Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teaching The Global Warming Controversy

How do you "teach the controversy" at K-12? You'd have to have teachers get out of their "I know it best" comfort zones, that's for sure. Here's how it's done at one university:
However, I do have some insights and experience with regards to teaching the controversy at the college level. Let me share some of the things that we have been doing at Georgia Tech in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS).

Climate and Global Change

Peter Webster teaches a course on Climate and Global Change, that is taken by senior undergraduate students and also graduate students. More than half of the students from the class come from other fields (mostly engineering and biology). The course is primarily the science of climate dynamics.

The last two weeks are devoted to the climate change problem as framed by the IPCC. The students were shown 6 online (youtube) presentations: 3 from the consensus perspective, and 3 from the skeptic side: Pat Michaels, Bob Carter, Vincent Courtillot. I led a discussion on the movies. The general opinion of the students was that none of the presentations were wholly convincing, and that each had at least some good points. I asked which “side” did you find more convincing, the consensus or the skeptics? Most said “somewhere in the middle.”
The post continues after a few paragraphs:
Last week, Randy Olson, scientist turned film maker, visited Georgia Tech for a series of workshops, a lecture, and screening of his movie Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy.

This is the most balanced treatment of the global warming debate that I’ve seen. Its done in ‘mockumentary’ style, its funny yet insightful. It has a number of features that would appeal to high school and college audiences, including the hip-hop photographers and the flaky producers. It has a number of important, yet subtly made points: that there is a scientific debate, it is very easy to get distracted from the global warming issue to deal with more immediately relevant issues, and finally that the U.S. doesn’t know how to deal with such challenges (as exemplified by continuing problems in New Orleans).

People interviewed from the ‘warm side’:

Dr Jerry Meehl, NCAR climate scientist
Dr. Richard Somerville, Sripps climate scientist
Dr. Naomi Oreskes, History of Science Professor
Dr. Megan Owen, San Diego Zoo Research Dept
Julia Bovey, Natural Resource Defense Council

People interviewed from the ‘cool side:’

Dr. George Chillingarian, Professor of Petroleum Eng.
Dr. Bill Gray, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences
Dr. Steve Hayward, American Enterprise Institute
Dr. Pat Michaels, CATO Institute
Marc Morano, former staff member of Senator Inhofe
Dr. Fred Singer, Science and Environmental Policy Project

There are two different Trailers, see here and here. The Pat Michaels scene is here. The Marc Morano scene is here.

UNFORTUNATELY, the movie is not available on DVD or in movie theaters, apparently it is shown in special screenings. But this is an excellent example of teaching the controversy.
I don't have a problem with teaching the controversy. I think my side of this issue is stronger and would carry the day.

Update: In teaching the controversy, would you mention the environmental groups "in the pay of big oil and energy"??

Update #2, 2/25/12: In teaching the controversy, might you include this guy's views?
Professor Richard Lindzen is one of the world's greatest atmospheric physicists: perhaps the greatest. What he doesn't know about the science behind climate change probably isn't worth knowing. But even if you weren't aware of all this, even if you'd come to the talk he gave in the House of Commons this week without prejudice or expectation, I can pretty much guarantee you would have been blown away by his elegant dismissal of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

Dick Lindzen does not need to raise his voice. He does not use hyperbole. In a tone somewhere between weariness and withering disdain, he lets the facts speak for themselves. And the facts, as he understands them, are devastating.

Here's what he says about man-caused global warming:
Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about. It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is. It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is. It is not about whether the increase in CO2, by itself, will lead to some warming: it should. The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.
As they said on Battlestar Galactica--All this has happened before, and it will happen again.


Dean Baird said...

Teach the controversy to your heart's content. In a political studies class or some such.

We don't have time for such nonsense in standards-based science classes. There's simply too much real content to get to.

Here's nice, short video on why "Teach the Controversy" is untenable.

No time for astrology, geocentrism, luminiferous æther, intelligent design/creationism, or climate science denialism. At best we can bring these things up as rejected models and dissect the anatomy of their failure. But that's the only pedagogical value they hold.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Oh, I see what you tried to do there slipping in "climate science denialism" as if almost an afterthought.

Now, you do understand how this "science" stuff works, right? Not by consensus or by some critical volume of peer-reviewed articles in professional journals but by having experimental or observational evidence that supports your hypothesis.

Oh, and among scientists what you're trying so hard to dismiss as "denialists" are called critics. As in "gee, faster then light neutrinos?, Dang, better check a couple of cable connections because I'm a faster-then-light-neutrino denialist".

Dean Baird said...

Wow. Allen. Good for you. By the way, when *was* it that FTL neutrinos had gained status as settled science?

No, please: go back and read the articles. The scientific community looked at OPERA's finding as anomalous because it fell outside the accepted model. Amusing? Yes. Thought-provoking? Perhaps. But most likely in error.

Since OPERA was a scientific endeavor, scientists looked for an error they presumed to be there. Unfair, I know. They were biased against something that didn't conform to their "belief system." Nonetheless, an excellent error candidate was found. It appears Relativity can remain in future textbooks.

The FTL neutrino episode was an excellent example of science doing what science does: it's great at killing off wrong.

And I hate to be the one to tell you this, but astrologers, creationist, psychics, geocentrists, climate change deniers, moon hoaxters, truthers, anti-vaxxers, and their ilk are not referred to as "critics" among scientists. The terminology reserved for such crowds is somewhat less charitable.

allen(in Michigan) said...

I know you're anxious to change the subject, Dean but there's no such thing as "settled science". It's just a phrase cooked up to indicate that a taboo's in operation and the unwary should steer clear.

And since there isn't any such thing as settled science the only impediment to heading off in the direction indicated by FTL neutrinos was the Newton's First Law of Motion as it pertains to science. If there'd been subsequent, independent confirmation of the phenomenon that's exactly what the scientific community would have done.

Just that dynamic was observable when Albert Einstein published his work on general relativity and some bewhiskered physicists of that time went to their graves refusing to be taken in by a Swiss patent clerk. But the experimental and observational data supported Einstein and the consensus, as I've already written, followed.

Global warming advocates, by contrast, have no observational or experimental confirmation to point to which is why you're reduced to trying pass off various lesser expedients. Consensus doesn't make science, neither does some critical mass of peer-reviewed literature nor does describing a hypothesis as "settled science" substitute for confirmation. Either you've got the confirmation or you don't and those substitutes you try to pass off as confirmation make it unmistakeably clear that you don't.