Activists Make Embarrassing Errors Attacking Texas Climate Texts

Published October 1, 2014

The climate activist group National Center for Science Education embarrassed itself last month by making basic errors attacking climate science in Texas.

NCSE objected to proposed science textbooks that note many scientists question key components of alarmist global warming theory. NCSE’s attack on the science claimed educational textbooks should state there is no scientific debate on the causes of recent global warming.

The global warming activist group expressed particular outrage that science texts encourage students to consider competing scientific theories and make up their own minds. In a section titled “What do you think?” the textbook presents an argument from the United Nations that human greenhouse gas emissions were almost certainly the primary cause of warming during the late 20th century. The textbook also presents an observation published by the Heartland Institute that many scientists say the verdict is still out on the causes and natural factors may have played a major role.

NCSE justified its attack on the textbook by claiming 97 percent of scientists disagree that natural factors may have played a significant role in late 20th century warming. “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,” claimed NCSE. To support its claim, NCSE cited two sources. One source was an exercise by several global warming activists in which they subjectively rated papers for whether the papers explicitly or implicitly supported their own belief that humans are causing some global warming. The other source was a survey of merely 77 primarily government-affiliated scientists regarding whether human activity is a “significant contributing factor” to global warming.

Even overlooking the obvious flaws in the methodology of the two NCSE-cited sources, the observation published by the Heartland Institute is not at all at odds with the NCSE sources’ findings. The observation published by the Heartland Institute reports many scientists say natural factors may have played a major role in late-20th century warming. The two sources cited by NCSE merely asserted human factors (not exclusively limited to greenhouse gas emissions) may have also been a “significant contributing factor” to late-20th century warming. The NCSE attack fails the proverbial “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” test because even most fifth graders would realize a “significant” human contribution to warming does not exclude other significant factors, including factors that may be even more significant.

In short, NCSE grossly misrepresented the results of two methodologically flawed surveys to falsely claim the surveys exclude the possibility of a significant natural contribution to late 20th century warming. NCSE’s appeals to authority rather than scientific facts would be weak enough even if the authorities were properly cited, but NCSE’s appeals are especially embarrassing because the “authorities” are not even properly cited.

NCSE’s embarrassing errors might be excused as mere ignorance if not for the activist group’s agenda-driven purpose. Unlike the Heartland Institute, whose scholars strive to adhere to the science wherever the science takes them, NCSE has a predetermined agenda to shut down scientific discussion and debate on climate change. That is why the Heartland Institute sees value in allowing students to assess the scientific arguments and make up their own minds, while NCSE seeks to silence scientific inquiry and instead dictate to students what they should think.

[First published at Forbes.]