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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mark Boslough: Heartland Institute sends a valentine

Heartland Institute sends a valentine

by Mark Boslough, Ph.D., The Santa Fe New Mexican, February 21, 2012

Chicago is famous for mobsters. At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, goons from the Market Street Gang would beat up newsstand owners who refused to sell the right newspapers. Their battle to control the day's media allowed gang members to influence politicians and journalists. They evolved into the powerful North Side Gang during the Prohibition era by exploiting government corruption and engaging in illicit money-laundering activities. 

They did whatever it took until the famous Valentine's Day Massacre on Feb. 14, 1929, when some prominent members were gunned down. This event led to the downfall of Chicago mobsters, including rival gang member Al Capone (who was ultimately convicted of tax fraud).

Now there's another mob in Chicago -- the Heartland Institute. This gang is involved in its own war to control the media. They don't use Tommy guns, but politicians, journalists and some scientists are nevertheless intimidated by them. Last year, The New Mexican published an opinion piece by the president of Heartland, Joseph Bast, in which he derided me for exposing his organization's anti-science activities, fabrication of climate data and defamation campaigns against scientists. Unlike the old Chicago gangs, they don't kill people. But they do engage in character assassination. 

Heartland's thugs specialize in smearing scientists on their well-funded website and in the comments sections of newspapers. They deny that Ph.D. scientists actually have the degree they list on their résumés. They falsely claim that scientists who publish climate science don't have any formal training in the field in a petty and pathetic attempt to harm reputations. 

The old racketeers burned down stores of shopkeepers who tried to stand up to them. The modern anti-science mob torches reputations, which is the most important asset a scientist can own. 

Feb. 14 may have marked the beginning of the end for Bast and the Heartland Institute, just as it did for Capone in 1929. That morning I got a message from a colleague who said, "I just received an odd email from someone at Heartland, with some files attached." Inspection of the documents revealed that they were copies of tax forms, lists of donors, and the Heartland Board of Directors (including Harrison Schmitt, who withdrew from his controversial appointment to New Mexico's energy and natural-resources post last year). 

The group's political activities outlined in the leaked documents strongly suggest that Heartland's donors may owe back taxes, just like Capone did. 

The documents also revealed that one of Heartland's secret projects is to develop an anti-science propaganda curriculum for schoolchildren, using methods that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. Science teachers who do teach mainstream climate science are next on Heartland's hit list. Any remaining doubts that the Heartland Institute as an "anti-science" organization have now been dispelled. Thanks for the valentine, Heartland! 

Mark Boslough is a physicist who uses computers to understand impacts, explosions and climate change. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

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