Is Higher Education Failing to Adequately Educate Civil Society About the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign?

Is higher education failing to adequately educate citizens about a movement referred to in the sociological literature as the “climate change disinformation campaign?” An event at Penn State University will examine this topic on April 30th.

A well-educated citizen should know how science works including the indispensable role of skepticism in moving science forward. Yet throughout human history, ideologically motivated movements have made claims inconsistent with well-established scientific conclusions. These, for instance, have included claims that the Earth is the center of the universe, the holocaust did not happen, and evolution can’t explain life on Earth. Particularly when these ideologically motivated but demonstratively false claims encourage citizens to behave in ways that are harmful to others, a strong argument can be made that higher education has a strong duty to educate their students and civil society about problems with these claims.

A growing substantial sociological peer-reviewed literature has arisen that describes an ideological movement usually referred to as the “climate change disinformation campaign.” ClimateEthics has recently completed a four part series that summarizes this literature, explains what is meant by the term “disinformation campaign,” describes the tactics of this campaign, subjects these tactics to ethical analyses, distinguishes these tactics from responsible skepticism, and makes recommendations about scientific norms that should be followed in light of the fact that skepticism in science should be encouraged while disinformation should be condemned. (See the last entry in this series, Irresponsible Skepticism: Lessons Learned From the Climate Disinformation Campaign )

On April 30th at 7 pm in room 101 Thomas Building at Penn State’s University Park, a panel will examine the climate change denial machine while calling for greater involvement by higher education in educating citizens about these matters. Presenters will include Dr. (Juris) Donald Brown from Science, Technology, and Society and Program Manager for United Nations Organizations at the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of International Environmental Policy, Peter Buckland, A.B.D. in Educational Theory and Policy, Dr. Janet Swim from Psychology and chair of the 2009 American Psychological Associations task force on the psychology of climate change, Dr. Rick Shuhmann of Mechanical Engineering and the Engineering Leadership program, and Dr. Michael Mann, director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center and author of the recent book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Sponsors of this event include Penn State’s Center for Sustainability, The Rock Ethics Institute At Penn State University, The Penn State Program on Science, Technology, and Society, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Elk County C.A.R.E.S., Juniata Valley Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Pennsylvanians for Clean Air and Water, PennEnvironment, Sierra Club Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Moshannon, Sustainability Now Radio,Voices of Central Pennsylvania, The Interfaith Coalition on the Environment, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium.

Donald A Brown,

3 thoughts on “Is Higher Education Failing to Adequately Educate Civil Society About the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign?

  1. Thank you for this post and for the meeting to come.
    Indeed this issue is very bad.
    Because this applies to a globally shared resource, [a global commons] any deliberate promotion of aggressive ignorance harms everyone alive today and harms future generations. The motives may be ideological, or may be commercial – or both. But this is immoral and cannot be excused.
    And a more uncomfortable notion, just now rising up: How can we justify permitting such deliberate deceit to continue? What should we do?
    Your conference is greatly needed. Thank you.

  2. I am concerned about your use of the word “disinformation” in the context of global warming. It seems to be a version of the pejorative term “denier” which, though polite, still allows you to avoid answering reasonable questions. Why this should be so I have no idea, but let me test it out.
    It has now been 15 years since any meaningful global warming occurred. This is fully half of the customary period required to establish a climatic trend and is thus significant. Temperature forecasts made 20 years ago are invalidated, for warming faces an impossible acceleration to catch up. Scientists around the world are questioning how this could occur while our emissions of CO2 continue. From being apparently the climatic “thermostat”, CO2 has been reduced to a bit player, completely overwhelmed by natural factors.
    All five major global temperature datasets reflect a similar pattern and clearly display the lack of significant warming since about 1996. For example, the UAH dataset shown here.
    Perhaps you might say whether you consider it “disinformation” to refer to this hiatus in the global temperature record. Would it be “disinformation” to refer to the lack of confirmation of other major metrics of dangerous anthropogenic global warming?
    There is no tropical atmospheric “hot spot”; sea level rise is not accelerating; sea surface temperatures are not increasing; sea ice is recovering; though the arctic is warming, the antarctic has been cooling for 30 years; though some glaciers are diminishing, others are growing; there is no increase in storminess and hurricane frequency is below normal. The integrity of the IPCC process which purports to distribute a distillation of the best in climate science has been torn to shreds in The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert by Donna Laframboise.
    It cannot be “disinformation” to refer to these or any other real-world observations. So it is incumbent on you not to apply this term where it is not warranted.
    From what I’ve read of your thinking recently, you apply it indiscriminately to those who disagree with you on the cause or existence of global warming without regard to the precise nature of their disagreement or the reasons they give.
    Richard Treadgold.
    Climate Conversation Group

  3. A fair reading of our focus would conclude: (a) We encourage responsible skepticism, and (b) the eight specifically identified tactics of the disinformation campaign are ethically troublesome including such things as cyber-bullying, reckless disregard for the truth, focusing on what is unknown about the science of climate e change and ignoring what is known, the use of Astro-turf and front groups and others If you believe the planet has not warmed and that this trend proves that human induced warming is not a threat, you are encouraged to publish your conclusions in the best peer-reviewed scientific journals. That is where this debate should be fought out. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

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