Well-done op-ed on politics replacing science in proposed Texas schoolbooks

An op-ed published last week in the Austin Texas American-Statesman is worth a read for its insight into how politics distorts science education.

The authors are Camille Parmesan, a University of Texas at Austin geology professor, and Alan I. Lesher, CEO of the the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organization. (I say "general science" because the American Chemical Society is slightly larger.)

Following is an excerpt. Click the link in the first line for the full article.

Some proposed Texas textbooks would badly misinform K-12 students by falsely suggesting that scientists do not agree on what is causing climate change and by incorrectly suggesting a future cooling trend. Two draft textbooks — astoundingly — even confuse climate change with the ozone hole, which is a completely separate concern and driven by different human actions.

In fact, the vast majority of climate scientists agree that rising temperatures, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and increased frequencies of drought and ferocious storms have resulted largely from two human activities: fossil-fuel burning and deforestation. The consensus that humans are causing climate change has been bolstered again and again by scientific evidence published in thousands of peer-reviewed studies and in public statements by virtually every leading scientific organization. From the scientific perspective, there are simply no longer “two sides” to the climate-change story: The debate is over. The jury is in, and humans are the culprit.

Physicists have known for more than 100 years that carbon dioxide is an insulator and that any increase in its concentration should warm the globe by reducing heat loss to outer space. We know this is happening because warming has been greater by night and in winter, even though the Earth receives less energy from the sun then.

There is indeed much room for argument about what should be done about climate change. But the textbooks in question are purportedly teaching science, not political theory. They need to get the scientific facts straight.

It's instructive to note the comments on the American-Statesman website posted in response to the op-ed, which sound science-y enough to likely mislead the unwary. This is the same approach developed by the tobacco industry to create doubt about the evidence linking smoking and disease, and it's equally bogus.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I'll note that I've been a member of AAAS for 35 years and of the National Center for Science Education (cited in the article) for about 20, but otherwise my only connection is heartily agreeing with what they have to say.)

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