The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Dr Jeffrey Barke’

“Teach the Controversy” Argument Used by Climate Change Deniers

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2011

You may know that one of the most common arguments used by creationists as they attempt to push their fundamentalist religious beliefs in the public schools is the “teach the controversy” strategy.  In this argument, creationists claim there is some kind of scientific “controversy” about the theory of evolution, as if scientists are in disagreement about the theory when in fact quite the opposite is true – there is broad acceptance of evolution among biologists.  This style of argumentation is widely recognized for what it is: an attempt to delegitimize science in the public schools because of a rigidly held ideology.

Now it seems that recently there is another kind of anti-scientific ideology rearing its ugly head which is trying to use the same kind of “teach the controversy” approach: climate change denial.  And the use of “teach the controversy” in regards to climate change and global warming has now gone beyond mere rhetoric, because the climate change denialists are now pushing this tactic in public schools in the United States…

US school board teaches ‘the controversy’ on global warming

A school board in California has attracted headlines over the past few days for voting unanimously that a new environmental science class starting this autumn must include “multiple perspectives” on the science of global warming.

Four board members of the Los Alamitos Unified School District voted to list the class – which was taught to 15,000 public school students across California in 2008-09 (pdf of class description) – as a “controversial topic”, meaning the teacher must explain to the board annually how opposing views are to be taught.

Echoing similar efforts at school boards in other US states, the move has been criticised by some commentators. One parent of a pupil at Los Alamitos Unified School told the Orange County Register: “There is consensus in the field that we have global warming happening, it is getting warmer and it is related to what we are doing to the planet. That is not in dispute in the scientific community. It is in dispute in the political community. This is a science class. Teach science.” …

The writer of this article sat down to interview the architect of this anti-scientific move, Dr. Jeffrey Barke, and the conversation is very revealing.  I’ll include key excerpts below (the interviewer’s questions & comments are bolded and Dr. Barke’s follow) and follow them up with my comments.

What’s been the feedback since this news was first reported?

The feedback has been primarily from left-wing blogs and zealots who believe that to suggest there is a point of view to be discussed that is different to the dogma of global warming is, in and of itself, controversial. Our perspective simply was we had asked the teachers to present a balanced perspective to the children as it relates to a new course that we brought forward called Advanced Placement in Environmental Science. And this class is one that is most commonly offered at the universities, but some high schools offer it as well.
So, after reviewing the syllabus, we found a lot of information about global warming and man-caused effects on the environment etc. Our worry was the kids would be presented simply with one perspective and we wanted to make sure they had a balanced view so we simply updated a policy we already have on the books regarding controversial issues. It simply asks that when a class is taught containing potentially controversial issues that we ask the teacher not to get the kids to believe in a particular perspective or point of view, but simply that the teachers present both sides of the equation in a fair-and-balanced manner.

Ah, the “teach all views” argument.  The problem is that, in science, not all views are equal.  Science is not a process driven by simply expressing your point of view and then arguing over it, like in a high school debate.  In science, the most accepted views are those which are supported by experimental and observational evidence which can be explained by well-understood theories.  The opinion of the scientist (or in this case, the school board member) doesn’t really matter.  For example, read more here about how the climate science community is strongly in support of the consensus that global warming is happening and is heavily influenced by human activity.  When so many climate science experts are in such strong agreement, then it is a pretty fair bet the science is settled and there is no “alternate viewpoint” with any validity to present.

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