Frontline on climate change denial

03.28.2017

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A climate-change-denial think tank's unsolicited mailing to science teachers was the topic of a story from Frontline (March 28, 2017).

The Heartland Institute — notorious for its billboard comparing climate change "believers" to the Unabomber — sent a book entitled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to 25,000 science teachers in March 2017, and its president told Frontline that a similar mailing will occur every two weeks until every public school science teacher in the nation is reached.

"The campaign elicited immediate derision from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a nonprofit in Oakland, California that monitors climate change education in classrooms," Frontline reported. "It's not science, but it's dressed up to look like science," NCSE's executive director Ann Reid explained. "It's clearly intended to confuse teachers."

Lori Baker, a sixth-grade science teacher in Indiana who received the mailing, wasn't confused. She found it dismaying, she told Frontline: "I read quite a bit of the book, actually, and it was extremely frustrating. It's an attempt to sound science literate, but there's very little actual data." She found the foreword's dismissal of the threat posed by climate change (as "laughable") to be shocking.

But Eric Plutzer of Pennsylvania State University, who led the NCSE/Penn State survey on climate change education (PDF) which found that one in three science teachers tell their students that the causes of recent climate change are under debate, told Frontline, "This could increase polarization within the science teaching profession, though probably not a great deal."

Greg Ballog, a high school teacher in Washington who received the mailing, was especially aware of the potential for polarization among science teachers. One of his colleagues, he told Frontline, is a "borderline climate denier," causing tensions in their school's science department. "I'm not going to show this stuff to him," Ballog said. "It's pretty slick. I think he might use it."

A similar mailing in 2013 from the Heartland Institute provoked NCSE to produce a brief rebuttal (PDF).