NCSE takes on climate change

The National Center for Science Education, where I work, has focused on fighting political attacks on evolution education for all of its 30 year history. When the group was founded in the early '80s, they didn't choose a name narrowly focused on evolution, hoping that they'd make quick work of creationism and then move on to other problems in science education. Today's announcement that NCSE's taking on climate change is a partial fulfillment of that dream.

Creationism is far from dead, of course. This year, legislators in Indiana have filed two bills attacking evolution. One bill revives the sorts of laws NCSE was founded to fight, and would require students who learn evolution also to be taught "creation science." The Supreme Court struck such laws down in 1987. Creationists responded at the time by talking up "intelligent design." Despite a federal court's ruling that teaching intelligent design creationism was a violation of students' rights under the First Amendment, legislators in New Hampshire and Missouri have already filed laws this year that would require or encourage teachers to teach it.

Those big flareup don't keep us as busy as the dozens of local incidents that never make the papers. A parent who wonders why her kid is coming home with quizzes asking about Adam and Eve. A teacher wanting help explaining to parents why it's important to cover evolution at all. A principal looking to please everyone by suggesting that biology classes just cover "both sides." It's not sexy, but that's the front line of the battle over evolution.

In our time on those front lines, we keep hearing from teachers facing similar pressure about climate change. We hear it from teachers in workshops. We see it in newspaper stories. We track legislation lumping evolution and climate change together as "controversial" issues in science class, even though both are supported by over a century of unchallenged scientific research. And as we looked around, we realized that, while lots of groups exist to encourage good climate change education and provide positive content for classrooms, no one else was focused exclusively on blocking bad science from climate change lessons.

So today we officially launched a new initiative on climate change, including our new climate change website section, and announced that we'd hired a specialist in climate change education. Our executive director, Genie Scott, and our new climate guy, Mark McCaffrey, spent most of last week and today in interviews with the press. I was up until 5 am last night putting the last touches on the website. We've already fought back a few climate change flareups (I was the interim climate guy, and am glad to be passing the reins to Mark), and we're looking forward to hearing about more of them.

I'm not revealing any internal secrets by saying that we've all been tremendously gratified by the positive response we've gotten from NCSE's members and allies. Today's response on Twitter seems entirely positive, and if there've been critical blog reports or news items, I've yet to find them. When Genie mentioned this new initiative at The Amazing Meeting! last summer, she got a spontaneous ovation. Scientific societies and teaching societies and environmental groups, skeptics and civil libertarians and science fans - everyone has been encouraging and supportive, even grateful. So thank you all for that.

It's a big change, and inevitably we'll get pushback. Some of our members may decide to withdraw their support over this decision. So it'd be great if those of you who do support this extension of our mission would help make up some of those losses.

There's a lot yet to catch up on. We've been tracking anti-evolution activities for 30 years, the teachers know us and know to call us when they've got trouble, and we know what they're facing. We have to get a feel for the challenges faced by climate change educators, and we have to learn what state science standards and textbooks cover, and what sorts of pseudoscience is being pushed into classrooms. We need to build a new archive to match our rather specialized collection of evolution books. We need to let parents and teachers know that we're here to help them.

You can help with all of that. Not just by joining NCSE (though you should!), but by asking your kids' teachers (or your nieces and nephews, or whatever) what the teach. There's an extensive discussion of ways teachers can teach climate change well on the new website, and I'm sure Mark would appreciate feedback from more teachers. There's also a handy primer on the science behind climate change, a discussion of what climate change denial is and how to respond to it, and suggestions on ways you can support and defend climate change education. We hope you find the advice useful, and that you recommend it to others.

It's an thrilling way to start the year, and I expect it'll only get more exciting.

And, for what it's worth, working on this new website and the new initiative more generally is only one of the big pieces of news which has kept me away from blogging lately. More on that anon.

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Good to see NCSE standing up to climate change denialists. Sadly it's infiltrating schools because denialism has become a tenet of faith in certain political circles.

No one had asked me to join NCSE before, so I will now. I am strongly supportive of the old and the new expanded mission.