Shining Light on Science Education’s Dark Age
by Gregory Wrightstone
The science teachers’ bureaucracy is driving climate education into an unquestioning adherence to unscientific methodology. The cost will be measured in students without facility for the more than 400-year-old scientific method and lacking the critical thinking necessary for sustaining civilization and advancing humankind.
Many observers of education have been concerned for some time about the state of science education in America. Teaching, it seems, has drifted from open inquiry to an indoctrination of students into a political agenda. Members of the science-based CO2 Coalition of Arlington, Virginia were concerned enough to launch an education initiative to provide scientific knowledge for elementary and middle school-age students without the climate alarm that permeates the public-school curriculum.
Their concern spiked to alarm with the publication of “The Teaching of Climate Science,” a position paper of the 40,000-member National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). In it, the NSTA advocates that teachers conform to the “consensus” opinion that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide will cause dangerous overheating of Earth. Possibly even worse than the promotion of “consensus” was their endorsement of censorship of any scientific information that deviates from the consensus groupthink.
A critical review of the NSTA Statement was recently completed by a select panel of CO2 Coalition experts and summarized in their publication Challenging the National Science Teaching Association’s Position Statement on Climate Change. The panel was comprised of some of the most esteemed scientists and experts in the field including three members of the National Academy of Sciences.
The review found that the NSTA’s Position Statement on Climate Change promotes the education of students through indoctrination instead of critical thinking skills and the scientific method. Throughout the document, promotion of “consensus” is advanced, while all dissenting scientific facts are censored or derided.
Instead of promoting conformity and indoctrination, the largest science teacher’s organization in America should be promoting an open debate on scientific matters, including climate change. What is correct in science is not determined by consensus but by experiment and observations. Historically, scientific consensuses have often turned out to be wrong. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with consensus. The frequent assertion that there is a consensus behind the idea that there is an impending disaster from climate change is not how the validity of science is determined. To quote the profoundly true observation of Michael Crichton:
“If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it is science, it isn’t consensus.”
Reliable scientific knowledge is determined by the scientific method, where theoretical predictions are validated by observations or rejected by failing to do so. Agreement with observations is the measure of scientific truth. Scientific progress proceeds by the interplay of theory and observation. Observations anchor understanding and weed out theories that do not work. This has been the scientific method for more than 400 years.
The objective of persons of science is to discern the truth. Unfortunately, the NSTA and too many climate scientists have abandoned that mission, and they have done so at great cost to their own institutions and to the reputation of science itself.
Science, as the Islamic mathematician and empiricist al-Haytham (965 to 1040 A.D.) could have told the NSTA, is not done by mere head count:
“The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any consensus, however venerable or widespread. Instead he questions what he has learned of it, applying to it his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he inspects and inquires and investigates and checks and checks and checks again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.”
Prof. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, incisively explained the scientific method and provided his thoughts on consensus in science:
“[W]e compare the result of [a theory’s] computation to nature…compare it directly with observations, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”
A primary role for the NSTA should be to develop critical thinking skills for students and to instill in them knowledge and use of the scientific method. Students should be encouraged to review all facts on a subject (in this case climate change) and make up their own minds rather than be indoctrinated into an established political agenda.
Unfortunately, the NSTA has taken a strong position that is antithetical to the scientific method, critical thinking and open scientific debate. Its position is one of censorship of any scientist or science that does not support the NSTA-approved “science.” In short, the NSTA Position Statement on Climate Change fails to delineate between real science and political science.
We respectfully urge the National Science Teaching Association to take to heart our commentary and return science education to the foundations of reason, open debate and tolerance for alternative thinking.
Perhaps Richard Feynman summarized it best, saying:
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
Gregory Wrightstone is a geologist; executive director of the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Va.; and author of “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know.”