Would A Climate Denier Apologise?

Imagine for the sake of a brief thought experiment that the year is 2200. Climate change has unravelled with 10 degrees of warming around the globe.

The seas have risen many metres, subsuming the great cities of today: London, New York, Shanghai, Cape Town. Severe drought and desertification have resulted in famine, international war over increasingly scarce resources, plagues, mass deaths and the breakdown of civilisation.

There are perhaps remaining just a few hundred million human beings: starving, illiterate, and traumatised by war and its accompanying horrors. Cannibalism is a survival technique and the most bestial and inhuman have survived.

States Continue To Push For Anti-Climate and Anti-Evolution Curriculum Laws

It looks like Tennessee can add another dumb law to join the ranks of other special ones such as being able to shoot whales out of a car, marrying your cousin, and not being allowed to carry skunks into the state or electrifying your trash. It now joins Louisiana in being one of the only two states to have anti-evolution and anti-climate laws in effect.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) recently posted their yearly anti-science legislation scorecard. It tallies up all the bills that states tried to pass over the past year attempting to interpose more “objectivity” into science curriculum.

Normally objectivity in science isn't a bad thing, in fact it's quite necessary and essential. However, these state legislatures' brand of objectivity means questioning well-proven theories like evolution and climate change, which are supported by mounds of evidence and have earned consensus among (legitimate) scientists.

Recall that a “theory” in science has a different connotation than when everyday people use it. A scientific theory has been rigorously tested and reviewed by multiple experts by the time it's assigned that label.

Does PolitiFact Adequately Cover Scientific Misinformation? Well, Sort Of

I’ve been harping a lot lately on the fact-checkers, like PolitiFact, and how they too often fall for a type of phony journalistic “balance” that those of us who practice science journalism as a trade have long abhorred.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe the deep difference between science journalism and political journalism is part of the core reason why political fact-checkers seem so often to do their job as if politics is a horse race–striving to regularly ding Democrats, even when Republicans are really ginning up the vast majority of the most severe and systemic political falsehoods.

After all, as a science journalist, I’ve come to denounce media “balance” on issues like evolution and global warming precisely because…well, because I know how to report on the science of evolution and global warming. And knowing how to report on that science has, in turned, shown me how solid our body of knowledge in these areas really is—and thus, how extensively out of touch conservatives are.

But learning how to practice journalism in this way—well, that takes some doing. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a journalistic speciality.

So if political fact checkers don’t really know much about how to report on science—one of the chief areas in which Democrats and Republicans are unequal when it comes to spewing misinformation—then perhaps it's no wonder they're so prone to falling for phony “balance.” They simply haven’t had the behavior drilled out of their heads enough, through reporting on issues where “balance” just isn't an option.

I wanted to test this idea, so here’s what I did. I went to PolitiFact and searched its archives for the word “evolution,” just to see how often the site had grappled with a very prominent scientific issue where Republicans and conservatives have an overwhelming tendency to be factually incorrect and make false claims–and where, by any stretch, a “balanced” approach is utterly inappropriate.

The Coming Classroom Climate Conflict

I’ve just completed a trip out to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado—a town that’s in many ways the chief hub for our country’s climate scientists, as well as for a variety of other researchers (especially on weather and renewable energy) and many science education specialists. My visit was focused on science communication, but another theme kept coming up: climate science education, and the conflicts arising therein.

A lot of people out here seem worried about growing resistance to climate science teaching in schools. It was a regular topic of conversation, and at the end of my public talk, one audience member asked whether there needs to be an equivalent of the National Center for Science Education for the climate issue. (The National Center for Science Education is the leading organization defending the teaching of evolution in the U.S.). And no wonder: This state has already seen one of the most direct attacks on climate education yet—although it seems to have fizzled.

Evolution and Climate Science: Fellow Travelers in U.S. Public Schools

Thanks to Joe Romm, I just became aware of the latest effort to undermine evolution education in the U.S.—and to denigrate climate science education as well. It’s a new bill in Oklahoma, but it fits a pattern that anti-science forces have already employed successfully in Louisiana and Texas. As the National Center for Science Education explains of the new Oklahoma bill:

Entitled the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” SB 320 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies” and permit teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

What are the existing scientific theories pertinent to human cloning that need to be understood, analyzed, critiqued, and reviewed? Are the people who write these things even remotely clued in to the issues involved?

But I digress.

The big point here is that increasingly, evolution and climate change are being tied together in attacks on science education.

When the Right spins Darwin there’s bound to be trouble

If intelligent design wasn’t strange enough, the right-wing is now looking to use Darwin and evolution to spin climate change. Charles Darwin

Thomas Brewton at the Conservative Voice has decided to make the illogical leap of faith (read: spin) between scientific predictions of mass flooding, intensified storm, wildfires and drought caused by global warming and the concept of catastrophism, defined as “… the doctrine that at intervals in the earth’s history all living things have been destroyed by cataclysms and replaced by an entirely different population.”
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