Heartland Replies to ‘Science’

Published August 10, 2011

The August 5 issue of Science, the venerable journal published by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, contains an article by Sara Reardon that discusses the controversy over how climate change is presented in K-12 science classrooms.

First, the good news: Ms. Reardon reports that an informal survey of members of the National Earth Science Teachers Association found “climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators.” This is great news, since it reveals that parents are rising up against the bias and sheer propaganda that often masquerade as science when climate is discussed in schools.

More good news: “Some teachers … called climate change ‘just a theory like evolution’ or said they firmly believed that opposing views should be presented with equal weight.” We can only wish more teachers recognized this is the proper way climate should be addressed.

The bad news is that Ms. Reardon refers to anyone expressing reservations about the certainty of predictions of man-made global warming as “climate change deniers.” This is inaccurate, as no one, least of all those who ask questions about the theory of man-made global warming, deny that climate changes. It is also a kind of name-calling that should be below the dignity of a science journal. Is Ms. Reardon intentionally comparing global warming “skeptics” to Holocaust deniers? It surely seems to appear that way. Shame on her.

Ms. Reardon claims some teachers “feel” that “science courses should reflect the best scientific knowledge of the day, and offering opposing views amounts to teaching poor science.” These teachers need to study the issue more closely: Opposing views are pervasive in the scientific literature on climate change, and surveys show there is no agreement – no consensus – on many of the most important issues in the debate.

Ms. Reardon quotes an environmental activist saying that staging debates over climate change “is madness.” Amazingly, Ms. Reardon quotes this statement in a context that implies her approval. Shame again.

Ms. Readon then refers to a mailing conducted by The Heartland Institute in 2009 of a publication titled “The Skeptic’s Handbook,” by Joanne Nova, which Heartland mailed to the presidents of every public school board in the U.S. This was one of a series of mailings we did and continue to do to educators and school board members in the U.S. as well as in Canada.

But how does Ms. Reardon refer to The Heartland Institute? As a 27-year-old national nonprofit research and education organization? As a widely recognized and respected source of objective analysis on a wide range of topics, backed by advisory boards of more than 300 academics and elected officials? Or perhaps as a principled advocate of free-market ideas supported by the voluntary contributions of some 1,800 donors?

No, none of this. Ms. Reardon apparently believes the only thing readers need to know about Heartland can be expressed in six words: Heartland “has received significant funding from Exxon-Mobil.” That’s it. No information about how much support we received (never more than 5 percent of our budget), or when we received it (not since 2006, three years before the mailing to school board presidents took place).

These facts are readily available on our Web site and we’ve repeated them again and again when others have tried to attack our funding sources, rather than the veracity of our research. It isn’t good journalism to conceal these facts from readers, is it? Shame on Ms. Reardon once more.

The reason the teaching of climate change is so controversial is because environmental advocates, many of them coming from the liberal end of the political spectrum, are using the subject to advance their political agendas. The goal should be to get politics out of the classroom, not protect it by banning debate and censoring objective sources of research.

Groups such as The Heartland Institute and scientists such as David Legates and Willie Soon (who also are mentioned in the article) are attempting to return the debate to real science. K-12 teachers who are looking for balanced and scientifically rigorous information on climate change can find it on one of Heartland’s Web sites, www.heartland.org/issues/environment, or at any of the Web sites and blogs listed there.