The Heartland memo author(s)

Peter Gleick has confessed to obtaining confidential Heartland Institute files under false pretenses, and some persons have also accused Gleick of forging the memo that was released with the files. But analyzing the memo as if it were written by one person might be a mistake, because there is evidence that the memo is the work of multiple authors.

Consider these inconsistencies in the less-than-two-page-long memo:

1. The memo varies ending a section heading with a period:

2. The memo varies the use of first names:

3. The memo varies the hyphenation of high-profile:

4. The memo varies the use of such as and e.g. when indicating examples:

5. The memo varies the rules for lists: funding is listed from largest amount to smallest amount, but there is no apparent order for listing Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen.

6. The memo varies use of global warming and AGW, which abbreviates anthropogenic global warming:

7. The memo varies in quality. For example, the memo starts with a well-written sentence that has an extended introductory clause and no em-dashes or parenthetical tangents; the second sentence nicely follows the first sentence:

Here is another well-written section:

But this next sentence is full of problems: the variation from e.g. to such as in a section of the sentence that tries to maintain a parallel; the use of his in his Forbes blog refers to Taylor inside a parenthetical remark so that the main sentence reads …especially through our in-house experts through his Forbes blog…; and parallelism is lost when through is not placed in front of our conferences as it was in the previous item in the list and the subsequent item in the list. Moreover, the casual use of parenthetical remarks is not present in much of the rest of the memo:

The memo also omits a necessary comma before the and that separates two independent clauses:

The inconsistencies listed above suggest that the memo was written by multiple persons or by a highly-inconsistent writer. But the memo displays amazing consistency amid apparent inconsistency in at least one instance.

DocMartyn asked at this Climate Audit post why the memo inconsistently mentions the first name of Anthony Watts but not the first name of Curry, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, Gleick, Taylor, or Revkin. But, as I observed, the memo follows a simple rule for the use of first names: the memo identifies the first name of a person only if that person receives funding.

That seems like an unusual rule for one person to have, but it is a bit less unusual if the memo had multiple authors: the person who wrote about funding uses first names, and the person who wrote the section with other names uses only last names. Mystery solved.

My original analysis of the memo suggested that an existing Heartland memo might have been interpolated; entire sections might have been added or deleted, which would explain why two phrases saying pretty much the same thing appear in close proximity to each other:

That finally sentence ends the memo and is a poor conclusion, but that sentence would not be as poor had it been part of a concluding section that has been deleted.

In some cases, though, the memo has evidence that interpolations were made at the sentence level.

Consider the sentence outlined below in red about funding skeptic Anthony Watts to create a website to track temperature station data: ask yourself whether that sentence belongs where it currently appears in the memo, after a discussion of climate communications and “more neutral voices” in which no first names are provided, or whether that sentence might more naturally have been located at the end of the paragraph highlighted in blue, which mentions — by first name — funding for persons like Anthony Watts who publicly counter the alarmist message.

Note also that the red sentence and the sentence immediately preceding it both contain also, which is an unusual repetition, especially since the red sentence about funding does not flow from the preceding sentence about communication; but the red sentence does flow nicely from the previous section about funding, and appending the red sentence to the end of the previous section would make the use of also less unusual.

The theory of an interpolated memo suggests that an existing memo was augmented to make the memo more sinister: there is no need to presume that someone was creative enough to generate the idea of a fake memo to summarize pedestrian financial data in a more sinister tone.

But presuming that the memo was the work of one author presumes that a person with enough originality to conceive of producing a fake memo from scratch is also an extremely inconsistent writer who does not know the possessive form of United Nations.

Perhaps an objection might be lodged that there should be more inconsistencies if the memo had multiple authors. But inconsistencies due to multiple authors would occur only if there was a difference in style from one author to the next.

For example, the memo consistently uses an Oxford comma to set off the last item in a list of more than two things, but the memo would exhibit variation in the Oxford comma only if one of the multiple authors preferred to omit the Oxford comma and that author had written a list with more than two items.

Incidentally, Heartland CEO Joe Bast, who would likely have written any confidential Heartland memo, uses the Oxford comma:

Also incidentally, Peter Gleick, who obtained the Heartland files under a false identity, uses the Oxford comma, too: (h/t to Steve McIntyre for linking to the PGleick review)

By the way, the abundance of parenthetical remarks in the first paragraph of PGleick’s review is reminiscent of the abundance of parenthetical remarks in this section of the memo:

Of course, how anyone who uses this many parenthetical remarks could have written so much of the memo without parenthetical remarks is a mystery only to those persons who think that the memo had one author.

The theory of multiple authorship does not necessitate two forgers or an interpolated memo. But the theory does suggest that treatment of the memo as a seamless garment might not be appropriate when analyzing the memo to identify its author.

Memo elements described in this post might have resulted from an inconsistent author working with Heartland documents. The author would, for instance, use first names for persons receiving funding because first names were used in the documents that the author had been copying; the author would then revert to his or her personal last-name-only style when extemporaneously writing the climate communications section without reference to any Heartland file.

Presuming one highly-inconsistent author working from Heartland files explains much of the observations described above; even variations in style and quality might be explained, if the author’s free-flowing style evident in the climate communications section was held in check when copying Heartland files for much of the rest of the memo.

It is still unclear why funding for Anthony Watts to track station data was mentioned in the climate communications section and not in the funding for individuals section, but that element alone does not demand postulating a second author.

Joe Bast has produced a version of the memo in which yellow highlight indicates forged phrases, which might be used to focus attention on the features of the memo that are reflective of the forger:

  1. The use of the last-name-only style occurs only in the yellow sections.
  2. The word key occurs twice, but only in the yellow sections.
  3. The words effort or efforts occur seven times, but only in the yellow sections.
  4. The unusual phrases focus in the following areas and parallel organizations occur only in the yellow sections.
  5. The incorrect possessive United Nation’s appears only in the yellow sections.

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.