Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Colbert Misses the Point on University Movie Protest

Colbert Not Quite Savvy Enough About his Inconvenient Truthiness

Let me start off by saying how much I actually like Stephen Colbert. His neocon character surely infuriates some views -- particularly president George W Bush -- but he aptly exposes the hypocrisy of the kowtowing American "conservative" media (I would argue that many of these outlets aren't pandering to conservatives per se, so much as they're pandering to the administration in general).

Let it also be known that he can identify a true neocon when he sees it -- thus, his "Tip of the Hat" to the Liberal party for their infamous "soldiers with guns" ad in early 2006.

But the human condition being what it is, even the most astute observers will be wrong from time to time. As was the case on last night's Cobert Report broadcast, when he commented on the case of Barry Lucier, a Roger Williams University student who was forced to watch An Inconvenient Truth for course credit.

As Lucier describes it, in order to graduate, he was required to take a lab course wherein one of the mandatory lab sessions was replaced with a screening of Al Gore’s film (presumably still mandatory, but explicit details are scant).

Colbert describes the entire situation in fairly cut-and-dried terms (provided one can read past the subtext), "at a 'college', Barry was forced to learn about something he didn't already think," Colbert lampooned. "When you confront young people with information that doesn't jibe with what they already believe they can get confused."

Colbert’s implicit theory: Lucier came to university to learn. Suck it up and go to class.

"He's enrolled in a class where the teacher thinks he knows more about the subject than the students," Colbert quipped.

Yet, if the professor in question -- or Colbert himself -- knew more about the film itself it's unlikely that Colbert would make such a joke.

While controversial on its own due to the “heated debate” that surrounds the climate change issue, Gore’s film courted further controversy by also being extremely inaccurate. Various observers have dug into the film and found it wanting on the scientific facts. In the film, Gore also exaggerates some of the potential consequences of climate change.

Gore even cranks up the climate change terror alert level by citing 9/11. This is actually a very sophisticated psychological technique whereby Gore can predispose his audience to become terrified of climate change by reminding them of the fear they felt on September 11th, 2001. Gore also proves that nothing is sacred by trying to forge a bizarre link between climate change and a near-fatal accident suffered by his son.

But perhaps the greatest disservice that Gore and Colbert do to the climate change debate is exaggerating the amount of consensus there is regarding the issue. In the film, Gore claims that no peer-reviewed publication has published anyone suggesting climate change is due to anything other than human activity. Colbert -- perhaps jokingly -- makes his own estimate about the proportion of scientists who disagree, “Sure, there’s a vast consensus of global warming science, but doesn’t the opposing five percent deserve fifty percent of the time?”

Au contraire: while it can be demonstrated that the various exhaust gases produced by human activity (particularly the combustion of fossil fuels) lead to a demonstrable greenhouse effect, the natural variations in the planet’s climate have been demonstrated as well. Gore’s film was found to have ignored key variations over the past 1000 years in order to portray the “hockey stick” model that suggests there has been little variation.

The claims on behalf of climate change alarmists that the opinions of such scientists are invalid unless they study a field directly related to climate change notwithstanding, the alarmists have their own problematic members. Aside from Gore (who is not a scientist), George Monbiot -- author of Heat doesn’t study a directly related scientific field. He’s a zoologist.

Where they haven’t successfully managed to dispell dissent with science, alarmists have resorted to declaring dissent ”immoral”, or outright slandering their opponents by giving them “awards” that suggest they believe the earth is flat.

Despite all the basic academic issues surrounding the film, and ethical issues surrounding the debate, Colbert dismisses Lucier’s concerns as “rigidity”. “The Barry Luciers of the world are entering a mindfield of knowledge. Who knows what destructive information they’ll be confronted with next?”

Then again, when one spends as much on tuition as one does at an American post-secondary institution, one also expects that everything they will be taught will be accurate. Gore's film politicizes the contentious science surrounding climate change -- using his film to try and teach the subject only politicizes the classroom. Unless a direct effort is made to debate the film -- which, in all fairness, may have occurred (again, details are scant).

“He might double-plus think despite unwell school.”

Whereas Colbert should double-plus think despite unwell movie.


  1. I think the point of the satire was that the news picked up on a student being offended by something taught in school.

    I've seen the movie in question. It's like bowling for Columbine or Farenheit 9/11. Based upon one guys finding about a topic.

    It must have some "truthieness" about it, even if it is a hyperbolie. The point of university is to be presented with ideas and have them debated.

    Perhaps the prof. in question didn't leave any opening for discussion. This is where the system breaks down unfortunatly.

    There must have been some indication before the class took place as to the curriculim the class was going to follow. Any disputes should have been taken up by students either with the professor or the registrar of the univeristy.

    I'm sure there is much more to the story then the news and the Colbert Report gave us.

  2. Well, like I said in the story, the details are a bit scant to level a definitive judgement on the matter.

    Perhaps the professor in question did discuss the matter. As a University student myself, I've watched various movies that a person could consider politially objectionable, but time was always given for discussion -- unless they were clear cut-and-dried documentary films.

    While this is the norm, it isn't always necessarily the case. I personally hope that the professor in question did allow for the discussion. Then showing the film is entirely valid. I won't necessarily applaud the professor for it, but it's respectable.

    It doesn't change the fact that I think Colbert approached the topic wrongheadedly, even in the name of comedy. I think Colbert was wrong -- this once.

  3. In my Geology class, my professor showed us that movie also, it was interesting. Regardless of its truthiness, it relates to the subject of the class. I'm not going to defend the movie, I don't care enough to do so, my point here is that the movie is about global warming, which relates to geology, which relates to the class. The guy made way too big a deal about this. The stupidity of this situation is startling. I mean c'mon, if the guy doesn't agree with the movie, then when it's over, raise your hand and present your argument for why you believe it's wrong. That is the way to do it.

    Also, if Colbert was wrong, are you saying this kid is right? jkh is right, even if the movie is biased, embellishes, etc., it still has merit, since it deals with the same things you learn in class. I understand if the prof. (or TA, as usually done in the lab portion of classes) didn't let anyone discuss the movie, then go complain to someone in the school, preferably take it up with the prof. in question. But to go complaining to the news with that, it's laughable really. I think you may be missing the point on the idiocy of this student and his misguided whining; the fact of the matter is, unless something taught/presented to you in College is overtly racist/misogynistic/ hateful, etc.- then you cannot go complain about it like a child. You either discuss the merits of what was presented, or you go to a higher up administrator if the 1st option is not allowed.

    Note that he's not complaining about not being allowed to discuss the subject, I believe that if discussion were not allowed, that would be a viable complaint (and a good news story to boot.) Your basing your argument on him not being allowed to express his opinion on the matter, do you honestly think that a class/school would do this? If they would, don't you think that would be the news story? Also of note, if he would of actually done well in the class, he would of said his grade.

    Ugh, the absurdity of someone complaining about being challenged by something relating to the subject (that is not in any way offensive)- Wow, just wow. And that someone would think Colbert wrong to blast this guy for his idiocy, that's even worse. The facts are clear enough for me to call him an idiot and to wholeheartedly disagree with your argument; Colbert is as right as you can get on this. Shame on that moron.

    One last thing, check your links to why Gore is wrong, they are all broken.

  4. Gosh, where to begin. Are we discussing

    * The consensus on global warming?

    * Al Gore's treatment of global warming?

    * Whether the professor allowed for

    * Whether the student was an idiot?

    If you could stick to a single topic for a full paragraph we might be able to have a reasonable discussion.

  5. Wernstar,

    I've made my argument crystal clear: if the professor in question allowed for classroom discussion, then Lucier is right to do what he did. If not, then Lucier was wrong.

    Regardless of whether or not Lucier was right or wrong, Colbert was still wrong. Showing An Inconvenient Truth in class without discussion politicizes the classroom. Debating the film recovers merit, but the fact that the film is incredibly inaccurate and many points are extremely exaggerated makes the showing questionable to begin with. Why not find a global warming documentary that is more accurate, then debate that? Why not get a climatologist from the school (I would assume they would have one) give a presentation on climate change, then debate his presentation?

    Plenty of questions abound. To date, few answers are available.

  6. My apologies to anyone unable to view the links. I have double-checked them. They are not working, but they are properly coded.

    The link for the inaccuracies in Gore's film follows:

    The explanation of priming as a social psychological concept follows:

    The exaggeration link has been archived as a paid feature by the New York Times. My apologies to those unable to access that particular material.


Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.