Profiling the Heartland memo author

Documents were recently obtained under false pretenses from the Heartland Institute and posted on the DeSmogBlog site. Megan McArdle suspects that the Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy file that is purportedly part of the document cache is a fake.

Let’s see if the memo provides enough detail to permit identification of an author or at least the drafting of an author profile.

Ms. McArdle provides a nice start, observing that the memo author might use high-profile often and write in a run-on style. But let’s examine the memo a bit closer:

1. Perhaps the biggest clue is that the memo author did not realize that the possessive form of United Nations is not United Nation’s:

The suspect pool is now restricted to persons with a misunderstanding of possessives.

2. The memo author consistently used a comma to set off the final item in a list of more than two items, such as in this sentence:

Another $88,000 is earmarked this year for Heartland staff, incremental expenses, and overhead for editing, expense reimbursement for the authors, and marketing.

The suspect pool is now limited to persons with a misunderstanding of possessives and a preference for the Oxford comma. Let’s continue…

3. The memo author wrote 20 as a number but two as a word.

4. The memo author did not indent paragraphs.

5. The memo author used ragged-right justification with no hyphenation.

6. The memo author used a dash in K-12.

7. The memo author used periods in most section headings, an unusual choice that might be a modified APA style:

8. The memo author did not mind an orphaned word that appeared at the top of a page:

9. The memo author used periods for U.S. in adjective form.

10. The memo author inconsistently hyphenated the adjective high-profilehigh profile.

11. The memo author did not offset such as with a comma.

12. The memo author used focus in where focus on might be more common:

In 2012 our efforts will focus in the following areas…

13. The memo author used parenthetical remarks, especially in the final section that Ms. McArdle suspects is closest to the author’s style.

14. The memo author introduced the acronyms IPCC, NIPCC, AGW, and WUWT without explanation, presuming reader familiarity with these acronyms.

15. The memo author indicated a project with quotation marks (“Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms”) but indicated a written document with italic font (Climate Change Reconsidered). The New York Times was written as NYTimes, without italic font or quotation marks.

16. The memo author used a percent sign (%) instead of writing the word percent.

Once this profile was completed, I suspected that the best place to look for documents matching the profile was the Heartland Institute, if the memo was authentic, or the DeSmogBlog site, if the memo was fake; the memo might have been forged by a third party, but I decided to start with the simple scenarios.

Google searches for the exact phrase united nation’s coupled with site:heartland.org and with site:desmogblog.com respectively returned 97 results and 617 results. Adding the distinctive focus in phrase decreased the results to the memo itself. I removed the focus in phrase and added the less distinctive K-12 phrase, which returned from DeSmogBlog the memo, this file, and a Heartland budget file, but returned from the Heartland site this transcript of a 2007 speech by Heartland Institute President and CEO Joseph Bast.

The similarities between the memo and the speech transcript were not trivial.

1. The speech transcript misplaced the apostrophe in the possessive form of United Nations:

2. The speech transcript consistently used a comma to set off the final item in a list of more than two items. [see the red boxes below]

3. The speech transcript wrote out three and six as a word, consistent with the use of two in the memo. [see the purple boxes below]

[The green box indicates an unexpected switch from the first person singular to the first person plural.]

4. The speech transcript did not indent paragraphs. [see above]

5. The speech transcript used ragged-right justification with no hyphenation. [see above]

6. The speech transcript used a dash in K-12. [see the purple box below]

7. The speech transcript used periods in some section headings. [see the blue box below]

8. The speech transcript had an orphaned word at the top of a page:

9. The speech transcript used periods for U.S. in adjective form:

10. The speech transcript inconsistently hyphenated man made as a predicate nominative: “Claims of a consensus that global warming is man made” on p. 2, but “claims that global warming is man-made and a crisis” on p. 3.

The remaining items provided no evidence of consistency with the memo or were inconsistent with the memo.

11. The speech transcript sometimes used a comma to offset such as, and other times did not.

12. The speech transcript did not contain the word focus.

13. The speech transcript did not appear to overuse parenthetical remarks.

14. The speech transcript defined an unfamiliar acronym before using the acronym. The speech transcript did not contain the acronym AGW, and global warming was modified with man-made and not anthropogenic.

15. The speech transcript used italic font for periodicals and quotation marks for books, reports, and articles. The New York Times was written as the New York Times.

16. The speech transcript did not use the percent sign (%) and instead used the word percent.

The memo and the speech transcript appear to be formatted similarly, with similar margins and font, and the reading statistics are similar for the memo and the speech transcript, respectively: 21.2 words per sentence, compared to 25.0 words per sentence; 5.2 characters per word, compared to 5.1 characters per word; 18 percent passive sentences, compared to 16 percent passive sentences; reading ease of 29.8, compared to a reading ease of 26.4; and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 14.3, compared to a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 14.3.

The memo and the speech transcript are somewhat consistent with each other in multiple elements indicated above and in the sense that both were written by a person who appears to have a strong but imperfect command of the English language: one of the few imperfections in the speech transcript was a passage from page 10 that incorrectly used it to represent groups and that also incorrectly used it’s and not its as a possessive:

Environmental advocacy groups raised $6.6 billion in 2006 and it’s take is growing fast…

Based on imperfections that riddle DeSmogBlog, many DeSmog bloggers might not have been able to sustain the level of grammar in the memo throughout the entire memo, and many DeSmog bloggers appear to avoid the Oxford comma. For example, a 17 Feb 2012 post by Richard Littlemore contains a possessive error and overuse of parentheses, but lacks the Oxford comma:

The memo also lacks the signature of a Joseph Bast memorandum, the use of large-square bullet lists:

Perhaps a two-page memo was not long enough to warrant a large-square bullet list, or perhaps the lack of a large-square bullet list is evidence of a forgery.

But the memo does look and sound like something that the President and CEO of the Heartland Institute would write and has written, though some passages are inconsistent with that idea, such as: “…two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science” and “[t]his influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.”

The two most bogus paragraphs appear to be the “Expanded climate communications” paragraph and the paragraph with apparently erroneous information about the Koch Foundation donation (see the update here): these paragraphs just happen to be in the only sections with titles that lack a period.

Perhaps the memo is like the Testimonium Flavianum, a core authentic document with inauthentic interpolations inserted by a true believer on the opposite side of a battle.

Perhaps the document cache obtained by DeSmogBlog contained an authentic Heartland memo that served as the basis for the formatting and core text of an interpolated memo; this would explain both the similarities and the differences with the Heartland speech transcript.

The interpolation theory lowers the bar from the highly original idea of generating a bogus confidential memo from scratch to the less original idea of spicing up an existing text.

For example, note the parallelism apparently intended between Taylor and Gleick in these two sentences:

The parallelism is broken with variation from a parenthetical e.g. to a parenthetical such as, lack of consistent hyphenation in high profile, and a change in focus from high profile outlets to high profile scientists…and this broken parallelism might signal the presence of two authors.

Or perhaps the entire “expanded climate communications” section is forged, given that the phrases climate communications and climate communication never appear on the Heartland website: 62,600 hits for climate, 17,300 hits for communications, and 0 hits for climate communications:

Oddly enough, though, climate communications is a tag on the DeSmogBlog site:

The evidence is clear: Heartland reserves the phrase climate communications for confidential memos. There might be another explanation for the fact that a phrase absent from the Heartland site but appearing on the DeSmogBlog site also appears in a document hosted by DeSmogBlog that Heartland alleges is forged, but as Tink Thompson reminded us:

If you have any fact which you think is really sinister…is really obviously a fact which can only point to some sinister underpinning…forget it, man, because you can never on your own think up all the non-sinister perfectly valid explanations for that fact.

Further notes:

  1. Both the memo and the speech transcript use single spaces between sentences.
  2. Not counting brief indications of payments such as ($11,600 per month), each extended parenthetical remark in the memo appears in one of the two sections without a period in the section title.
  3. The word key appears twice in the memo: once in a section without a period in its title, and another time in the suspect phrase two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.
  4. The phrase such as appears five times in the memo, each time in the “climate communications” paragraph.
  5. The “climate communications” paragraph has multiple errors and odd phrasings, such as especially through our in-house experts (e.g., Taylor) through his Forbes blog and related high profile outlets. Note that his refers to experts.
  6. [Update 19 Feb 2012 at 3:45pm] It is possible and perhaps likely that the Heartland memo was interpolated by someone unaffiliated with DeSmogBlog. Presumably, the person who obtained the document cache under false pretenses and sent the cache to DeSmogBlog is an opponent of climate skeptics, and opponents of climate skeptics appear to use the phrase climate communications more often than climate skeptics themselves; for example, the search site:grist.org “climate communications” -role -gavin returns 3,660 hits from Google. (The -role phrase is to remove hits about the memo itself, which contains the phrase an important role in climate communications; the -gavin phrase is to remove hits regarding the Climate Communications Prize that the American Geophysical Union awarded to Gavin Schmidt in 2011; Grist was chosen merely as an example of a group unaligned with climate skeptics.)
  7. [Update: 19 Feb 2012 at 5:11pm] Jim Lakely of the Heartland Institute explains the release of the document cache: “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.” The Heartland staffer who emailed the documents presumably has the email address that the documents were sent to, but Heartland does not appear to have released that email address. I presume that Heartland could demonstrate to a neutral third party that the pdf of the confidential memo was not sent from the email address that the Heartland staffer used to send the other documents. I also presume that the person who received the document cache could demonstrate that the Heartland staffer emailed the confidential memo, but I also presume that that person would rather remain anonymous.
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