Australian University Dumps Bob Carter, Advisor To Multiple Global Climate Science Denial Groups


CLIMATE science denialist radio host Chris Smith – of the shock-jock variety – got a little upset recently at a decision made quietly more than six months ago by James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

“What a bunch of weak pu**ies – James Cook, your management is an absolute disgrace,” screamed an apoplectic Smith on his top-rating 2GB afternoon Sydney show, after directing his listeners to pick up the phone and call the university to complain.

What had the folks at JCU done to attract such an aggressive response?

As I reported two weeks ago, JCU had decided not to extend the unpaid adjunct professorial status of Dr Robert Carter, who Smith had ready on the line for an interview. Dr Carter (pictured) is a globe-trotting geologist who advises at least ten climate sceptic organisations and “think tanks” from the UK and Germany to the US and Australia.

Dr Carter’s “official status” with JCU – where he had held an unpaid adjunct position since 2002 after retiring – had ended on 1 January 2013, the university told me. Before his retirement, he had worked as a Professor at the University from 1989.

This belated news of Dr Carter’s “non status” had also infuriated climate sceptic blogger JoNova. Both JoNova and Smith claimed that Dr Carter had been booted out because of his fringe-dwelling views on climate change. The Townsville Bulletin declared Dr Carter had been “dumped” because of his “outspoken views”.

Dr Carter dismisses the role of burning fossil fuels in changing the climate, a position at odds with about 97 per cent of peer-reviewed climate change research and every major science academy in the world. Some of the world’s highest profile groups spreading unfounded doubt about the risks and causes of climate change, not to mention a number of high-profile media outlets, turn to Dr Carter for comment, advice and sometimes paid consultancy and provide a forum for his views.

Dr Carter is, for example, the Science Policy Advisor at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, the chief science advisor to the Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, a director at the Australian Environment Foundation, a member of the academic advisory council of the UK‘s Global Warming Policy Foundation, an adviser to the Australia-based Galileo Movement, science adviser to the US-group Science and Public Policy Institute, a patron of the UK‘s anti-climate legislation group Repeal The Act, an advisor to the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), an advisor to the Australian Climate Science Coalition and an inaugural founder of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

Internal documents from climate science denying “think tank” the Heartland Institute, which has accepted millions of dollars from vested interests over the years,  also showed the group was planning to pay Dr Carter $1667 a month for his work on its Non-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change project.

Somewhat fortuitously given the long list of special interest groups which Dr Carter has affiliations with, he feels that the standard practice in science of disclosing where funding for research comes from is “a very quaint and old fashioned practice”.

Dr Carter has also spoken at seven of the Heartland Institute’s eight conferences for climate sceptics. Many groups like to refer to Dr Carter’s affiliation with JCU (only last week, The Australian newspaper incorrectly did the same), presumably because it lends credibility. Dr Carter’s own website (archived here on 4 July 2013) still carries his university affiliation (as a side note, I refer to Dr Carter as a “Dr” because the title “Professor” is only generally used when an academic has such an affiliation with a university, either paid or unpaid).

Despite his popularity, Dr Carter rarely subjects his thoughts to scientific peer review. On two occasions when he has, the work has been roundly criticised.

One paper was described by Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, as “probably the worst paper ever published on climate change”. In another, Dr Carter co-authored a paper which claimed natural variation was to blame for recent global warming – a conclusion which a group of leading climate scientists concluded was “not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in their paper”.

But back to Dr Carter’s non-status at JCU. Dr Carter told radio host Smith that JCU had given him two reasons for their decision to allow his status there to lapse. The first, he told Smith, was that senior executives at the university were having to spend too much time defending Dr Carter’s contrarian position. Second, Dr Carter said his former colleagues had decided his views were “not a good fit” for the School of Earth Sciences.

A statement provided to me by JCU gives a different reason. In short, the university says Dr Carter just wasn’t contributing enough to warrant his position. Here’s an excerpt from the statement, available in full here.

JCU believes debate lies at the heart of scientific endeavour and its Code of Conduct states that those involved with the University have the right to make public comment in a professional, expert or individual capacity, provided that they do not represent their opinions as those of the University unless authorised to do so. Dr Carter’s very prominent public contributions to the climate change debate is not something new.  He has been promulgating his views, which of course he was entitled to do, for many years while holding an adjunct appointment.  But what has changed over the years is the level of his contribution to the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences where he held his adjunct appointment. Academics holding adjunct appointments are expected to contribute on a regular and ongoing basis to one or more of the following University activities:

  • Teaching;
  • Collaborative research;
  • Postgraduate supervision; and
  • Staff and student consultations.

The key question for an adjunct appointment is: “Proposed activities and Perceived Benefits to the School”.  While Dr Carter has continued his own research and gives “public talks and advice about climate change and climate change policy” – again as he is perfectly entitled to do – such outreach activities are not related to the work of the School, and do not meet the need to contribute to the School as outlined above. The simple fact was that in the School’s view Dr Carter was no longer undertaking any of the activities within the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences that is required of an adjunct.

Later in the radio interview, host Chris Smith asks Dr Carter several questions about climate change, which you would presume Dr Carter would have been happy to answer  given they were taken straight from his new climate sceptic book, Taxing Air

The Institute of Public Affairs, which does not reveal its funding, has paid for copies of the book to be sent to every Australian Federal Member of Parliament and Senator. For two decades the “free market” think tank the IPA has been central to efforts in Australia to spread doubt and confusion about the causes and risks of climate change.

A recent study in the journal American Behavioral Scientist, reported on DeSmogBlog, found almost all books which dismiss the risks of human-caused climate change have strong links to conservative free-market think tanks. It seems Dr Carter’s book is yet another to add to that list.

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