Science Teachers’ Grasp of Climate Change Is Found Lacking

Feb 11, 2016

Photo credit: Max Reed

By John Schwartz

Most science teachers in the United States spend some time on climate change in their courses, but their insufficient grasp of the science as well as political factors “may hinder effective teaching,” according to a nationwide survey of the profession.

The survey, described in the current issue of the journal Science, found that teachers spent little time on the topic — just one to two hours on average over an academic year.

“It’s clearly not enough time to really provide students with a good scientific understanding,” said Eric Plutzer, the lead author of the paper and a professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University.

Many teachers also provide misinformation about climate change, the survey found. The evidence that human activity is a major cause of recent climate change is overwhelming, but 30 percent of the 1,500 teachers surveyed said they emphasized that recent global warming “is likely due to natural causes,” while 12 percent said they did not emphasize human causes. Half of that 12 percent said they did not discuss any causes at all.

Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.

The authors of the paper suggested that those teachers “may wish to teach ‘both sides’ to accommodate values and perspectives that students bring to the classroom.” The survey also found, however, that only 4.4 percent of teachers said that they had faced overt pressure from parents, school administrators or the community to teach about climate change.

Professor Plutzer, who is the academic director of Pennsylvania State’s survey research center, said that he and his colleagues were surprised by the level of ignorance the teachers showed in the survey, especially in describing the current state of scientific consensus on the topic.


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16 comments on “Science Teachers’ Grasp of Climate Change Is Found Lacking

  • Science is nowhere near as pure as some of the contributors to this site would like to think; this is because it is a social activity. Scientific research, funding and applications are all based in society, in social relationships, and above all in the social glue, money. This means that they involve bias, rivalry, stupidity, self interest, careerism and industrial and military appliucation.

    The huge investment by industry and politics in science has damaged the reputation of all scientists whether they are ethical, unethical or merely deluded. The sorry tale of industrial science, military science, mining science and quack medicine, all contribute to the public’s lack of confidence in the pronouncements of the scientific community – distrust which is all-too-often well founded. Pollution, ecological collapse, climate change, and adverse consequences from medicines, all happen on foot of assurances from scientists that all was safe. Nuclear bombs, downgraded uranium shells, jet fighters and bombers were all created by scientists. Dodgy drugs and medical disasters occur because of scientists.

    The usual answer is that most of this is due to technology, not science per se; a jesuitical excuse which is much the same as that given by Muslims for terrorism and Communists for Stalin. The public is very right to distrust the pronouncements of science, and with alienated powerlessness, poor education and the rantings of Fox news, who can blame them if they throw the baby out with the bathwater?



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  • @OP Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.

    The facts are, unless they have an understanding of astronomy and geology (two neglected subjects lacking specialist teachers), they will have little understanding of natural causes and natural cycles.
    http://www.sciencecourseware.org/eec/globalwarming/tutorials/milankovitch/

    They would also have to understand the more straight forward issues, of the physics of albedo, and the greenhouse effect, along with the physical geography/ climate science of climate belts.

    Those who have specialised in narrow detailed studies may well lack the broader view necessary to put the big picture together.
    Then there is the question of the shortage of qualified science teachers with any relevant qualifications, along with the pressures of workload preventing time being available for updating knowledge of current faster moving research.

    There is also the issue of those making appointments of teachers being scientific illiterates, who glean what they think is scientific knowledge from media comics and air-head TV commentators who grossly inflate the numbers and qualifications of the tome minority of descenting scientitists!



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  • eejit
    Feb 12, 2016 at 4:29 am

    Science is nowhere near as pure as some of the contributors to this site would like to think; this is because it is a social activity. Scientific research, funding and applications are all based in society, in social relationships, and above all in the social glue, money. This means that they involve bias, rivalry, stupidity, self interest, careerism and industrial and military application.

    While this exists in commercial products, it is simply irrelevant to the basic textbook stuff which I have listed in the previous comment.

    Suggestions that the problems of “Big-Pharma” etc. can be applied to science at this text-book level, is just sponsored media propagandist bunk, disinformation.



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  • The lack of knowledge of the science is understandable, Professor Plutzer said, because “very few current teachers had much exposure to climate science when they were in college.”.

    They’re supposed to be teaching science, which is never static; there are new discoveries all the time.

    Witness, gravitational waves; it took a hundred years, but they have now been discovered; as far as I can understand! However, tomorrow? Who knows!

    You at the back, wake up!



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  • eejit 197351

    The public is very right to distrust the pronouncements of science

    Extraordinary bunk and a deep misunderstanding of how science is sometimes hijacked and by whom and their entirely unscientific objectives. The problem is not the making of science or scientists, it is the result of too few scientists in political positions, as CEOs or CFOs in companies, of these in senior tech marketing positions, leading investment advisors to banks and other funding organisations, etc..

    Some countries are much better than others in seeking science degrees for upper management and political positions. The problem is as much the unfettered expression and acceptance of under-informed, often manipulative, opinion.



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  • Technical tip: How to use the new @ function

    The new @ function allows you to address specific users, but you do need to be a little careful with it.

    It works here the same way as on Twitter, i.e. you need to use the person’s user name, which may not be the same as the display name.

    To find the user name, let your cursor hover over the name displayed beside any comment by the user in question. A long link like this will appear at the bottom of your screen:

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/members/[USER NAME]/
    

    For the @ function you just need the final bit of the link, i.e. the user name – without the / before and after.

    It is important to get it right, as otherwise the notification of your comment will be sent to the wrong person, which they will obviously find annoying!

    The mods



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  • 9
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @moderator

    Thank you for pointing out this new function. BTW, one thing that might be useful to mention is that the function also has auto-complete. So typing in the @ character and the first letters of the user name will open a drop-down menu box from which the name can be selected. The function seems a little erratic and slow but basically works.

    Now on this topic, I believe that what Phil was refering to in a previous discussion (“this should be fairly easy to automate”) was not the ability to link to the user in general but rather to link to the specific post of that user in order for the readers to be able to easily link to the complete text of that post (and thus provide context for the reply). This would be particularly useful in the case of discussions with a large number of posts (and Zeus knows they do occur often here).

    Phil has an obvious grasp of Fireball code and immediately figured out how to do this. I found out how to do it but had to fumble for a while before I got it right. I have noticed some users have made attempts at it, failed and probably gave up. So I would like to illustrate how to do this. It’s actually very easy once you know how.

    First, by hovering the mouse over the timestamp text of the post right below the user name, the text of the link will appear at the bottom of your screen. For example, this is the link that appears when hovering over the timestamp of your post:

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/02/science-teachers-grasp-of-climate-change-is-found-lacking/#li-comment-197368

    Just right-click and select “Copy Link” from the drop-down menu. Next, type in the text you want to be highlighted in orange in between brackets, for example:

    [@Moderator-197368]

    Then immediately following that, paste the link you copied previously and enclose it between parentheses. The complete line of code should look this:

    [@Moderator-197368](https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/02/science-teachers-grasp-of-climate-change-is-found-lacking/#li-comment-197368)

    And the actual result in your post will look like this and link to the user’s post:

    @Moderator-197368



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  • Alan4Discussion: Suggestions that the problems of “Big-Pharma” etc. can be applied to
    science at this text-book level, is just sponsored media propagandist
    bunk, disinformation

    Which is pretty much what I said! However the history of science, like any other history is littered with the things which I listed and the type of people who propagate them. Virtually all science activity is infused with the results of corporate money, government interference, military spending etc, as I’m sure you would know better than me, having worked in the area. Alas there are too many scientists who are willing to take the money and do the work, I haven’t heard the figures lately, but at one time 40% of them were working in military related activities.

    My point is that with the goings-on in the scientific community, and the general bias of the right wing media, it’s little surprise that science is rejected by the poor, the ill-educated and the powerless.

    I hope that my remarks didn’t upset you too much.



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  • eejit
    Feb 12, 2016 at 11:18 am

    I hope that my remarks didn’t upset you too much.

    Don’t worry about it!

    The point I was making is that :

    Milankovitch theory describes the collective effects of changes in the Earth’s movements upon its climate, named after Serbian geophysicist and astronomer Milutin Milanković, who in the 1920s had theorized that variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit determined climatic patterns on Earth through orbital forcing.

    The Earth’s axis completes one full cycle of precession approximately every 26,000 years. At the same time, the elliptical orbit rotates more slowly. The combined effect of the two precessions leads to a 21,000-year period between the astronomical seasons and the orbit. In addition, the angle between Earth’s rotational axis and the normal to the plane of its orbit (obliquity) oscillates between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees on a 41,000-year cycle. It is currently 23.44 degrees and decreasing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles

    It is neither controversial, recent, American, or in any way related to modern competitive big business! It is basic text-book astronomy!



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  • I’m sorry and a little shocked to hear that Richard Dawkins has suffered a minor stroke; he hasn’t signed my copy of “The Extended Phenotype” yet.

    I mean that in the same spirit that Spike MiIligan did when Peter Sellers had a cardiac arrest, and Milligan said to him: “Don’t you dare die, you still owe me two and six.”.

    All the very best for a swift and full recovery sir.

    You’re needed in the continuing battle to rid science of the “flees” annoyingly buzzing around its works.



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  • The over-production and fall in oil prices can actually benefit the climate in the long term, as it is forcing exploration companies to cut back on new developments.

    It looks like the half-hearted attempts by the cartel to cap supplies, will fail.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35593628
    Iran’s Opec envoy is reported as saying it is “illogical” for it to join the oil output freeze agreed by a Russian and Saudi Arabian-led group on Tuesday.

    Mehdi Asali, quoted in the Iranian newspaper, Shargh, said Iran will continue to increase oil production until it reaches pre-sanction levels.

    Venezuela’s oil minister is due to hold talks in Tehran to broker a deal with Iran and Iraq on Wednesday.

    Iran has only just restarted oil exports after sanctions were lifted.

    The move by four countries, including Venezuela and Qatar, is the first of its kind in 15 years.

    It is designed to reflate oil prices, which have sunk by about 70% from their recent peak of $116 in June 2014 thanks to oversupply as the global economy slows down.

    The plan though failed to convince oil traders.

    The “freeze” in output at January levels simply allows oil producers to continue pumping at record levels.

    This should also have the beneficial effect of cutting the available money available to the world’s carbon polluters, and to some rather nasty regimes which are sponsoring wars and terrorism!



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  • This should also have the beneficial effect of cutting the available money available to the world’s carbon polluters, and to some rather nasty regimes which are sponsoring wars and terrorism!

    How sweet it was to see these latter suffer a 50% pay cut.



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