Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times presents a disturbing tale of attempts by creationists to up their chances of slipping religion into science classrooms by piggy-backing it onto “balanced” instruction of climatology.
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.
Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.
In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.
“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”
There is, of courses, absolutely nothing wrong with “balanced” teaching on any subject. In theory. But in in this case, it’s a disingenuous attempt to counterbalance science with pseudoscience, superstition or just plain fiction into science classrooms. The state House even included astrology and thermology among the candidates to explain global warming in it’s version of the resolution. (The senate narrowly managed to takes those out — see here for more affronts to science).
If teachers and their school boards can resist the pressure from politicians to balance science with patently unscientific material, the kids will be all right. But first they have to understand that the competing ideas in evolutionary biology aren’t between descent by natural selection and intelligent design, but between horizontal and vertical gene transfer, or selfish genes vs. group selection, or any of a dozen different fascinating but complicated scientific discussions, none of which have anything to do with divine intervention and none of which mount a consequential challenge to the synthesis of natural selection and genetics that explains the biodiversity of life.
Likewise, they have to know that the debates that persist among climatologists aren’t over whether the Earth is warming and what’s to blame, but over the magnitude of the consequences in terms of tropical cyclone activity, precipitation, glacial melt rates, sea level rise and so forth. In other words, climatologists are arguing over how bad things will get, not if there’s a serious to civilization.
Any efforts to ensure science education is “balanced,” in any subject, must be accompanied by reassurances that science classes will stick to science, and not embrace misinformation from ideological or religious think tanks masquerading as proponents of science.
How can one tell the difference? It can be challenging for dilettantes not familiar with doing a little work. For example, when John West of Seattle’s creationist Discovery Institute says things like this:
“There is a lot of similar dogmatism on this issue,” he said, “with scientists being persecuted for findings that are not in keeping with the orthodoxy. We think analyzing and evaluating scientific evidence is a good thing, whether that is about global warming or evolution.”
…it’s critical that anyone unfamiliar with recent events do a little sincere research. Then they’d discover that the only climatologists being persecuted these days are those who accept the basics of anthropogenic global warming. From the Guardian:
Rick Piltz, a former official in the US government climate science programme who now runs the Climate Science Watch website, said Inhofe and others were getting in the way of scientific work. “Scientists who are working in federal labs are being subjected to inquisitions coming from Congress,” he said. “There is no question that this is an orchestrated campaign to intimidate scientists.”
Michael Mann, a scientist at Penn State University who is on Inhofe’s list of 17, said that he had seen a sharp rise in hostile email since November.
“Some of the emails make thinly veiled threats of violence against me and even my family, and law enforcement authorities have been made aware of the matter,” he told the Guardian.
He said the attacks appeared to be a co-ordinated effort. “Some of them look cut-and-paste.”
The e-mails come thick and fast every time NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt appears in the press.
Rude and crass e-mails. E-mails calling him a fraud, a cheat, a scumbag and much worse.
To Schmidt and other researchers purging their inboxes daily of such correspondence, the barrage is simply part of the job of being a climate scientist. But others see the messages as threats and intimidation – cyber-bullying meant to shut down debate and cow scientists into limiting their participation in the public discourse.
“I get a lot of hate mail,” said Schmidt, a climate modeler at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies who also runs RealClimate.org, a website devoted to debunking myths and errors about climate change. “I get a lot of praise mail, but pretty much every time I have a quote in a mainstream publication I’ll get a string of emails from various people accusing me of various misdemeanors and fantasizing about my life in prison.”
Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has a 19-page document of “extremely foul, nasty, abusive” e-mails he’s received just since November.