International Journal of Inactivism (now supplanted by Decoding SwiftHack)


The Way of the Astroturf

cite as: F. Bi. 2008. The Way of the Astroturf. Intl. J. Inact., 1:118–121

The how…

Climate inactivist realist Tom Harris from the, um, “International Climate Science Coalition”, speaking at the “2008 International Conference on Climate Change” in March:

[…] We need regular high-impact media coverage of the findings of leading [global warming skeptic] scientists — not just one or two publications, but we need to have hundreds all over the world. We need to have a high degree of information sharing and cooperation between groups, so that when Vincent Gray for example has an article published in New Zealand, we can take the same piece and we can (say) submit it to newspapers all over North America and Europe.

Then we have a nicely well-coordinated response, where letters to the editor and phone calls are made. “Congratulations on publishing that article!” You know, it’s interesting because I’ve had many of my articles opposed so strongly, by environmentalists through phone calls and letters to the editor, that they just simply dry up, they just won’t publish us again. So this does have feedback, I mean, these are people that run these newspapers, and they’re scared, and impressed, and encouraged, depending on the feedback they get.

We have to have grassroots organizations doing exactly that kind of thing: coordinated local activism.

And finally, as I said, we need unbiased polling and good press coverage.

(This is at 15′ 57″ into the 25MB, 20′ 40″ MP3, and Slide 20 in his PowerPoint presentation.)

Well, we all know what “information sharing” means here. But what about “coordinated local activism”? How does it work? Here’s a first guess:

Alice: Hello Mr. Editor, I’m Alice from the newly-formed Friends of Methane group, a member of the International Climate Science Coalition. I read your story that […]

Bob: Good morning, I’m Bob, I heard from the International Climate Science Coalition about the story in your paper that […]

Tom: Dear Editor, I am Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition. I refer to your news article titled […]

Nah, that won’t work well, because the editors will quickly get wind of what’s going on. And besides, if they also know that the ICSC is behind the propagation of the said news story in the first place, then it’ll be pure disaster! Of course, this means that the ICSC will have to hide the fact that it’s behind all the “grassroots activism”…

…and the why

The point of all these tactics, as helpfully highlighted on Slide 22 of Harris’s presentation,1 is partly to change people’s “perceptions of public opinion” on climate regulation. But whose perceptions? While Kevin Grandia thinks that the target of astroturfing is the man on the street, I’m more of the opinion that it’s targeted primarily at the decision makers. I commented on In It,

As Korzybski said, “the map is not the territory.” But the map is what the politician sees. And while you expend all your energy to conquer huge amounts of actual territory, someone else simply colours parts of the map as his own, and sends the map to the politician.

The territory is the actual public opinion, while the map is a politician’s perception of this public opinion.

And if a politician perceives lots of active opposition to climate regulation — even if the opposition’s artificially drummed up — he may be tempted to adjust his policy proposals according to ‘public opinion’. And this, I surmise, is what the ICSC is trying to accomplish.


  1. Interestingly, while Harris emphasizes this point in the slides, he skips over it in his speech.


  • The speech excerpt
    • 2008-08-14: I’ve extracted and uploaded the segment of Harris’s speech from 15′ to 17′ (this is 2.5MB; the above-quoted remarks start at 57″).
    • 2008-08-15: I’ve now also uploaded the 2-minute segment (converted to Ogg Speex format) to Wikiality. Also, I adjusted the paragraphing in the above transcript to make it align better with the slide’s bullet points.
    • 2008-09-24: Corrected a transcription error (“publish this” → “publish us”).
    • 2008-09-25: The segment’s now also on YouTube. (More precisely, the section of the speech from 15′ 28″ to 16′ 26″.)
    • 2008-09-29: A better YouTube video.
    • 2008-10-09: I thought, “hmm… why not embed the YouTube video into this blog entry?” And so I did.
    • 2009-03-31: Moved the embedded video to the top of this post, and moved Slide 20 downwards.
    • 2009-09-02: Added a quick parenthesis to the transcript to clarify the context, namely that Harris wanted to propagate the writings of inactivist scientists. And, some formatting changes.
  • The original recording of Harris’s complete speech
    • 2008-09-17: The Heartland Institute has removed Harris’s speech and slides from their web site. However, as stated above, I have archived the relevant portions.
    • 2008-09-19: The audio’s now back on the Heartland site, at a different address.


  1. `Of course, this means that the ICSC will have to hide the fact that it’s behind all the “grassroots activism”’

    I smell conspiracy on the breeze.

    Comment by horansome — 2008/08/09 @ 02:01 | Reply

  2. Hah, I’ll admit, it’s a conspiracy theory all right. 🙂 But from Harris’s words it seems that the existence of the conspiracy is quite beyond doubt — so in that sense the theory’s quite parsimonious.

    The only question is whether the conspiracy’s been as successful as envisioned. If we don’t hear very much from self-admitted ICSC activists, then it means either (1) it’s indeed quite successful; or (2) it’s been an abject failure, and the grassroots support of Gray et al. is real, or comes from other astroturfing efforts…

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/08/09 @ 04:30 | Reply

  3. It’s alright; at this stage of my thesis I’m not convinced that the term ‘Conspiracy Theory” need be a pejorative.

    Comment by HORansome — 2008/08/10 @ 02:59 | Reply

  4. Terrifying. Thanks for blogging on this.

    Comment by Charlotte — 2008/08/11 @ 23:43 | Reply

  5. Gee, I wonder if that might explain strange behavior like this?

    It’s amazing, how many people are happy to want to argue with me online, but terribly bashful about talking in person, for the oddest of reasons. Russ isn’t the only one.

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 2008/08/12 @ 17:38 | Reply

  6. Update – since I can’t talk to him in person I called and asked; he says no.
    Good to get it on the record, I think. My gut has trouble with it and may need reminding…

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 2008/08/12 @ 18:36 | Reply

  7. Anna Haynes:

    “Gee, I wonder if that might explain strange behavior like this?”

    Good question… maybe, maybe not. How does Russ field questions when he goes on his public speaking gigs?

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/08/12 @ 19:25 | Reply

  8. The other thing that’s interesting, that I’m noticing, is that the regular commenters on such blogs are pseudonymous out-of-towners.

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 2008/08/12 @ 20:59 | Reply

  9. Anna Haynes: That rocks. :-B

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/08/13 @ 02:50 | Reply

  10. just for the record – I’d said “the regular commenters on such blogs are pseudonymous out-of-towners”, but I should clarify that this is a generalization.

    Comment by Anna — 2008/08/24 @ 19:38 | Reply

  11. …and since the most frequent of the pseudonymice shows increasing resemblance to a particular in-towner (albeit surprisingly uninformed on a local matter), i’d better retract said generalization altogether…

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 2008/08/29 @ 15:41 | Reply

  12. Anna Haynes:

    Oh well… out-of-town, in-town, I guess it’s hard to tell with all the smoke and mirrors…

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/08/29 @ 18:35 | Reply

  13. The scientific version of the right-wing echo chamber.

    Comment by Jeff — 2008/09/17 @ 16:52 | Reply

  14. Jeff:

    That it is, that it is. Actually, I won’t be surprised if I find out the ICSC’s using the rumoured Karl Rove database as part of their “coordinated activism”…

    Comment by frankbi — 2008/09/17 @ 19:26 | Reply

  15. […] brief: the group of ‘experts’ are using the ICSC, which is nothing more than a mindless meme propagation shop, to make lots of noise. The “faculty” was comprised of Ph.D.s and area-specific experts from 14 […]

    Pingback by I am not a wingnut, but… « International Journal of Inactivism — 2009/03/26 @ 10:49 | Reply

  16. […] inactivists’ conspiracy-laden interpretations of the e-mails clearly pale in comparison to the things that inactivists have said in public. Greenfyre has […]

    Pingback by And the Russian server hosting e-mails cracked from the Climatic Research Unit was… « International Journal of Inactivism — 2009/11/20 @ 21:16 | Reply

  17. […] Meanwhile, the climate inactivists’ conspiracy-laden interpretations of the e-mails clearly pale in comparison to the things that inactivists have said in public.” […]

    Pingback by This is not good, the CRU computer hack « Greenfyre’s — 2009/11/21 @ 05:58 | Reply

  18. […] of the content comprises things we already know — particularly about their astroturf tactics, but there’s some interesting […]

    Pingback by “Integrity”, “affiliates”, “allies”, and being “silenced” « International Journal of Inactivism — 2009/11/21 @ 08:14 | Reply

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