry on this one. Joe Bast is the founder of the Heartland Institute which in many ways is environmental science’s Discovery Institute. The Heartland Institute is one of the primary promoters of climate change denialism in the US, and funds other deniers, anti-scientists and pseudoscientists, including “independent” deniers such as Anthony Watts.

Their strategy regarding climate change are based on the two related tactics of i) sowing doubt, and ii) trying to discredit the science. To the latter probably belongs their infamous 2012 billboard campaign, and the accompanying press release stating that “[s]cientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming is collapsing. Most scientists [yeah, right] and 60 percent of the general public (in the U.S.) do not believe man-made global warming is a problem. The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” (Since the lies were so baldfaced the campaign did backfire a bit.)

In 2012 some of their budget documents were leaked. Though more cunningly devised than the DiscoTute’s Wedge Document, it still reveals their anti-science campaign with little ambiguity (for instance the decision to invest at least $100,000 in 2012 to produce and distribute a curriculum laying out their climate change denial message constructed by David Wojick, who has no relevant scientific background, with the purpose of sowing doubt), and efforts to sow doubt among the public and politicians. The document is described here.

As Bast himself described it in an interview: “We’ve won the public opinion debate, and we’ve won the political debate as well. But the scientific debate is a source of enormous frustration.” Part of their campaign to sow doubt is their support for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a small group of skeptics who have set themselves up as a counterweight to the IPCC by ignoring the evidence and concocting a story of how rising carbon dioxide concentrations are entirely beneficial. Bast himself actually acknowledges hand-picking data to support his position – he just tries to argue that scientists on the other side do the same thing when they are building a case for global warming (he probably doesn’t really believe that, but it works with the public). He has also said it is only natural that a libertarian like him would decide to question the scientific foundation for climate change – which is a pretty clear admission that whether something is accepted as evidence depends on whether it supports his political views rather than vice versa. The delusional part of it is the common opinion among victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect that science works that way, too.

Diagnosis: Cynical opportunist more than anything, but there is little doubt that Bast’s political commitments have led him deeply into anti-science, lunacy and conspiracy theories – whatever is needed, really, to bolster the political views he has arrived at for independent reasons. 

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