Note: This post has been amended to take into account statements made by Heartland and the Charles G Koch Foundation.

IN the last 48 hours a number of documents from the US think-tank the Heartland Institute have been published on the intertubes.

The Heartland Institute, based in Chicago, is well known for publishing opinions and reports which aim to question the validity of mainstream climate science.

The nine documents outline funding plans, suggest an anonymous donor has provided $8.6 million in recent years for climate work, detail a plan to write a climate curriculum for schools from kindergarten to grade 12 and detail payments to scientists, including an Australian academic.

Heartland claims the documents “appear to have been stolen” and that their president Joseph Bast has not yet had a chance to read them “to see if they have been altered”.

Heartland also claims that one of the documents, a “confidential memo” outlining their climate strategy, “is a total fake”. This document was the only one of the nine which was obviously a scanned copy.

For background here, as a free-market think-tank, Heartland would ultimately like to see little to no legislation limiting greenhouse gases. This is their ideological position.

The Australian academic in question is Professor Bob Carter, an adjunct (unpaid) research fellow at James Cook University and a long-time denier of the risks of human-caused climate change.

Professor Carter has also been a speaker at six of Heartland’s climate change conferences. The documents show Professor Carter will receive $1667 per month from Heartland in 2012 to work on a project called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.

I asked Professor Carter if he was aware of the leak. He claimed he wasn’t, but then told me.

“Heartland is one of a number of think-tanks and institutions that I work with. Sometimes I’m paid an honorarium, sometimes expenses and sometimes I do it pro-bono.”

Professor Carter is certainly correct here. He is indeed an advisor on a number of “think-tanks” and groups. In addition to Heartland, Professor Carter is an advisor to the Institute for Public Affairs (Aus), The Galileo Movement (Aus), the Science and Public Policy Institute (US), the International Climate Science Coalition (US/Canada), the Australian Climate Science Coalition, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (UK) and Repeal the Act (UK). He was a founding advisor to the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

All of these groups promote the same contrarian views on human-caused climate change that are not backed by any national science academy of note anywhere on the planet. Few, if any, reveal their funders.

Professor Carter added: “The details of any of these payments are private to me. I can’t imagine that Heartland has released this document – so the question is, how this document was released.”

According to Heartland, the answer to this is: “The stolen documents were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address.”

Professor Carter said: “Scientists are paid not to have agendas or opinions, but to summarise the scientific evidence.”

Now I have to say I found this last statement pretty rich, coming from someone who is continually writing opinion pieces for newspapers and websites.

For example, during the carbon tax debate of last year, Professor Carter collectively described Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, now Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery and former Australian Government climate adviser Professor Ross Garnaut as the “four horsemen of the climate apocalypse”.

Was this his opinion? The kind of opinion he says scientists aren’t allowed to have?

Heartland is threatening to sue journalists and commentators who have written about the leaked documents, and demanded documents be removed, stories taken down and retractions published. They have pledged to find the leaker and to “see him or her put in prison”. The story has already been covered by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, Forbes and the BBC, among others.

The embedded meta-data associated with several of the documents identifies a “Joseph Bast” or “JBast” as the author. Joseph Bast is Heartland’s president and CEO.

According to DeSmogBlog (a US/Canada site which published the documents and which I also write for), much of the material in the “confidential memo” which Heartland says is fake, is a summary of material found in other documents.

Heartland’s call for journalists and commentators to retract statements based on stolen documents takes us back to 2009, when thousands of emails and files from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit were posted online.

Back then, Joseph Bast was quick on the draw. Admitting he had read only “about two dozen” he wrote that: “The e-mails appear to show a conspiracy to falsify data and suppress academic debate in order to exaggerate the possible threat of man-made global warming.”

Later in the same article he wrote: “thanks to the Internet, millions of people will be able to read the e-mails and make up their own minds.”

Several inquiries and reviews since, have found the scientific intergrity of the scientists – and their science – to be sound.

Heartland has been known to accept funding from fossil-fuel interests in the past, including Exxon, foundations controlled by the Scaife family and the Charles G Koch Foundation. A summary of funding at MediaMatters shows funding from the latter had not been substantial. The Koch foundation is also challenging the statements elsewhere in the documents, claiming they have pledged no further support.

As far as the NIPCC project goes, the documents say the project cost $388,000 to run last year – the cash coming from two foundations which had asked to remain anonymous. I asked Professor Carter if he knew the identities of these foundations.

“I’m not aware of either of these two foundations or any other sources of funding for this public think-tank – or any other, whether it’s the IPA or the Global Warming Policy Foundation of the Climate Institute.”

He said that the anonymity of donors would ensure that they did not suffer “intimidation from the press”.

“I’m a senior scientist and I speak in public on climate change. My scientific authority has nothing to do with who is paying me. I’m not implying a threat here, but I would advise you to be very cautious about what you impute.“

He said he “emphatically denies” any suggestion that his opinion on climate change was swayed by funders, but then stated this would not matter in any case.

“Professional scientists cannot have their opinion bought,” he said, adding it was not important who funded research, but whether or not it was correct.

This is an odd assertion for Professor Carter to make, given that he has regularly over the years attempted to suggest that mainstream climate scientists are motivated by research dollars.

As far back as 2006, in the UK’s The Daily Telegraph, Professor Carter wrote: “scientists are under intense pressure to conform with the prevailing paradigm of climate alarmism if they wish to receive funding for their research.” Opinion?

Oddly, on Professor Carter’s webpage he chooses to state that he receives no research funding from “special interest organisations such as environmental groups, energy companies or government departments”.

Yet, if this funding doesn’t matter, then why make this statement? If he takes no interest in who funds his projects, then how would he know if he is receiving funding from “special interest groups” like those he describes.

I pointed out to Professor Carter that it was standard practice for scientists to disclose the funders of research when they publish in peer-reviewed journals. This, said Professor Carter, was “a very quaint and old fashioned practice”.

Professor Carter also states on his website he has received public money via the Australian Research Council, which does require that researchers carry out the “quaint and old fashioned” practice of acknowledging where their funding comes from.

He added: “The professional opinion stands or falls in its own right. It doesn’t matter who funds it.”

In 2009, Professor Carter did actually manage to get a climate change paper he had co-written published in a peer-reviewed journal, to test if his science “stands or falls” in it’s own right.

The paper concluded that natural variation was the chief cause of global warming. The journal later published a response to Professor Bob Carter’s original research, from a team of well known climate change scientists.

Their assessment? The conclusions of Bob Carter and his two co-researchers were “not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in their paper”.

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