Assigned Readings Show Teacher’s Alarmist Prejudice

Published June 1, 2008

A detailed look at several of the articles apparently consulted by students in the sixth grade classroom of teacher Michael Steria at David A. Brown Middle School in Wildomar, California suggests the extent of the indoctrination inflicted on the children.

Diesel Fumes Blamed

The students were taught diesel fumes from automobiles contribute to global warming and dangerously impair lung function in asthmatics. One student wrote, “Then here are the effects of G.W. Diesel traffic makes asthma worse….” (Note that all transcriptions are presented as the students wrote and sent them, without corrections.) Another wrote, “Diesiel traffic makes asthma worse. Kids with asthma might die from diesiel chemicals.”

Another student wrote, “A total of 60 adults half with mild asthma and half with moderate asthma, walked for 2 hours along Oxford street, where only buses and taxis are allowed, and then on a separate occasion walked for 2 hours in traffic free Hyde park.”

This is taken almost verbatim from a December 6, 2007 article published by the BBC under the headline “Diesel traffic makes asthma worse,” which stated, “A total of 60 adults, half of them with mild asthma and half with moderate asthma, walked for two hours along Oxford Street, where only buses and taxis are allowed, and then on a separate occasion walked for two hours in traffic-free Hyde Park.” The only change made by the student is the addition of misspellings and other errors.

The article cites a study finding impaired lung function in the 60 asthmatic adults. The study noted three chemical constituents in diesel fuel emissions–particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon–but did not try to link lung impairment to any one of them in particular, although the researcher evidently considered particulate matter a likely culprit.

Study Misinterpreted

The article and apparently the study itself do not mention global warming. Steria apparently included it because it mentions carbon, part of the molecule constituting the most famous of the greenhouse gases that climate change alarmists link to anthropogenic global warming. His students clearly got his message that diesel fuel is bad–even deadly.

Expert testimony last year in a Vermont global warming case, however, identified diesel as being favored over gasoline because its use reduces carbon dioxide emissions. So even if the study applied to global warming, students were misled regarding its significance.

Air Pollution and Fetuses

The students learned “air pollution” results in small fetuses and this is “very bad,” according to their letters. They evidently read an article about a study done at Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia, “The Effect of Ambient Air Pollution during Early Pregnancy on Fetal Ultrasonic Measurements during Mid-Pregnancy,” published in the Journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Many articles about this study appeared in January 2008.

The study evaluated the impact of four conventional air pollutants–particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide–on four fetal characteristics. Nitrogen dioxide was the only greenhouse gas whose effects were measured. The study found exposure to this gas had no impact on fetus size under any of the four measures.

So what is the relevance of this study to global warming? There clearly is none.

An unbiased science teacher should have had no trouble figuring that out.

Bird Extinction Myths

One student cited an article about the threatened extinction of 53 bird species due to global warming. The only article about this number of possible species extinctions came from ABC News on November 28, 2007: “53 Bird Species Face Extinction in S.C.”

The report concerned a watch list compiled by the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy for South Carolina. They found suburban sprawl–not global warming–was responsible.

Follow the Data

Another story the students appear to have consulted is “Natural Disasters ‘Quadruple’ Over 20 Years: Oxfam,” from November 25, 2007, by Reuters. The story is about a study issued by Oxfam, an international humanitarian aid organization.

The Oxfam report is titled Climate alarm disasters increase as climate change bites, and its main focus is to document the need for more donations for Oxfam’s aid to future disaster victims.

“The total number of natural disasters worldwide now averages 400-500 a year, up from an average of 125 in the early 1980s,” the Oxfam study states, citing a report written by the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).

The U.N. report is titled Disaster Risk Reduction: Global Review 2007 and focuses on information from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. CRED works in partnership with groups such as the Red Cross, ISDR, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

So the sixth graders learned disasters are rising based on data from Reuters based on data from Oxfam based on U.N. data based on CRED data. Not surprisingly, the data were incorrect. CRED’s own graphs indicate natural disasters have about doubled since the early 1980s, or a little more, and none of the reports discussed global warming as a culprit.

Failure to Teach

Steria missed a number of teachable moments, as this last case makes clear.

First, it presented an opportunity to teach students to consider the source. A report in which the author asks for more money and which contains no discussion of global warming science should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.

Second, students could have learned always to go to the original source, because data sometimes get distorted with each retelling.

Similarly, the California State Board of Education’s official Science Framework for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve recommends students be taught the scientific method and scientific ethics, which require that researchers be skeptical about their own hypotheses and try hard to disprove them.

Steria had a golden opportunity to implement these guidelines by teaching global warming science in a balanced way, thereby equipping his students to think analytically and critically. Those habits and skills would serve them well in future scientific careers and as citizens.

He blew it.

Maureen Martin

For more information …

“Diesel traffic makes asthma worse,” British Broadcasting Corporation:

“Global Disaster Trends,” Emergency Events Database: