Innovation is a risky business, a venture seldom without controversy and conflict. Those who question conventionality, who challenge the status-quo, place themselves in the precarious position of disagreeing with established, often entrenched norms. From advances in science and technology to political and ideological discourse, such controversy comes at a price — constant attacks on the character of the innovator, and the innovation itself.
Sometimes, these attacks cripple the effort, but those who endure emerge with a newfound resolve, strengthened by their ordeal, more determined than ever to have their voice heard. The Heartland Institute has undergone a gauntlet of such ordeals.
No stranger to controversy, Heartland has been an advocate for education reform and the implementation of school choice voucher programs, cutting back useless energy subsidies and tax policies, questioning excessive EPA regulations and a myriad of other issues. But perhaps most notably, Heartland has worked to refute man-caused global warming theories, a stance which has generated a deluge of criticism and attacks from alarmist groups.
Earlier this year, in what has been deemed the “Fakegate” scandal, several advocacy groups — via the admitted theft of climate scientist Peter Gleick — obtained Heartland’s 2012 budget, fundraising, and strategy plans, and posted these documents online. Heartland quickly responded by declaring (aside from the theft) that at least one was fake, and others had been altered in an effort to discredit the Institute. The memos have been largely discredited by the international press, and Heartland and its allies have stood strong.
Regardless of whether or not they are a response to the “Climategate” controversy of 2009, (in which a series of emails revealed that climate scientists had manipulated data and misrepresented findings in pursuit of proving anthropogenic global warming) the fabricated memos are indicative of a troubling trend in today’s media.
From the phone hacking scandals of News International to the WikiLeaks incidents, it seems as though journalistic integrity has suffered as information becomes more accessible on the Web. Increased ease of access means that journalists should put more effort into ensuring the veracity of their sources, an effort that those who published the Heartland memos clearly lacked.
Heartland is and has always been open to criticism and discussion of its work. In the time that I’ve spent writing for Heartland, my work and research has generated a good deal of opposition, internal and external, that often improved the quality and depth of my analysis. Here, on the Institute’s blog, readers are encouraged to voice their opinions through comments, and such public rhetoric (often hostile) is welcomed as a means of further examining issues. [Editor’s note: Arguments are welcome here. Mindless attacks and insults are not.]
Indeed, when it comes to the question of AGW, Heartland and its allies ask legitimate questions and attempt to engage in a genuine debate. Such discourse, however, is endangered by constant aspersions and attacks from the media and alarmist groups alike. Not only do these efforts undermine the issue, they further cloud and confuse public perception and understanding of a complex and important question. Engaging with those of contrasting viewpoints is an integral part of the innovative process — strengthening ideas through identifying, understanding and correcting flaws and inconsistencies.
Clouding the air with inaccuracies and intentionally deceiving the public on an issue, however, is detrimental to the developmental process. The fact that Heartland’s critics have to go as far as to manufacture damaging memos is a testament to the lack of legitimate scholarship these groups have to validate their position. Instead of attempting to defame their opponents, these advocacy groups should concentrate on engaging with the issues — an interaction that might even result in truth.
This past week I had the privilege to attend Heartland’s 7th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC7) in Chicago. It is, without a doubt, one of Heartland’s most controversial endeavors, generating protests and drawing a great deal of media attention. The conference’s theme was “real science, real choices” alluding to Heartland’s goal of opening a dialogue with so-called “warmist” scientists. More than 50 such experts, proponents of agronomic global warming theories, were invited to ICCC7 — but none came.
Instead, another group showed up — a rag-tag gaggle of protestors and “activists” of all kinds, led by the colorful “Vermin Supreme,” an elderly gentleman who wore a large rubber boot on his head. Despite the protestors’ deficiencies, the spirit of ICCC-7 prevailed, and Lord Christopher Monckton, a noted skeptic, Marc Morano of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and others engaged (or rather, attempted to engage) the protesters in discussion over their issue of mankind’s role in global climate change. Far from a free exchange of ideas, Monckton’s efforts were blocked at every turn, and reporters from the Canadian Sun News Network were subject to much abuse and harassment from the crowd.
As it became clear to Monckton and the others that the protesters were not looking for a dialogue, but merely a public stage for their antics, they turned to leave. But one of the demonstrators, distancing himself from the rest, began talking to Monckton. True to form, the viscount sat down with the young man and proceeded to engage in an hour-long discussion on the climate change debate.
This was what ICCC-7 was for: a frank, earnest and open discussion between parties with differing viewpoints. But the hundreds of scientists and experts gathered down the hall were unable to have such an exchange, as those in opposition had refused to come.
The reasons for their absence are their own. Perhaps they were intimidated by the media opposition to the event, by Heartland’s advertising, or the opinions of their colleagues. Whatever the justification for their absence, this fact remains: The current animosity that exists between “denier” and “alarmist” is counterproductive. The more time, effort, and money that is devoted to ad hominem attacks and media distortions draw both parties further away from an open discussion of the issues.