Scientists and teachers have accused free market think tank The Institute of Public Affairs of spreading scientific disinformation by sending copies of Ian Plimer’s latest book to hundreds of schools around the country.
Plimer’s tome, How to Get Expelled from School: a guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters, argues that the theory of man-made global warming is a scientific and financial scam.
Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, described the IPA’s bid to influence science teaching as a “dangerous development”.
“They’re an advocacy group; they’re putting forward the position of vested interests,” he said. “This can happen in the political sphere; it shouldn’t happen in the educational sphere.
“We have procedures for developing curricula and trusted sources of science — the Australian Academy of Science, the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, universities. That’s where to go for information. Once you open it up to anyone with a vested influence it’s basically a free for all.”
Anthony Lonergan, a science teacher at Scone High School, told The Power Index he was shocked when his school received a copy of the book in January. “I was outraged that the IPA was sending out this rubbish,” he said.
The book was accompanied by a letter co-signed by Plimer, the institute’s executive director John Roskam and Hunter property developer Jeff McCloy. McCloy is in a stoush with Lake Macquarie Council over its decision to restrict waterside development because of concerns about future sea level rises.
As the excerpt above reads: “Ultimately, even if most scientists agree with a proposition, that doesn’t make it true. Science is not, and has never been, about consensus. Previous scientific consensus argued that the world is flat and the universe revolves around us. It was only thanks to so-called sceptics that these false scientific consensuses were overturned. Scientists have been wrong in the past and they will make mistakes in the future. Scientific debate is crucial to uncovering scientific truth, and without it the whole scientific process is compromised.”
Lonergan sent a letter of complaint to the IPA arguing it is a “tragedy” such an influential and important organisation was promoting discredited ideas. “Ian Plimer has done much in his career to foster science and debunk superstition but now seems determined to undermine science education in this country,” he wrote.
IPA executive director John Roskam told The Power Index that the book has been sent to hundreds of schools in “targeted areas” where climate change is an especially potent political issue. Roskam said he has received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents and teachers and was not aware of any complaints.
“A couple of teachers have told us they’ll use it and refer to it [in class]; others have said, ‘we’ll put it in the library’,” he said. “Parents — even more than principals or teachers — have said they’re grateful for us getting it into schools.
“School kids are being indoctrinated by teachers every day. There should be two sides to the story and the science is far from settled.”
The IPA purchased the copies from Plimer’s publisher, Connor Court.
The group has long been criticised for its refusal to disclose its funding sources. The institute has received donations from mining companies such as Rio Tinto in the past and is currently working with Gina Rinehart’s lobby group, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision.
Andy Pitman, co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said special-interest groups should not be able to influence what gets taught in classrooms.
“If it’s a science class, science should be taught,” he said. “In a course on communication strategy or in a science class demonstrating how to mis-represent facts to mislead an audience, then Plimer’s book is very useful … he has no scientific credibility in this field whatsoever.”