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

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A report detailing an audit of a course called “Climate Change: An Earth Sciences Perspective” (ERTH 2402), taught at Carleton University, has been compiled by a team of concerned individuals and was released a few minutes ago. From the report:

The course… provides an unbalanced and, in many cases, factually inaccurate view of anthropogenic global warming which detracts from the high quality of teaching at Carleton University. We highlight 142 incorrect or equivocal claims and cite the relevant scientific literature to correct those statements. While the principle of academic freedom remains paramount, it is nonetheless imperative that university students be presented with accurate scientific information.

… We describe a case in which noted climate change deniers have gained access to the Canadian higher education system through a course taught at Carleton University … These academics are closely associated with a number of organisations that have involvement with the energy industry.

… This course is taught with little reference to the primary literature and is largely presented to non-science majors. We note that other courses at Carleton University teach the established science on climate change, with instructors who have been involved with the IPCC and sharing in the Nobel Peace Prize that that organisation was awarded.

… We present our report to highlight how one extreme of the climate change debate is being taught in higher education and where that teaching diverges from the contemporary scientific consensus.

The course is taught by Tom Harris, who is affiliated with a number of climate change and science denialist organizations, including the Friends of Science (which asserts that “the Sun is the main direct and indirect driver of climate change”); the Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP), ( which is “a proactive grassroots campaign to counter the Kyoto Protocol and other greenhouse gas reduction schemes while promoting sensible climate change policy”); the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), which is “an association of scientists, economists, and energy and policy experts working to promote better public understanding of climate change science and policy. ICSC is committed to providing a highly credible alternative to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and helping foster a more rational, open discussion about climate issues. Two panels of distinguished scientists and policy experts from more than a dozen countries oversee the ICSC’s research and educational efforts,” and which received $45,000 in funding from the Heartland Institute; and the Heartland Institute, which among other things has allocated $100,000 to develop a K-12 “curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

The report documents the lack of actual scientific evidence used in the course. Scientific literature is replaced with frequent claims by Harris to have spoken to or emailed with various scientist to get their opinions on course related issues. One of the teaching tools Harris uses is a “blooper of the week” project, in which students search the mainstream media for claims made about climate change which are then refuted using Harris”s material. Students “win” the assignment with the best denilist rhetoric.

From the report:

Like much of the climate change denial movement, Harris’ course is structured around concentric sets of arguments. The first line of defence is to claim that climate change (more specifically, global warming) is not happening. This makes the title of our report accurate: as well as a role for humans in contemporary climate change, Harris disputes even the existence of and our ability to detect warming in global temperatures in the face of substantial scientific evidence and, therefore, qualifies as a climate change denier. Harris makes a variety of statements to support this, hinging on a combination of claims of a lack of scientific consensus, inference of fraud and dishonesty, and inaccurate critiques of established science…

The report makes use of 171 references, mostly peer reviewed scientific papers, to evaluate every aspect of the course, point by point, the entire narrative of this bogus course. In all, 142 specific claims made in the course are described and addressed. Here are a few examples, with the references used in them:

Claim 15. “Current resurvey of 1221 US Historical Climatological Network found 70% of stations severely compromised. Only 4% at proper standards.”

RESPONSE: Some existing climatological network stations do need to be brought in line with current standards. However, NOAA is aware of these kinds of problems and responded by comparing the best 70 stations with the full 1218 station dataset, and found almost identical trends [24]. A recent, comprehensive, analysis of station quality further indicated that station quality did not alter the warming trends in temperature data [25].

Claim 25. [citing Nils Axel-Morner] â??The sea level has been significantly higher, to about a meter higher, in the Maldives seven times in the last 4000 years and it’s not particularly high right now and it’s not showing any trend of doing so. So I’m afraid the scare is in fact completely fabricated.â??

RESPONSE: Harris is correct in saying that sea level has been higher in the past, even during the present interglacial. This period is known as the “mid-Holocene hydro-isostatic highstand”, and occurred in the Pacific around 2,000-4,000 years ago, producing a large number of atolls which developed into islands as sea level later dropped over the next couple of millennia as a result of â??ocean siphoning” [39], [40]. Late Holocene sea level rise is on the order of 120m but peaked at the highstand in the equatorial oceans and gave the modern atolls their height. However, Harris is incorrect with regard to current trends in sea level rise which in fact suggest that the highstand (and all the atolls that act as homes for human populations) will be reached once again by the end of the 21st century [33]. Based on the various heights of the atolls, it is even possible to predict when each island will be inundated [41].

Claim 127. “One of the scientists told me, he said ‘you realize that once government gets involved things start to really change. They have what are called green runners, who run back and forth between the various meetings where the scientists are meeting and they basically look over their shoulders. And they tell them how they want things changed, “oh that doesn’t match the summary for policy makers’ and so the scientists are
expected to basically display their green credentials to these government people who are running around looking over their shoulder while they are preparing the third draft. So if you really want to see what the scientists prepared without government interference,you’ve got to go back to the second draft.”

RESPONSE: Harris seems to be relating hearsay to dispute the credibility of a major organisation. Governments have a role in ensuring the SPM is accessible, balanced and based on the underlying chapters. Nothing is approved unless the authors agree that it is agrees with the science. When it is approved it is owned by both the scientists and governments. The fact that all governments present during an IPCC Plenary agree with the final SPM is a strong indicator of the breadth of consensus.


[24] NOAA, Talking points related to concerns about whether the US temperature record is reliable. Washington DC: NOAA, 2009.
[25] R. A. Muller et al., “Earth atmospheric land surface temperature and station quality in the United States,” available online as a preprint.
[33] M. Vermeer and S. Rahmstorf, “Global sea level linked to global temperature.”â?? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 106, no. 51, pp. 21527-21532, 2009.
[39] W. R. Dickinson, “Impact of Mid-Holocene hydro-isostatic highstand in regional sea level on habitability of islands in Pacific Oceania,” Journal of Coastal Research, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 489-502, 2003.
[40] J. X. Mitrovica and G. A. Milne, “On the origin of late Holocene sea-level highstands within equatorial ocean basins,” Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 21, no. 20-22, pp. 2179-2190, 2002.
[41] W. R. Dickinson, “Pacific atoll living: how long already and until when?,” GSA Today, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 4-10, 2009.

The report can be downloaded here, though you may have some trouble getting on that site at the moment. You can also download it here: CASSREPORTClimateChangeDenialintheClassroom.pdf

The report is also discussed here:

Fake Heartland “Scientist” Infiltrates Canadian University
More FakeGate

Here’s a video of Tom Harris plying his trade, with footnotes added:

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18 thoughts on “Climate Science Denial at Carleton University: A Detailed Take-Down

  1. I note that Mr. Harris does not appear in the Carleton staff directory, nor does he seem to be listed in any of the Earth Sciences faculty web pages. May be a contract instructor.
    Not that that makes much difference …

  2. Is this at Carlton U in Ottawa? Arg non-sense in my city… Well apart from the politics that is 😉

    Will he be aloud to teach his non-sense after this exposure?

    I certainly hope not unless he’s teaching it for what it is: a denilist class.

  3. Interesting. I am often in the Chemistry building at Carleton and I noticed someone with a bunch of climate change denialist comics on the door. I looked for information on the person and I remember finding that they were indeed a climate change denialist but I forget the name. I wonder if Tom Harris owns that door or if there is another denialist out there.

  4. Tropical fossils under the polar caps proves this climate of today and the all the climates of the future have all happened before.
    -Science gave us pesticides donâ??t forget.
    None of you remaining climate change believers would still be shooting your mouths off like this, if there were real legal consequences for condemning other peopleâ??s children to a CO2 crisis, knowing full well it was an exaggeration.

  5. Help, an oil exec is holding a gun to my head, stuffing my pockets with money and telling me what to think, type and say! Help!

  6. Not to feed the trolls… but I just have to point out that #5 is a classic case of projection. A good indicator of the difference between “skeptic” and “denialist”. It is much easier to justify just making shit up and organizing an actual conspiracy of monied interests against if you make yourself believe that the “other side” is doing the same.

    Of course there is an implicit warning in that for those of us who see the need to confront the very real problems of AGW. We shouldn’t go and bring knives to a gun-fight, but shouldn’t turn to the Dark Side either.

    BTW: Chris Mooney seems like he may finally be coming around and discovering that the denialists (and anti-science types in general) won’t be swayed by polite reasoned arguments. I haven’t completed reading his latest Alternet post, but it looks interesting and promising (and somewhat relevant).–_and_reality/?page=entire

  7. Multiple sockpuppetting trolls at this blog is often (although not always) a symptom of a thread being infected with Rob Hood…

  8. @NJ (#9)

    That is exactly what I was thinking when I read comments 5 & 7, mostly because of the unimaginative attempt at parody with the user names.

  9. Speaking as an alumnus of Carleton, I am ashamed that this nonsense is being promoted in a science class.

    Perhaps you should send them an email or something saying so?

  10. “a number of organisations that have involvement with the energy industry.”

    I know of other academic institutions with involvement with the energy industry, I don’t know how anyone can believe anything that comes out from them:
    Thursday, November 21, 2002 by the New York Times

    Exxon-Led Group Is Giving a Climate Grant to Stanford
    by Andrew Revkin

    Four big international companies, including the oil giant Exxon Mobil, said yesterday that they would give Stanford University $225 million over 10 years for research on ways to meet growing energy needs without worsening global warming. News
    October 26, 2000

    LONDON — BP Amoco Plc, the world’s No. 3 publicly traded oil company, and Ford Motor Co. said they will give Princeton University $20 million over 10 years to study ways to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. BP said it will give $15 million. Ford, the world’s second-biggest automaker, is donating $5 million.

  11. Speaking as an alumnus of Carleton College, in Minnesota, I wish Carleton university would take better care of the shared brand.

  12. Chris Mooney seems like he may finally be coming around and discovering that the denialists (and anti-science types in general) won’t be swayed by polite reasoned arguments.

    My feeling is that he’s been clarifying the old bridge-building comments for a while now. He has, AFAIK, always known that denialists won’t be swayed by polite reasoned arguments, but his point was not to alienate whole segments of a population just because a small number of them were unreasonable. E.g. you can alienate every religious person out there by attacking their beliefs or you can reach out and form relationships with some of them, which would further isolate the extremists you can’t reason with regardless.

    For that, he was called accommodationist and on numerous blogs told he was wrong and that there could be no working with religious people. Six months later Dawkins was doing exactly what Mooney was advocating (not that I think Mooney’s arguments had anything to do with that) by writing articles with one of the bishops(?), and I noted there weren’t any comments calling Dawkins an accommodationist.

    Anyway, Mooney has clarified his position several times and maybe even backed off a bit from the cheerful optimism of his original statements, and I find I quite enjoy reading his posts this last year or so.

    Of course, this could just be my brain rewriting history and my interpretation is quite wrong.

  13. Regarding Mr. Tom Harris’ stint at Carleton University, MacLeans published an article called
    “Professor criticized for course denying climate change”
    Tom Harris IS NOT A PROFESSOR AND NEVER HAS BEEN ONE. MacLeans should publish a disclaimer to inform readers of this egregious mistake, since only highly educated academics with PhD’s deserve this title, not Mr. Harris (who has an MA in Engineering).
    His expertise in anthropogenic climate change – none.
    Mr. Tom Harris lectured for a short time at Carleton University before he was unceremoniously removed for teaching his anti-anthropogenic climate change rhetoric. MacLeans also doesn’t mention that Mr. Tom Harris and several organizations he has been affiliated with, have been funded by fossil fuel industries…clearly a conflict of interests. Money can make some people sell their souls apparently, even if it means regurgitating information and propaganda that flies against internationally accepted scientifically proven facts.
    For MacLeans to call Mr. Harris a professor is a travesty. A professor has the highest educational rank at universities and research institutions. They are experts in their areas of expertise and are accomplished and recognized academics. They are scholars with doctorate degrees (typically Ph.D. degrees) who teach in universities. They conduct original research and teach grads and undergrads in areas of their expertise. They publish advanced original research in peer reviewed journals in their fields. A professor may also serve as a public intellectual, offering opinions to media and in other forums on current issues and other complex matters that require expert illumination, which Mr. Harris endeavours to do but fails miserably at, owing to his lack of education on the subject and financial interests in the fossil fuel industry. After much work, a professor may become tenured which allows him or her academic freedom. It is beneficial for society and academy in the long run if scholars are at liberty to examine, hold, and advance controversial views without fear of dismissal, however it must be emphasized that only tenured professors are afforded this freedom since they have the education, peer reviewed publications, extensive experience and overall knowledge required to intellectually select and teach such materials.
    Mr. Harris has never put in the several years of education required to become a professor. He has never put in the hard work and time required for research or writing advanced scholarly studies that are published in peer reviewed journals. Mr. Tom Harris had the audacity to teach controversial ideas, without the required education, peer reviewed publications, experience or overall knowledge. Doing so is allowed only to tenured professors for reasons already discussed.
    This is all why Mr. Tom Harris was kicked to the curb of Carleton University…and rightfully so.

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