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"'Teach the Controversy' Comes to Climate Science"

Mark McCaffreyMark McCaffrey

"A flurry of bills that critics say would allow climate change denial to be taught in public schools have been moving through state legislatures throughout the United States," reported ClimateWire (March 6, 2013). Citing laws in place in Louisiana and Tennessee, as well as Arizona's Senate Bill 1213, Kansas's House Bill 2306, and Oklahoma's Senate Bill 758 and House Bill 1674, the article attributed the push for such legislation to the Discovery Institute — a judgment shared by NCSE's Glenn Branch in his recent column for DeSmogBlog (February 28, 2013).

"The Discovery Institute's pet issue is not climate change but evolution," ClimateWire observed. A spokesperson for the Discovery Institute said that although it takes no position on climate change, "we definitely have a position on whether or not there should be investigation in schools on that subject," and claimed that the legislation it favors would "give teachers the right to teach both sides of a scientific controversy," providing legal protection for educators who might want to introduce "other sides of the topic" to students.

But NCSE's Mark McCaffrey told ClimateWire, "The bottom line is that these type of bills provide cover — a Trojan horse, if you will — for teachers to act as if there is controversy when there isn't, to present both sides in a way that makes them look equal." He observed that climate science is already not adequately presented in K-12 education, citing a 2011 report that showed that fewer than one in five teens felt "very well informed" on global warming, and that more than two-thirds think they have not learned a great deal about climate change in school.

McCaffrey described legislation aimed at encouraging the misrepresentation of climate change as scientifically controversial as the product of a "counter-movement, dedicated to fostering confusion and doubt and delay around having an adult conversation around climate change." "We've heard stories of teachers showing a clip from 'An Inconvenient Truth' and a clip from 'The Great Global Warming Swindle,' and the students come away confused," he commented. "That's not a good way to teach science."