Heartland Institute's Smoke And Mirrors Attempt To Debunk Consensus Science

Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

Joseph Bast

Fox News is suggesting a report by the Heartland Institute "debunked" a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

On Fox News' America's Newsroom and America's News Headquarters, Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said that "We can't trust what appears in our most prestigious [scientific] journals anymore." Instead, Bast wants Fox News viewers to trust his organization's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which puts out a report imitating -- and attempting to debunk -- the consensus report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forecasts "severe and widespread impacts" from manmade global warming.

But how much trust should you put in the Heartland Institute? In 1998, Bast was claiming that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects," citing a few "experts." (Simultaneously, he was touting to a tobacco industry funder that "Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris' bottom line.") This was left out of Fox News' report. Today, his organization is claiming in the NIPCC that "few (if any) [species] likely will be driven even close to extinction" from climate change and "no net harm" overall will result, citing a few "experts." (The organization's current funders are largely unknown, often funneled through the right-wing's "dark money ATM," but it has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch-connected foundations in the last decade.)

While IPCC's dozens of authors are unpaid, at least three of the NIPCC's four lead authors are paid by the Heartland Institute. One of the authors, Craig Idso, used to work for the coal company Peabody Energy and wrote a contracted study for the industry group The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The IPCC reviews the current state of scientific knowledge, while the NIPCC's references in its Summary for Policymakers include publications that date back to 1904 and few references from this century other than non-peer-reviewed reports from itself and its authors. As climate scientist Donald Wuebbles noted at the end of the Fox News report, the NIPCC report is "full of misinformation" and "not peer-reviewed."

So far, Fox News has dedicated nearly as much time to the NIPCC (over 4 minutes) as it did to the actual IPCC report (over 5 minutes of disparaging coverage). When Fox News equated the first NIPCC report with the first IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change, scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told Media Matters it was "irresponsible":

The NIPCC has no standing whatsoever. It is not a reviewed document, it is not open for review at any point and it contains demonstrable garbage and falsehoods. In contrast the IPCC process is rigorous, open and there are 2 major reviews. This is irresponsible journalism.

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