Reposition Graduate Degrees as Theory rather than Fact

Want to see something troubling? In today’s post I offer a pile of screencaptures which collectively prompt two basic questions: How many masters and doctorate degrees should be revoked out there because the degree recipients presented faulty, unsupported evidence for the idea that the fossil fuel industry orchestrated sinister disinformation campaigns to undercut the certainty of man-caused global warming in collusion with skeptic climate scientists? How much wider is this overall problem within the university system, where thesis writers and thesis evaluators fail to do elemental due diligence on authoritative assertions and accusations within those papers?

Al Gore’s big mistake when he invented the internet was to permit it to be word-searchable. That’s a joke, of course, but it basically sets up the inspiration behind this particular blog post: I occasionally do internet searches for the phrase “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” to see what its latest regurgitations are found. Worthless as that phrase was straight out of the gate back in 1991 as evidence of the above-noted sinister industry / skeptics conspiracy — it was never part of the Western Fuels Association’s “Information Council for the Environment (ICE)” public relations campaign like legions of people claim it is — people still regularly refer to the phrase in one form or another as evidence to indict oil and coal executives and skeptic scientists of criminally colluding to spread disinformation.

In my most recent effort, I used the narrowed search action of few additional distinct words within quote marks: “requirements for the degree” and “thesis.” And I varied it a bit by substituting words such as “masters” and “doctorate.”

Check out these nine results I found via the above search method, just for a basic glimpse of what the fatal problem is:

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Ryerson University/York University Joint Graduate Programme in Communication and Culture, 2009

As ever, this all spirals back to Ross Gelbspan. While Stauber and Rampton feature a quote from Gelbspan at the beginning of their chapter 10 about sinister industry intent, they oddly provide no citation source for the “reposition global warming” strategy phrase. Meanwhile, in the above screencapture, the doctorate recipient’s subsequent footnote cites UK Guardian reporter George Monbiot. Just one page prior, he sets up this overall accusation with a citation of a 2007 Newsweek article that quotes both the “reposition global warming” memo phrase and Naomi Oreskes. Yep, that Oreskes and that Monbiot. This thesis is an almost comical case study on how any given citation in this accusation always cascades back to just one source.


In partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, The University of Guelph December, 2000

If the prior example had a citation cascade problem, this 20 year-old Guelph University masters degree candidate shows us what a hugely difficult-to-read source looks like – meaning, if only the material was available to read somewhere online. It cites the Canadian Alternatives Journal Spring 2000 magazine, and more specially, some inset section within the article, that’s apparently not readily available online in its full text this many years later. It would not surprise me in the least if this magazine follows the pattern of spiraling back to Ross Gelbspan.

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Communication, Portland State University, 2011

Give this one some credit: It refers straight to Ross Gelbspan’s “The Heat is On book, albeit not the 1997 hardcover that falsely lumped atmospheric physicist Dr S Fred Singer in with the Information Council for the Environment, but instead to the 1998 paperback version which erased Dr Singer’s name while offering no explanation for that action. Don’t fault the masters degree recipient here for getting the “on” part of the official ICE campaign name wrong when it should be “for.” Gelbspan himself made that error in both book versions.

A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, School of Journalism, December, 2009

Huh. Didn’t we just see that?

A Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Arts Degree, Rowan University, October 28, 2008

Huh. Didn’t we just see that twice before, in a separate manner? The mildly entertaining aspect of this one is the way the degree recipient chose to cite the 2001 hardcover of the Rampton & Stauber rather than the 2002 paperback, while also choosing to cite Gelbspan’s 1998 paperback rather than the 1997 hardcover.

But now, a pair that gets a little bit weirder:

Honors thesis submitted to the Department of Communications of Boston College, May 2009

Al Gore’s movie is the clearly the source. Who is the “small group of people” Gore refers to there? Would be nice to know, but this thesis doesn’t share that. Ironically, since the “reposition global warming” strategy, along with its narrow targeting goals, was a rejected proposal (Gelbspan himself reported that one time) submitted to the ICE campaign, it is not possible for the “small group” to have accomplished this strategy in any manner. To illustrate absurdity with absurdity, a person could not claim to have been successful in spreading doubt about government chemtrail spraying if their specific directive proposal submitted to magazine editors to ‘reposition chemtrail science as theory’ went straight into the trash can.

Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of The University of Georgia in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts, 2010

Al Gore’s movie is the source, as is Gelbspan’s book. His 1997 hardcover, with the false accusation against Dr Singer.

Then, for contrast again, there’s this denial of Gelbspan’s role regarding that memo set, which Al Gore himself described as a “discovery.

Thesis presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The University of Western Australia School of Psychology, 2016

This isn’t a thesis that merely copies ‘n pastes lines out of a book or from a movie transcript, it’s one where the doctorate recipient copied ‘n pasted entire multi-page papers he wrote into this thesis, and the person here isn’t simply some forgettable no-name masters or PhD recipient, either. It’s the nefarious John Cook (no relation to me), creator of the egregiously misnamed “Skeptical Science” blog that was embarrassingly caught not only deleting material from critics which undercut its position, but also deleting hugely troubling photo alterations, and, well … he has ‘other issues’ on top of all that. Setting that all aside, John Cook technically commits another act of political suicide by citing Naomi Oreskes’ 2010 book chapter contribution as a source for those old “reposition global warming” memos. As I’ve described previously, her problematic narrative regarding who alerted her to the memos and where they were archived may only cause increasing numbers of people to ultimately wonder how deep Al Gore’s association with the smear of skeptic climate scientists goes.

One final example, where I substituted “Information Council for the Environment” in place of the “reposition global warming” memo phrase:

Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Science and Natural History Filmmaking, Montana State University, 2009

This one basically only offers a very vague accusation, with the closest citations going to “Brown” and “Lahsen.” “Brown” is a lengthy U.S. House 1996 report which makes zero mention of the ICE campaign/organization, but it does contain a tiny reference to the Western Fuels Association — the non-profit co-op to which the “reposition global warming” leaked memo set does not apply, despite 20+ years’ worth of attempts to pin that set to them. Meanwhile, the “Lahsen 2005” goes to a paper by Myanna Lahsen where she credits “Brown” at the top for a quote bemoaning the science qualifications of congressional members, while the citation for the material surrounding her quote of the alleged ICE campaign strategy goes to a small obscure 1991 Science magazine article …. that never mentions the strategy or targeting memo phrases. What does the footnote #13 reference regarding the alleged “ICE documents“? “These documents were written when the organization’s name was Informed Citizens for the Environment” — the exact never-used name I noted in my October 31, 2019 blog post about Naomi Oreskes’ U.S. House hearing appearance which renders the memo set useless as evidence to indict skeptic climate scientists of industry-paid corruption. The suggestions for alternate name considerations was unsolicited and never used by the administrators of the ICE campaign.

Lahsen would have never fallen victim to her “Informed Citizens” assumption blunder if she had simply taken the time to ask the people directly involved with the actual Information Council for the Environment PR campaign about it.

Is it possible to find her source for this leaked memo set? A hint for that is found within what’s arguably the precursor of all thesis papers that quote the “reposition global warming” memo set, one that I’ve known about for a long time:

A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of philosophy, Rice University, May 1998 … by Myanna Lahsen

Lassen’s 2005 paper is little more than a copy ‘n paste out of her 1998 doctorate thesis, which is still devoid of a direct citation source for the memos. What’s the likely source for her, nevertheless? She details a variety of interviews of climate scientists at least three years prior to the submission of her thesis, but one particular disclosure offers a good hint of her source (while apparently displaying her lack of research skills concerning Pulitzer award records):

She also offers quite a bit of transcript quote material from the May 1995 Minnesota Public Utility hearings that notoriously featured ‘fossil fuel industry-funded skeptic climate scientists.’ Who was “the only reporter in the room” who basically turned this into a ‘notorious’ revelation the same month when Lahsen was interviewing Dr Lindzen? Ross Gelbspan. Who already had all that transcript material to easily share in November 1995? Ross Gelbspan. What else did he also have in his possession? Oh, yeah:

Once again, we see that in regard to accusations about ‘crooked skeptic scientists facilitating the spread of fossil fuel industry-orchestrated disinformation,’ it’s not a tidy, rock-solid collection of smoking gun evidence, it’s riddled with inconsistencies and other inexplicable problems, and this problem erupts even within the work of supposedly diligent graduate students who were expected to demonstrate the depth of their research. The appearance here is of practically high school-grade copy ‘n paste material that was apparently never questioned, which brings these masters or doctorate degrees down to essentially being not worth the paper they’re printed on. “Look, ma, I’m a doctor!,” exclaims one recipient, when the reality is that all of the universities should seriously consider revoking these degrees based on their fatally faulty citation sources. How many more are out there to be found just like these, and how many of these people ended up being scholarly paper writers or college professors who dutifully regurgitated all their same unquestioned material to wider audiences?