de Freitas feeds his students sceptic propaganda

Auckland University associate professor Chris de Freitas has been caught feeding climate denier propaganda to first year geography students. A close examination of the student workbook for de Freitas’ lectures on climate for the University’s core first year geography course reveals that it includes material from sceptic blogs and US think tanks — even a misleading graph prepared by Christopher “Garnaut’s a NaziMonckton.

The NZ Herald‘s Chris Barton broke the story this weekend — first year geography students have complained that their climate lectures didn’t reflect what they were learning elsewhere in the university:

…according to some students of de Freitas’s 101 course on the basics of climate you won’t hear about how climate scientists are now seeing such patterns [of extreme weather]. Or about the building evidence that human-induced climate change is changing precipitation and the hydrological cycle, especially the extremes.

And that 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998, making the first decade of the 21st century the warmest ever according to the World Meteorological Organization. […]

“No, nothing,” a student in the course told the Herald. “I learned all that in my Environmental Science class.”

The Geography 101 lecture workbook confirms the lack of such information. There seems little, if any, reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its landmark 2007 reports were not listed in the course reading material. Climate scientists shown the workbook were surprised at how out of date much of the material was.

A glance at the lecture workbook, however, shows that de Freitas’ misdirection of his students goes much further…

The climate section of GEOG101 consists of eight lectures given by de Freitas. A copy of the workbook for this year’s autumn series, including one student’s annotations, can be download here (pdf, 6MB). Much of it is pretty straightforward stuff, primarily based on material from the two reference texts de Freitas recommends1. The student notes are interesting to scan, and highlight in several places apparent attempts by de Freitas to downplay CO2‘s role in climate change, and to play up ENSO as the cause of warming. More telling than the notes, however, is the selection of material de Freitas lines up for his last lecture: Natural climate variability and change [a higher resolution pdf of the notes for that lecture is available here (pdf, 6MB)]. A couple of the slides looked strangely familiar…

The last slide on the first page is credited to “Spencer 2008”. It looks like this:


The original can be found as an illustration to an essay by prominent sceptic Roy Spencer titled Global Warming and Nature’s Thermostat,2 which seems to have been published on the web in early 2008. Spencer has taken a paleo temperature “reconstruction” by Craig Loehle3, and stitched it on to the Hadley Centre global temperature record. It’s about as far from the mainstream of paleoclimate reconstructions for the last 2,000 years as it is possible to be.

But it gets worse. The last two slides on the next page of the workbook pdf (p3 of the hi-res pdf, p62 of the low res) include little inset graphs. The first of these is a graph of monthly global satellite temperatures with the increase in CO2 overlaid, prepared by US weatherman and noisy climate denier Joe D’Aleo. The last slide on that page includes a little inset graph that looked familiar.


It took a little hunting, but I eventually tracked down the original4, from Christopher Monckton’s March 2009 SPPI Monthly CO2 Report at the web site of the Science and Public Policy Institute, the US lobby group that promotes many of Monckton’s activities:


De Freitas is presenting material prepared by US lobby groups and bloggers — stuff that’s been deliberately designed to confuse the issue, not provide educational material for use in university foundation courses.

At no point in his lecture series does de Freitas use what might be called a mainstream paleoclimate reconstruction. Every slide he shows emphasises a Medieval Warm Period, and minimises current warmth5. He uses old, out-dated resources, as well as misleading stuff concocted by Monckton and Spencer. As Barton’s Herald article confirms, at no point does he bring the IPCC or current climate information into his lectures.

The other important piece of context for de Freitas’ behaviour is the people he is lecturing. They are first year geography students, probably 18 – 19 years old, fresh out of school. They are in their first term at university, and they are being badly misinformed by a senior academic at the university they are paying to attend. There is no attempt by de Freitas to “teach the controversy”, no attempt to present both sides of the debate sceptics like to insist still continues. Instead, he presents a partial picture that fits with his preconceived position. His students finish his course likely to believe that CO2 is not important, ENSO rules global temperature, the surface temperature record is unreliable and that current gobal temperatures are not all that warm. They have been grievously ill-informed.

This is not a matter of “academic freedom” — de Freitas is perfectly entitled to believe what he wants — but he should not be teaching foundation courses in climate that depend on the output of US lobby groups and far-right British politicians or are so far out of touch with the mainstream of the science he is purporting to present. His students deserve to learn the subject as we best understand it, not just the painted pig that de Freitas dangles in front of them. In the meantime, the University of Auckland has a problem. What price academic excellence, when you have an associate professor determined to ignore that fine idea?

  1. Strahler, A. and Strahler, A, 2005. Physical Geography – Science and Systems of the Human Environment, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York; Smithson, P, Addison, K. and Atkinson, K., 2002. Fundamentals of the Physical Environment, 3rd edition, Routledge, London. []
  2. Several other graphs in this section are similarly credited, and can be found on that web page. []
  3. Loehle, C. 2007. A 2000-year global temperature reconstruction based on non-treering proxies. Energy & Environment 18(7-8): 1049-1058. Published in 2007, and heavily criticised at the time. []
  4. There are some very minor differences between the two graphics, and CdF’s seems to have been taken from a printed source, but they are clearly from the same author []
  5. Most of the slides look like they’ve been drawn from the IPCC First Assessment Report’s paleoclimate graph, itself based on one originally drawn by pioneer climatologist HH Lamb, perhaps as early as the 1960s, IIRC []

112 thoughts on “de Freitas feeds his students sceptic propaganda”

  1. Yikes, that Spencer publishing [*cough*] link is so badly laid out it’s sure to make the Magic Donkey cry! What is it about contrarians and really, really bad web-design?

    2002-2008. Or 2009. Have I misunderstood something; is this foundation material for Cherry-Picking 101?

    Wow, and that Lord Monckton! He’s, like, a proper academic, ‘n’shit, ain’t he? Didn’t he, like, get all blinged up with a Nobel Prize or something? Yeah, it says here ‘Science ‘n’ Public Policy’ – the guy’s for real! Geezer’s done time in an Institute, too. Respec’!

    (And we even get a taste of one of the good Lord’s ‘interesting’ curves. I’m sure Barry Bickmore would have something to say about that!)

    Surely this is going to merit a pretty significant ‘please explain’?

          1. I think I would rather take sea level rise than a glacial period.

            Sea level rise is fairly easy to adapt to – move inland. Its a bit harder to adapt to glaciation.

            If human’s can in fact override the forces that have caused the glacial periods over the last 2.5 million years it would be great.

            However I will remain sceptical this is the case until I see a detailed explanation of the mechanisms that would do this.

            1. Sea level rise is fairly easy to adapt to.

              If human’s [sic] can in fact override the forces that have caused the glacial periods over the last 2.5 million years it would be great.

              R2 jumps shark, spouts Fox-level gibberish talking points. For the first, Mr Economist, I have only one word for you – ‘Infrastructure’. Make that three – ‘Highly Expensive Infrastructure.’

              Then we could talk about rates of change and the blatant idiocy of this comparison. As for ‘it would be great’, what are you, nine years old?

            2. “[sic]” haha this is a blog. Using ‘sic’ is just pretentious.

              I can’t really make any sense out of the rest of your comment. If you had to chose between a glacial period or sea level rise which would you chose?

            3. One tiny problem with your choice – the next glacial period would, in the absence of CO₂ increases, be something like 10-15,000 years away, whereas we are going to see sea level rise of between 0.5 and 2m this century alone.

              Given that you think adapting to SLR is so easy, I assume we can just send the bill to you?

            4. I was going to put [grocer’s’]!

              Do you understand Dappledwater’s point, then? Frankly, R2, you’ve squarely aligned yourself with the complete doofuses here. I’m embarrassed for you.

              Speaking of which; for those of us not living in fantasy land, here’s a point of interest – the BBC’s own enquiry into its science reporting has found it gives too much weight to the opinions of climate skeptics and other unscientific mavericks.

              Jones likened the BBC’s approach to oppositional debates to asking a mathematician and maverick biologist what two plus two equals. When the mathematician says four and the maverick says five, the public are left to conclude the answer is somewhere in between.

              In other words 2+2 ≠ 4.5, a point that Australia’s ABC also needs to take on board.

            5. CTG: Interesting. Can you post a link to the 10,000-15,000 years away comment. I am not claiming it is wrong, just interested to read more 🙂

            6. Shorter R2: I can’t be bothered doing research. Squirrel!

              Do you have the slightest embarrassment over your assertion that adaptation to SLR is easy? No, didn’t think so.

              No wonder you think de Freitas is just fab. Evidence obviously means nothing to you. Scientific method? Pah.

            7. CTG, a lot of unfair assertions in there.

              I am highly highly evidence driven. I would argue more than any other commenter on this blog.

              For example: when you assert that, in the absence of CO2 increases, glaciation is 10-15,000 years away I am very keen to see evidence of this new information so that I can change my currently held belief. I can not change my belief without this evidence. However you do not provide.

              Squirrel? What does this mean?

              You should all stop presuming everyone belongs to a for or against camp and just understand some people are driven by evidence and post questions for genuine reasons.

              It’s absurd to accuse those posting the questions as not being evidence driven, while assuming those who cheer-lead are solid scientific minds.

            8. Rather than distracting attention away from the topic of this post, how about you answer this question: do you think it is acceptable for CDF to use Monckton’s fraudulent graph as evidence in support of the assertion that warming is not happening?

      1. Samv – “It takes a while for ice to melt

        That doesn’t make any sense, the MWP was 3-400 years long. The reason sea level was much lower during the MWP is because it was cooler than now. The link I provided above is broken, I’ll try again:

        a href=””>Sea level hockeystick

      2. Samv – “It takes a while for ice to melt

        That doesn’t make any sense, the MWP was 3-400 years long. The reason sea level was much lower during the MWP is because it was cooler than now. The link I provided above is broken, I’ll try again:

        Sea level hockeystick

        1. “Sea level was stable from at least BC 100 until AD 950. Sea level then increased for 400 y at a rate of 0.6 mm/y, followed by a further period of stable, or slightly falling, sea level that persisted until the late 19th century. Since then, sea level has risen at an average rate of 2.1 mm/y, representing the steepest century-scale increase of the past two millennia. This rate was initiated between AD 1865 and 1892.”

          Note before BC100 sea levels were rising.

          Makes sense. An underlying long term up trend with short term noise on top of it. Warming periods result in greater rises than the falls that result from cooling periods, resulting in a long term increase.

          What is your point again?

          1. R2 –“What is your point again?”

            Sea level was much lower in the MWP, ergo it could not have been warmer than today. Your little excerpt affirms this, although it’s only one location.

            1. The point is that the long term trend for higher sea levels since the end of the last glacial means you cant just compare sea level in one period to another (during the Holocene) and say this means that period was warmer.

              Note I am not saying the MWP was warmer, just that your logic is completely flawed.

            2. “Note I am not saying the MWP was warmer”

              It wasn’t, sea level, advancing North American glaciers, paleoclimate proxies and climate modelling have buried that myth. Of course it still lingers on in the minds of “skeptics”.

              just that your logic is completely flawed.

              So why was sea level higher in most parts of the world during the mid Holocene, when it was slightly warmer than now?

            3. “So why was sea level higher in most parts of the world during the mid Holocene, when it was slightly warmer than now?”

              Sorry I don’t see evidence of that in anything that has been posted. Furthermore, all the anecdotal evidence would suggest otherwise (such as settlement locations, inundation of land by sea, etc)

              “It wasn’t, sea level, advancing North American glaciers, paleoclimate proxies and climate modelling have buried that myth.”

              I would argue none of these things “[bury] that myth”. That language is emotive and shows a confirmation bias in any analysis you would do. While it is likely, on the balance of current evidence, the MW Period was on average cooler than 2010/2005/1998 globally, the issue of that period compared to current period remains a murky one.

              Proxies are not perfect comparators. First off, there are resolution problems. There is uncertainty if a record is 1055, 1056, 1057, or even 1066. As a result, records for a certain year are inadvertently smoothed when globalised. While in modern records 1998 is recorded as 1998 everywhere and not smoothed with 1997, or 1985.

              Secondly, the commonly used tree ring proxies have a divergence problem. They don’t record current temperatures as warmer than 1950. Ie the infamous “hide the decline” quote – which I agree did not tell us anything that the scientists weren’t saying publically, for example, in 2006:
              “The NH RCS reconstruction displays pronounced variability, including significant ‘‘MWP’’ and ‘‘LIA’’ departures. An apparent decrease in recent temperature sensitivity for many northern sites [Jacoby and D’Arrigo, 1995; Briffa et al., 1998] is evident in our reconstructions, with divergence from instrumental temperatures after 1986 (Figure 5)”

              So how can we be sure this divergence didn’t happen in 1050? If the proxy is inaccurate at high temperatures today, why assume it is accurate at high temperatures in the past?

              I firmly believe your language, “buried that myth”, is very emotive and unhelpful. There still remains a lot of doubt if you bury deeper than the simple hockey stick images that compare averaged proxies to recorded modern temperatures.

              Sea level comparisons, for reasons already explained, do not adequately “[bury] that myth”. North American glaciers are obviously regional, and could be precipitation dependant, so do not adequately “[bury] that myth”. Paleo-climate proxies are all to often compared against modern temperature records (that have different resolution, ie the smoothing problem) and when the temperature record is removed do not adequately “[bury] that myth” (see above link). And a climate model is obviously a model and not data, so does not adequately “[bury] that myth”.

              I sit on the fence on this issue. I have really been dragged into this debate by you posting provocative comments. It is a frustrating and repetitive cycle. You post emotive comments that have obvious flaws in logic, however when I point these out I am somewhat trapped into an opposing view point, when in actual fact I don’t entirely disagree that the MWP was likely cooler than today, but just want to point out your logic is highly flawed and simplistic, and the possibility the MWP was warmer than today is not a ‘myth’ that has been ‘buried’.

            4. Sorry I don’t see evidence of that in anything that has been posted. Furthermore, all the anecdotal evidence would suggest otherwise (such as settlement locations, inundation of land by sea, etc)

              Sorry, wrong again.How do you think coral atolls in the Pacific formed? The Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Chinese coastline and the Atlantic coastline of South america all had sea level higher than present during the mid-Holocene – when it was warmer due to astronomical factors. If you has some sense of embarrassment you’d bother to at least do a little bit of research – personal incredulity doesn’t cut it.

              R2 – “Proxies are not perfect comparators”

              Dude if you’re going to wander done that path, you do understand you can’t argue the opposite? That would depend on the paleoclimate proxies having some value, if you’re going to rubbish them you can’t then turn around and argue they support what you would like them to.

              “Secondly, the commonly used tree ring proxies have a divergence problem”

              Confined to a small subset of tree-ring data at high latitudes – the rest don’t have this ‘divergence’. The MWP is shown to be cooler than now, even without the problematic subset. Again,do some research, these contrarian talking points you are trotting out are old hat.

              So let’s recap once again, why the MWP was cooler than today:

              1. Sea level much lower than present.(It was higher mid-Holocene)
              2. North American glaciers advancing (I notice you didn’t even attempt that one – obviously not dealt with on denier blogs)
              3. Paleoclimate proxies – perhaps some of the most telling being the sediment and coral proxies indicating a cool equatorial Pacific (La Nina-like) and cool Southern Ocean.
              4. Climate modelling puts the proxies into context. The cool tropical central/east Pacific (La Nina-like) explains the centuries long megadrought in North America during the MWP and precipitation in other parts of the world. The La Nina pattern of drought in the southern/western USA still exists today – see what Texas is like today for instance. Coupled with a warm Indian Ocean, the La Nina-like pattern explains the strongly positive NAO seen in other proxies during the MWP, and also accounts for precipitation patterns in North East Africa, India and South East Asia.

              See what happens when you actually research the scientific literature rather than relying on denier blogs to spoon feed you stuff you’d like to hear? That’s right, you actually learn stuff.

              “I have really been dragged into this debate by you posting provocative comments”

              Hardly, you support an anti-scientific viewpoint, that is simply being exposed for what it is. All you have to offer is feeble contrarian talking points.

            5. All right ‘Dappled’ this conversation is over. You have no interest in reading my posts properly. All you do is claim I said things which I didn’t, and claim I do things which I don’t (ie I post a scientific article and you claim I get my info from blogs).

              Good bye.

            6. R2 – “I post a scientific article and you claim I get my info from blogs”

              The ‘divergence problem’ is amply discussed in the peer-reviewed literature. If you had gleaned information from the scientific papers themselves you’d know it was confined to a small subset of tree-ring data confined to high latitudes. But no, you chose to repeat contrarian blog nonsense – which reveals exactly where you got it from.

  2. The pleasing thing here is that Chris Barton has managed to do some decent journalism, and presented a reasonably informed piece where the different parties are questioned and the contrarian viewpoint is allowed to expose itself. Considering some of the bollocks that the Herald has printed on climate issues, this is good stuff!

    Was this kicked off by some students speaking out and sharing their material from the course? What do we know about Barton’s credentials and background?

    BTW, there is another associated piece by Barton that details de Freitas feeding some final year Med School students doing an assignment on climate change and health a bunch of biased baloney too. Here:

    1. You mean here, I think…

      My understanding is that is was the medical students who kicked the story off – after five years at university, they’re in a much stronger position than first years to complain.

  3. “There is no attempt … to “teach the controversy”, no attempt to present both sides of the debate …. Instead, he presents a partial picture that fits with his preconceived position.”

    This seems like a fair description of 95% of climate science teachers throughout the country.

    1. What, the bit that conforms with what 97% of the actually qualified scientists think? All science courses teach the overwhelming consensus – as if you didn’t know! – but this material deliberately ignores the majority position.

      So it’s not as if it’s even part of ‘balancing’ the argument. (This is phoney in the first place – we don’t teach the ‘iron sun’ theory and we don’t put ether crankery in the course books!)

      Again, as if you couldn’t figure that out!

      Gee, and a cherry-picked quote. You must be learning from the masters…

      Argument fail.

  4. Good Grief, quote-mining from right out of the head post!
    Gareth said:”There is no attempt by de Freitas to “teach the controversy”, no attempt to present both sides of the debate sceptics like to insist still continues.”

    Notice the bit you accidently left out?

    It takes a startling degree of ideological blindness, and a large capacity to be dishonest, to frame climate science as a debate in the terms people like you and de Freitas do.

    It’s certainly not a scientific debate.

  5. I dropped Chris Barton an email expressing appreciation for some good work in these articles. His reply mentioned receiving a lot of attacks over these pieces. Most of us who visit here and follow climate issues understand well the kind of abuse likely to have come his way!

    If you think he’s done a good job, he might appreciate hearing about it to balance the nonsense. His email is linked under his articles.

  6. Whoa guys, Chris de Freitas is a half-baked contrarian, but this IS an issue of academic freedom. I am shocked by the tone of the original piece of “journalism”, the article here, and the comments that have followed.

    Those first-year students are a lot smarter than you think; they’ll sort the wheat from the chaff. Education is a complex process that includes information from all sources – good or bad. The mainstream view on anthropogenic driven climate change will win out because that’s where the weight of evidence resides. We need to avoid having well-intentioned, but ultimately ill-qualified do-gooders invading universities to impose their concept of truth. That’s a page right out of the “Cultural Revolution”.

    1. Sorry Mike, but CdF has been extended a great deal of “academic freedom” by Auckland Uni. He is perfectly entitled to believe what he wants, and advocate whatever his peculiar views suggest may be appropriate policy. This issue is not about trying to curtail that freedom, rather to ensure that he meets certain basic standards as a teacher.

      Read the student workbook. Then tell me that CdF’s academic freedom extends to using materials from Spencer/D’Aleo/SPPI/Monckton to tell his students that CO2 is not a real problem – in other words that he should be free to be a crap teacher. In one sense, of course, he is free to be as dreadful as he likes. The university and his students are also free to expect better from him.

      1. Agreed. My daughter had the misfortune to major in geography at Auckland. Even 14 years ago I was somewhat surprised by some of the handouts she was given. It’s only in more recent years that she truly comprehends how much misinformation she was given in this regard.
        To continue to maintain that increasing CO2 has no discernible influence on Average Global Temperatures is to fly in the face of 200 years of scientific research, physical laws, and over 100 years and millions of scientific observations. Either he teaches the science – or he does not! And unfortunately he does the latter.

      2. In one sense, of course, he is free to be as dreadful as he likes. The university and his students are also free to expect better from him.

        This is an important point.

        I am reminded of some schools of ‘permissive’ parenting that hold that because something is a ‘normal’ part of development it shouldn’t be actively resisted! (Believe me, being part of the communities I’ve been part of, I’ve seen plenty of it.) No. That’s not how it works. What’s ‘normal’ is that a child indulges in some certainly not-unusual (but still unacceptable) grossly-selfish or self-destructive behaviour – and the parent pushes-back. Kindly, of course, but, equally certainly, firmly where necessary. It’s part of the job description! This is how we all become productive members of our communities.

        If you’re allowed to toss around thoroughly discredited or demonstrably inaccurate notions unhindered on the basis of your inherent ‘freedom’ to do so – that might be many things, but what it’s not is science.

        On the contrary – science is by definition the arena where nonsense must meet resistance. Unfailingly.

    2. Mike, if people want to study crap from the Internet they can go on the Internet. If people want to be told that the world was created by a bearded bloke 6000 years ago they can go to Church. If people want to believe DDT is great, smoking first or second-hand won’t kill you, the hole in the ozone layer is harmless, acid rain ain’t real etc. etc. they can wallow around in the mire at the various ‘Free Enterprise’ Institutes (or read the Murdoch press!)

      If they want to learn proven science they can go to university.

      ‘Academic Freedom’ does not run to trying to pass off nonsense from the likes of Monckton as ‘fact’ in course work – here we’re back in a kind of Post-Modern hell again!

      Any academic can say what he likes in Op Eds. But he’s not entitled to his own facts in teaching science.

      1. Studying economics the fact that each lecture had an opinion was a constant presence. As a student (as Mike Palin has pointed out) this was obvious. Good students always researched the issues themselves. This is all the easier today with the internet (not just blogs, but the wonders of google scholar).

        What is important is that if a student puts an essay into a Keynesian leaning lecturer arguing Austrian ideas the lecturer gives them a fair mark.

        This is also the most important thing here. There will be lecturers in every university in New Zealand with different opinions on AGW. There will be students with different opinions. Holding an opinion in one direction should not be required to pass a course. That is the most important thing. Students will learn more by being exposed to diverse views (as the student has noted they were given different views in their Environmental Science paper). They will have this in the real world on all matters, best to learn how to judge different arguments on their merit at university than be sheltered.

        1. Any academic can say what he likes in Op Eds. But he’s not entitled to his own facts in teaching science.

          What you’re saying is that you disagree with this, R2?

          Economics is not a ‘hard’ science. It is a branch of political debate supervised by accountants.

          The desirability or utility of a Keynesian economic stimulus in a recession – because that assessment will depend on what the assessor regards as desirable – is clearly not a matter of the order of demonstrating how many moons Saturn may have, or that CO2 is a Greenhouse gas, or determining what happened during the Eocene thermal maximum.

          What makes a science ‘hard’ is the presence of facts – hard-won knowledge of the demonstrable veracity and utility of claims – combined with the knowledge that some degree of uncertainty must always prevail – a proviso that some people (like you) shamelessly exploit in order to sow confusion.

          But any overthrowing of these accepted facts must also be done in the most rigorous possible way (hence replication, peer review etc.) If it can’t meet these standards – or doesn’t even try to – then it’s an opinion, not an alternate body of fact.

          Caveat emptor is the philosophy of the con-artist. The rest of the world has standards, and academics are expected to meet them in order to be regarded as credible.

          1. How many moons does Saturn have?

            The point is that students need to have the ability to make up their own mind. Any student who does not realise de Freitas’s view is not the only view on climate change is living in a cave. All other student’s will be better off for the chance to see an alternate view that they are already getting in their environmental science.

            De Freitas is not the only university lecturer teaching this alternate view. Willem de Lange has also taught this way at Waikato University for some time. It’s hardly breaking news.

  7. Mike, you are wrong. From the Auckland Charter Mission Statement

    Creating a diverse, collegial scholarly community in which individuals are valued and respected, academic freedom is exercised with intellectual rigour and high ethical standards, and critical enquiry is encouraged.

    Read the workbook and tell me you honestly think it has been done with “intellectual rigor and high ethical standards”.

    1. Doug, if a student puts an essay into you for grading that contains a view that climate change is not dangerous, how do you grade that essay? Is it possible to get an A grade with a view that is not the same as that of the IPCC’s?

      1. The question is about academic freedom being a matter of “intellectual irgor and high ethical standards”. Do you think de Freitas has acted with “intellectual rigor and high ethical standards”?

          1. Disagreeing with the IPCC/consensus position would be a prima facie indication of a lack of intellectual rigour when it comes to climate science. So you couldn’t expect top low grade for that, though you would expect at least a brief explanation of where the rigour is missing.

            ie, the conclusion isn’t the problem – it’s the working that led to the poor conclusion.

  8. Hello everyone: As a senior academic who is charged with the responsibility to deal with these issues locally, I have to say that on balance I agree with Mike Palin. Academic freedom is a vexed issue that only universities have to deal with. Mike is correct in placing faith in the judgements of undergraduates. In fact, if we don’t, university education means nothing at all. If we don’t trust our children and grandchildren to see the truths that many of our own generation can’t (or won’t ) see, then we have no hope at all. The more we suppress the CdF’s of the world, the more we make our children’s job in leading the next generation difficult. That is the irony. I for one embrace the controversy because I have faith in scientific truth.

    1. Well if you can’t take CDF to task for teaching stuff from Monckton’s workbook there is no way is sweet hell you can take a journalist to task for exposing it.
      Faith in the undergrads? Even if they are quick enough to twig they’re presented Hobson’s choice. Either accept it and waste a year on it, not study the subject or go elsewhere at huge expense. I think they deserve better than that.
      Let CDF do what he likes at post grad level at undergrad level he has a responsibility to cover mainstream science.

      1. My comment regarding shooting the messenger (journalist) was more in response to Mike Palin above, I’m unsure if Mr Hunter shares Palin’s shock at the tone of Barton’s article.

    2. Keith what is the position of the undergraduate who understands the science and in examination answers contrary to the teaching but correctly in accordance with the perceived science?

  9. As an academic, I find your position deeply disturbing. Take a deep breath and look at what you are advocating – blacklisting, banishment, burning at the stake?

    There are things worse than climate change. Society turning its back on the scientific method is one. It’s the principal reason I’ll argue with any contrarian any day of the week, any hour of the day – their attacks on the integrity of science have been reprehensible. Restricting academic freedom is another – even if it means putting up with the likes of de Freitas.

    Look, I say some pretty outrageous things at times in my lectures and I don’t want you or anyone else telling me what I can and can’t say. I think I can justify what I do – and that includes calling out contrarians like de Freitas – but fundamentally that is not the point. Universities have a special role to play in generating and exchanging ideas in democracies and I’m not willing to compromise that for any cause, however noble.

    Persecution of contrarians is simply not a winning strategy – it makes them victims. The science is clearly against them, that should be enough.

      1. But nowhere does Doug suggest anything even approaching ‘blacklisting, banishment, [or] burning at the stake’ in that comment or in the follow-up’!

        That’s both hyperbolic and a classic straw man.

        Look, the most anyone can realistically hope to achieve here is landing a bit of an academic fat-lip and maybe he’ll be a bit more cautious about course descriptions and materials in the future (or the University may bring pressure to bear for the same.) To go back to the point Gareth raised above – he may be free to say it, but other people are also free to say that’s not what they expect of someone in that position. And they are absolutely entitled to point out any inaccuracies or conclusions that are unsupported by sound evidence. This is the very process of public debate. I fail to see even the slightest hint of the people’s committees forming or the re-education camps opening!

        On the contrary, what I do see when I look around the world is contrarians using their considerable political leverage to conduct witch-hunts against scientists who have gone about their work in good faith (Cuccinelli), smear campaigns aimed at same with the active collusion and participation of, say, Fox and sister media controlled by that dreadful old man who – one can only hope – may finally get his long-overdue comeuppance, and a public debate that’s been hopelessly distorted by venal elites that really do have power.

        My own blood-curdling first comment, which I can only assume was one of the ones that you found tonally offensive, was –

        Surely this is going to merit a pretty significant ‘please explain’?

        Does this really strikes you as the call to arms of a proto-Red Guard? Isn’t it all a bit ‘this calls for a strongly-worded letter’?

        I have not the slightest doubt that your lectures are very entertaining indeed.

        But anyone who attempts to pass off stuff cobbled together by the likes of the SPPI as foundation material can hardly be surprised if they get some blowback! The community is entitled to have an opinion – that’s nowhere near McCarthyism and, as in any other currency, this kind of inflationary usage just devalues the term.

  10. Let us hope/ensure then that the the high-powered light of academic critique is focused on de Freitas at all times. His inadequacies must be mercilessly exposed wherever they appear.

    Don’t underestimate the damage done to scientific truth that is also wreaked away from academia, and away from major media outlets: The curse of the (amateur) weather forums (many of them, anyway). They present an excellent opportunity for disinformationists, and many/most of their members and casual visitors don’t have enough knowledge or education to evaluate such material. As scientists and academics in general appear to take little notice of these websites, a gigantic amount of confusion and fact-free dialogue can occur with little or no educated guidance.

  11. A question for the defenders of CDF’s right to offer such course material to undergraduate students, justified by academic freedom.
    Does Auckland University honestly and accurately describe the course content to prospective student’s?
    Does it advise that the content is skewed toward minority viewpoints?

  12. Mike, I advocated no such things. I asked you a simple question that you have avoided answering. I asked you if you thought de Freitas has acted with “intellectual rigor and high ethical standards”?

    1. I have now had an opportunity to download and read over the annotated lecture notes of de Freitas. As pointed out in Gareth’s article, the vast majority of the material appears to have been taken directly from two introductory geography texts cited on the cover page. Indeed, the nature and magnitude of this “directness” may itself involve copyright issues in the production and more recent further distribution of the booklet. The offending material appears confined to the final of 8 lectures.

      To answer your question, I do not think de Freiats has acted with “intellectual rigor and high ethical standards” in presenting this material. However, it is not my call to make, nor yours or anyone else’s outside the University of Auckland. In this regard, I subscribe to the concept of “unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas” expressed in the Lehigh statement you. It may be distasteful from time to time, but the alternatives are far worse.

      1. Mike, I think you need to re-read my original comment at 8.02 yesterday and contrast with your response.

        As a graduate of Auckland I have to say again that you are wrong. Anything Auckland does to damage its reputation, in turn damages mine. As the Otgao charter says:

        expect the University to maintain and enhance its reputation, to offer opportunities for interaction, and to provide opportunities for further academic and intellectual development

        Though, curiously, the Auckland Charter does not appear to contain a similar sentiment.

      2. Mike, it isn’t just the material in lecture 8 that’s in question. That’s where the most obvious stuff is – but nowhere in those materials is a there a graph of modern understanding of paleoclimate. De Freitias ignores 16 years of scientific evidence. That’s got to be bad practice surely.

        1. I disagree. The contents of the first two lecture notes are full of mainstream climate science. Why there’s even a figure from GlobalWarmingArt.

          But this was not the point I originally raised. It is not your place to attempt to control what de Freitas or any academic presents in their lectures. This is wrong – MacCarthy-wrong. It’s what THEY do.

          1. I’m not attempting to control anything, certainly not CdF’s views. But I am concerned that he is teaching a very distorted view of the mainstream, without any apparent caveats, to first semester undergraduates. That’s bad teaching, and an issue for Auckland University to resolve (as I said in the post). But I make no apologies for highlighting CdF’s use of shonky references.

            It’s worth noting that CdF has (according to his own publication list) had at least 35 op-eds published in the National Business Review and 25 in the Herald since 1990. 20 years is a long time, but can you think of any other NZ climate scientist who has had comparable success?

            Perhaps they should get de Freitas to run a lecture series on “Climate Scepticism 101”. I’m sure that would be full of references to the IPCC… 😉

  13. As I have remarked before, de Freitas’ colleagues could (but have chosen not to) exercise their academic freedom in the same way that the colleagues of
    Michael Behe
    have done. Behe is a biochemist at Lehigh University who loudly espouses ‘intelligent design’. His department’s home page has this to say about him.

  14. I have heard of at least one young person who has been entirely convinced by de Freitas that global warming isn’t happening. She is now a denier on climate change, taught by de Freitas, and doesn’t look like she’s going to change her mind any time soon.

    There’s academic freedom, surely, then there’s just making stuff up (Monckton, SPPI, Heartland Institute). Auckland University has a responsibility, surely, to at least teach peer reviewed science rather than fossil-fuel industry-funded claptrap?

    1. Have you compared the number of ‘deniers’ amongst de Freitas alumni and the number amongst the general public? Finding one ‘denier’ is hardly proof de Freitas is causing the end of intelligent life as we know it.

  15. What about the credibility of the AU Geography department. The Dept at least owes its students some kind a balance.

    I suggest a remedial Climate science unit for those taking the CdF course, which inlcudes considerable amount of mateerial from Skeptical Science ripping the A out the rubbish that CdF is teaching.

  16. I would expect that academic freedom (like most freedoms) carries with it some responsibilities. And Doug Mackie has raised these via the charter. Richard Christie raises another responsibility, that is, the freedom could be honestly exercised if the course was described correctly.

    I don’t believe it should be left to first year students to sort this out,though I would hope a few complaints to the university will ensue. I am thankful that my university lecturers stuck with the main stream science as I wouldn’t have had the fortitude to oppose them (I was too busy taking it all in).

    But to think – I could have had Ken Ring lecturing on seismicity!

  17. I don’t imagine anyone here would object to de Freitas explaining the mainstream science to his students and then telling them he disagrees with it and why. No threat to academic freedom is proposed by Gareth’s post. It’s a question of the professional responsibilities which university teachers can reasonably be expected to discharge and which one would expect departments to uphold.

    1. Completely agree, Bryan, along with the proviso that he should also explain that the mainstream regards his alternate sources as less credible and why that is so.

  18. It’s all very well debating the freedom of academics to lie to students, but what is the opinion of our glorious leaders at the beehive. They have been remarkably reticent regarding the expected safety of GHGs and climate change. With regard the Pike river mine, they have clearly made a decision that it is unsafe. In Christchurch, they have made the hard decision that some areas will have to be red zones. Now what about climate change? Is stuffing more GHGs in the atmosphere going to be perfectly safe, or something we should avoid at all costs? Shouldn’t the government be committing themselves to one or the other given the best scientific information they have available? They are committing to neither, as if GHGs are safe, we needn’t have a carbon tax or ETS. If they are a disastrous hazard about to spiral out of control, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to prevent it? World wars have not been fought and won on the basis of half-hearted measures and neither I suspect will climate change.

  19. Gareth, what is your opinion on this?

    “These are the lectures I give to our core finance class.These lectures present my alternative view of reality, as informed by finance. The goal of these lectures is to better understand the structure of underlying reality, and by doing so to make you into a better human being. Each lecture is accompanied by the .ppt file used for that day and links to the articles that were discussed in that lecture. Each lecture tried to use current (at that time) articles in the news to make the intended point, with New Zealand examples where possible. If you would like a brief summary of the overall thrust of these lectures, #5 from Summer School 2007 is a good place to start.

    Reactions to the lectures are most welcomed.”

    1. Seems fair enough to me, because the writer makes explicit what he’s doing. De Freitas doesn’t. As I said, he makes no attempt to present the mainstream of current understanding of climate.

  20. Gareth’s criticism seems to be founded solely on the materials (or perhaps the authors) De Freitas uses in his course. There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that his facts or opinions are wrong or even non-mainstream. Condemnation of a lecturer’s choice of materials seems quite an incursion into normal academic freedoms.

    Perhaps there’s one exception – Gareth mourns the lack of a “modern paleoclimate”, or hockey-stick graph. Surely he doesn’t suggest that it is heretical or misleading to believe that there WAS a MWP?

    1. Failing to present what we have learned about paleoclimate over the last 15 years is either lazy or mendacious. This is not the place for a debate of hockeysticks of any kind, but even the most die-hard sceptic has to admit that modern reconstructions look nothing like the graphs CdF shows his students.

      1. I agree with Gareth here. When I said earlier that we have to have faith in future generations, I meant what I said. As a university teacher, my job is not to teach students what to think, but how to think. The difference is crucial. CdF has fallen into the trap of teaching students what to think. Some will be sucked in, and that is to be regretted, but some will not be. They will question the evidence they have been presented (and I hope they question my evidence as well). The net result is that human society moves forward. If I didn’t believe this truth I would give up and retire.

  21. -“He didn’t use any hockey stick graphs that show the extreme change in our climate since human activity – he didn’t show us anything like that,” said the student.

    If that’s what he wanted, he should have gone to a creative literature class.

    1. Wow, what a zinger! [/sarc]

      Could another Nobel prize be pending (Peace and Literature)? Because if it’s creative writing it’s been enviably influential, what with all those other people and organizations that re-processed the data and got the same result. (I assure you, Steve, that this last sentence has a meaning in Reality 1.0, despite it’s incomprehensibility to you in Libereality™ It’s a bit like those colour-blindness tests, you just can’t see what most of us do because you’re so special!)

      Apropos to the subject of this thread, you still haven’t answered my serially-unanswered question about your – ‘heroic’ or otherwise – place in your institution’s scheme of things. I really am genuinely curious. Not that I expect that you ever will, but that really is pretty revealing in itself, don’t you think?

  22. Mike, I have tried to raise this with you above because you seem to have misrepresented me a little. Please go back and read my original comment and clarify your response directed to me.

    1. Doug-
      I answered your question and then I reread your first “you are wrong” comment. We obviously see this in very different ways, so let’s give it a rest.

  23. No Mike. I will not give this a rest. I am getting a wee bit frustrated over your obdurate reluctance to address this. My comment at 8.02, the one you responded to, said in its entirety:Mike, you are wrong. From the Auckland Charter Mission Statement
    Creating a diverse, collegial scholarly community in which individuals are valued and respected, academic freedom is exercised with intellectual rigour and high ethical standards, and critical enquiry is encouraged.
    Read the workbook and tell me you honestly think it has been done with “intellectual rigor and high ethical standards”You then went on to say that this meant I had advocated all sorts of silly things. You said:

    As an academic, I find your position deeply disturbing. Take a deep breath and look at what you are advocating – blacklisting, banishment, burning at the stake?

    Please explain to me how you leapt from my simple cut and paste from the Auckland Charter which says that academic freedom, like all rights, also comes with responsibilities to your quite frankly hysterical interpretation.
    I appended a question suggesting that de Freitas has not met the obligations of the Charter and has therefore not properly exercised academic freedom. You state that this is a matter purely for Auckland. Well, as a graduate and member of the court of convocation there it does concern me personally.

    1. Doug,
      You said, “Mike, you are wrong” followed by a selection from the Auckland Charter Mission Statement. Wrong about what and what does the mission statement have to do with it? I’m sorry, but I’m not connecting the dots.

      I strong support academic freedom even when it shelters quacks such as de Freitas. I consider any attempt to silence or suppress such wayward academics to be on a slippery slope to ruin. You don’t have to agree, you may even call it hysterical, but that’s my opinion. You view the situation differently. We’ve each had our say, now can we move on to better things?

  24. Mike, I am still waiting for you to explain how a cut and paste from the charter becomes

    blacklisting, banishment, burning at the stake?

    Please adress this. Where in that comment did I say he should be silenced? I state here for the record that you have misrepresented my position. I urge you to correct this misrepresentation. And I urge you to do it soon.

    1. Doug, this tit for tat must be boring the living daylights out of anyone still reading this thread. At least we’re laying to rest the myth that academics could ever agree to a grand conspiracy!

      In my original comment (July 18, 6:53 pm), I stated my opinion that this was an issue of academic freedom, that I was shocked by the tone (should have said “nature”) of the discussion, that I thought the mainstream view would win out, and that we should “avoid having well-intentioned, but ultimately ill-qualified do-gooders invading universities to impose their concept of truth.” The latter was aimed at some commenters here, but certainly not you.

      You replied that I was “wrong” without pointing out what in particular I had said that you thought was wrong. Because I had covered a fair bit of territory, I thought that was a bit over the top and responded in kind. If you want to go lawyer on me, well that’s your business. IMO, the sooner you stop badgering me, the less damage will be done to the reputation of your alma mater.

    2. Doug, I was wrong to imply that you were advocating any of those mechanisms to silence de Freitas. As the exchange progressed, I let my passion for academic freedom overtake rational discourse. I apologise to you and others on this thread.

  25. Without wanting to stretch this thing out ad nauseum, it seems that the argument is not so much a difference in opinion but a misunderstanding over intent.

    My question regarding academic freedom, is what would the response be at Auckland University if a medical lecturer taught a bit about anatomy, followed by a strong bid to teach homeopathy with the hope of converting more medical students into homeopaths. Would the University argue that this is academic freedom and hope that the students would be smart enough to realise that conventional medicine is the way to go? I personally do not see the difference between this scenario and CdF.

    1. Tony, that is a very pertinent question, and I suspect that no NZ university, nor indeed any university, has a ready answer. The reality is that it doesn’t arise very often. In most cases, there is obvious balance. In fact, outright deniers of scientific truths are quite rare, and so the mechanisms for dealing with them are not well advanced. I am aware of climate change deniers in my own institution, but they are very careful to keep their heads low down around me, which is not surprising. The same situation applies with regard to evolution and intelligent design, and similar controversies. In many respects, universities are just a microcosm of society at large, although there are strong arguments that they should not be.

      The key issue, I think, is that universities need to nurture those forms of thinking that challenge societal norms. But sometimes, that will provide support for forms of thinking that many people will not like, such as climat change denial. Thus I repeat my faith in young students who will, in the end, arrive at the truth because true academics have taught them how to do that, rather than tellingvthem what to think.

      In simple terms, we are teaching them to distinguish between bullshit and clar, both very different but also quite similar.

  26. The crucial thing in all of this is the quality of evidence being used. In my experience, science is very open to alternate views, provided they are backed up by good evidence.

    For example, in my undergraduate days, my class was given the task to debate whether salmon farms in the west of Scotland were a good thing or bad thing, environmentally. The prevailing view amongst the students and lecturers was that they were a Bad Thing, so my team thought we were on to an easy job arguing the negative point of view. The other team, having to argue a case they didn’t believe in, had to work very hard to come up with some arguments. As a result, their case was much more convincing than ours, and they won the debate. It all came down to the evidence they presented, even though it went against the mainstream view.

    CDF’s evidence, on the other hand, is not very reliable. That Monckton graph, for example, is downright fraudulent. Yes, CDF has every right to teach an alternate point of view (as long as he identifies that his is the alternate viewpoint, not the mainstream), but he most certainly has a duty to ensure that the evidence he presents in support of that view is robust.

  27. Keith,

    Thank you for your response. In medical schools, there is a trend towards teaching tolerance to alternative medicine. That said, however, if an individual were to teach homeopathy, without consultation with their peers, then the person involved would very likely be reprimanded. If homeopathy were in the medical curriculum, then things would be different, but in order to get into the curriculum it would need to pass the hurdle of evidence based medicine.

    1. Congratulations Bill.

      It should be accepted that not every area is suitable for mining. In your opinion Bill, where is a good location for current mineral exploration to be focused?

      1. Thanks R2 – and I can’t really answer the question, because they have the run of 93% of the state (including 3/4 of the area of national parks). The area in question just added another half of 1% to the list of protected areas.

        One answer; not the national parks.

        This brings my lifetime campaign total for full protection of wilderness areas to over 700 000Ha – I’m aiming for a million! SA all up is 98 million Ha.

        1. Great work bill! Those photos are stunningly beautiful.
          Here’s hoping the 1 million mark is not too far off.
          The work is never done however. We thought with schedule 4 we had preserved areas of national parks here from the threat of mining only for an unscrupulous government to announce “surgical” mining plans. It took the largest protest march in decades for them to back down – but the miners still cast their covertous eyes. We had a protest march in to a test platform a month or two back. The miners urged on by the govt are still looking and if we were to turn our back for 6 months they would be in boots and all.

  28. Spencer has taken a paleo temperature “reconstruction” by Craig Loehle3, and stitched it on to the Hadley Centre global temperature record.

    One mistake denialists usually make which probably comes from graphs like Spencer’s is to think that the Little Ice Age was coldest during the 17th/early 18th centuries when in actual fact the coldest century was the 19th extending into the early 20th century. This fits in with their meme that global temperature is determined entirely by Solar activity which had the Maunder minimum during the 17th/early 18th centuries. Unfortunately, the meme collapses from the fact that that was not when the coolest period occurred. Blatantly false graphs like Spencer’s feed this meme however.

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