James Hoggan's "Climate Cover-Up": A Summary Review

"Climate Cover-Up”: A Review (10/30/09)

You’ve been lied to.

The first decade of the new millennium has been the warmest ever--yet you are being told that the world is cooling.

The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824, and the role that carbon dioxide plays in it in 1860--yet you are being told that the science is too immature.

In 2005 Dr. Naomi Oreskes found not one of 928 published scientific papers taking exception to the scientific consensus on human-induced global climate change, and three years later Dr. Peter Doran found that 97% of active climate researchers agreed that human activity is warming the world’s climate--yet you are being told that there is a scientific “controversy.”

What actually does exist is a disinformation campaign—systematic, well-conceived, well-executed, and above all well-funded. Such is the message of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade To Deny Global Warming, just published by Greystone Books.

Authors James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore know PR. The former is president of Hoggan and Associates, an award-winning public relations company in Vancouver, Canada, and the latter is a senior writer at the same firm. This insider perspective on the art—and on whatshould be the ethics—of public relations gives their book a poignant tone. Hoggan is torn between professional admiration on the tactical level, and ethical and professional disgust when he steps back to consider the bigger implications.

James Hoggan Explains Climate Denial "Astroturf"

Hoggan writes:

Public relations is the art of building good relationships. You do that most effectively by earning trust and goodwill among those who are important to you and your business. And in more than thirty years of public relations practice, I have learned that the best way to achieve those goals is to act with integrity and honesty and to make sure everybody know you are doing so.

Of course, lies are darned handy when the truth is something you dare not admit. . . when Exxon gives money to think tanks in support of programs that sow confusion about global warming, that isn’t public relations. It’s not an effort to build or maintain the quality of Exxon’s reputation. It is, rather, a direct interference in the public conversation in a way that serves Exxon’s interest at the expense of the public interest.

But here’s the part that bugs me the most: the people who are taking Exxon’s money are often in public relations. Or they are taking advantage of skills, tactics, and techniques that have been developed and refined in the shadier parts of the public relations industry.

Climate Cover-Up is a carefully researched, detailed, and thoroughly-documented account of the climate change disinformation campaign. Although there is a very brief summary of the relevant science history in Chapter 2, the book is not so much concerned with the science itself. (Instead, Hoggan and Littlemore urge the reader to educate him- or herself on that topic, and provide a few pointers to start.) But Climate Cover-Up does painstakingly trace the flow of money and ideas from Big Energy and friends to you, a member of the much-abused concerned public.

Aerial view of Syncrude's Mildred Lake Plant, Alberta Oil Sands.  The Oil Sands are Canada's beggest emitters of greenhouse gases.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Aerial view of Syncrude's Mildred Lake Plant, Alberta Oil Sands. The Oil Sands are Canada's beggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


It is not always easy to “follow the money”—quite often there is some effort made to launder it by involving legitimate institutions. A case in point, documented in Climate Cover-Up, is that of the “Friends of Science,” an anti-Kyoto Protocol group who solved their fund-raising problems by taking oil-patch money via the Calgary Foundation and a specially-created “Science Education Fund” at the University of Calgary. It was used primarily to fund the speaking and advocacy activities of denialist Tim Ball.

But despite such subterfuges, Hoggan and Littlemore document that Exxon has spent at least $20 million to counter what the scientific literature has to say about global warming since the signing of the Kyoto accord. This money has flowed, directly or indirectly, to a bewildering network of organizations, including the Science & Environment Policy Project, the Cato Institute, the American Council on Science and Health, the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Independent Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition.

Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.
Cato Institute, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The potential for personal gain on the part of professional “deniers” is also suggested by the fact that all of the institutions just listed have employed—often concurrently--Dr. Fred S. Singer. (He is described by Hoggan as “a hard-working climate change denier who has done no obvious scientific work in the field for years.”) His career as a climate denialist is prototypical for many others who have followed his footsteps onto multiple payrolls.

Science-for-hire is so accepted in the climate-denial world that at times it bubbles out into the open; in 2006, for instance, the American Enterprise Institute solicited scientists to critique the then-forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. Their offer? $10,000 plus expenses. Naturally, scientists need to be paid—but a broad hint as to employer expectations was offered in the cover letter, which stated:

. . . the IPCC is susceptible to self-selection bias in its personnel, resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work of the complete Working Group reports.

Less generous was the 2008 offer from the Heartland Institute of $1000 plus an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to any scientist willing to help “generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective.” Less generous, that is, until one considers that no actual scientific work was required. And besides, the Heartland Institute had to set some budget aside for the scholarships offered to elected officials who wished to attend the "International Conference on Climate Change."

New York Marriott Marquis, site of the 2008 "International Conference On Climate Change," organized by the Heartland Institute.
New York Marriott Marquis, site of the 2008 "International Conference On Climate Change," organized by the Heartland Institute.

Also documented in Climate Cover-Up are specific instances of very substantial payments to individuals for what one might term “climate denial services.” There is, for instance, the memo in which Intermountain Rural Electric Association general manager Stanley Lewandowski puts forward the IREA payment of $100,000 to denialist Pat Michaels--another featured speaker for the Heartland conference--as a model for other utilities to follow, saying, “We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists.”

But the disinformation campaign has not been limited to advocacy; it has on several occasion used coercive tactics to silence, intimadate or punish critics. Both in the United States and Canada, officials friendly to the energy lobbies (who have been such reliable campaign donors) have made attempts—and quite often successful ones—to forbid or discourage government scientists from speaking out on what the science actually says. Figures as prominent as James Hansen and former director of the Center for Disease Control, Julie Gerberding, have been targets; in the latter case, Ms. Gerberding’s 2007 testimony to a Senate Committee was slashed in half by the White House, with references to negative effects of climate change almost entirely eliminated.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC--her Senatorial climate change testimony was severely censored by the White House.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC--her Senatorial climate change testimony was severely censored by the White House.

Another form of coercion is the so-called SLAPP. (The acronym stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”) Of course, it is difficult to be sure of the motives for a lawsuit, so it is equally hard to be sure whether a given lawsuit might qualify as a SLAPP. But Climate Cover-Up outlines three actual cases which serve to illustrate how the concept could work.

The plaintiffs were Fred Singer, Tim Ball, and Stuart Dimmock. The first two we have met; Mr. Dimmock received his fifteen minutes of fame for mounting a court challenge to the presentation in UK classrooms of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I don’t wish to anticipate the stories as they are told in Climate Cover-Up, but it may be said that in two of the three cases the plaintiff was able to derive considerable benefit from their suits. Singer was able to disarm a serious accusation by threatening financial ruin to a young scientist and gained a full decade of PR advantage; Ball, confronted with a determined opponent, “bailed without comment.”

Winner or loser in the Dimmock case?
Winner or loser in the Dimmock case?


Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the Dimmock case. The ruling in the case was somewhat complex, but Dimmock’s two main goals were denied: An Inconvenient Truth was allowed to be shown in UK classrooms, and without the “balancing” film Dimmock proposed, The Great Global Warming Swindle--which the judge likened to presenting a theory that “the moon is made of green cheese.” Yet, though An Inconvenient Truth was adjudged to be “substantially founded upon scientific research and fact,” judicial note was made of nine specific “exaggerations.”

If you have read of this case, did you read that Dimmock actually lost, and that AIT was substantially vindicated? Or did you read stories detailing the “inconvenient errors?” And have you read that, five months after the judgement, it was revealed that the whole effort was conceived by denialist Christopher Walter, also known as “Lord Monckton”--or that it was funded by gravel magnate Robert Durward, founder of the anti-environmental group U.K. Scientific Alliance?

Monckton told the story on the March 4, 2008 Glenn Beck show on CNN--though he appeared to think that the judge had in fact ordered the screening of Swindle.  His stated purpose was to solicit funds for a similar challenge to American showings of the film. He suggested that $2 million ought to do the job; as of now, no such challenge has materialized.

Monckton's most famous faux pas--the manipulated graph from "Temperature Change And CO2 Change, A Scientific Briefing"

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cuffey & Clow's original graph of Greenland's temperature history.Monckton's time-reversed and "taffy-pulled" "interpretation", attributed to "Curry" & Clow.Monckton's original presentation version--captioned "Today's Temperature."  Note House of Lords logo; Monckton is not actually a seated member.Monckton's "corrected" version--now captioned "Antarctic Temperature," and more correctly attributed.  Perhaps time-reversing reverses geographical location too?
Cuffey & Clow's original graph of Greenland's temperature history.
Cuffey & Clow's original graph of Greenland's temperature history.
Monckton's time-reversed and "taffy-pulled" "interpretation", attributed to "Curry" & Clow.
Monckton's time-reversed and "taffy-pulled" "interpretation", attributed to "Curry" & Clow.
Monckton's original presentation version--captioned "Today's Temperature."  Note House of Lords logo; Monckton is not actually a seated member.
Monckton's original presentation version--captioned "Today's Temperature." Note House of Lords logo; Monckton is not actually a seated member.
Monckton's "corrected" version--now captioned "Antarctic Temperature," and more correctly attributed.  Perhaps time-reversing reverses geographical location too?
Monckton's "corrected" version--now captioned "Antarctic Temperature," and more correctly attributed. Perhaps time-reversing reverses geographical location too?


Perhaps none of this would matter so much, were it not that the disregard for truth and accuracy so prevalent amongst the “think tanks” and “junk scientists” who people the pages of Climate Cover-up may really be damaging public discourse.  Sometimes the exaggerations, stretches and fabrications can be comical, as in the Lordly and Nobel Laureate pretensions displayed by Monckton, or as in Tim Ball’s inability to remember just how long he was employed by the University of Manitoba, or in what capacity. Sometimes they seem inconsequential, or sloppy.

But often it seems quite characteristic, even intentional. One thing that Climate Cover-Up makes quite clear is that the goal of the denialist community is not to win a scientific debate. Never mind the nearly total lack of peer-reviewed papers actually challenging the mainstream science; if the goal was scientific, the focus would be on research, not public relations. Instead, we find sums expended on lobbyists—currently Congressional energy lobbyists number roughly four per Congressman. We find expensive PR campaigns, like those mounted by Big Coal during the 2008 Presidential elections—one triumphant memo said, “We nearly turned candidate events into clean coal rallies,” and it is true that they put the words “clean coal” onto every candidate’s lips, including those of President Obama. We find pet “junk scientists” on retainer who have Masters degrees in Health Statistics, or undergraduate degrees in journalism and classics, or doctorates in geography or sociology. We find funding for petitions, but not for laboratories.

The CleanCoal Bus in Denver during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The CleanCoal Bus in Denver during the 2008 presidential campaign.

These choices can only be explained if the goal is to sway public opinion. And it is not necessary to win the public to a positive stance for or against; it is only necessary to create confusion and delay. So there is no advantage for the denialists to check facts, or acknowledge “inconvenient truths.”

And largely, they don’t—Senator Inhofe, for instance, months after the criticism of the Oreskes study had been shown to be false, presented it, entirely intact, as if nothing had happened, on the floor of the US Senate. Fred Singer does everything he can to deny that he ever worked to deny the science showing that tobacco was harmful. Tim Ball said that he “made a point of not trying to find out who pays me,” and perhaps not so coincidentally says also, “to my knowledge, I have never received a nickel from the oil and gas companies.”

The result, Climate Cover-Up tells us, is twofold. We have a dangerous paralysis of the public will to take action on a clear and present danger; and we have a serious degradation of the public discourse itself.  Setting forth the results of a number of polls evaluating public perceptions of trustworthiness, the book continues:

Together, all these polls seem to indicate the following: people don’t trust business; they don’t trust government; and on issues of sustainability at least, half the people don’t even trust one another. No wonder so few people are struggling to make a large personal contribution in the battle to limit the effects of climate change: nobody wants to be a chump. . . Nobody wants to give up their car, change their diet, or limit their consumption if their efforts will be rendered irrelevant by the consumption patterns of those around them.

Mall scene in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Image courtesy Jonathan McIntosh and Wikipedia.
Mall scene in Jakarta, Indonesia. Image courtesy Jonathan McIntosh and Wikipedia.

But all is not doom and gloom. Fixing climate—to borrow the title of the Kunzig and Broeker book on climate change—is not a trivial challenge, but there is reason to think it is much more manageable than denialists of the Bjorn Lomborg school would have us believe:

. . . a June, 2008 report by the McKinsey Global Institute. . . estimates that the macroeconomic costs of what it calls the “carbon revolution” would be between 0.6 and 1.4 percent of GDP by 2030. McKinsey adds, “To put this figure in perspective, if one were to view this spending as a form of insurance against potential damage due to climate change, it might be relevant to compare it to global spending on insurance, which was 3.3 percent of GDP in 2005.”

As perhaps has already become clear, Climate Cover-Up is an important contribution to the ongoing public debate about climate change. The writing is breezy, but the facts are solid. And if those facts are at times depressing, disgusting, dispiriting, or enraging, the book as a whole remains hopeful. Hoggan and Littlemore believe that “There can be a good future if we make it so.” To get there, they encourage us to educate ourselves—not to accept blindly any assertions, including theirs, but to verify facts and credentials. And they encourage action:

If our current politicians won’t take responsibility for dealing with climate change, then we have to find some who will. . . We have to get informed, and we have to get active. Because if we don’t. . . the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognizable, perhaps uninhabitable. . .

So please, be bold. Be courageous. Be positive. Act and demand action. . . . . for this bears repeating: the world is worth saving.

James Hoggan.
James Hoggan.

Update: 12/24/13

Apparently two things have changed since the publication of Climate Coverup, according to a new paper published in the journal Climatic Change.

First, the money involved has gotten much, much bigger. And second, that money is now being laundered through third-party groups, so that its origin is obscured. For example, historically Exxon-Mobil was a primary donor to the climate cover-up. But since 2007, it has stopped making direct donations to this effort. Have they changed their view, or just started 'laundering' the donations? We don't know.

Here's what the press report has to say:

Organizations that actively block efforts to address climate change are funded by a large network of conservative donors to the tune of nearly $1 billion a year, according to the first in-depth study into the dark money that fuels the denial effort.

The study, published Friday in the journal Climatic Change, analyzed the income of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups, and industry associations, funded by 140 different foundations, that work to oppose action on climate change. The study’s author, Robert Brulle, refers to these organizations as the climate change counter-movement, and concludes that their outsized influence “has not only played a major role in confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue.”

“It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this,” Brulle told the Guardian. “This is a large-scale political effort.”

Brulle goes on to describe this effort as an assault on democracy, since accountability becomes difficult.

I would ask a question: what does it say about the funders, and about the view they are propounding, that they are unwilling to take public responsibility for the 'free speech' which their money buys?

Let me give the last word to the Brulle study--specifically, its concluding paragraph:

With delay and obfuscation as their goals, the U.S. CCCM has been quite successful in recent decades. However, the key actors in this cultural and political conflict are not just the expertswho appear in the media spotlight. The roots of climate-change denial go deeper, because individualsefforts have been bankrolled and directed by organizations that receive sustained support from foundations and funders known for their overall commitments to conservative causes. Thus to fully understand the opposition to climate change legislation, we need to focus on the institutionalized efforts that have built and maintain this organized campaign. Just as in a theatrical show, there are stars in the spotlight. In the drama of climate change, these are often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians, such as Senator James Inhofe. However, they are only the most visible and transparent parts of a larger production. Supporting this effort are directors, script writers, and, most importantly, a series of producers, in the form of conservative foundations. Clarifying the institutional dynamics of the CCCM can aid our understanding of how anthropogenic climate change has been turned into a controversy rather than a scientific fact in the U.S.


Comments 17 comments

Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 7 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

This book is a real eye-opener; the highlights I give above are (metaphorically, at least!) only the beginning.

But I'd love to hear what you think, too.


ex skeptic 7 years ago

many thanks for that, a date at the top of such reviews would be helpful, found post on RC i will bookmark you


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 7 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Ex, you just motivated a dope-slap. Difficulties in dating information is one of my pet Internet peeves, and one that contributes mightily to the "echo chamber" effect, even in the absence of malign intent. And here I am, muffing a chance to do it a bit better!

Well, glad you found me, and thanks for the bookmark. (You can also join my "fan club" for email updates as new hubs are published--there are a couple in the works now. You have to join hubpages but the only cost is a not-too-annoying modicum of promo email.)

Now to add a date. . .


Neven profile image

Neven 7 years ago from Bavaria, Germany

I didn't get a notification for this review, Doc, even though I'm subscribed to your hub. :-I

Luckily I saw your post on Tamino's Open Mind. Thanks for the review. I won't be reading this book as it makes my stomach churn to realize how people only want to disseminate doubt. But thanks for the review.


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 7 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Hmm, I wonder what's up with the notification issue? I'll see what I can find out.

But thanks for navigating on by the hard way. If you care to browse by occasionally just to check, my profile page has "one stop shopping":

http://hubpages.com/profile/Doc+Snow

Also, did you happen to catch the Arrhenius Hub? If not, it's here:

http://hubpages.com/education/Global-Warming-Scien...

I know what you mean about the "fear, uncertainty and denial." But, for what it's worth, I wouldn't say "people want to disseminate doubt," as much as "powerful, well-funded interest groups want to disseminate doubt." I appreciated how "Climate Cover-Up" named names.

Maybe my service to you here is that now you've got the gist without having to wade through all the stomach-churning detail! If so, glad to be useful!

Last, thanks for mentioning Open Mind. It gives me an excuse to tell other readers what a great resource it is for those who are interested in-- or feel they need better to understand--the statistical side of the climate science.

Interested readers can go here to check it out:

http://tamino.wordpress.com/


MNichopolis profile image

MNichopolis 7 years ago from Massachusetts

Looks like this hub could use some updating regarding recent events...

Of course there's the scandal that just broke regarding the "gold standard of peer reviewed science" that climate alarmists always reference, who's data is used as the basis for many other climate studies, as well as IPCC reports, and even US EPA guidelines - The Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK.

Falsifying data? Coercing peers and even scientific journals? Deleting data and emails in botched cover-ups? Fudging the "three tree" data even? How about the bogus climate model computer code?

The "gold standard" of climate research is worthless now - and all of the studies (and conclusions) that follow from it are fundamentally flawed as well.

In just a few weeks those that were deniers, aren't - and those that weren't, now suddenly are.

To put it bluntly - If you remain steadfast in your belief of man made climate change, now you are the denier - refusing to see the facts that stand right in front of your face (or clear lack thereof) .

Blinded by your faith you still cling to your beliefs, as if they were your religion.


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 7 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Thanks for coming by "MN."

Can't agree with you, though--there's no evidence that any data were falsified as you allege. In fact, the "divergence" some are crowing about was long known, and had been discussed in the literature previously. And what you characterize as "coercing journals" may just as well [(or better) be seen as protesting a deeply flawed editorial process.

I'm afraid you're not being realistic when you think that this negates the science somehow. We have a handful of individuals involved in the data theft incident. By contrast, in the bibliography of the latest update report--the "Copenhagen Diagnosis"--there were about 300 papers cited (including, by the way, a few "skeptical" ones.)

They've all been published since 2006, and this just scratches the surface of the literature. Most of these papers have nothing to do with the investigators whose emails were stolen.

You're seriously underestimating the depth, breadth and solidity of the mainstream science, which depends on many lines of evidence, many approaches, and many confirmations of the theory over time.

If you're open-minded enough, I'd recommend the report to you. You can find it at:

http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org/

A briefer summary is here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/

2009/nov/25/copenhagen-diagnosis-ipcc-science

(Paste link together in browser.)


Simon 6 years ago

(dunno if the comment made it).

Thanks for the review. I am getting the book!


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Yes, your comment made it! Glad you enjoyed the review, Simon


MoniqueAttinger profile image

MoniqueAttinger 6 years ago from Georgetown, ON

I continue to like your straight-forward style and ability to make the article have some "punch" as well as present the information. I - like you - think there is no "uncertainty" to the main conclusion of climate science. A good read!


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Hey, Monique--

(That's a Southernism that's crept into my native Canadian usage!)

It's good to see you around Hubpages again--I've been wondering if I'd get to enjoy another Hub from you anytime soon.

Thanks for the comment!


Media Books 6 years ago

I think this book is a good read for anyone interested in the role of public relations firms in redefining the debate on climate change. After reading this book I spotted some of the people mentioned in subsequent 'news' stories on tv.


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Thanks for coming by and checking out the Hub! I appreciate it, and agree with your comment about the book. PR is--well, let's flip on the irony switch and say "underappreciated!" (Although that's not a straightforward irony by any means--after all, Hoggan is himself a PR guy and has some things to say about the appropriate and ethical role of his industry.)

And I agree with you (or your implication, anyway) that it's rather fun when you have these connections between the "backstory" and what we might call by the theatrical term "front of house." (I guess once again with a slight irony.)

You're operating out of an enlarged context when you have this additional information--and an enlarged context where many might not even consider that there IS a context--after all, isn't it "just news?"


Nick Hanlon profile image

Nick Hanlon 4 years ago from Chiang Mai

So Hoggan is a P.R. man,not a scientist right?


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 4 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Right. He is writing from the perspective of a PR pro; the book is not primarily about the science, but about the disinformation campaign. If you'd like to read more about the science, you can check out several other of my Hubs, such as the reviews of Andrew Weaver's, Amy Seidl's, and Wally Broecker's books. I've also summarized Michael Mann's book, but I concentrated more on its political narrative, leaving its excellent science exposition for those who actually buy the book!


conradofontanilla profile image

conradofontanilla 3 years ago from Philippines

I have a copy of Al Gore;s "The Inconvenient Truth" and have seen the film. I gave assistance in the making of a powerpoint presentation of Climate Change in the Philippines. Am an agriculturist and have taken up a course in meteorology. I think the science of climate change is not so elaborate. I made a study on the rainfall of my country in 10 years, extrapolated some data that were missing whose frequency was insignificant. What is good in science is that statements, or propositions, or theories are verifiable. That is against facts not against testimonies of people. Some 100 German scientist issued a manifesto denouncing Einstein's theories as Jewish science. Einstein replied that only one fact disarms all 100 scientist. He did not mention that fact but I suspect it is the speed of light.


Doc Snow profile image

Doc Snow 3 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA Author

Yes. Ironically, deniers often use the Einstein quote, too, generally to set up a cherry-picked or straw man argument.

A common current example is the "No warming for 16 years" idea, which made the rounds quite a bit over the last few months. (That supposed 'lack of warming' is their "one fact.") But it's a cherry pick because warming is undeniable over longer periods (and arguably present over several shorter ones as well.) And it's a straw man because the mainstream science has been quite clear that 16 years is too short a period to expect to see the warming trend reliably over the normal 'noise' of natural variability.

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