Schools: not activist enough
Nov 11, 2015
Bishop Hill in Education, Greens

Another day, another environmental activist pretending to be a serious researcher. Diego Román of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas has a paper in that well-known organ of cutting edge science, Environmental Education Research. It reports the results of an analysis of middle school science textbooks and their coverage of climate change. His headline finding is that they are terribly bad:

Our findings showed that these text-books framed climate change as uncertain in the scientific community – both about whether it is occurring as well as about its human-causation.

Román's activism is fairly obvious, even from that brief excerpt: he gives the game away by failing to define what he means by "climate change", a trick that is Lesson One of all "how to be a hippie" courses. Of course in reality, few people on would argue with the twin propositions:

If there were any lingering doubt as to the fact that this is an activist screed, then the paper's citation of Cook et al puts them to bed.

You can imagine the direction this is going to lead him. For example, he is horrified by this textbook extract:

1. Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate.
...comparing it unfavourably to the IPCC's
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed
warming, and understanding of the climate system.

The first, it seems is just not preachy enough, mentioning uncertainties and doubts in a shamelessly scientific manner. This is a bit of a theme in the paper:

While being clear about levels and sources of uncertainty is considered to be ‘good science’ by scientists, the public perceives uncertainty as ‘not knowing’ ...Confusion has been fueled in part due to the accepted language used in scientific writings.

And if this woeful tendency to mention doubts and uncertainties were not bad enough, textbooks are not issuing calls to collective action either! textbook contained a call to action explicitly linking student ability or need to take mitigating actions. One of the barriers to taking action is not knowing the appropriate actions to take (Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera 1986). Boyes, Chuckran, and Stanisstreet (1993) have shown that students often do not know which actions would lead to mitigation of climate change. If students are not getting this information from their schools, then they may have scant opportunity to learn what they can do.

Grief. What a shambles.

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