Climategategategate

Over the last several days, climate change-related blogs have provided information on a series of “leaked” memos from the Heartland Institute, purporting to show a concerted effort to create a K-12 curriculum that is intended to dismiss the science of climate change.

The organization, while acknowledging that documents were inadvertently mailed to an anonymous person, says the document on the curriculum is a fake. Megan McArdle at The Atlantic says there good reason to believe it is:


1. All of the documents are high-quality PDFs generated from original electronic files . . . except for the “Climate Strategy” memo. (Hereinafter, “the memo”). That appears to have been printed out and scanned, though it may also have been faxed.

Either way, why? After they wrote up their Top Secret Here’s All the Bad Stuff We’re Gonna Do This Year memo, did the author hand it to his secretary and say “Now scan this in for the Board”? Or did he fax it across the hall to his buddy?

This seems a strange and ponderous way to go about it–especially since the other documents illustrate that the Heartland Institute has fully mastered the Print to PDF command.

It is, however, exactly what I would do if I were trying to make sure that the document had no potentially incriminating metadata in the pdf.

2. The date on the memo file is different from the other documents. And indeed, when you look at the information on the PDFs that Heartland acknowledges, almost all of them were created by printing to PDF on January 16th, the day before Heartland’s board meeting. There is a Board Directory that was created on the 25th of January, also by printing to PDF. And then there is the memo, which was created via an Epson scanner at 3:41 PM on February 13th.

That seems to be just about 24 hours before this broke on the climate blogs. The timing seems odd, and somewhat suspicious. The fact that this document, and it alone, was scanned rather than printed to PDF or emailed as a word document, is even more so.

2. Every single verifiable fact that’s in the memo is found in another one of the documents, or available in a public source; in fact, many of the sentences are cut and paste jobs from the fundraising document, the binder insert, or the budget.

She has a half dozen or so other questions about the document, concluding by asking, “why is this memo super-secret, when there’s nothing in it that isn’t also in the materials distributed to the entire board?”


The textual analysis alone would make me suspicious–but the fact that the document was created much later, using a different method, with different formatting–makes me fairly sure that while the other documents are real, this was written after the fact, by an author outside of Heartland. If there were any way to get conclusive proof, I’d bet heavily against this document being real.

That said, I think it’s impossible to prove — at least with my forensic skill levels. People do write crazy memos sometimes–there are lunatics in every movement, and most organizations. While this just doesn’t feel like the right kind of crazy to me, it’s possible I’m wrong.