Patterson, Wente: bringing ideological blindness to the people

In a laughable Margaret Wente column (forgiving the redundancy) in the Globe and Mail this week, we were called upon to feel sorry for Carleton University professor Dr. Tim Patterson:

Prof. Patterson never set out to be a global-warming dissenter. “It’s my bad luck. I just go where the research takes me.”

This may be true in some parallel universe, but Prof. Patterson is famously reticent to let his research take him beyond 1980, when the evidence for his favorite thesis falls to ruins.

Patterson’s shtick is to line up  sunspot records from the last century in a comparative graph with temperature variations. As Wente says, “He and other scientists have found an excellent correlation between these climate shifts and cyclical changes in the brightness of the sun.”

That’s absolutely true - until 1980, when all Patterson’s own graphs curiously stop. In the years since, however, the graphs diverge sharply.  Solar activity goes flat, temperature spikes to record levels. On this divergence, Patterson, who likes to congratulate himself for taking “a longer world view,” is devoutly silent.

However, the professor is quick to say: “There are more and more papers about celestial forcing, but you never hear about them in the media.”

Well, Tim, we’re not quite the Globe and Mail, but we will reprint or link prominently to any research you can produce that demonstrates celestial forcing - and not greenhouse gases - can be blamed for the current round of global warming.

In the meantime, we suggest that you use the consulting fees that you have received from energy-industry groups like the Natural Resources Stewardship Project and Friends of Science to take Peggy Wente to dinner. You can chat on merrily about views of science and social policy that are driven by stubborn ideology rather than, say, evidence.


Margaret may be laughable but she’s also popular in the G&M. And her thinking is pretty close to what Canadian mainstream thinking actually is.

Once again, Paul, you do not speak for Canadians, and you certainly do not share the attitudes of most Canadians, who roll their eyes at Wente, if they bother to read her in the first place.

As a modest defense of Wente, I have enjoyed a few of her columns. However, none of these columns have anything to do with the environment.

Wente and fellow columnist Rex Murphy have a few flashes of brilliance over the course of a year, but at other times, they lack reason and sound judgment (as the case is regarding AGW).

“Wente and fellow columnist Rex Murphy have a few flashes of brilliance over the course of a year, but at other times, they lack reason and sound judgment (as the case is regarding AGW).”

Yeah, Rhodes Scholars are notorious for lacking “reason and sound judgement”.

What’s with that “Rhodes Scholars” comment, Rob? I know Rex Murphy was one. However, that doesn’t mean he’s always correct. He is, after all, human, and none of us are perfect.

I’m pretty sure Paul speaks for at least one Canadian, and I’ll add myself to the list.

I’m also pretty sure that the G&M has at least a rough idea of Margaret Wente’s popularity, at least better than your assesment. So it’s a safe bet that Paul isn’t too far off the mark in this case.

Paul never claimed to speak for all Canadians – he was referring to mainstream Canadians, ie., not you.

Typical of rightwing extremists who claim to be mainstream when they are really off to the side in the stagnant shallows.

Since you’ve already gone right over the deep-end …

Here is something that should not be happening, however. This guy consults for lobby groups and teaches the same material in his classes. There are some very important - and necessary - arguments for academic freedom, but surely this represents a conflict of interest. And academic freedom does not give one license for incompetence (unlikely in Patterson’s case) or deliberately biased presentation of evidence, at least not in a science course. This is particularly important because the arguments the standard contrarians put forward have been so frequently disproven. Nevertheless, they continue to spout the same gibberish, intending as they do to fool the public (or, in this case, students) rather than knowledgeable colleagues.

So, what the hell is Carleton University doing by failing to ask whether Patterson is doing an honest, scientifically defensible job of teaching his so-called climate change course? How is that a lobbyist gets to lobby to a class of 500? Scary… and the same thing is happening at University of Ottawa, where Ian Clark teaches just the same, previously disproven lobbyist nonsense. Although his pedestal seems to be shrinking somewhat recently, at least within the university…

Can serious people not find a way to petition CU to inquire - honestly and openly - into the content of this course, given Patterson’s widely publicized work for lobby groups fronting for oil and gas?

As for Margaret Wente, there’s little point in discussing the reasons for her utter irrelevance.


Thanks for putting us on to the real issue here. Your points are very well taken, and I have often wondered about how Clark gets away with it.

Fern Mackenzie

“I have often wondered about how Clark gets away with it.”

Yes, if only we can get rid of troublesome “free speech”.

Right after we eradicate all that nasty “dedcadence”, eh?

The problem is not “free speech”, the problem is dishonest statements by people who claim to be teachers.

And what exact “dishonest statements” are you referring to?

Since you make the accusation, it behooves you to back it up.

I would, however, be very interested to see what Patterson can come up with by way of “more and more papers about celestial forcing, [that] you never hear about … in the media.” I’ve noted several papers in the scientific journals that flatly contradict him.

Fern Mackenzie

I wonder what process is in place to hold university professors accountable. I’d be willing to bet it’s retroactive to a great degree.

It reminds me of the “wedge” strategy of the proponents of “Intelligent Design” at the Discovery Institute. One of the stated short-term goals in their manifesto is to establish “Intelligent Design” as the dominant view at two universities, and 10 CRSC Fellows (Centre of Renewal for Science & Culture, a Discovery Institute creation) teaching at major universities. Their ultimate goal is to undermine the theory of evolution and replace it with ID.

In this case, let’s hope that the atmosphere of lively academic debate and the fact that the published scientific literature contradicts instructors such as Ian Clark and Tim Patterson will counter their influence.

Fern Mackenzie

Could this be the first signs that universities are seeing their reputations damaged by cranks and dishonest scientists and have decided to do something about it?

However, it is unlikely that either side will be divulging any details in the near future.

Here are some interesting comments on crank Motls.

Ian Forrester

I followed up on the Hossenfelder aspect of Motl’s comments, and found some very interesting stuff. I’d have thought that Harvard would fire him on the basis of that alone. “Female physics”? I don’t know anything about string theory, and cannot comment on the science of his diatribe against Smolin, but from the tone, the guy sounds like he’s lost contact with reality.

Every faculty has it’s share of crackpots, sexists and misanthropes. Even if they don’t get fired, they are eventually left behind as their students figure it out and move beyond their toxic influence. I did.

Fern Mackenzie

It is hilarious that to see him described as “recently converted”. Nice try.

“…Tim Patterson, professor in the department of Earth
sciences at Carleton University in Ottawa, recently converted from a believer in man-made climate change to a skeptic.”

“Recently converted” indeed. But these statements are very much in keeping with his previous remarks, which seem (to be charitable)… utterly disingenuous. Such absurd untruths are entirely in keeping with his ongoing association with lobbyists.

Again, this is the problem. I have absolutely no objection to people not believing a standard theory, or to proposing something that sounds improbable. What I do object to, and think CU and uOttawa ought to evaluate (honestly and openly, and I mean this), is whether these guys - Ian Clark and Tim Patterson - are lying deliberately or at least teaching material that clearly misleads.

A particular obvious example of their standard approach is to show the solar activity and temperature correlation but cut the data at the point where it stops working. They know perfectly well that the completed dataset cannot support their position but they CONCEAL this from their students. I cannot see, or imagine, any reason why it would be acceptable to mislead students deliberately.

As for freedom of speech, well, the person who mentions this is clearly not aware that such freedom is FAR from absolute in a university classroom. It is absolutely not acceptable to teach fiction in a science course. ** To do so knowingly is unethical, to do so unknowingly is deluded or merely incompetent. Neither alternative should be countenanced. **

Similarly, you cannot teach material unrelated to a course description. Students are paying good money for a quality education, not for indoctrination. And, no, virtually no climate scientist works for or is associated with any sort of lobby group… duh…

So, why is Carleton allowing Tim Patterson to teach this material without considering - carefully and openly - whether his paid work as an advisor to a lobby group constitute a conflict of interest that he allows to affect what he teaches. Similarly with Ian Clark.

And, yes, this makes me terribly uncomfortable. Academic freedom is an almost sacred concept but it can also be used as a cover. I believe that may be the case here. Perhaps I’m wrong. But at least this possibility must be considered.


Global warming isn’t happening because one scientist thinks so? Standard argument from authority. A taste of Wente’s critical thinking skills.

Laughable is right.

On that note.. Here’s a paleontologist who thinks the earth isn’t older than 10,000 years:

Tell Maggie! Maybe he’ll get the front page!!

Just imagine the contortions his brain must go through keeping everything in its rightful “paradigm”! looks interesting, too.

Fern Mackenzie