The Stalking Horse

A stalking horse, for hunters, is something of a moving blind.  The idea is that the prey – often birds – would be startled by the appearance of a human, but not a horse or cow, so the hunter uses the stalking horse (“stalking cow” doesn’t have the same ring) to approach unseen, until the prey is within weapon’s range.

In the modern world, a stalking horse is a metaphor for some third party that tries out an idea or technique for someone else, to see how it goes over, without exposing the ulterior party to the negative side effects of failure.

The stalking horse is the way to go in the 21st century.  This week’s famous stalking horse is the Heartland Institute of Chicago, Illinois.  Isn’t that such a nice name, the Heartland Institute?  What pleasant folks they must be!

Actually, not.  The Heartland Institute is a right-wing think tank for hire.  If you’ve got cash and a libertarian idea, they’ll be happy to cook up some bogus nonsense to promote it and hide your identity.  There’s the “Free to Choose Medicine” which opposes the Food and Drug Administration’s “extreme tunnel focus on safety,” you know, making sure drugs that are supposed to cure you don’t kill you instead.  How could Big Pharma not like (and contribute to) that?

There’s “Operation Angry Badger,” (no, I’m not making this up) which seeks to save Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker from a recall election prompted by his attack on the state’s public employees last year.  Heartland says, “Successful recalls would be a major setback to the national effort to rein in public sector compensation and union power.”

Heartland, all other looniness aside, is best known as a home for global warming deniers looking for a facade (Hello, Koch brothers!).  This week, an anonymous do-gooder sent a trove of Heartland’s internal documents to DeSmogblog, a web site devoted to pointing out the hunters behind the deniers’ stalking horses.

Among other things, Heartland has been planning to pay a Department of Energy consultant – David Wojick – $75,000 to develop a K-12 curriculum on global warming.  (Things get complex here, so pay close attention.)

A document entitled “2012 Heartland Climate Strategy,” says Dr. Wojick’s work “will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

Heartland denied this is its document.  A document it does not disown, however, says Dr. Wojick will be paid $75,000 for a K-12 global warming curriculum; it just doesn’t have the inflammatory language about dissuading the teaching of science.

(To be clear, while Heartland did not disown the other documents, it didn’t verify them, either.  A spokesoid said Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, was traveling and couldn’t verify the other documents.  Which raises the question: if he wasn’t around to verify most of the documents as true, how was he around to verify one as false?  Oh, and another question: if he was traveling and unavailable for verification duty, how did he manage to write the rather lengthy fundraising letter about the leak that went out over his signature the same day the story broke?)

Here’s what caught my eye: “the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain” and “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”  Reminds me of the “intelligent design” nonsense we’ve seen, and still see, across the country.

Was that another stalking horse?  The “creation science” debate was and is preposterous (“teach all the theories”) but it’s been a handy tool for keeping evangelical Christians firmly in the Republican Party, even as their wages erode, their life savings are wiped out by health care costs and their homes are lost to unscrupulous banks.  (Republican operatives refer to these poor folks as “useful idiots.”)

Beyond that, maybe it was a test run for the bogus global warming debate in the schools.  Pick a useful issue, but one not crucial to your primary agenda and conduct your test run, see how well you can manage to undermine real science.  Get the bugs worked out, optimize performance, then apply the lessons learned to something you really care about.

Makes sense to me.  No one ever said these guys were dumb.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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