There are two discussions which are going on in the ScienceBlog-osphere about Al Gore, brought to the table by my esteemed co-bloggers Framing Science and Stoat. The first is whether or not Gore’s opus “An Inconvenient Truth” belongs in a science class (Framing Science argues compellingly that it doesn’t). The second is whether, as Stoat argues, Al Gore is a hypocrite for ‘jet-setting’ across the world to preach his message of global warming, thereby increasing the pollution through air-travel which, in turn, actually exacerbates the causes of global warming. While both bloggers have made good points, I disagree with them both. I’m going to talk about Framing Science’s argument today, and Stoat’s argument tomorrow,
I’ll explain why I think “An Inconvenient Truth” does belong in a science classroom. Framing Science’s (FS)point of view is this:
Certainly the film is an incredible exposition and popularization of major areas of climate science, with many experts giving the technical areas of his film positive reviews. And if you are looking for a motivational tool to turn students on to the global warming problem, few media forms beat Gore’s documentary. Still, as much as the film is about science, it’s also a very strong personal, political, and moral narrative.
Being a personal, political, moral narrative does not in my mind disqualify it from being presented, as long as the information is backed up by scientific fact (or prevailing consensus). FS notes that multiple experts in the field have backed up the technical and scientific points in the movie. That it is also a plea for action, in much the same way that the “Just Say No” campaign was championed by Nancy Reagan, does not detract from its worthiness as a teaching tool. The Just Say No campaign was also a personal, political, moral campaign with the idea of effecting change through knowledge dissemination and proactive education. (Hopefully this campaign will be more successful than Just Say No.) The precedent exists.
FS goes on:
The last thing we want to do is give students the impression that global warming is a partisan issue. Among adults, given that citizens often use their partisanship as an information short-cut, polls unsurprisingly show that Democrats are significantly more worried about global warming than their Republican counterparts. With Gore as the narrator and presenter, and the comments of angry Republican parents inevitable, partisan perception is exactly what is likely to happen if you screen the film in science class.
What’s so bad about presenting global warming as a partisan issue? It certainly isn’t dishonest to do so. I understand what FS is getting at here: make both parties equally culpable in their response and actions. However, in reality, Democrats are much, much more likely to effect change in this realm. Doesn’t that make it a partisan issue? Engendering the idea that both parties are equally accepting and equally willing to do something about global warming is merely wishful thinking. Until the Republicans step up to the plate, and stop flailing in denial, it will remain a partisan issue. Hopefully, for those that care about global warming, this will affect the way that people vote come election time. Therefore, I believe that the responsible thing to do is not to hide that politics is embroiled in global warming. The last thing we want is a bunch of global warming-concerned people electing Republicans who will stifle the science, who have buyers’ remorse because they didn’t consider it a partisan issue.
So keep Gore out of science class, but show the film on Earth Day or in American history, politics, or global studies courses. Ultimately, it’s a question of what is appropriate for science class versus another instructional setting.
I certainly agree that the movie would also be appropriate for a history or global studies class, but as the movie is inherently about the science and impact of global warming (and what might be done about it) I see no reason to ban it from a science class. The “its political” argument is moot as long as one basis premise is resolved: is the movie’s science accurate, or inaccurate? Evolution and intelligent design is also very “political,” however the reason we keep ID out of the classroom is because the science is flawed to non-existent. Should a controversial subject be kept out of the classroom *just* because its controversial? Or *just* because its political? As long as all the evidence lies with Gore, and his statements are accurate, can he be (or the movie) blamed that the science of global warming has been politicized? I say no, and on these grounds the movie would seem to fit into a science classroom just fine. All this, of course, hinges on his premises being accurate.