The point is that they're not learning science, they're just learning new forms of pseudoscientific jargon. Which could be considered to be more dangerous than remaining untaught, because now they have a false sense of understanding the world when in actuality they merely have different names for the same unscientific superstitious mumbo jumbo.
See I read the article as saying that the students are at fault for being all to ready to throw answers at the teacher which they didn't understand. Whereas I'd say that the students are simply a product of their environment, one (created by the teacher or a previous teacher, or a physics dept as a whole) where emphasis has shifted from understanding a subject into hitting enough keywords in your answer to get a passing grade - even if it turns out that the actual question might be a bit silly.
Science is not just a body of knowledge, it is a methodology of description and the update process for models in the face of new evidence. Perhaps they are simply so open to shifts in their models and the terms in those models that the term "heat conduction" is open to, what seems to us, quite radical revision. Quine would be proud.
I don't think it's blind deference to authority, I think it's a result of over-active pattern matching. We see patterns all the time, but that doesn't always mean there is a pattern.
For example, in a science class students are typically presented with a phenomenon, asked to speculate about it, and then presented with a scientific explanation. Do this often enough and a clear pattern emerges - phenomenon -> scientific explanation.
In the case of the article, it was actually phenomenon -> human interference, but it shouldn't be surprising that the students assumed it would fit the usual pattern.