Denial-a-Palooza: Heartland Institute's 5 Most Offensive Attacks On Science and Public Health

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With the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute completely discredited in the US, they are taking their climate change Denial-a-Palooza circus act over to Germany this week.

The Heartland Institute has a long history of attacking conventional science on behalf of their corporate funders, whether it be the link between human activity and climate change or the link between cancer and tobacco smoke.

Covering Heartlands' activities over the last 7 years has been like watching a very, very slow train wreck.

Here's some of the highlights of Heartland's head scratchers:

1. Unabomber Billboard:

In May 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing people who acknowledge the scientific reality of manmade climate change to serial killers like the infamous Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

There was a huge uproar over the ads, and while Heartland's president Joseph Bast thought it could help raise his organization's profile, there was instead a massive exodus of corporate funders.

2. Denial-a-Palooza:

Each year, Heartland convenes a whole bunch of grumpy old white men, puts them up at a hotel in Times Square or Chicago and the group proceeds to complain to themselves about how climate scientists are all wrong; Al Gore is the devil, and the United Nations is plotting to take over the world.

I have actually attended a couple of Heartland's conferences, which they call the “International Conference on Climate Change,” but is perhaps more well known by the name we gave it, “Denial-a-Palooza.”

The intensity of crazy conspiracy theories at these meeting makes…. well, Ted Kaczynski look rational.

After 5 years of failing to garner any relevant media coverage, Joseph Bast announced at last year's conference that there would be no more Denial-a-Paloozas.

Good call Joe. (So how to explain this German junket?) 

3. Joe Camel is Innocent!

In a 1996 newsletter, Heartland president Joe Bast wrote a “defense of smoking” piece entitled “Joe Camel is Innocent.” While Bast and the infamous cigarette cartoon camel may share the same first name, that's not his sole reason for empathy. Bast's defense of cigarettes is more likely on account of the millions of dollars in funding the Heartland Institute has recieved from tobacco companies over the years. (Plus he's a smoker himself.)

In the last two years alone, Heartland has received a combined $200,000 from tobacco giants Altria (previously named Philip Morris) and Reynolds America.

In the Joe Camel memo, Bast writes in defense of using cartoons to advertise cigarette brands to children:

“Last time I checked, people under the age of 18 weren't major buyers of life insurance, household cleaners, automobile rustproofing, or tires - yet Snoopy, Mr. Clean, Rusty Jones, and the Michelin Man are used to promote those products, Joe Camel is innocent!”

Last time I checked, inhaling car insurance doesn't lead to a high risk of developing lung cancer or respiratory disease. And, while Michelin tires are pretty cool, they aren't highly addictive.

4. “Angry Badgers” and Leaked Heartland Memos:

Earlier this year, DeSmogBlog obtained Heartland Institute strategy and funding documents that substantiated in no uncertain terms that the Heartland Institute relies on big money, from big corporations like Microsoft and RJR Tobacco, as well as a large amount specifically dedicated to climate denial that almost certainly flows from the pockets of Chicago industrialist Barre Seid.

The leaked memos went viral and media had a feeding frenzy. Even more funders publicly dropped their support for the Heartland Institute. The documents revealed, among other things, that corporate money was flowing through Heartland to some very prolific climate change deniers, like $90,000 to blogger Anthony Watts and $11,600 a month in funding to Craig Idso who runs a group that argues that increased levels of greenhouse gas are in fact good for the planet. 

One leaked memo titled “Operation Angry Badger” talks about a strategy to spend over $600,000 to help defend conservative Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from a recall effort that was launched after Walker went after the State unions' collective bargaining rights.

5. Pooping in My Salad

In what must go down as a top ten contender for the most tasteless book title ever, Joseph Bast self-published a book in 2006 in “defense of smokers' rights” called “Please Don't Poop in My Salad.”

Most ridiculous quote in the book:

No victim of cancer, heart disease, etc. can “prove” his or her cancer or heart disease was caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Seriously, you just can't make this stuff up.

We wish the Heartland Institute an enjoyable German vacation this week. Don't let reality spoil the view. 

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Bast wrote a dignified reply, published in Saturday's Washington Post, to an earlier WaPo article about him. He denies receiving much money from industry for denying climate or whatever. He self-lauds his good work in sponsoring scientific conferences. 

It was a letter to the editor, which still needs refuting. I thought it was an op-ed, which would have been ridiculous given how discredited Heartland is.