Us and Them: The Psychology Behind the Heartland Institute Billboards

The Heartland Institute’s jaw-droppingly ill-advised, and now withdrawn billboard campaign—pictured here–has drawn a huge volume of denunciations in the last week. There’s not much more to say substantively about the campaign, or the fallout from it, which has included a number of Heartland funders heading for the hills.

But it is fascinating to try to understand why the Heartland Institute may have gone to this extreme. The psychological phenomenon that I see lurking behind these ads is a critical one to understand–black and white, “in group/out group” thinking.

This is something that David Ropeik has already written on very observantly. In trying to explain and justify its linking of global warming with people like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson, Ropeik notes, here are some of the things Heartland has said–and the words speak volumes:

The most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

…what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the ‘mainstream’ media, and liberal politicians say about global warming.

What is going on here, psychologically, is something called “splitting.” The Heartland Institute is ignoring basic intellectual distinctions and all sense of nuance, and dividing the world up into black and white extremes.

Once you do this, it becomes much easier to group one’s intellectual opponents together with “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

Why did Heartland fall to splitting the world up so dramatically into black hats and white hats? Well, first of all, the group has arguably always been pretty extreme. See here, for instance.

However, even above that, the Heartland Institute seems to have felt embattled, due to the dramatic scrutiny of its funding in recent months. We have this on the word of the climate skeptic blogger Anthony Watts himself, who commented that Heartland was experiencing “battle fatigue.”

The institute also thinks that it has been subject to unfair tactics by its opponents:

Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants. But the Climategate scandal and the more recent Fakegate scandal revealed that the leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics to shut down scientific debate and implement their left-wing agendas.

In other words, Heartland believes it is facing down devious wrongdoers, and this may justify (in the Institute's mind, I stress) fighting fire with fire.

Finally, and critically, the Heartland Institute’s rhetoric—note in particular the word “tyrants”–represents a highly dialed up expression of the moral foundation of liberty/oppression, as explained by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt (my unpacking here). In conservatives, this moral foundation leads one to want to throw off oppression and tyranny—its motto is “don’t tread on me.” And on the right, one views this oppression as coming from the left and the state, e.g., statism and communism. (Never mind the total political irrelevance of communism in the U.S. context.)

So it is no wonder that the Heartland campaign focuses on violent left-wingers, like Kaczynski, and that a future billboard was supposedly going to feature Fidel Castro. Heartland is rearticulating, in an extreme form, a theme that has always been present in the conservative campaign against climate science: The idea that this is a left-wing statist takeover in the making, in which phony science is used to quash liberty and economic prosperity and support tyranny. 

Now, obviously, all of this is a world apart from reality. And even more obviously, these basic impulses–splitting, viewing the political left as tyrannical–exist to varying degrees on the right and in the Tea Party.

But what the Heartland campaign reveals is what they look like if taken to a sufficient extreme. 


Chas, it doesn’t matter if Teddy boy believes the pope’s catholic or 9/11 was a CIA secret plot. What matters is that Joe Bast & Heartland willfully lied to deceive the America public about the climate science, climate scientists, & civic leaders & citizens who acknowledge the reality of man-made global warming & climate change.

The most prominent advocates of global warming are notmurderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Many are prominent scientists, like James Hansen & Michael Mann & many others.

And what these prominent scientists have said about man-made global warming & climate change may sometimes differ a little, sometimes a lot, and sometimes not at all from “what [some] spokespersons for the United Nations, [some] journalists for the ‘mainstream’ [or other] media, and [some] liberal [or conservative or moderate] politicians [may] say about global warming”.

Got it, now, seriously?

… its all over the Heartland Billboards.

Czech Preseident Condemns Heartland

Side note:  Why is he a keynote speaker for ‘climate science’?  He’s just an economist.  He’d know as much as the tooth fairy.

What is this CAGW term you use?  Citizens Against Government Waste?  Is it some sort of specialized language for climate change deniers?

I stands for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, which is what most climate skeptics are actually skeptical about, as opposed to plain old ordinary anthropogenic global warming, which I’ve seen very few climate skeptics deny. 

Scientists aren’t doom and gloom.  In fact the papers I read are all matter of the fact dispassionate discussions of numbers.  Where is all this catastrophe you speak of?  Please cite the paper doing that.  IPCC doesn’t do that.

This fact is covered off in the Austrailian governments response to Ian Plimer.

Ian Plimer:

“For thousands of years, prophets of doom have been telling us the world was about to end. It hasn’t, otherwise we would not be here. Why is it that we should believe the modern prophets of doom who tell us that our carbon dioxide emissions will destroy the planet?

Austrailian government:

This is a misleading and irrelevant question.

Climate scientists have never claimed that the world is going to end due to climate change. Instead, scientists have outlined the impacts of increasing CO2 from human activities. These impacts include increasing air and ocean temperatures, melting of snow and ice, sea level rise and increasing acidity of the world’s oceans.

Scientists have concluded that such changes in the climate will have significant impacts on our communities, economy and environment. For example, a study considering the vulnerability of Australia’s coastal infrastructure to sea level rise found that existing residential buildings valued at a total of up to $63 billion are potentially at risk of flooding from a 1.1 m sea level rise.”

For doom and gloom you have to go look at the nut jobs.  You know.  Heartland, Greenpeace, Cato, Fraser Institute, Ian Plimer. etc.

Down the middle is where you find the real terror, the military, and the military think tanks.

Rear Admiral David Titley, USN - Climate Change and National Security

Where will they be moving all those expensive bases?  How about all those oil refineries, they aren’t submersible…

Military Think Tanks:  This is but one… (Hint: War, Famine, and Refugees. The very forces that tear at the heart of what it is to be nation.  And they are talking about the US.)

So canman…  The catastrophe you speak of is being predicted by your military who are paid to protect you.

The only political parties in the developed world to endorse the Heartland position on climate change have been far-right, racist or neo-Nazi parties in Austria, Eastern Europe and the UK (with the British National Party). So, by the Heartland’s standards it would be quite legitimate to have a poster of a skin-head giving a Hitler salute over the words “I don’t believe in global warming. Do you?” 

Joe Romm did when he compared conservatives with a terrorist last year. I agree with Mooney they should avoid using splitting tactics the way DeSmog does constantly to paint others as evil deniers. Heartland has to be better because they seek funding from normal people or businesses that don’t get arrested or destroy property like the far left always seems to end up doing. Heartland will hopefully learn from occupiers at the NATO Conference in Chicago what not to do. Heartland has to especially avoid adopting unsavory behavior like the flawed charater Peter Gleick exhibited. I hope Heartland takes the high road going forward and lets the far left occupy the low road by themselves in the ongoing debate.

they had a quiz with statements by terrorists and also by global warming alarmists and the reader had to try to determine which was which. I had a hard time telling the difference and did poorly on the quiz.

re: “I had a hard time telling the difference and did poorly on the quiz.”

Why are we not surprised, windy, that you “had a hard time telling the difference and did poorly on the quiz”?

The Czech President Vaclav Klaus wrote a book that denied climate change. The Russian company called LUKoil paid for this book to be translated into foreign languages.

The Czech counterintelligence service has warned that Russian espionage is “aggressive” and escalating, especially in the energy business.


Dr. Gleick writes about water and terrorism. The National Intelligence Council just published a report on this topic. The NIC is made up of 16 US intelligence agencies.

The climate scientists advise terrorism experts because climate change and water shortages may exacerbate terrorism.

I doubt that terrorism experts care what Heartland says about the causes of terrorism or who is a terrorist. I read that Joe Bast may not even have a college degree. He’s just a meretricious propagandist who incites ignorant people against scientists.


Military analysts like Gwynne Dyer have been speaking out about the potential political consequences of global warming for a few years now:

James Lovelock has recently modified his position with respect to the pace of temperature increase and severity of potential consequences:


The climate alarmist side has got to have the most extreme case of in group/out group thinking I have ever seen. Pejorative terms like “denier” get flung at people like Bjorn Lomborg, who do not dispute AGW, all the time. This type of thinking is definately seen more on the alarmist side than on the skeptic side. On WUWT, there is long list of climate blogs in the right margin. They include one list with the heading, “Lukewarmers”. This Heartland billboard seems to be an isolated incident.

Bjorn denied climate change right from the get go.  You just have a short term memory.

“In 2010, in conjunction with an announcement of a forth-coming book, Lomborg revised his position regarding mitigation of anthropogenic global warming. He initially called the greenhouse effect ‘a myth’ and ‘extremely doubtful’ and in his 2001 book.”

Lastly he’s not a scientist nor does he do science or even use factual science in his books.  At least that’s what he claims.

The DCSD cited The Skeptical Environmentalist for:

  1. Fabrication of data;

Lomborg’s defense;

The DCSD had not properly documented that The Skeptical Environmentalist was a scientific publication on which they had the right to intervene in the first place

Yup… its not a work of science.  Its fiction.  It belongs with opinion pieces and Harry Potter.

If he’s not a denier… whall we just call him ignorant, or a paid shill?  Which do you pick?

Quote from you:

“Yup… its not a work of science.  Its fiction.”

Don’t you think it’s possible to write a nonfiction work that is not a scientific paper. Are cook books and history books fiction? You need to take a refresher course to brush up on your logic.

Did you notice the word “revised” in your Wiki quote? Sometimes people actually change their position on an issue as they learn more about it. Sometimes science itself changes as more data become available. Ever hear of plate tectonics?

I see you brought up the suspiciously marsupial sounding Danish Committees on scientific Dishonesty. Did you read the section, “MSTI review”.

“The DCSD did not provide specific statements on actual errors. On this point the MSTI stated “the DCSD has not documented where [Dr. Lomborg] has allegedly been biased in his choice of data and in his argumentation, and … the ruling is completely void of argumentation for why the DCSD find that the complainants are right in their criticisms of [his] working methods.”

Or, how about the section, “Response of the scientific community”.

“The original DCSD decision about Lomborg provoked a petition[12] among Danish academics. 308 scientists, many of them from the social sciences, criticised the DCSD’s methods in the case and called for the DCSD to be disbanded.”

Good man Conman.  Defend that climate denier.  Faker of data, and inventer of facts.  A real hero for you.

Why would I care what that idiot was revised to?  Hmm? He was utterly bat ass wrong the first time around.

Give him another go? Buy another book because his first attempt was so good?

Short of becoming a saint, I don’t think I’ll listen to that shill ever again.  He has nothing useful to offer.  Nothing.   He fakes data and invents facts.  Case closed.

Did you ever notice that your heros keep getting caught up in the elements of the scientific community that defend it?  Why is that I wonder?

You just called him a “faker of data” and an “inventer of facts”. How about providing a specific example? Maybe you could help out the Danish Kangaroo Court , excuse me, Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, since according to your beloved Wiki, “The DCSD did not provide specific statements on actual errors”.

.. but do you have a point?  Any statement to make at all.  Anything.

I mean, why would you trust a political scientist for technical or even economic solutions to climate change?  Why?  It makes no sense.

Do you go to your hair dresser to get your car fixed?  (It would probably look good till you washed it….)

You see, you rant about everything yet go nowhere.  Me thinks your purpose here is to argue and pretend that there is some sort of aspect of climate science that is unsettled, when it is.

You’ve shown no facts of any value.

Please tear Mann’s\CRU’s page out of your copy of the IPCC report.   Then read the other 999 pages.  I’ll hold your coat.  You’ll realize that you haven’t put a dent in anything.

Here’s what we knew in 1982;

And here’s where we are today;

Did you catch that energy imbalance? 400,000 hiroshima’s a day is what its adding up to.

Now here’s what the Harper Government says is happening in the Arctic. (Gee, just like they said we’d see in 1982.)

And here’s some other Green Freaks… the US Navy;

Do you think the US Navy fakes the data to confuse the nuclear submarine captains?

3 more corporate donors drop Heartland.

“Pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly (LLY), BB&T Bank (BBT), and PepsiCo (PEP) have all confirmed that they will not continue funding the Heartland Institute, joining GM, State Farm, and numerous other leading corporations in deserting an organization that produces radical attacks on climate science and scientists.”

Eli Lilly, BB&T, and Pepsi Confirm They Will No Longer Fund the Heartland Institute, Bringing the Total Number of Defections to Eleven

And another director bails.

“Another director, Robert Lamendola, resigned last Friday because of the ad, according to sources. He’s a senior adviser for Renaissance Reinsurance, which terminated its relationship with Heartland over the billboard after giving the organization $407,000 during the past two years.”

For Heartland board, failed climate attack was a surprise

Really really good news.

It just proves that Heartland is completely out of step with the rest of the world.  But do they understand that they look like nut jobs for doing it?

You called Lomborg a “climate denier”. He says he agrees with AGW! The site that supposedly catilogues his errors says he agrees with AGW!

The quotes from the Wiki that say he called the greenhouse effect a myth and doubtful are from Danish newspapers with no clue as to context, and are from before when he is alleged to have ”revised” his veiws. You have no evidence that he is denying AGW

Chris Mooney’s post is about how the Heartland Institute is using black/white thinking, which, I suppose, would imply that the enlightened readers of DeSmog Blog are above such petty things. Are you disagreeing with the main point of Chris’s post?

What strikes me most is the implicit evil-by-association “argument”. Maybe someone here knows what this is called in philosophy or logical theory.

Probably everybody uses something like this sometimes.

1) Charles Manson (or name any bad guy) was evil.

2) Charles Manson believed in global warming (did he?).

3) Believing in global warming is evil / is for bad guys.

Or something like that. Now what conclusion could we draw if Manson wore jeans, for example?

What if a Republican commits murder?

And don’t forget that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian and teetotaler.

Now none ot these are valid arguments, but can sometimes be quite effective gut-wise, I think, if you don’t stop to go into the technicalities of why it is logical nonsense.

Especially in the political sphere you see it all the time that somebody’s less-than-desirable personality traits are used to disqualify his or her political positions.