This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US. Reports Zahra:
Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…
Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.
Perhaps a testament to the Orwellian world we seem to be inhabiting lately in this nation, Heartland Institute —I quote Zahra’s report: “a conservative think tank that lobbies against climate regulation, has received funding from fossil fuel-linked groups, and lauded President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement“— makes no bones about their intention.
Heartland does not dispute that the purpose of the mailers, which included the organization’s book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, was to encourage teachers to challenge mainstream climate science.
“The intent was to make sure teachers were aware that there was alternative scientific research,” Heartland spokesperson Jim Lakely told BuzzFeed News.
“Alternative Scientific Research”… Like the current phrases du jour, “alternative facts” and “alternative reality”.
This brought a bit of history back to my mind. Climate denialists seem to have imbibed well the playbook of noted Turkish evolution-denialist, Harun Yahya, a.k.a. Adnan Oktar. In 2007, Yahya sent out, unsolicited, his glossy, splendidly illustrated, attractively-printed, near 800-page tome on creationism, named ‘Atlas of Creation’, by the hundreds to tenured biological science professors in US medical schools, Congress members, and some science museums, as well as elsewhere in Europe. I first learnt about it from a blog post by U Minnesota Biology Professor & science blogger extraordinaire, PZ Myers, who wrote later that he ended up getting two copies of Yahya’s Atlas.
Purveyors of climate-denying pseudoscience appear to have adopted the same technique. The difference is, Yahya’s book had a snowflake’s chance in hell in turning esteemed bio profs who knew their stuff, whereas now, in this current situation, climate-denialists are attempting to warp the minds of school teachers, and via them, entire next generations. It worries me greatly, especially since individual school teachers may not have the seasoned fortitude and tenacity of grizzly bio professors in universities, which would enable them to withstand this blatant anti-science push.
We already have plenty of educated, but misinformed and misguided, people pushing anti-science, anti-reason stuff into the general populace. We could do without this additional attempt to destroy the minds and critical thinking abilities of our kids. My worries come from a personal experience.
For years, I have served as a volunteer judge to evaluate the entries in a specific science-tech competition held nationwide for schoolchildren, grades 6-9. Over the years the entries have been quite diverse —from simple to complex, entertaining to boring, haphazard to well-organized, from barely adequate to great— and I have greatly enjoyed this unpaid duty as my one of my contributions to science and society.
2017 is the first time in all these years that I found entries built on blatant anti-GMO, fact-free propaganda, with references to —wait for it!— NaturalNews(!), WingNut Daily(!) and other websites of their ilk. (Participants are required to cite the sources for the material they incorporate into their science projects for this competition.) Which means, somehow, via teachers (and/or parents, with no corrective steps taken by teachers), the rank pseudoscience peddled by these sites are finding their way into the classrooms. As a STEM professional & science education-aficionado, this bothers me enormously, and I do feel we need to counter these efforts with all our attention. Because this nation’s future literally depends on having a well-informed, scientifically-literate citizenry.