RealClimate logo

So What’s A Teacher to Do?

Filed under: — group @ 4 February 2012

Guest Commentary by Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education

Imagine you’re a middle-school science teacher, and you get to the section of the course where you’re to talk about climate change. You mention the “C” words, and two students walk out of the class.

Or you mention global warming and a hand shoots up.

“Mrs. Brown! My dad says global warming is a hoax!”

Or you come to school one morning and the principal wants to see you because a parent of one of your students has accused you of political bias because you taught what scientists agree about: that the Earth is getting warmer, and human actions have had an important role in this warming.

Or you pick up the newspaper and see that your state legislature is considering a bill that declares that accepted sciences like global warming (and evolution, of course) are “controversial issues” that require “alternatives” to be taught.

Incidents like these have happened in one or more states, and they are likely to continue to happen. Teachers are encountering pushback from many directions as they try to teach global warming and other climate science topics.

The importance of climate change education is, to the RealClimate community, a no-brainer. Numerous professional science organizations, from the American Chemical Society to the American Geophysical Union to the Geological Society of America have stressed the imperative of climate science being an integral part of science education.

So What’s a Teacher to Do?

Long a defender of the teaching of evolution, the National Center for Science Education has recently launched an initiative to support and defend the teaching of climate change science.

The “support” part has challenges all its own. Unlike evolution, which easily fits into biology and other life science courses, climate science spans multiple disciplines and can fall through disciplinary cracks in biology, chemistry and physics, or appear briefly in more specialized disciplines like ecology or Earth sciences. Moreover, climate science is complex and often non-intuitive, and students (and all too often teachers) stumble over misinformation and misconceptions that are hard to overcome. Many educational institutions are wrestling with how to support climate science in the K-12 curriculum.

But the “defend” part is where NCSE will make a unique contribution. Our experience over the decades helping teachers and school boards resolve the problems that have arisen over the teaching of evolution should stand us in good stead in helping them deal with this newer “controversial science”. Of course, there are many perspectives affecting the objections to climate science education, and each requires its own response.

Some of the denial is literal (It’s not happening! The science is bad!), some of it may be interpretive (it’s maybe happening but people aren’t to blame), and some of it stems more from the implications of climate change (it’s happening and maybe humans are responsible, but someone else is to blame and/or there’s nothing I can do about it). We’re going to help teachers understand where pressure against climate science education comes from, as the first step in helping them construct a response. From the evolution education controversy we learned long ago that one does not solve these problems merely by piling on more or better science: the underlying, motivating issues must be addressed. The science is essential, but not sufficient.

Climate change education should be an integral part of science education. Students should graduate from high school and certainly college with at least a basic understanding of the foundational concepts of climate science so they can understand human activities and how they are impacting climate and other aspects of the earth system.

This is no small task, and obviously NCSE as a relatively small non-profit can only do so much. We need your help.

We have been successful because we marshal allies, like scientists, teachers, parents, and other citizens, at the grassroots. NCSE’s success over recent decades in defending the teaching of evolution has been due in large measure to scientists and others who are willing to support good science education locally and at the state level. We also need scientists to provide us with their scientific expertise.

If you are a climate scientist, please give us your contact information so we can consult with you. Also, your contact information will be helpful to us if something occurs in your region or state where we need a scientist to write a letter, testify before a committee, support a teacher, or help in some other way.

Of course, an obvious way you can help is to join NCSE, but even if you don’t, your expertise will be helpful to us.

Visit our website, and contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey, who will be helping spearhead the new initiative, to let us know you support our effort. Teachers will thank you.

217 Responses to “So What’s A Teacher to Do?”

  1. 101

    #83, et al.–

    Actually, there is appreciable IR coming in from the sun. The peak intensities are at visible frequencies, but the frequency distribution has a long IR “tail.” (IIRC, it actually contains more energy in toto.)

    As Chris Colose noted, though, that doesn’t mean Dan is correct.

    Here’s a handy plot–since it gives both TOA and surface values, you can see the ‘bites’ taken by H2O and CO2.

  2. 102
    John West says:

    >Hank Roberts

    “Thermodynamics: an engineering approach”
    Yunus A. Çengel, Michael A. Boles

    Here’s a couple First Law of Thermodynamics online references:

    “Take a planet surrounded by vacuum. Is it isolated? If not, how not?”

    No, radiation In and Out as well as some mass, but that’s beside the point. The atmosphere and the ocean surface are not isolated, they are in contact with each other, the deep ocean, and the Earth.

    “No matter how much work the ocean or atmosphere do, they don’t lose energy, they don’t cool off by doing that work.”

    So, you’re saying if I pick up a pencil off my desk and hold it up (increasing it’s potential energy), then drop it (transforming potential energy into kinetic energy), letting it hit the floor (transforming kinetic energy into heat and vibration) that the total energy of the pencil remains the same? No, of course not, you’re saying the pencil/floor system energy remains the same even though the energy of the pencil has been effectively dissipated into the floor to the extent where it could no longer do any useful work. Just as the floor hardly notices the additional energy from the pencil the deep ocean, ocean basin, and earth hardly notice some additional energy being diffused into their large mass. In other words, the “missing heat” doesn’t HAVE to come back to haunt us if it has been “sequestered”, diffused/dissipated to the point where it can no longer do useful work; similar to being radiated out to space it’s “effectively” gone. Like the 0.075 W/m2 heat flow from the core it doesn’t matter anymore (unless you’re in a hot spot).

    Look, I’m not saying the planet radiation in and out won’t eventually balance, I’m just saying this doesn’t occur instantaneously, an imbalance could take centuries (perhaps several millennia) to correct while “heat” is being sequestured in the large “heat sinks” of the planet.

  3. 103
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Again, Dan, why does the temperature drop more quickly on clear than on cloudy nights? As to solar radiation–it peaks in the visible, and while there is substantial IR–most of it is near IR, not mid IR where ghgs are most significant. In any case, once the IR is absorbed–be it by a ghg or the planet’s surface–it’s in the climate system.

  4. 104
    Dan H. says:

    Yes, it is an over-simplification. However, from NISDC,
    “Clouds reflect some incoming radiation back to space, thereby reducing the amount of radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. However, clouds also re-radiate infrared energy back toward the Earth’s surface, thereby moderating the temperature of the lower atmosphere. Globally, clouds have a cooling effect on the Earth-atmosphere system, because of their high albedos. In polar regions however, clouds seem to have a net warming effect as the reduction in solar radiation is outweighed by the effect of clouds in increasing longwave radiation to the surface.”

    … and from NASA,
    “The overall effect of all clouds together is that the Earth’s surface is cooler than it would be if the atmosphere had no clouds.”

    A more in-depth explanation can be found here. It is little dated, but still qutie relevant:

    You also may want to check NASA’a data on cloud cover compared to surface temperature over the past few decades:

    The other issue is whether clouds will increase or decrease in a warming world. Some measurements during the 90s showed a good correlation between temperature and cloud cover, although the cause and effect relation could not be proven.

    You assertion that the heavy cloud cover would make Venus cool, is essentially correct. Estimates place the amount of solar radiation reaching the Venusian surface at about one-sixth that of Earth. Instead, the intense Venusian heat is theorized to come from the dense atmosphere absorbing radiation directly. The denser atmosphere and high CO2 concentration means that there is ~100,000x as much CO2 in the atmosphere in Venus compared to Earth.

  5. 105
    Dan H. says:

    The answer is, of course, lack of clouds. The answer to the question, why do temperatures rise more quickly on sunny days? is the same. Ask yourself this question, is there more incoming or re-radiated radiation?

    Check Kevin’s link above about atmosphere radiation absorption. Do you really think that radiation absorbed in the atmosphere will result in a similar temperature rise as radiation absorbed at the surface?

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    The topic’s being taken over by repetitions of belief without citation and the often-repeated wishful thinking that somehow what’s happening isn’t.

    Yes, teachers can use good examples of refuting stuff like Dan H’s — which is always ambiguous enough to prolong attention to him without advancing anyone’s understanding.

    Example: “is there more incoming or re-radiated radiation?”

    Answer: Yes, depending on what you’re talking about, whatever that is.

    Search for “dessler + CERES” — at present, the first page of search hits are all from active PR/skeptics using this kind of fluffy chat to confuse people about the published measurements.

    Use Scholar and you’ll find actual papers. There is one currently in discussion (already being claimed as proof by the bunkum sites) that argues that Dessler’s wrong, at Earth Syst. Dynam. Discuss., 3, 73–90, 2012

    Students can be reminded about the difference between public discussion and publication, and reminded to read what it says on the page there:

    “This discussion paper is/has been under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in ESD if available.”

  7. 107


    Don’t know about Ray’s POV, but I’m with Chris Colose on this (he has studied this in depth)–yes, “radiation absorbed in the atmosphere will result in a similar temperature rise as radiation absorbed at the surface,” pretty much. That’s because global temperatures are driven most strongly by where the effective radiating layer is, not by what’s happening at the surface.

    Or, as per Chris C’s quote from the previous page of comments:

    . . . it doesn’t matter all that much whether the absorption is occurring directly at the ground layer or absorbed throughout the lower troposphere and then communicated to the surface through energy fluxes/convection; thus, you need to look at more than just the energy balance at the surface and see how these fluxes might cancel or add when viewing the whole climate system (at the top of the atmosphere).

    This point was (to my knowledge) first enunciated clearly by Nils Ekholm in 1901:

    . . . radiation from the earth into space does not go directly from the ground, but on the average from a layer of the atmosphere having a considerable height above sea-level. . . The greater is the absorbing power of the air for heat rays emitted from the ground, the higher will that layer be. But the higher the layer, the lower is its temperature relatively to the ground; and as the radiation from the layer into space is the less the lower its temperature is, it follows that the ground will be hotter the higher the radiating layer is.

    For more on Ekholm, see:

    Ekholm’s story is a very interesting one, with a lot to say about science, personal ambition, and rational analysis versus emotionally-motivated doublethink–but if you want to ‘cut to the chase,’ discussion of his 1901 paper commences about halfway down the article, just following a picture of hikers in Svalbard.

  8. 108
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H.: “Do you really think that radiation absorbed in the atmosphere will result in a similar temperature rise as radiation absorbed at the surface?”

    If there is a difference, which way do you think increasing CO2 would push things, given that it is especially important above the cloudtops?

    And whether changes in clouds have a net cooling or warming effect (since it’s the change we are considering) depends when and what kind of clouds we get more and less of.

  9. 109
    Hank Roberts says:

    “… Low altitude clouds composed of water droplets (i.e., not ice) typically reflect solar radiation and cool the atmosphere, while high altitude, icy, cirrus clouds typically trap outgoing infrared radiation and creating additional warming. Dessler found about an 80 percent likelihood that from 2000 to 2010 the global cloud cover created a positive feedback — which means that on the whole clouds created an additional warming effect on the planet.

    “Dessler studied data from NASA’s Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) satellite mission and NASA’s Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Application (MERRA) data set, as well as from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting’s interim re-analysis.

    “In technical terms, Dessler found that for every 1 degree (C) of warming, clouds amplify that by trapping an additional 0.5 Watts per square meter – the standard for measuring incoming and outgoing energy in Earth’s atmosphere. Dessler noted that the decade did not see an obvious enough temperature trend to say what fraction of any warming clouds were responsible for….”

    Good summary, with appropriate comments about the limits of what can be said based on this work so far.

  10. 110
    BillD says:

    On occasion I teach a nonmajor’s college biology class that includes 2 lectures on environmental issues and 3 lectures on ecology. I insist that the students understand that the CO2 of the atmosphere is increasing due almost entirely to burning fossil fuels and this increase is continuing. At least they will be vacinnated against the idea that volcanoes or the ocean are significant sources of CO2.

    Two illustrations of climate change seemed most effective with today’s not science students. 1. Showing the change in spring planting zones since the 1980s and telling them that the climate of northern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio is projected to be similar to that of northern Mississippi by 2050. This is much better than saying that xx degrees of warming is expected. You can find maps that show Illinois moving south. 2. I also explained the release of CO2 and methane from thawing Alaskan “permafrost.” They really seemed to be impressed that flairs of methane can be lit when one cracks a hole in an arctic pond. Both of these examples have the “visuals” that today’s students need. You can also quantify human carbon burning in terms of the length of a coal train, something like 20 X the circumference of the earth per year.

  11. 111
    Dan H. says:

    Yes, we all seem to agree on that point. An increase in high could cover would result in warming, low clouds – cooling. Assessing which clouds types would change the most in a warming world is the big question. Without a specific distinction between cloud types, most references (not all) maintain that an increase in cloudiness results in net cooling, and decrease in warming. The second question that remains to be answered is whether a warmer world will result in an increase or decrease in cloud cover.

    Any change that would result in more radiation absorbsed at TOA and less at the surface, would result in cooling. That is straight-forward physics.

  12. 112
    adelady says:

    BillD “You can find maps that show Illinois moving south.”

    And now you’ve got the newly released hardiness zones map showing just which areas have changed how much. Showing it side by side with the old one is a nice visual for students who don’t pick things up so readily without such prompts.

  13. 113
    Marion Delgado says:

    Market Fundamentalism must be as exposed as Xian fundamentalism is starting to be. You can’t do that from the NCSE but it will help support the positions. The less secure market fundamentalists are, the less energy they have for their Lysenkoism.

  14. 114
    Hank Roberts says:

    To quote Kevin,

    “I’m with Chris Colose on this (he has studied this in depth)–yes, “radiation absorbed in the atmosphere will result in a similar temperature rise as radiation absorbed at the surface,” pretty much. That’s because global temperatures are driven most strongly by where the effective radiating layer is, not by what’s happening at the surface.”

    Dan H, as usual without citing a source, repeats his claim to the contrary, saying it’s “straightforward physics.”

  15. 115
    David Wright says:

    Children should be taught to read, first and foremost.
    If they can read they can learn anything that interests them.
    Basic Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Social Studies and Physics is plenty for High School and under.

    A basic education is all we need to guarantee children. What they learn beyond that is up to them.

    A niche science like climatology does not belong in primary education.

  16. 116
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Except, Dan, we aren’t talking about more radiation being absorbed at TOA, but at some level within the atmosphere–and once absorbed, it’s in the system

  17. 117
    Chris Colose says:

    On the matter of solar energy being absorbed- For a more technical discussion, Isaac Held talks in about the coupling between the troposphere and surface in this blog post. Ray Pierrehumbert also devotes some time to this in his book

    Note from a surface energy budget perspective that you also need to think about the latent and sensible heating fluxes, as well as the IR flux from the atmosphere to the surface, which can change in ways that oppose the solar forcing. You can think about it that way, and in some cases if the surface+troposphere decoupling is strong enough, then you must consider this in detail (e.g., if the Sahara desert magically got moist, then evaporative cooling could decrease the surface air temperature even at the expense of increased CO2). In the strongly coupled limit however, where the atmosphere is mixed vertically, radiative forcing at the TOA has a greater influence on surface air temperature than forcing at the surface. That is owing to the fact that the whole atmosphere system must balance perturbations by changing its OLR, and most longwave radiation to space originates in the upper troposphere.

    There are some cases where enough solar radiation absorbed in the upper layers can generate an anti-greenhouse effect (such as a nuclear winter, this also happens on Saturn’s moon, Titan) and even create a deep isothermal layer. This is also easy enough to work out in very simple layer models, such as those in David Archer’s book.

  18. 118

    Maybe DanH should sit in on one of BillD’s classes.

  19. 119
    Dan H. says:

    For what reason? I already agree with Bill’s assessment that the growing season has expanded northward. There are others here who dispute that, that would be better served by Bill’s classes.

  20. 120
    Scott Smith says:

    I think that the most important thing to teach is how to evaluate evidence. This would include, as at least one commenter already wrote, the basics of climate science. It would also include the major components of why the scientific community believes that AGW is occurring, the major objections of the skeptics and which objections are valid or not.

  21. 121
    Tpinlb says:

    I am curious why the author equates failure to accept evolutionary theory with failure to accept anthropological global warming theory. If one questions AGW theory as articulated by IPCC, must one then be considered to be as ignorant of science as those creationists who deny evolution? Can you really argue the hard scientific evidence supports AGW’s assumption of high climate sensitivity to CO2 change?

    [Response:It’s true that the evidence for evolution is much stronger–it’s irrefutable–and doubters of the two should therefore not be equated. The point is that the evidence for the best estimates of climate sensitivity is too strong to be denied or ignored.–Jim]

  22. 122
    A. Scott says:

    If only you folks could see yourselves from an outsiders, a layman’s, perspective. To see the arrogance and denigration of anyone who would disagree with your fervently held beliefs.

    How you ridicule and attack anyone who disbelieves, no matter how honest. The fight to withhold data, to extreme reluctance to share and encourage challenge, replication and review. And then you wonder why people don’t respect your work. Condescension and disrespect breeds the same in return. And in the end the scientific process suffers.

    Nick makes several excellent, straightforward, well spoken and IMO non-inflammatory comments and is attacked. Tietjen, expresses similar concerns and is ridiculed.

    The vast majority here believe children SHOULD be taught climate change – but only YOUR narrow version of it. You want children taught YOUR beliefs and all other opinions be damned.

    We should be doing what we did back when kids led a much harder life and learning was at times a matter of life and death. We should be teaching them to THINK. That means teaching them both sides of contentious issues – and then pointing them in the right direction to learn for themselves.

    [Response:A lot of opinions have been expressed. I think most sane people would agree that the main educational goal should be to teach kids how to evaluate evidence for themselves, and aren’t looking to indoctrinate anybody on anything, although there is always a segment that does want to do that. Teaching the fundamentals of physics, chemistry and biology has served us very well to date and I see no reason to change that.–Jim]

    Warmists and some Skeptics are alike in many ways – too deeply invested to consider the other side – to do real science. Personally, as I read both sides – the skeptics win by a large margin in my opinion on openness, and at least attempting reasoned discussion and debate.

    It is like the “earth is flat” debate all over – the majority – the long held consensus opinion – was proven incorrect. The only question is which side will be the “flat earthers.”

    I suggest you read Professor Charles Hitchcocks 1890 paper about Mr. James Geikie, of the Geological Survey of Scotland, and his 1874 book entitled “WRIGHTS ICE AGE IN NORTH AMERICA AND ITS BEARINGS ON THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN.”

    Here is a link to a version I marked up to make easier for me to follow:

    For over a quarter century most writers accepted views of older geologists that the coldness of the climate was from icebergs originating in remote North floating southerly over the submerged continent.

    Mr. Geikie’s book explained that glaciers were the cause.

    Mr. Geikie’s book seems to have been the impetous for Rev. G. F. Wright, a pastor by vocation but scientific layman, to commence a 15 year study of glacial geology – both topography and glacial deposits – from New England, thru the north central US, the Dakota’s and on to Washington and Alaska – which became the core of the understanding and change to glacial theory.

    Rev. Wright studied Muir Glacier in great detail – so as to recognize the glacial ‘signature’ in other lands.

    Not only is this paper a very interesting discussion of the last ice age, but equally importantly in my opinion – it is a guidebook to what scientific research used to be – and should again be today.

    Rev. Wright was fighting against an entrenched, long held (appx 1800-1860) almost universal belief, both in America – and the world, about submergence of the continent and the actions of floating icebergs being responsible for surface topography and geology. It took 20 years from the first good understandings about glaciers, and 40 years from initial discussion of a glacial theory, to fully over-ride the prior deeply held ‘consensus’ belief in icebergs.

    Some 20 years after saying the existence of ancient glaciers in Great Britain was “not established to the satisfaction of the majority of British geologists” the same prominent figure noted “I was wrong in opposing your grand and original idea … I am now convinced glaciers did descend from the mountains to the plains as they now do in Greenland.”

    Fir many years prior to appx 1840 scientists the world over staunchly believed the iceberg theory – once the the revolutionary and oft ridiculed glacier theory was presented it took just 20 years to win the world over to that correct understanding.

    No matter how many times either side repeats it the science is clearly not settled. Most agree there has been some warming over the last several hundred years. Most agree there has been some anthropogenic input. But there the consensus stops.

    Dr. Judith curry acknowledges this in a current commentary – noting there is no consensus and claiming there is is damaging to good science being done.

    We should be teaching our children NOT to accept consensus positions – to research both sides of important issues and draw their own educated opinions. We should teach them it is important to look at all side – even the skeptics positions – for, as the “flat earth” and “glaciers not icebergs” issues show – the long held alleged “consensus” positions are sometimes wrong.

    Several other comments of this 1890 paper are important in my opinion in the present global warming – sorry ‘global climate change’ – discussion:

    “Professional men are pleased with opening of discussions that require exercise, but not fatigue, for their elucidation …”

    “The establishment of limits on one side leads to discovery of boundaries on all sides …”

    As the paper progresses it displays exactly the type collegial discussion – with the work of all sides welcomed, respected and debated – even though they disagree.

    This includes and extended to all involved – no negative stigma is placed on Rev. Wright for example – despite his being in large part a lay person, his work was welcomed and held in high regard.

    Compare that to the actions of the CAGW proponents and their treatment of outsiders and those they deem non-believers today.

    I would note the authors ending comments regarding the layman Rev. Wright, and suggest they would be well for modern scientific folks to consider:

    “[where others] so situated that long summer vacations are at their command [spend them] upon travel, hunting or fishing, productive of recreation for themselves, but not of special profit to the world … the example of Dr. Wright is to be commended. By devoting vacations and odd hours to the study of glaciation for the last 15 years, he has produced results of which any geologist would be proud.”

    “… it is well that there should be a [staunch few] … who would criticize any unfriendly and unwarranted conclusions.”

    “The example of these gentleman is worthy of imitation … the working out of these details of the ice age would be an enterprise adequate to enlist the energies of a dozen energetic amateurs for the next decade.”

    In my opinion, and as shown that of the scientific community of the 1800’s depicted in this paper, whether for children’s minds in the classroom, or in search of clear answers on climate – the “battle” should be to find and present the true and accurate facts – not the facts as any one “side” or agenda believes them to be.

    How do you think a panel of the scientists in this 1800’s paper – great men, professional and layman alike – who made huge breakthrough’s in scientific knowledge, would judge the current scientific process when it comes to climate change?

  23. 123
    Martin Vermeer says:

    How do you think a panel of the scientists in this 1800′s paper – great men, professional and layman alike – who made huge breakthrough’s in scientific knowledge, would judge the current scientific process when it comes to climate change?

    I don’t think, A. Scott, I figure I know. And it’s not what you think.

    It’s hard to beat the arrogance of someone denigrating the knowledge of a community of hard-working, honest science professionals busy doing the right things, and not what you caricature them to do. A bit like the Rev. Wright, I am a dilettante too in climatology, and having come to know some of these folks your distortion — obviously cribbed from denialist screeds — is shameful.

  24. 124
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Tpinlb #121

    If one questions AGW theory as articulated by IPCC, must one then be considered to be as ignorant of science as those creationists who deny evolution?

    Actually, yes. I don’t quite agree with Jim. Indeed the evidence for evolution is hugely more broad and voluminous — but both sets of evidence are absolutely convincing. There comes a point of saturation, where more evidence is just piling it on and rubbing it in…

    So, no, while the bodies of evidence being denied are very different in scope and size, the depths of ignorance involved in denying them are IMHO comparable. As is everything else about their ignorance — or “ignorance”. E.g., neither impacts our daily lives yet in ways that make denial look prima facie silly — never mind a few freak weather events or multiresistant S. aureus outbreaks.

    BTW there is not really anything like “AGW theory”. There is the physics of planetary (and stellar) atmospheres, of which this is one practical application.

  25. 125
    MartinJB says:

    A Scott (122):

    I don’t believe anyone would disagree with your statement:

    “In my opinion, and as shown that of the scientific community of the 1800′s depicted in this paper, whether for children’s minds in the classroom, or in search of clear answers on climate – the “battle” should be to find and present the true and accurate facts – not the facts as any one “side” or agenda believes them to be.”

    But that does not justify presenting the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” science that constitutes much of what one gets from the faux-skeptics that make so much noise and drive climate scientists and educated laymen to distraction.

  26. 126
    Dan H. says:

    Excellent post A. Scott.

    Both you and Jim’s comment seem to hit a similar note; that of teaching our children how to research and evaluate evidence, instead of indoctrination into a particular viewpoint. We should seek the real truth, not the facts as presented by any one side.
    Thank you for your post.

  27. 127

    “instead of indoctrination into a particular viewpoint”

    Big fat strawman. . .

    To teach what the current mainstream ideas on a topic are is not ‘indoctrination.’ However, the mainstream ideas on a topic being taught are normally privileged in educating on that topic, though other ‘points of view’ may in some cases merit mention.

    It would be absurd to pretend (as Dan H seems to do) that all POVs are equally valid, regardless of their internal consistency or evidentiary support.

  28. 128
    Ray Ladbury says:

    A. Scott,
    Allow me to return the favor and suggest you read a paper from the 19th century–that by Svante Arrhenius, in which he first posited the link between anthropogenic CO2 and a warming climate. That is how old this science is. That is how established this science is.

    You claim there is no consensus. I wonder, sir, if 97% of the experts in a field does not constitute a consensus in your eyes, what would? If dozens of national academies of sciences are on record supporting this consensus without one single dissent is not a consensus, what is? If not one single professional organization of sciences dissents from the consensus of climate experts, how is that not a consensus?

    As to your contention of evidence being withheld…well, all I can say is that it takes a whole helluva lot of chutzpah to claim this on a page that has a tab at the top that says “data sources”. Did you not notice that, or were you simply hoping no one else would notice your lie?

    You say “both sides” of the issue should be taught. Dammit, dude, we’d live to teach the “skeptic side,” if they’d only fricking publish something! Or do you think so-called “skeptics” deserve a free pass from peer review?

    A. Scott, this is science. It should be about evidence. Either present some evidence that favors your position or be ignored as science advances around you. That is how the game is played. That’s the game we need to teach the nation’s children.

  29. 129
    adelady says:

    Todd@ 78 “I have had some success in telling them that I cannot make them *believe* in evolution, but it is my job to see that they understand the theory and the evidence involved in it. ”

    My husband has had similar success in dealing with parents arriving at school all fired up ready to wrestle over Year 10 biology. He just explains that it’s his job to teach the science curriculum which happens to include evolution and that students won’t pass exams if they’ve not learnt it. (And a careful, quiet word that even if it is someone’s job to teach “the other side” it certainly isn’t his. His job is the science, neither more nor less.)

  30. 130
    Jim Eager says:

    A. Scott advocates teaching our children both sides of a contentious issue like climate change.

    That means teaching them “it’s the sun” and that “all the other planets are warming, too,” when we know for a fact that neither is true.

    It means teaching them “it’s been cooling for the past 10 years” and that “Arctic sea Ice has recovered,” when the data clearly shows the exact opposite.

    It means teaching them that “the lag of CO2 behind temperature in the ice cores proves that CO2 does not cause warming,” when we know for a fact that is a completely illogical assertion.

    It means teaching them that the observed warming is just a result of the “urban heat island” and that “the greenhouse effect violates the second law of thermodynamics” when we know both are just plain silly.

    It mean teaching them that climate science is a left-wing “hoax” and a “conspiracy,” and that climate science has “withheld data and has been reluctant to share and encourage challenge, replication and review,” which we know is not true.

    In other words, teaching the controversy means teaching our children lies.

    That is what this layman sees as arrogance in the defense of fervently held beliefs.

  31. 131
    SecularAnimist says:

    A. Scott wrote: “You want children taught YOUR beliefs and all other opinions be damned.”

    Given this open admission that you are unable to distinguish between empirically observed FACTS on the one hand, and “beliefs” and “opinions” on the other, it seems clear that substantive discussion with you about how to effectively teach science would be futile.

    Notice, though, that some of the regular commenters here — in the face of your rather hostile and belligerent invective — will, nonetheless, attempt to reason with you.

    They have the patience of saints.

  32. 132
    Brian Dodge says:

    @Buck Smith — 5 Feb 2012 @ 11:39 AM
    “3. Is warming due to CO2 amplified by positive feedbacks (water vapor) Not so certain.” Wrong.

    “The sensitivity of Earth’s climate to an external radiative forcing depends critically on the response of water vapor. We use the global cooling and drying of the atmosphere that was observed after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo to test model predictions of the climate feedback from water vapor. Here, we first highlight the success of the model in reproducing the observed drying after the volcanic eruption. Then, by comparing model simulations with and without water vapor feedback, we demonstrate the importance of the atmospheric drying in amplifying the temperature change and show that, without the strong positive feedback from water vapor, the model is unable to reproduce the observed cooling. These results provide quantitative evidence of the reliability of water vapor feedback in current climate models, which is crucial to their use for global warming projections.”

    Who told you the lie that positive water vapor feedback is uncertain? Are they the same people who tell you that warming is no threat, we don’t have to act now, and our economic models show any action to limit CO2 emissions will destroy the economy? Do you trust their economic models more than climate models?

    Recaptcha – blistered become

  33. 133
    Dan H. says:

    I was not referring to “mainstream” issues as indoctrination, but rather those that exist on one extreme or the other (yes, both exist). Both extremes appear to deny or rationalize away that which is inconvenient to their cause. A clear examples is the BEST data, where one group highlighted that portion of the reports which showed rising temperatures during the 20th century, while the other focused on the lack of warming in the 21st century. Additionally, one group trumpeted the urban heat island paper, while the other the AMO paper. In psychology, this is called selective abstraction.

  34. 134
    Tietjanberelul says:

    Gavin, thanks for your reply.

    I think that where the climate change science community drops the ball is the point where they start talking to people who are not already convinced of global warming. I am not convinced of it, however, i have been wrong before, on top of that, i do not mind hearing from people who think i am wrong. Just because i dont share the climate fear like most people on here, doesnt mean i dont want to learn from anyone. If that were the case id be on

    Supporters of AGW see people like me as their enemy, while it appears they are their own worst enemy. Climate scientists have made the mistake of also wanting to be politicians by trying to make or influence policies. Now when it comes to teaching in schools they want it to soumd like there is no connection between climate science and politics. It is not like teaching children how to read and write. [edit – this is OT on this site]

    What global warming movement need is a non liberal individual, who is a leader more in touch with reality outside the green movement. Right now climate scientists look like very smart people who went to the university and then worked at one. I am not sure if they are aware that most of the worlds population would rather see us worry about how to get enough food to stay alive, not get killed by a dictator or how to eradicate malaria.

    Climate scientists remind me of Harold Camping, a christian broadcaster with so much bible knowledge that you cant argue with him. He said the world would end may 21. When the world did not end, he said it was prove he was right.

    As a parent, or even a teacher, how can you tell where science ends and promoting the liberal agenda begins ?

    [Response: As I said, talk to people who understand science but who are in no way related to the so-called ‘liberal agenda’. I gave you some names last time. Talk to people in your communities – and there are universities everywhere. If you cannot engage with someone from New York or California because you don’t trust their motives, there is not much I can do about that (other than to point out that I think that is unjustified – but of course, that has no credibility with you because I live in New York). But I still find it hard to fathom that you think there is nothing about the climate system that is a) worth teaching children about, and b) just science. I have no problem with distinguishing between a description of what is, and a decision about what one might do about it. – gavin]

  35. 135
    Ray Ladbury says:


    OK. First, how was Svante Arrhenius promoting a liberal agenda? The science you are saying you don’t believe in was old news when Einstien wrote his special relativity paper! Second, how does the politics of a scientist affect whether the evidence he or she discovers is true? This is a combination of two logical fallacies–adhominem fallacy and argument from consequences. Third, if you don’t like the policy implication of climate, then come up with some of your own damned policies! Do you really think that the free market is so feeble that it cannot deal with this crisis without succumbing to despotism?

    Fourth, if you really think the science is wrong–despite the endorsement of 97% of climate experts and every National Academy of Sciences and professional scientific society of note on the planet–then go out and find some frickin’ evidence. PUBLISH!!! That is how science gets done.

    Finally, do you really think every climate scientist who believes we are warming the planet is a commie? Dude, you need to get out more.

  36. 136


    “I was not referring to “mainstream” issues as indoctrination, but rather those that exist on one extreme or the other. . .”

    And the “extremes”–and “highlighting” “rising temperatures during the 20th century” was given as an example of an “extreme”–are *assumed* to be equivalent.

    Thanks for making my point for me, Dan!

  37. 137
    Jim Eager says:

    Tietjanberelul, when did scientists surrender their right as citizens to express their concerns, informed by the potential consequences of the science that they study, and as citizens to try to influence public policy based on that informed concern?

    The answer is never. They have every bit as much right to do so as you do.

    Where, pray tell, do think climate scientists would work, at your friendly neighbourhood climate research shop down the street?

    And what makes you think climate scientists are not worried about how to get enough food to stay alive, especially in light of the potential of climate change to disrupt our ability to do so? Or worry about despotic dictators and eradicating malaria?

    You create a alarmist fiction to be fearful of and then have the gall to compare climate scientists with Harold Camping. Sorry, it is clearly you who are completely out of touch with reality.

  38. 138
    Dennis says:

    And when my daughters elementary school science teacher tells her that turning on the lights kills polar bears (this actually happened), what should I do?
    A, Praise him for boldly defending the earth.
    B, Explain that he was speaking metaphorically
    C, Tell my daughter that in this case her teacher is wrong
    D, Point out to the teacher that in the past 40 years polar bear numbers have increased and risk being labeled a denier and anti-science, even though my degree is in chemistry and environmental science

    [Response: well, if it was my daughter, I’d encourage her to read up on the background herself – there’s tons of age appropriate material available – and then discuss the multiple threats that polar bears face. If you did D, I would be appalled because bringing in irrelevant issues without context when a child asks a question is the height of irresponsibility. – gavin

  39. 139
    Bill Hunter says:

    One problem with teaching I don’t see being addressed here.

    Teaching is not about filling kids heads with facts, but instead giving them skill sets for finding out what the facts are.

    If science has descended to the level of teaching rote memorization of facts then then teaching profession is failing to do its job.

    Dr Will Happer, Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University has said something to the effect that science is not so complicated that it cannot be explained to a layman in understandable and logical terms.

    The same problem exists for the teaching of evolution. Instead of teaching the methodology by which the theory of evolution was established, extrapolations of that in the form of questionable facts about matters that have no connection to how life changes over time, like how life was created in the first place are literally shoved down the throats of our kids without a shred of science to back it up. And here we have a not-for-profit essentially working to have our educational system fail by finding avenues to ensure the tough questions never get asked in a science classroom.

    But if instead you teach skills and methods, using facts solely as a basis for demonstrating the skill; each student will arrive at their own conclusions. And if in the final examination they show a command of the skills the teacher should believe he has suceeded to the maximum extent he should.

  40. 140
    Dan H. says:

    Glad to be of help Kevin,
    Are we in agreement on mainstream and extremes now?

  41. 141
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Dennis @138: “Point out to the teacher that in the past 40 years polar bear numbers have increased…?”

    Without also pointing out that your assertion is based on only part of the body of data on part of the polar bear population?

    I’d call that cherry-picking. And I’d call it just as egregious as the teacher’s comment related in your anecdotal example, assuming that it actually happened in the first place.

  42. 142

    #140–“Are we in agreement on mainstream and extremes now?”

    Not if you think that highlighting rising temperatures in the 20th century counts as ‘extreme.’

  43. 143
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bill Hunter,
    Ah, I can see that you have not been in a high school classroom any time recently. Most science curricula are laden with factoids rather than method for the simple reason that factoids are easier to assess for the standardized tests–on which all school success is determined.

    Then there is the fact that most middle and high school science teachers have never actually done any science, and so may not have a particularly strong grasp of the scientific method. Let’s face it, the standard cartoon of the scientific method is a farce. The reality is much richer and more powerful than can be reflected with a simple observe-theorize-test paradigm.

    And most of the administrators and politicians who determine curricula have an even weaker grasp of scientific method than the science teachers–if they are not completely hostile to science in the first place.

    So, Dennis, I suspect that if you want your daughter to understand science, you, yourself will have to help her. Of course, that would mean that you, too, would have to learn to consult the full body of evidence rather than cherrypicking those studies that support your own worldview. So, basically, I suspect she’s screwed.

  44. 144

    #138–How about this?

    E) explain that, while it is true that some polar bear populations (such as the western Hudson Bay population) are showing signs of biological stress due to declining sea ice, and that this is likely due to climate change resulting from human greenhouse gas emissions, that doesn’t mean that when you turn on the lights another bear dies.

    Or, if that’s too much, how about “I know what he’s getting at, honey, but it’s really a little more complicated than that.” Which would make a nice segue into helping her (if she’s interested) in looking at what is actually the case wrt polar bear populations and climate change–thus addressing some of what Bill Hunter was talking about in #139.

  45. 145

    >this is called selective abstraction

    From a foremost practitioner.

  46. 146
    SecularAnimist says:

    Tietjanberelul wrote: “… how can you tell where science ends and promoting the liberal agenda …”

    If you believe that the scientific reality of global warming is a “liberal agenda” then you have been duped. Period. End of story.

    Look, you didn’t think of that yourself, did you? No. Someone TOLD YOU that climate science is, or has, a “liberal agenda”.

    Whoever told you that, LIED TO YOU. DELIBERATELY.

    I suggest that you go back to them and ask them why they are lying to you.

  47. 147
    Ray Ladbury says:

    SA quotes

    Tietjanberelul wrote: “… how can you tell where science ends and promoting the liberal agenda …”

    Yeah, I wonder if it was just me or was he on the verge of saying reality had a liberal bias.

  48. 148
    Bill Hunter says:

    Yes: “Ah, I can see that you have not been in a high school classroom any time recently.”

    I’d say about 50 years! Had a great physics teacher that would start each class with a demonstration and then elicit responses from the class about details of what was going on in the observation. Great teacher! Placed a half dozen students in my class in the 98% percentile on the state high school physics exam.

    But this does not extend just to physics. History should be taught not on a basis of rote memorization of events in history but instead in a way that stimulates thinking about the hard and clear lessons of history, like how trying to boil everybody down to the lowest common denominator has always resulted in a failed state by stripping away all incentives to excel as surely as does as Eisenhower warned creating an elite class of citizen or citizens with a common source of funding/revenue basically accomplishes the same thing. In a sense all education needs to be approached from a scientific viewpoint whether it includes a lot of math or not.

    Vocational training seems to have a lot lesser of a problem with all this. So I guess what we are actually doing this day and age is creating a elite class of real dummies while the smart kids go and get a real job! ;)

  49. 149
    Susan Anderson says:

    MartinJB (currently @125) got me hunting for a Laocoon UCS cartoon, took a while to find it:

    This one a mite less familiar includes the words tsunami of evidence, flood of new data, avalanche of proof, torrent of discontent:

    The associated websites were also worth a look, though choirish for most of us.

    Some of you may enjoy wasting some time (excellent as they are) with a few dozen others:

    I note that deniers are now objecting to be called anything that describes them, as creating prejudice, including fake and phony skeptics. Too bad for them they can’t take the truth. If the shoe fits, wear it.

  50. 150
    Jim Eager says:

    So, Bill, what do you conclude from the following statements?
    Should they be taught in the science curriculum, and if not, why not? Which, if any, do you consider political?

    – That the greenhouse effect, admittedly a misnomer, is a real and natural physical phenomenon.
    – That CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that it is responsible for ~20% of earth’s greenhouse effect.
    – That CO2 is continuously exchanged among the atmosphere, biosphere, ocean, and lithosphere, with emission and absorption by each reservoir roughly in balance on a time scale of decades or centuries, barring some forcing.
    – That each year burning fossil carbon fuels injects ~10Gt of fossil carbon into the atmosphere, i.e. carbon that has been locked out of the atmosphere and therefore out of the active carbon cycle among these reservoirs for millions of years.
    – That the natural active carbon reservoirs so far have absorbed all natural emissions, plus just over half of the anthropogenic carbon release, which is why ocean pH is declining and why atmospheric CO2 is increasing year over year.
    – That increasing atmospheric CO2 will boost the natural greenhouse effect and thus warm the atmosphere and surface until once again outgoing radiation ~equals incoming radiation.
    – That the atmosphere and surface have in fact warmed.
    – That as the atmosphere warms it will then hold more H2O, which, since it, too, is a greenhouse gas, will add yet more warming, thus amplifying the initial warming from CO2.
    – That atmospheric H2O content has in fact increased.
    – That the increase in H2O may also effect cloud coverage and density, but in which way and by what net amount is not yet known for sure, although the fact that earth has been much warmer in the past argues strongly that the net result from clouds will not be very large either way.
    – That the warming of the atmosphere and surface will alter weather patterns, including both the temporal and spacial distribution of rain and snowfall, which can not but effect agriculture.

    I could go on, but that should be enough to start with.