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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Making Sense of Nonsense: A MOOC About Climate Change Denial

By Phil Plait

The Earth is warming up. The climate is changing. Human activity is responsible.

Ninety-seven percent of actual climatologists agree on this.

But the media still give “equal time” to climate change deniers, who flood the public with misinformation. Just this week, the icky Heartland Institute hosted a “press conference” in advance of the Pope’s expected encyclical about global warming (for the record: I support the Pope); Rep. Lamar Smith (chairman of the House Science Committee!) wrote an embarrassingly misleading op-ed in the Wall Street Journal downplaying climate change; and a Pulitzer-winning newspaper printed an op-ed so full of errors that it’s hard to know if the authors were being breathtakingly dishonest or merely grossly incompetent.

What can we do?

A dozen scientists and science communicators think they have an answer: Inoculate the public. The metaphor is apt: The idea is to take the misinformation used by deniers and use it to teach the actual science of climate change, making it work for them … much like the way a vaccination inoculates against diseases by using a weakened form of the disease itself.

To do this, they have created a massive open online course through the University of Queensland in Australia, called “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.”

I love this idea. First, anyone can enroll. Second, it’s free. Yes, FREE. Third, because it’s online you can take the course at your own pace, watching the pre-recorded videos on your own schedule. The video lectures include interviews with people on the cutting edge of climate change research and public policy, including Michael Mann, Katharine Hayhoe, and Naomi Oreskes.* They’ll arm you with the tools needed to understand climate change denial by going over the science and psychology of denial and the facts you’ll need to understand (and argue for!) the reality of our warming planet.

And, of course, I love this idea because an educated public ensures a strong democracy.

The course is coordinated by John Cook, one of the brains behind the wonderful Skeptical Science website. He’s put together a short video explaining this:

And yes, I did enroll in the course! It starts today, so sign up and learn how to face reality. Hopefully, we can turn the politics of this around and start taking action on a threat that faces us all.

Yes, the same “think tank” that put up billboards comparing climate scientists to mass murderers, because that’s a great PR move if you want to make yourself look really, really slimy.

*Correction, April 28, 2015: This post originally misspelled the first name of Katharine Hayhoe.

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