False Science Hurts College Reputation

To the Editors:

We are writing this letter because we are disturbed, upset and above all embarrassed by an event that took place at Oberlin College last Wednesday. As part of the Oberlin Illuminate Debate Series, two of America’s most widely recognized climate change skeptics came to “debate” the state of the climate. Dr. Judith Curry and Dr. Patrick Michaels, both climatologists who each receive significant amounts of funding from the fossil fuel industry, stood before us and presented poor scientific evidence to argue against the widely recognized scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is a severe problem that must be addressed.

As a college that considers itself at the forefront of campus sustainability and environmental citizenship, this event severely damaged Oberlin’s credibility. College President Marvin Krislov introduced both speakers and announced that this was an important debate for us to be having at Oberlin College. We can hope that President Krislov, the Oberlin administration and whoever was involved in bringing these climate change deniers to our “progressive” campus have since realized their mistake; regardless, that does not change the fact that Oberlin College invited Dr. Curry and Dr. Michaels to speak here. How is it possible that no administrators or professors organizing this “debate” took the time to research how these speakers address the issue of climate change?

Perhaps even more distressing than the fact that Oberlin College funded these people to speak at our campus is that Dr. Curry and Dr. Michaels confidently addressed an audience of over 100 people and faced little to no opposition. Several students asked pointed questions, but in a room full of scientists and faculty, no one stood before the microphone when it was time for questions and called out their research for what it was: a sham.

Here we ask the Oberlin faculty and administration: If you are unwilling to stand up and argue for this most basic thing, the reality of anthropogenic climate change, what will you stand up for? Why was no one willing to stand up in the face of lies and insults to science and education? We urge you to think about what kind of message this sends to students.

In preparation for this event, the authors of this letter produced a fact sheet with information about climate change and both speakers to distribute at the door. We are grateful to those faculty and staff who supported us; however, the majority of the people that we contacted were unwilling to endorse or support our document on the basis that it engaged in political discussion of a topic that is “strictly scientific.” Regardless of whether or not we want climate change — or anything, for that matter — to be apolitical, if a group of people, however small, declares an issue to be political, it becomes so. Silence is not neutrality. Silence does not make us apolitical. If we say nothing, they win.

Furthermore, we should not avoid confrontation under the guise of being respectful. When controversial speakers are invited to speak at Oberlin, we are constantly reminded to maintain “civil discourse” and “healthy debate” by the administration and many of our professors. This is why we chose to produce a fact sheet rather than incite a more direct course of action Wednesday. It was the wrong choice. We must acknowledge that when Oberlin gives credibility to people like Dr. Curry and Dr. Michaels, it is disrespectful to the student body and our education. When it comes to events like the “climate debate,” student and faculty dissent must be welcomed and encouraged. Dissent is productive and educational. We exist in a campus culture that discourages and pacifies public protest, and because of that, we all missed an opportunity Wednesday night. Let us, as the Oberlin community, take this event and use it as a chance to re-evaluate the way we discuss and engage in political confrontation.

–Rachel Berkrot, Zia Kandler and Mae Kate Campbell 

College students