Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Heartland agent at Carleton University

This is bad.

An associate of the Heartland Institute, the thinktank devoted to discrediting climate change, taught a course at a top Canadian university that contained more than 140 false, biased and misleading claims about climate science, an expert audit has found.
The course at Ottawa's Carleton University, which is being accused of bias, was taught for four terms from 2009-2011 by Tom Harris, a featured expert at the Heartland Institute.
First, the university has a problem. I don't know about Carleton's procedures, but University course syllabi usually must be submitted for review before courses are approved to be taught. In some instances this can legal overtones as the syllabus might be interpreted as a contract. Reading through the CASS report, Harris' course was an enduring one that had previously been taught by others, so changes to the course content imposed by Harris might not have needed approval or indeed might not have been reviewed for years, or simply been rubber-stamped, or what was submitted for review unrepresentative of what was taught. The Guardian, quoting a Carleton official, implies that a review took place, but also leaves open a scapegoat in mentioning the collective agreement (to be fair, the CASS report says something similar regarding the CA):

"Academic excellence is a priority at Carleton and we have a process in place for reviewing courses that balances context with academic freedom and the rights of our instructors as outlined in their collective agreement," spokeswoman Caitlin Kealey said in a statement. "We are guided by rigorous science and the science supports the existence of climate change."
All courses are biased in some way. It is inherent in human nature. A class will reflect multiple biases from the choice of materials to the classroom layout, lecture style, the grading rubric, and teaching philosophy of the instructor. However, ethical conduct requires that the bias be acknowledged in such a way that students are fully informed of the content and motivations behind the selection of materials.

Second, and I think more troubling is the question of how Mr. Harris was hired by Carleton, as Big City Lib asked way back in September.  Harris is an engineer by training but not as far as I can tell a practicing one. His employment record is with decidedly anti-climate change organisations. He is most definitely not an atmospheric or earth scientist with associated training to interpret and translate the nuts and bolts of current climate change science. This biographical info is all easily found through google. There are large numbers of science graduate students and new PhDs with bona fide expertise in climate science who would be able to teach such a course, and I might add, could seriously use the experience and income.

Why Harris was hired, and they were not, may reflect a different sort of bias.

In any case, Mr. Harris' placement as lecturer in at Carleton looks a like a covert action on the part of industry-financed politically biased climate denial groups to infiltrate university instructor ranks. Their goal is not to rigorously produce critical refereed climate science. That's already done by scientists as a matter of tradecraft and is where the consensus comes from!

No, the odious Harris and his backers, unable to get real jobs credibly challenge the scientists, target the young and impressionable. Second year students do not often yet have the experience and training to critically assess what they are being taught, and Harris and his cretins seem to move in like drug dealers and pimps around high schools. 

Other universities and colleges around the world with courses on climate change should check their instructors' backgrounds and course materials. If it's happened at one place, it's happened elsewhere.


The Mound of Sound said...

This is from a piece I wrote on Harris in November, 2006:

At his blog:, Harris presents himself as a P.Eng. in Thermofluids and Executive Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project or NRSP.

Do a Sourcewatch check on NRSP and, OMG!, who do you find as this organization's Chairman but noneother than global warming denier generalissimo, Tim Ball. And the hits just keep on comin'. Although NSRP maintains it has no direct connection with the Calgary-based climate change denial cabal, Friends of Science, Dr. Ball is one of that group's loudest spokesmen.

Mr. Harris comes to us fresh from a stint with APCO Worldwide which, if you watched Bob McKeown's piece on the Fifth Estate, is a well-known PR firm associated with Philip Morris and its campaign to deny any link between cigarettes and cancer.

Boris said...

MoS, it even seems as if Harris had academically black-balled Ball guest lecture!

The Mound of Sound said...

Boris, what I don't get is how those involved from Carleton either overlooked or ignored this guy's history. This really makes no sense and the "academic freedom" excuse Carleton is peddling sounds like someone there is furiously trying to cover his ass. Knowing that The Guardian is on this can't sit well with Carleton. If they don't get to the bottom of this their reputation is in the toilet - again.

opit said...

I guess your vote in support of 'conventional wisdom' - as conveniently supplied by the corporate press - is in.
Honestly, I don't understand how people who think they are labouring to free themselves from prejudice cannot do the legwork necessary to evaluate the case for proposing that all alternative thought to the predictions espoused by the so called Green movement is corporate scandal - and that conformity to some politically whacked standard of acceptable truth is consistent with a so called free society.
Another college professor, Dennis Rancourt, got the heave ho in conjunction with leading a class project to evaluate the proposal. Horrors. The students said anthropogenic global warming was b.s. !
Higher education is supposed to teach independent investigation BTW
I don't know if you see any connection with other demonizing of independent thought. It has gone to the point that people believe you unhinged unless you meekly submit to your conditioning.
Case in point.
"Since its origins, the IPCC has been open and explicit about seeking to generate a ‘scientific consensus’ around climate change and especially about the role of humans in climate change"
That's InterGOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change....not a scientific agency of independent investigation.
I tend to rant about the role of politics in selling prophecy as science. That is the result of chasing the idea of a case against AGW for over 2 years now. It's not a popular pursuit. One must be immune to slander about the intelligence and orientation of one who considers the exercise hogwash enabling an international tax on the use of fire. The UN proposes an emergency and the UN gets to play with literally trillions in revenue if they can make it fly.
Everybody loses sovereignty. Canadians especially ought to Red Flag such proposals : we've been burned a few times.
"Post Normal Science, its culture and how it retards learning in our universities"

Alison said...

I completely agree with fourhorses that the ultimate aim is to create a situation where the CPC can say assertively, "The science no longer supports the assumptions of the Kyoto Accord."

However, politically this cannot be done overnight without the Conservatives taking what they consider to be an unacceptable hit (do people think they would really lose votes with this statement (from Canadians who would otherwise vote for them, that is?).

So, the solution put on this site a little while ago by Tina is one I would support as well - namely, they don't take sides at all and admit they don't know and so are holding unbiased, public hearings in which scientists from both sides are invited to testify. The resulting chaos, with claims all over the map, will do enough to thoroughly confuse everyone (which is appropriate, actually, since the science is so immature and, frankly, confusing) and take the wind out of the sails of the "we are causing a climate disaster and must stop it" camp entirely, and the CPC can quietly turn to important issues without really having had to say much at all.

What's wrong with this approach?


Tom Harris, Executive Director, Natural Resources Stewardship Project


Boris said...

Hulme and Mahoney's article doesn't criticise the claims made by scientists regarding climate change. They're explicitly problematising the IPCC role as a global institution tasked with figuring out whether the "whole panoply of human behaviours, preferences and practices can be directed towards achieving one over-arching goal...bringing the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases under directed management" and some of the claims it makes in pursuit of this goal. He is NOT challenging the very hard climate science he himself has helped generate. If you run Hulme's name through google scholar, you'll see that he has published widely on climate change. In fact, I have had in-person discussions at conferences with some of his coauthors and colleagues and cited his papers. There are many people involved in climate change work, especially scientists, who have a serious problem with the IPCC because of the inability of its membership to cooperate and act on climate change, this does not mean the science itself is all over the map, which brings me to your other point.

Science is always uncertain. However, rigorous observation and experimentation allows us to develop certain ideas of how things work and reduce but not eliminate that uncertainty. Our observations to date largely suggest that climate systems is responding to human influences in ways that. The work done by climate scientists is not controlled by the IPCC, it is controlled by the scientists who through their craft try to make sense of observed changes in climate. The scientific evidence so far suggests two things. First, the climate is generally warming, and second, that there is evidence that this warming is at least in part caused by human activity which releases GHGs into the atmosphere. The implications for civilisation are severe and are being felt and observed now people in low islands and the polar regions.

Granted however, there are some who are natural contrarians and will argue a point to the ground in the face of all available evidence against it, or adopt a zero-sum approach to argument where any discrepancy or uncertainty invalidates an entire idea. They'll call it independent or critical thought. Universities are meant to teach these, yes, but they also try do something else, which is teach rigorous thought. An idea must be defensible, supported by a solid line of reasoning and/or empirical evidence. Right now, the case for AGW stands up, and represents the best knowledge we have on the topic.