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Austin Cline

Faux Skepticism in Defense of Corporate Interests

By June 3, 2012

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You are hopefully aware of the extent to which tobacco companies have manipulated science over the years to cast doubt on the negative health effects of smoking. You're also surely aware of the ways in which creationists misrepresent science and reality in order to promote their warped religious ideology.

And Global Warming Deniers? They are the freakishly deformed children of the two. Today, they are trying to get schools to teach "both sides" of the "debate" over climate change.

Children should be taught honestly what we know about climate change, as well as what we don't know and where the uncertainties lie. Yet a plan outlined in documents allegedly from Heartland would build a curriculum around statements such as "whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy" ...

There simply is no credible scientific alternative to the theory that humans are warming the atmosphere. In 2010, a survey of 1372 climate scientists found that 97 per cent of those who publish most frequently in the field were in no doubt.

They agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that human activity had caused most of Earth's warming over the second half of the 20th century. By comparison with these scientists, the climate expertise of the small group of contrarians was substantially lower ...

The approach is also strikingly similar to the "teach the controversy" campaign mounted by the Seattle-based think tank the Discovery Institute. A decade ago, it designed lesson plans for teachers that focused on weaknesses in evolutionary theory and presented "intelligent design" as a scientific alternative. ID proposes that facets of the living world were created by a supernatural "intelligent cause".

Source: New Scientist, February 25, 2012

It's not too hard for Global Warming Deniers to get a foothold in school curricula -- the reasons are the same for why creationists regularly have some luck. The standards for and content of teaching are set at local and state levels where it's easy to convince right-wing Christians that whatever they happen not to like at any given moment is really a satanic conspiracy that's being pushed by feminists, communists, atheists, and whichever other minority is currently being targeted for hate.

To call these Christians "gullible" would be an understatement. I wonder what would have happened if tobacco companies had figured out a way to depict smoking as a Christian duty that is being infringed upon by secular feminists and socialist liberals. I wonder if any conservative Christian leaders will stop and consider the implications of how easy it is for corporations to lead conservative Christians around by the nose and get them to become ferocious opponents of things that have nothing much to do with Christianity?

In 2010, South Dakota passed a non-binding resolution questioning the scientific consensus that temperatures are rising and calling for "balanced teaching of global warming".

In Louisiana, a 2008 law calls for "open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning".

Last year, the Los Alamitos school district, California, required teachers to present "a balance of viewpoints" on controversial issues. The school trustee who introduced the measure referred to his doubts about global warming. After an outcry by parents and teachers, the rule was modified.

In 2009, the Texas education board altered the state's science standards to require students to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming". A requirement that they "analyze the changes in Earth's atmosphere through time" was changed to read "analyze the changes in Earth's atmosphere that could have occurred through time".

The state could reject textbooks that do not meet its standards, says Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. As Texas is one of the nation's largest textbook purchasers, authors may feel pressure to include the new language or risk being dropped.

Once again, we're facing the same problems that we've encountered from right-wing Christians who want to water down teaching standards for science and history: if they can convince just the right places to adopt text books that lie and mislead, they will be able to get those texts into many more schools without ever having to invest time, effort, or money.

It's important to think about the fact that the science about climate change isn't the same as the political response to climate change. It's possible to agree that the climate is changing and that humans have pushed that along without also necessarily agreeing to how we should respond to this politically.

So why attack the science instead of the politics? I think it has to do with the prestige of science generally as well as a recognition that the science is pretty unequivocal. Attacking unwanted political policies may be possible, but it's harder when the science makes the situation look bad. It's easier, though, if you can portray the science as more equivocal.

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