Whose writing style most closely matches the Heartland memo [UPDATED]

Originally published on Feb 24, 2012 @ 2:44am

One of the early claims made accusing Peter Gleick of faking the Heartland memo (before he admitted to being the source of the other documents) had to do with his writing style. Supposedly it matched the writing style of the memo.

Anthony Watts even suggested people perform stylometry and textometry to see if Gleick really did write the memo.

Well Shawn Lawrence Otto decided to take Watts up on his suggestion and the results are likely not what people were expecting. It turns out that Heartland Institute president Joe Bast is the most likely source of the memo in question.

Results

Of the six author choices of: The Memo Itself, Peter Gleick 1 & 2, Joe Bast 1 & 2, and Heartland Staff, based on the above criteria, here are the scores JGAAP assigned for most likely authorship of the climate strategy memo under just a few of the many analyses the app can perform:

Heartland Strategy Memo.docx
Canonicizers: none

Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Character 2Grams as events
1. Strategy Memo 0.0
2. Joe Bast 3.2756019350109358
3. Heartland Staff 5.861152017670673
4. Peter Gleick 7.631295386657848
5. Joe Bast 10.572152376359865
6. Peter Gleick 11.883756639524362

Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Word 2Grams as events
1. Strategy Memo 0.0
2. Joe Bast 2.599109316906122
3. Heartland Staff 6.170704701235744
4. Joe Bast 9.570177815725275
5. Peter Gleick 13.307560177813828
6. Peter Gleick 13.695029284565496

Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Word stems as events
1. Strategy Memo 0.0
2. Joe Bast 3.8820363096787065
3. Heartland Staff 7.695783407036921
4. Joe Bast 12.653793919968829
5. Peter Gleick 14.734167804512905
6. Peter Gleick 16.420190717794636

One possible flaw not considered in the above methodology is that the program could be attributing too close of an authorship match to Joe Bast and Heartland Staff because the strategy memo contains a sentence that also appears in the authentic Fundraising Plan: “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective.”

I next crontrolled for this possibility by deleting the sentence in question from the climate strategy document, which I resaved as Climate Strategy Memo 2 (docx) and reran the same three analyses, using the original, full strategy document as one of the possible known authors, and got the following results:

Heartland Strategy Memo 2.docx

Canonicizers: none
Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Character 2Grams as events
1. Strategy Memo 1.938705726184192
2. Joe Bast 2.9968217577188563
3. Heartland Staff 5.5472178990613275
4. Peter Gleick 8.156321472803725
5. Joe Bast 9.863690024204885
6. Peter Gleick 11.241849893833598

Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Word 2Grams as events
1. Strategy Memo 4.183330096592706
2. Joe Bast 5.2640798702672384
3. Heartland Staff 7.577255315445771
4. Joe Bast 8.593442340043726
5. Peter Gleick 12.32193237311855
6. Peter Gleick 16.31481171381239

Analyzed by Nearest Neighbor Driver with metric Camberra Distance using Word stems as events
1. Strategy Memo 3.188360519110196
2. Joe Bast 4.783646657279247
3. Heartland Staff 9.110105530159261
4. Joe Bast 12.56463219477823
5. Peter Gleick 14.959700479974499
6. Peter Gleick 16.735394841607917

Conclusion

According to the above six analyses, which may contain unknown errors, the most likely author of the climate strategy memo is Heartland Institute president Joe Bast.

This isn’t exactly conclusive evidence, so it would be premature to point an accusatory finger at anyone. In fact since Heartland has good plausible deniability here they aren’t likely to admit anything. Which means we aren’t likely to be in any position to determine who actually wrote the memo. Unless we get some additional information.

But this does raise an interesting question. Why all the finger-pointing by Steve Mosher and others at Gleick before his admission, despite the fact that Bast’s writing style more closely matches the Heartland memo. What did they know that we didn’t?

UPDATE: Shawn Lawrence Otto is at it again, this time running his analysis with a helpful suggestion made by Heartland Institute president Joe Bast:

Efforts apparently are underway to use authorship analysis software to find the true author or authors of the memo. Since the memo contains so much material copied and pasted from, or paraphrases of, my own writing, such a comparison of the content and writing style of the forged memo and the stolen documents wouldn’t rule me out as a possible author of the memo. I hope persons conducting such analyses will use the text highlighted in the forged memo attached to this current essay, rather than the entire memo, so that their investigation is limited to the actual words of the forger rather than my own.

And the results still point to Joe Bast as the most likely author of the memo:

According to the above analyses by the JGAAP software, which as I caution above may contain unknown errors, and considering only the “forger’s” language not cut and pasted from other Heartland documents as identified by Heartland Institute president Joe Bast, the most likely author of the climate strategy memo is – still – Heartland Institute president Joe Bast.

Which leads me back to my earlier questions: how did Mosher and other Heartland-aligned climate denial bloggers know immediately and with such a high confidence that the whistleblower was Peter Gleick when as we see this is tricky stuff, and why is Joe Bast going to such great lengths to disavow the memo?

Note, I still maintain that I have no idea who wrote the memo. While the analysis done by Shawn Lawrence Otto are interesting, they are not conclusive enough for me to point an accusatory finger at anyone. But the questions this raises are interesting.

Comments:

  1. Yeah, I read the Otto analysis and it was worthless because most of what was in the allegedly fake memo was more or less culled (if it's fake) from real Heartland documents which are mostly written by Joe Bast. It would also better match Bast's other writings for the same reason. Of course the whole memo would match Heartland/Bast more than Gleick. Only the relatively small portions containing the passages that don't make any sense coming from Heartland are important. Indeed, that is why Steve Mosher (apparently somewhat of a textual analysis dabbler) suspected Gleick within a day of the memo's publication. Those passages (e.g. describing themselves as anti-science or saying the wanted to stop science from being taught in classrooms) are so unlikely to have been written by Heartland/Bast that the only explanation other than fakery by Gleick or some other warmist is that someone from Heartland (or another skeptic) wrote it to set Gleick up (if so, Gleick was not very bright to fall for it because anyone with half a brain should know that Heartland would not talk about itself in such terms). Note that I don't think the latter explanation is true.

    • I heard something similar. So I googled 'anti-climate' and found that it's actually a very common phrase.

      I'm really not sure why it would be 'unlikely' that the 'fake' document wouldn't have been authored at Heartland. It's a lazy piece of document making for sure - but that's normal for internal memos.

      The only thing we can say is that whoever did write the memo is familiar with Heartland's internal affairs. While that does include Gleik, it's a net that spreads much wider than one person.

      Mostly I think trying to deduce the author from circumstantial evidence is a pissing match.

  2. Why would Joe Bast use alarmist dog whistles in the memo. His supporters would run for the hills! The only sentences that should be analyzed are those that are not part of any other documents. Like the Global warming "science" itself, the strategy is: garbage in, garbage out. Gleick is the admitted thief here, guilty in one guilty in all. Change the test parameters. The clues clearly point to an alarmist and no amount of 'modeling' will change that. Nice effort though, kudos.

    • @ John

      Please read the article quoted, or at least the relevant section quoted below:

      One possible flaw not considered in the above methodology is that the program could be attributing too close of an authorship match to Joe Bast and Heartland Staff because the strategy memo contains a sentence that also appears in the authentic Fundraising Plan: “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective.”

      I next crontrolled for this possibility by deleting the sentence in question from the climate strategy document, which I resaved as Climate Strategy Memo 2 (docx) and reran the same three analyses, using the original, full strategy document as one of the possible known authors, and got the following results:

      ******
      John: guilty in one guilty in all

      Well with that logic it is settled then isn't it! Why bother trying to use the grey mush between my ears.

  3. Pingback: What I’m Reading, Friday, February 24, 2012 | Rationally Thinking Out Loud

  4. I would have a lot more confidence in the analysis if the author displayed at least a little understanding of measurement quantities. To say that the analysis (which shows scores of Bast vs. Gleick that differ by a factor of 3) does not prove the case and then to provide metrics to 16 digits is simply absurd and demonstrates lack of numerical understanding on the part of Otto.

  5. Greg Laden has the best comment ever regarding the 'Gleick forged the memo' theory:

    Brad [18] You are telling us that Peter Gleick traveled forward in time to see the documents he obtained from Heartland, then went back in time to fabricate a memo based on them.

    The inactivists' proposed timeline makes no sense whatsoever. What is so hard to understand about that?

    Remember, folks: ask the right questions. Don't try to find the right answers to the wrong questions.

    -- frank

    • @frankswifthack

      Of course he didn't time travel. He got the emails, faked up the 2012 strategy thing, scanned it and sent it off. Simples.

      (check out http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/peter-gleick-confesses-to-obtaining-heartland-documents-under-false-pretenses/253395/)

      [ boring -mt ]

  6. Beginning sometime in mid-January, PG appeared to become intensely focused on HI's funding. I cannot seem to find anything prior to this from PG resmembling such a specific and intense focus. This tends to support his version of the events. The memo had some clearly provocative quotes, mention of anonymous donors, and specifically included as a strategy a plan to target PG. This would be an obvious catalyst towards the words that followed and ultimately the questionable contact with HI.

    Jan. 12 (or shortly after), correspondance with James Taylor on his blog: I wonder, however, if Taylor would publish the list of who really DOES fund the Heartland Institute. It seems to be a secret — no information is listed on their website about actual contributors of that $7 million budget that they use to deny the reality of climate change (and previously, the health effects of tobacco — their other focus). And their 990 tax form doesn’t say either.

    Jan. 16, email response to HI invitation: In order for me to consider this invitation,
    please let me know if the Heartland Institute
    publishes its financial records and donors for
    the public and where to find this information.
    Such transparency is important to me when I am
    offered a speaking fee (or in this case, a
    comparable donation to a charity). My own
    institution puts this information on our website.

    Jan. 27, 2nd email response to HI invitation: Perhaps more importantly, the lack of
    transparency about the financial support for the
    Heartland Institute is at odds with my belief in
    transparency, especially when your Institute and
    its donors benefit from major tax breaks at the expense of the public.


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