Climate change denial course puts the K in quality at Carleton

Climate change denial course puts the K in quality at Carleton

News from Canada: We learn that in the nation’s capital, Tom Harris, a Heartland associate and PR guy for the oil industry, has been teaching a course on climate change at Carleton University for the past few years. A science watchdog (the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism) reviewed videos of the course and uncovered a hefty 142 errors, clear evidence of bias, and serial misrepresentation of the current scientific opinion on climate change.

So it’s basically what you’d expect from a Heartland associate and PR guy for the oil industry, but not at all what you’d expect from a university.

This was a review course for non-science majors, so its reasonable that the students don’t access primary sources such as the peer-reviewed scientific literature. However, one would expect that the instructor would at least have a passing familiarity with it and be able to accurately convey the relevant scientific information to his students. Nope. Harris would rather call a friend than crack open a journal.

Credit where its due, though. It takes effort, creativity, and skill, to put together a course on the science of climate change that runs for twelve lectures and studiously avoids most of the science of climate change.

You might wonder what Harris was doing all that time. Twelve lectures is a lot of dead air to fill. Fortunately, he has a lot of buddies, including a few living locally, who are equally as befuddled and confused about climatology and were more than willing to star in this gong show.

Step up Tim Patterson, tenured professor at Carleton, a devotee of the Sun as the one true cause of the climate change that isn’t happening and a fervent believer in cosmic rays that can’t be measured as responsible for the global warming that isn’t going on. He’s a palaeontologist and geologist, and therefore blessed with the profound insight that comes from working in the context of deep time. For him, climate always changes; oh yes, that it does, and many sage geologists nod their heads in agreement; but did he never once stop to wonder why it might? Perhaps that’s a question too far.

As a special treat, students get to see an elderly Australian by the name of Carter feverishly fantasising about climate science being exploded by metaphorical torpedoes of denial. It’s the sun – Boom! Did you know temperatures go up as well as down? Take that, warmists! 20th Century warming? Nothing unusual there! But never mind that it got warmer, because here comes an ice age! Oh, it’s fine comedy. One hopes the students were suitably entertained. They paid good money for this.

What’s next for our Carleton undergrads? How about a full length movie? Why not? Its time for The Great Global Warming Swindle, wherein a smarmy producer fakes data, truncates graphs and misrepresents climate science and scientists for 90 minutes. That’s another lecture out of the way.

Then there’s local “friend of science” Tad Murty, who, in a courageous and bold attempt to ignore overwhelming evidence, tells us that the oceans… are cooling. All the fish currently expanding their range into previously uninhabitable areas of the sea would be deeply surprised to learn that fact.

But for most of the lectures, Harris has to bumble along by himself. He has the students play “Blooper of the Week”, a version of “Guessing the Teacher’s Password” wherein they have to find innocuous statements by public figures that would cause Harris to shake his fist angrily at clouds. “The climate is always changing, so this cannot be stopped as we do not have such control over the sun and other cosmic forces that greatly correlate to the warming and cooling of Earth. We cannot change climate just as we cannot change the seasons from winter to summer,” one possibly baked student explains. It’s cosmic, man, truly cosmic. Down the rabbit hole we go: “the climate problem is so difficult that we may never solve it,” Harris says, accidentally acknowledging there is a climate problem, before twisting hurriedly away from the implications; “the idea that CO2 rise is mainly caused by humans, the idea that temperature rise is definite, it’s occurring; – many of these things are either not true or are simply unknown, or highly debatable.” So many contradictory beliefs, all simultaneously true, except for the things that scientists actually agree on? Now this is how you do science! Why bother to test a hypothesis, when you can simply believe in as many as you wish? Cosmic rays, the sun, the urban heat island effect, all the one true cause of the global warming that isn’t happening and doesn’t matter anyhow because there’s an ice age just around the corner. Confused? You should be.

Alright, so it would be neither fair nor accurate to say Harris didn’t expose his students to proper science. He does mention the IPCC report, although it’s the second edition, the one from 1995, that grabs his attention. That there had been two more since that time, each one becoming firmer and more confident about the causes and extent of anthropogenic climate change, is a fact of which he appears to be blissfully unaware. The students are left similarly unenlightened. Not that he has good things to say about the IPCC, standing as it does for all that is false and loathsome in the world of science. Only 2.5% of the scientists involved in the IPCC agree with the conclusions of the IPCC, we are told, something that would be a matter of great surprise to a great many climate scientists: two surveys have found 97% agreement among climate scientists with the IPCC’s main conclusions. A recent report in PNAS went on to point out that the few percent that do disagree “have climate expertise and scientific prominence substantially below that of the convinced researchers”, a polite way of saying that they are cranks.

So what have we learned? Carleton University, the educational establishment that Ottawans once liked to joke “puts the K in Quality” (I don’t know why – this sort of erudite humour escapes me, but then I never did study the classics in school), but turned its reputation around in recent years, and has been rated 7th or 10th in Canadian university rankings, nevertheless has managed to put a man in charge of a science course who teaches students that there’s an ice age coming. I always considered The Day After Tomorrow to be a fun, yet silly, doomsday movie. For Harris and his friends, well, it’s more of a prediction. “Expect global cooling”, he says. Brilliant!

One wonders why the university would give this guy a job. And how on earth did he get it? Did they advertise the position or was he just one day handed the keys to crashing Carleton’s reputation?

It’s probably the latter. His aforementioned good buddy, the cosmic-ray-fearing Professor Tim Patterson, used to teach the course. Patterson went on sabbatical a few years ago and Tom took over. Harris himself said that “95% of the course materials” came from Patterson. What with Harris being a mechanical engineer with no relevant scientific publications, his pointing out that a tenured professor provided the course materials was probably an attempt to provide some cover and credibility. What it did was just land Patterson right in it, as well as raising further questions.

Because what this implies is that Carleton (did I spell that right, or should it be Karleton? Let me know when it’s funny. I really don’t understand this university humour) has been running ERTH2402, a mangled pile of spat up and reheated climate change denial, for about ten damn years, with nobody at that august institution making a peep of complaint. One can easily imagine a kwality student emerging from this course, all bundled up in sweaters and scarves (Canadians do so understand the importance of layering) against the coming reign of the ice giants, planning some cod fishing off the Bahamas, and proudly informing their more fact-prone lecturers in other classes that everything they are teaching about global warming is wrong. Yet nobody said anything.

I do still have faith in Carleton. I want to believe that it’s only the Earth Sciences Department that’s taking a post-modernist approach to the pursuit of truth. Carleton is a university with a lot of young and creative researchers and there’s a vibe there that good things are happening. I want to believe that the only way is up for CU, but right now the Earth Sciences Department is the anchor dragging them down. If CU wants to be able to hold its head high, then how about some much needed scrutiny? They know where the problem lies, and they know with whom it lies. They have to stop hiding behind the excuse of academic freedom and start taking responsibility for educating, rather than misinforming, their undergraduate students. They deserve a whole lot better. It’s long past time.


Further reading:

PDF: Climate Change Denial in the Classroom

Fake Heartland “Scientist” Infiltrates Canadian University 

Climate Science Denial at Carleton University: A Detailed Take-Down

Climate denial at a Canadian university

Climate Change Denial being taught at Carleton University

Tom Harris Teaches Heartland Institute Fake Science to Students

Professor criticized for course denying climate change

CASS: Skepticism FTW

Climate Change and Education: Are Schools the Next Battlefield?

Heartland Institute Climate Change Denial 101

Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?

Carleton course denying man-made climate change

Denialists In The Canadian Classroom

Heartland Institute Associate Got Inside Carleton University

Denial in the Classroom

Heartland agent at Carleton University

It comes in threes

Heartland ‘expert’ taught climate denialism at a Canadian university

Climate scientist ‘troubled’ by skeptic’s teachings at Carleton University