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November 18th 2014 print

Tony Thomas

Going Troppo at Queensland University

How could any sane person possibly dispute that the world is heading for a full-blown climate catastrophe? Deeply troubled by that question, professional warmists are launching a "massive online course" to help the faithful understand the diseased minds of those who beg to differ

nuttyThe University of Queensland is offering a course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, set to start  on March 10. The course instructor for “Denial 101X” is  John Cook, lead author of the 2013  paper asserting a “97.1 consensus” that humans are causing global warming. If you are not familiar with that much-refuted furphy, follow this link to watch Cook selling his bill of goods.

Last Saturday the university played host to Barack Obama, who received an ovation for urging “a strong global climate agreement next year.”
The climate-denial course at the university is a free global  “MOOC” (Massive Online Open Course) offering lectures by Cook and 11 of his associates. These lecturers include seven of the nine people who co-authored his paper on “the 97% consensus”. The same seven were also among the 20 or so raters of 11,944 abstracts for the consensus paper

I have successfully enrolled for Denial 101X but cannot yet access the course material. As far as I can discover, this is the first-ever university course specifically about “climate denialism”. Its only competition would be from the University of NSW, which is also kicking off a climate course, starting on March 2, that promises “to consider the persistence of climate-change denialism and scepticism in the face of this consensus”.

Cook is the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at Queensland University. He is completing a doctorate “researching the psychology of consensus and the efficacy of inoculation against misinformation”. His blurb for the course reads:

Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Learn to make sense of the science and to respond to climate change denial.

About this Course:

In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.

• Why the gap between the public and scientists?

• What are the psychological and social drivers of the rejection of the scientific consensus?

• How has climate denial influenced public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?

This course examines the science of climate science denial.

We will look at the most common climate myths from ‘global warming stopped in 1998’ to ‘global warming is caused by the sun’ to ‘climate impacts are nothing to worry about.’

We’ll find out what lessons are to be learnt from past climate change as well as better understand how climate models predict future climate impacts. You’ll learn both the science of climate change and the techniques used to distort the science.

With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.”

Queensland University, with 45,000 students, calls itself “one of the world’s premier teaching and research institutions”. Although Denial 101X is free, students pay at least $US100 if they want to earn a ‘Verified Certificate’ on completion. The course has no pre-requisites, but basic high school science is recommended. The course runs for seven weeks and calls for 1-2 hours work a week. Cook in September travelled around England filming lectures by the UK Denial 101x presenters.

His curiously named blog seeks to combat climate-sceptic science blogs such as wattsupwiththat.com  and joannenova.com.au. Cook’s 97% paper was one of the biggest academic hits of 2013, being downloaded more than 200,000 times.  He makes no secret that his research paper had the goal of spurring people to lobby governments on CO2 emissions. His media blitz when the paper was released included use of public relations firm SJI Associates. “As a father, I realized that we are handing over a world to our children that is worse than the world we were given,” he told an interviewer. “And as a Christian, I saw climate change as a social justice issue.”

However, Christopher Monckton demonstrated that only 0.3%, not 97.1%, of the 11944 abstracts explicitly endorsed that humans are causing most of global warming, such as it is. This is, of course, the key disagreement between warmists and sceptics. The journal published sets of corrections on 31 May and 30 October last year to the Cook paper.

The paper says,

Abstracts were randomly distributed via a web-based system to raters with only the title and abstract visible. All other information such as author names and affiliations, journal and publishing date were hidden”.

Upon coming across a sceptic paper, one of the raters joked:

“I got one [abstract] last night, though, that I thought was funny – I rated it as “Explicit >50%”, because it *was* attributing all the warming to human GHG emissions.  It just claimed there wouldn’t *be* much warming, asserting that the IPCC had grossly over-estimated climate sensitivity & feedbacks.  I had to look it up to see who the authors were – Michaels & Knappenberger.  I laughed out loud when I found that out.  :-D

The most scathing review of Cook’s paper  was by psychology researcher Jose Duarte, who said the paper was simply ‘vacated’ as science because of mis-statements about its methods and the absurdity of  using partisan political climate activists to subjectively rate climate abstracts.

Cook  and Queensland University have resisted fully releasing raw data from the survey for others to examine. When a blogger Brandon Shollenberger  downloaded the unsecured ratings data on the internet and found evidence of what he described as rater bias, Cook and the university threatened legal action. Jane Malloch, the university’s head of research, legal,  wrote to the blogger that even publishing her letter would  be actionable:

“The University of Queensland owns the copyright in this letter and you are advised that any publication by you of this letter , or persons acting in concern with you, will constitute an infringement of The University’s copyright. The University of Queensland reserves its right to take any and all legal action against any person, including you, who publishes this letter.”

The letter warned that Shollenberger “immediately cease and desist from any and all activities that involve the use or disclosure in any manner of the IP (intellectual property)…” the letter also demanded that he cease and desist from any further correspondence with Cook.

It said,

“Furthermore, The University of Queensland has conducted a forensic investigation and it appears that the site where the IP was housed has been hacked and that this is a matter that requires referral to US law enforcement agencies.“

The blogger says the web information was not password protected and was available to download.

Among Cook’s team of Denial 101X lecturers, it is hard to find  non-activists.

# Professor of Chemistry Sarah Green,  at Michigan Technological University, was Cook’s main rater of the 11,944 abstracts. She says she personally rated, sitting on her couch, 4,146 abstracts over four months.

“John cleverly set up the rating process so it felt like a game to me. After I rated five abstracts, another five would quickly appear, and counters showed how many each person had done, making it like a contest.

“[The papers] examined everything from production of tea in Sri Lanka, the stripes on salamanders, child under-nutrition, frequency of lightning strikes, distribution of prickly pear cactus (and pine trees, kelp beds, wild boars, penguins, arctic fishes, canine leishmaniasis, and many, many others), mitochondrial electron transport activity in clams, copper uptake by minnows, lake effect snowfall, the rotational speed of the Earth and the prevalence of naked foxes in Iceland.”

 “It was winter in Michigan so I’d just come home and do them, and my husband was out of town, sometimes I’d do 50, sometimes I’d do five, sometimes I’d do more.”

 # Daniel Bedford and Scott Mandia were co-authors with Cook on a paper this year, “Raising Climate Literacy Through Addressing Misinformation: Case Studies in Agnotology-Based Learning.” Agnotology is a word invented in 1995  meaning “deliberate production of ignorance”.

# Mandia in 2010 called on media outlets to “Expose Monckton for the fraud that he is, and by doing so, you may regain the trust of scientists that may be shunning mass media because of the journalistic false balance that discourages scientific engagement with the media.”

# Andy Skuce compares the need for action on climate change with the need for a clean-up of Thames River faeces in Victorian London.

# Kevin Cowtan’s aim is to show  “How we know that the world is warming, and how misinformation is used to obscure the evidence.”

# Dana Nuccitelli’s speciality is “debunking climate myths including those related to the accuracy of climate models and the causes of global warming”.

Two Denial 101X lecturers,  Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way,  wrote a 2013 paper claiming to have found the “missing heat” and evidence that warming has not stopped this century. They did this by “reconstructing” temperature data to infill missing regions like the Arctic.

Meanwhile, I’ve only about 120 sleeps to the start of my Denial 101X course. I hope to be a  John Cook Laureate.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com