The textbooks have come under scrutiny by the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). The latter issued an analysis of the most troubling passages on Monday.
In a sixth grade chapter introducing global warming, the text reads, “Scientists agree that Earth’s climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change.” The passage then goes on to quote two (non-scientist) staff members from the Heartland Institute, an ultra-conservative think tank.
As NCSE writes in its analysis,
“This entire section is misleading. Scientists do not disagree about what is causing climate change, the vast majority (97%) of climate papers and actively publishing climatologists (again 97%) agree that human activity is responsible.”
NCSE then lists appropriate citations for this percentage, and in fact this information has been available for some time. Teaching the public that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change is almost unanimously accepted among climate scientists was the explicit point of the recent “97 Hours of Consensus” project.
This particular chapter comes from the Grade 6 World Cultures & Geography textbook published by McGraw-Hill Education. In its criticism, NCSE writes that the text is “deeply concerning,” comparing the Heartland Institute with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This comparison “misleads students as to good sources of information, pitting an ideologically driven advocacy group (Heartland Institute) that receives funding from Big Tobacco and polluters against a Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientific body (IPCC).”
It’s important to understand just what the Heartland Institute is and why it should not be informing children’s textbooks. This is an organization whose disinformation agenda is so virulent that the journal Nature actually devoted two pages to dispelling its absurdities in 2011.
Here are the highlights from that article:
“It would be easy for scientists to ignore the Heartland Institute’s climate conferences. They are curious affairs designed to gather and share contrarian views, in which science is secondary to wild accusations and political propaganda. [. . .]
“We now have more than two decades of evidence that closing our eyes will not make the climate skeptics go away. Instead, in the United States at least, they have cemented their propaganda into a broader agenda that pits conservatives of various stripes against almost any form of government regulation. [. . .]
“Despite criticizing climate scientists for being overconfident about their data, models and theories, the Heartland Institute proclaims a conspicuous confidence in single studies and grand interpretations. A 2009 report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which the institute supports, is well sourced and based on scientific papers. Yet it makes many bold assertions that are often questionable or misleading, and do not highlight the uncertainties. Many climate skeptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth.”
In other words, the Heartland Institute is not a credible reference on the subject of climate change.
In a fifth grade textbook, the NCSE points to a passage that claims “scientists say it is natural for Earth’s temperature to be higher for a few years. They predict we’ll have some cooler years and things will even out.”
The NCSE found no sources that could uphold this text: “We are not aware of any currently publishing climatologists who are predicting a cooling trend where ‘things will even out.’”
According to Minda Berbeco of the NCSE, making these textbooks part of students’ curriculum for potentially the next 10 years would be a great disservice to education.
“Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead,” she said in a statement.
The Texas Board of Education will vote on whether or not to approve the 2015 textbooks this November.