It’s come out recently that Carleton University in Ottawa has had a fossil fuel lobbyist teaching what amounts to a course in climate denialism for two years. The discovery was made by scientific watchdog group The Committee for Scientific Skepticism, with cooperation from the Canadian branch of the Centre for Inquiry. Their full report was published on February 28, 2012.
The report reveals that the instructor, Tom Harris, has been teaching outright falsehoods and climate denialist talking points since he took over the course in 2009. Harris is affiliated with the Heartland Institute, an American climate deniers’ think tank, and several other fossil fuel lobbying organizations, including the innocuously-named International Climate Science Coalition, of which he is executive director.
The course is poised exactly where it can do the most damage. Titled “Climate Change: An Earth Sciences Perspective” (course code ERTH2402), it is a high-enrollment course aimed at non-science majors. Students who may lack much previous science training, and indeed, may not take any additional courses in science during their undergraduate careers, will thus end up graduating with virtually everything they think they know about science having come from a paid lobbyist.
Harris has responded, brushing off the well-substantiated criticisms in the detailed 98-page report. You don’t have to go too far in the news reports before you start seeing the phrases “academic freedom” or “a different perspective” being thrown around. Harris was quoted as saying, “I have yet to see anything in the course critique from Hassell [and others] that warrants a correction.”
Actually, it’s not terribly difficult for any amateur researcher to find factual errors in Harris’ view of the science. The ICSC website says that scientists “cannot as yet even detect a human signal on top of natural variability [in climate], let alone determine if action of any kind is needed.” This is a bald-faced lie.
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus, with the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change not only expressing certainty on the reality of human-caused climate change, but suggesting way back in 2007 that it was time to take some serious mitigation measures (though the U.S. insisted they strike that recommendation out in the final draft).
Of course, there are 142 individually-documented factual errors from the course in the above-linked report (which is nearly 100 pages long), and I’m not going to hash them out again here. He’s a climate change denier. Denying the reality of climate change is not intellectually viable. Anyone who holds that position is either misinformed or lying knowingly. In this case, Harris is almost certainly lying knowingly. His students (some 1,500 of them over two years) are unfortunately among the misinformed.
The report includes quotes from the website, Rate My Professor:
“I was and remain an environmentalist but this class has opened my eyes to REALITY. A real scientific view of climate change. Lets focus our attention and expenses on issues that are of real concern to this planet and on issues that we actually can influence. Very interesting course.”
“Great prof, awesome course with alternative views on global warming. I managed an A+ and I am doing an arts degree, not science.. I find it hard to believe any science students had a hard time with it. Great to hear a prof going against the grain, presenting us with information to make up our own minds on such an important topic!”
So it sounds like Harris has pretty much accomplished what he set out to do. Misled students about the reality of climate change so that the fossil fuel industry that pays him (either directly or through his funded think tanks) can squeeze a few more billion out of us for a few more years.
Really, no aspect of this situation is terribly shocking. Anti-science politicos are always trying to get into the classroom, and it’s not unheard of for a crank to get up on his soapbox in a university where administrators just aren’t paying attention. Still, Carleton is one of the top ten universities in Canada. A science course that teaches anti-science? That’s not something they’ll want to focus on in the brochure.
Read more: big oil, Carleton University, climate change, climate denialism, climategate, coal industry, conservative thinktanks, education, fossil fuels, global warming, Heartland Climate Insitute, leaked documents, oil industry, politics
Photo credit: Shanta Rohse
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