A few days ago I posted over at Parentables about the effort to defend climate science education from politically motivated attacks. It was prompted by a story over at Forbes on efforts by the National Center for Science Education to support educators being pressured by political interests to misrepresent the current state of scientific knowledge on climate change.
Here's a little of what I wrote:
Science is not a popularity contest and it is not an exercise in who shouts the loudest. It is a rigorous analysis of the evidence available - undertaken by people with the knowledge and expertise to analyze that evidence. If my kid learns about neuroscience in school, I want the curriculum to be informed by experts in the field of neuroscience. (They may be the brain surgeons of the future after all.) Likewise climate science. Our children's future already looks like it may be defined by crisis. We must fight those who want to keep them in the dark.
Almost on cue, I received a comment linking to the Koch-funded CATO institute, and over on Facebook the discussion started with the assertion that evidence for climate change is largely "made up". It was the perfect illustration of the point of my article - because I was not setting out to discuss climate science.
To Debate Climate Science is to Miss the Point
Now my detractors and I could have spent a merry few hours trading links to websites we do or do not agree with, based largely on our political leanings and pre-selected biases (yes, I have those too). This could rightly be called a debate, and is an important part of the free speech we all cherish. But where we get into trouble is when people mistake these virtual shouting matches for science.
The whole point of the scientific process is to move beyond, as much as is humanly possible, the political and cultural biases that every human being has, and to instead encourage rational, objective analysis of the evidence at hand. That process requires a thorough understanding of the discipline in question. To assume that we can decide major scientific questions according to the rules of a high school debating society is to turn our back on the very notion of science as the pursuit of greater knowledge. And to allow that to influence how and what we teach our kids in school is nothing less than a dangerous threat to our society.
When schools draw up their science curriculum, should Christopher Monckton (above) be given equal consideration as the National Academy of Sciences, given that Monckton himself believes non-scientists shouldn't talk climate science? And if the answer is yes, should we apply similar logic to other fields of knowledge? Should we teach the moon landings giving "equal balance" to the folks who say they never happened at all? Should we teach about 9/11 giving an equal balance to the "truthers"? What about evolution? Should we teach about chemtrails at the same time we teach our kids how an airplane works? Or should we just have a gigantic American Idol-style competition in which we vote for which is our nation's favorite take on each subject at hand?
To suggest that we can modify our science education because a sizeable portion of the public - untrained in the field in question - has come to believe that there is a gigantic, global conspiracy of scientists working for one world government is as absurd as it is disgraceful.
By all means let's discuss the role of corporate and government money in science. (Giving due weight to the role that oil money plays in that process.) But if skeptics have new evidence that can shift our understanding of climate change itself, and thus shift what is taught in our schools, then the only ethical, effective or sensible way of presenting that evidence is to engage in the rigorous, disciplined and peer-reviewed process known as science.
I realize that's inconvenient. But it's the way it is. The scientific establishment may not be perfect. But it's a whole lot better than the partisan blogosphere.