James Hansen and Michael McCracken – two extremely prominent and vocal climate scientists – have rallied behind a US high-school senior who questioned statements in his civics textbook that play up scientific uncertainty on global warming. Now the book’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin, is promising to reassess its accuracy (AP, Dot Earth, Grist, Treehugger). From the AP:
Legal scholars and top scientists say the teen’s criticism is well-founded. They say “American Government” by conservatives James Wilson and John Dilulio presents a skewed view of topics from global warming to separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level Advanced Placement courses used in high schools.
The student, Matthew LaClair, was already an experienced secondary-ed whistleblower, having taped and exposed religious comments his history teacher made in class last year. He contacted the Center for Inquiry, a pro-science think tank, to point out passages like:
“Science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all.”
“The earth has become warmer, but is this mostly the result of natural climate changes, or is it heavily influenced by humans putting greenhouse gases into the air?”
Some wording that LaClair highlighted from the 2005 textbook used in his class was toned down in a more recent edition. For example, “Science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all,” was changed to simply “Science doesn’t know how bad the greenhouse effect is.” Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth parses this:
As we’ve written many times, the climate system’s response to rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations remains laden with uncertainty. A doubling of concentrations from the long-term ceiling of 280 parts per million for carbon dioxide before the industrial revolution would most likely raise global temperatures 3.6 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit, by the latest I.P.C.C. analysis. So in that legalistic sense, it’s true that science hasn’t defined “how bad” climate change will be.
And that’s about the best you can say of these passages, as Revkin, Hansen, McCracken and the Center for Inquiry all make clear in their point-by-point critiques. A response from Houghton Mifflin posted by Revkin falls well short of addressing the problem: the book’s authors are describing a climate debate that sounds almost nothing like the IPCC‘s painstakingly agreed reports. Instead, as Hansen wrote, “these statements are aimed at giving students the mistaken impression that the scientific evidence of global warming is doubtful and uncertain” – a strategy that’s familiar to Hansen.