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Climate Denier Teaches University “Climate Science” Course

Climate Denier Teaches University “Climate Science” Course

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.

Related stories:

Leaked Documents from Climate Denialism Lobbyists Revealed

“No Politics In Science Class In Louisiana,” 75 Nobel Laureates Plead

Climate Change Deniers Set School Policy, Forecast Weather

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Photo credit: Shanta Rohse

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12:26AM PDT on Oct 7, 2012

I just sent this e-mail to the author of this article:

Dear Mr. Boyce,

Please remove the posting at

There are many falsehoods in your article, not the least of which is that I have never been a lobbyist for anyone, let alone the fossil fuel sector. The course did not teach denialism. I was not associated with the Heartland Institute until well after I completed teaching the course and then, only as an unpaid advisor. Please see here for a description of the course:

Professor Patterson, the course originator and the instructor for 2013, speaks in the following audio link about the smear against the course (most of which was wrong and prepared by people who have no expertise in the subject. I am told that the university was very displeased about the attackers doing this in such an unethical fashion. If they had troubles with the course, they should have simply spoken with me, and then the originator and then the Chair, if they did not get satisfaction. Going first to the media is unacceptable in any academic environment, as I am sure you know being a teacher yourself):


Tom Harris

2:48AM PDT on Jun 9, 2012

Climate change deniers are usually employees of the fossil fuel industry. There is no further discussion necessary.

An increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet. This is indisputable.

6:06PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

The scandal should be is that all it takes is to label someone with the political epithet Denier - a pejorative which tells us nothing - and down comes drivel alleging religious/intelligence dysfunction.

5:12PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

'Denialism is not a valid scientific viewpoint.'
It isn't a viewpoint at all. It is an allegation made which defeats normal conversation ; a political ploy and debater's trick to sell a proposition and discredit contradiction in advance of its reception.
Pejoratives and stating other peoples' opinions for them is blatant deception.
Look at the numbers given on this thread as monetary support for a scary proposition. Advertising sells. It's just another name for propaganda.
You can't discredit what people insist is true because Authority says so.
Then again, protesters should remember things aren't so straightforward that there is obvious justice in the world...or truth either. If you surf the topic long enough you will find even the IPCC sometimes chokes on the idea they can tell you what climate will be like in the future. There is certainly no proof available for astrology or fortunetelling either.

1:45PM PDT on Apr 18, 2012

Stop targeting people, care2! Don't you know that's mean?

5:53PM PDT on Apr 1, 2012

Isn't there a petition to sign? A schooling institute that promotes pseudo-science needs to be closed!

10:13PM PDT on Mar 26, 2012

pretty much devalues any degree from that university or course ...

7:07AM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

This "teacher" should have his credentials revoked.

4:41AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Instead of arguing about climate change, we need to figure out how to get enough money (at least $1 billion but not more than $2 billion) to MIT School of Engineering to finish the practice they need on Enhanced Geothermal Systems to bring the technology to maturity, how to get the price of CO2 up to $35/ton to help make Enhanced Geothermal Systems competitive with coal, and start using artificial trees (look like naked billboards) to pull CO2 from the air to use as the hydraulic/heat-transfer fluid in those Enhanced Geothermal Systems. Enhanced Geothermal Systems can make good use as hydraulic/heat-transfer fluid of as much CO2 as we will need to sequester in order to use our remaining fossil fuel and get the CO2 in the air below 350 ppm, to mitigate global warming.

7:12PM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

Sounds like a good idea

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Very nice. It's so cute how they wrap their trunks around each other.

Thanks for the inanity Katherine. The Black Lies Matter hypocrites salute you.

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