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“We can’t even forecast how these clouds are going to move in the next week. Our understanding of the physics is so bad that we can’t even do that. So to think that we could do a whole planet for 50 years in the future…”

It’s a tired argument, this idea that because we can’t predict weather we certainly can’t predict climate. You’d expect to hear it from James Inhofe or a cranky uncle; you should never hear it from a university lecturer teaching a course on climate change. Unless you are a student at Carleton University, right here in Canada’s capital.

Heartland wants to fund the creation of K12 curricula that would teach students every long-debunked climate denial argument under, and including, the sun. They could save their anonymous funder’s money and just copy wholesale from Carleton University’s course “Climate Change: an Earth Sciences Perspective”, currently taught by Mr. Tom Harris, a former oil industry lobbyist.

The Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS, a science watchdog that more often takes an interest in pseudoscientific nonsense like homeopathy or dodgy nutrition claims in the media), part of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, has turned its attention to the teaching of science denial at Carleton University with the publication of a report fact-checking 142 separate claims made by Tom Harris in the course. It’s nothing short of a huge embarrassment for Carleton University, and for the Earth Sciences department that approved the course.

In the report, CASS provides fully quoted statements made in the course with detailed rebuttals for each one. Considering that this class is taught in one of the top 10 Canadian universities, it’s a shocking read.

I’ve gone through the document and tallied each time an argument appears, using skepticalscience.com’s list of the most common skeptic arguments as a template.

Argument Number of mentions
We’re heading into cooling / ice age / solar minimum 12
Models are unreliable 8
CO2 is not a pollutant 7
Warming will be good (i.e. for Greenland), and is better than cooling 6
It’s Urban Heat Island effect 5
CO2 is plant food 5
There is no consensus 4
Temp record is unreliable 4
Clouds provide negative feedback 4
The IPCC consensus is phoney 4
It’s only a few degrees (or a fraction of degree) 4
Climate’s changed before 3
It’s the sun 3
Hockey stick is broken 3
It’s cosmic rays 3
Sea level rise is exaggerated 3
Greenhouse effect has been falsified 3
Extreme weather accompanies cooling, not warming 3
It’s not sea level rise, its land subsidence 3
Animals and plants can adapt 2
CO2 lags temperature 2
Climate sensitivity is low 2
Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions 2
Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas 2
IPCC is alarmist 2
CO2 limits will harm the economy 2
It’s a natural cycle 2
Global warming stopped in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010, ???? 2
Tree-rings diverge from temperature after 1960 2
Dropped stations introduce warming bias 2
It’s been warmer in the past 2
N2O is not a serious pollutant 2
CO2 levels have been much higher in the geologic record 2
Hurricanes aren’t linked to global warming 1

That’s not including another 41 separate arguments, including the ridiculous OISM petition project, claiming there’s no tropospheric hot spot, the oceans are cooling, Jupiter is warming, Climategate, and of course saying that scientists can’t even predict the weather.

Even a little fact-checking shows up erroneous, misleading and long-debunked claims. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could defend this course; academic freedom must at some point slam head-long into the obligation to teach things that are understood to be true. We do not accept creationism or intelligent design in our classrooms, regardless of the personal beliefs of the instructor, because we know its nonsense. We absolutely should not accept this.

Students deserve better than this cynical, distorted and mean-spirited view of the scientific enterprise. It’s tragic to see students presented with unbalanced and incomplete material. How can you tell students that tree rings do not track with temperature in the 20th century and not explain the divergence problem in full? It’s a fascinating issue, but presenting only one side short-changes inquiring minds.

It’s a review course, so students aren’t expected to have a deep understanding of the primary literature. Even so, it’s incumbent on the instructor to present the prevailing scientific opinion. It’s clear that isn’t what happens.

Harris sums up the course in the last lecture with take-away messages for the students:

* The only constant about climate is change.
* Carbon dioxide is plant food.
* There is no scientific consensus about climate change causes.
* Prepare for global cooling.
* Climate science is changing quickly.

There’s a place for discussion of controversies in climate science, and there’s an appropriate way of doing that. It isn’t in a review course for non-scientists and non-specialists who lack the domain expertise to know they are being played.

And it certainly isn’t in a course taught by an individual who doesn’t appear to even grasp the difference between weather and climate.

Read the full report here.

 

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