Recently I engaged in a discussion on a blog about the teaching of climate change denial at the University of Auckland. It was in response to an article written by a student for the student magazine, Should we be paying to be taught climate denial? According to the student, at no point did the lecturer mention the IPCC or current climate information but instead presented information prepared by Christopher Monckton. Christopher Monckton is not a climate scientist or even a scientist and he has no publications in the peer-reviewed literature.
If I were a student at the University of Auckland, I would also feel a little jipped. I am currently taking a climate science course online through the University of British Colombia. It is very good. If however, they chose not to present the prevailing scientific evidence, and instead chose to present the fringe ideas of someone with no background in science whatsoever, I would simply drop the course. This option was not possible for the student who wrote the article for Craccum magazine as the course she enrolled in was a first year, prerequisite subject.
Is it appropriate to teach this sort of thing in a foundation course? And if a student objects, are they really attacking academic freedom? I am a fan of academic freedom so I loathe the idea that this could be true.
For the record, I believe the University of Auckland is an excellent institution which encourages critical thinking and I have never complained to them in any way, shape or form. I feel the need to say this because someone commented on my blog recently, and accused me of writing to the University to complain and demand that people who disagreed with me be sacked from their jobs. This is quite simply untrue. I have never done this and would never dream of doing this. It is however, exactly what the climate change denier, Christopher Monckton does.
My favourite philosopher, Peter Singer, has written about his own experience of being silenced in Germany. Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and he has written a great deal about controversial issues like euthanasia, abortion and infanticide. When Peter Singer tried to give a lecture at the University of Zurich some years ago, it was disrupted by a group of protestors. When he tried to address their protests, they began chanting, “Singer raus!” (Singer out!). At one point, one of the protestors came onto the stage behind him, snatched his glasses and tossed them onto the floor, breaking them. The situation in Germany has become so dire that it is not possible to teach applied ethics. He writes in his book, Practical Ethics,
One Berlin philosopher told me recently that it is not possible to offer a course in applied ethics in that city – whether or not it makes reference to my book – because such a course would be bound to be disrupted.
I think silencing views in this way is wrong. But is this the same thing as objecting to paying for a course on climate change denial? It would be different if the subject material in the course was disclosed so that students could make their own decision. If someone wanted to teach a course on climate change where they espoused their own fringe theories, then this would be fine, provided students knew that this was the case and they could choose whether or not to take it. I’m happy to be disagreed with on this, provided it is done politely and in a reasoned manner.
I agree with the views of Voltaire,
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.