Weber State professors respond to climate misinformation spun by recent book

Monday , April 24, 2017 - 5:30 AM2 comments

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — When a book questioning the scientific consensus on climate change began showing up in several Weber State University professors’ mailboxes this month, they felt frustrated. Some even got mad.

Now, they’re going to use it as a tool to teach students and the public the facts.

The book, titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” was published by the Heartland Institute. It claims what its title suggests, despite the fact that 90 to 100 percent of climate scientists agree climate change is real, human-caused and warming the planet at an alarming rate. 

The Heartland Institute is a nonprofit think tank with funding ties to fossil fuel industries.

“The mailing of this book — which likely looks credible to someone unfamiliar with the science and resources included ... is disturbing,” said Alice Mulder, an associate professor of geography and director of Weber State’s Sustainability Practices and Research Center. “It's made me think that there ought to be a Hippocratic Oath equivalent for educators ‘to do no harm.’”

Carie Frantz, an associate professor of geochemistry and geobiology at the university, said she conducted an informal poll about the book among educators. 

“I know at least three science faculty at Weber State have received the (book), as have numerous colleagues of mine in earth and environmental science departments at other universities around Utah and the country,” she said. “In addition, several of my friends who teach at the K-12 level around the country have received them.”

The Heartland Institute intends to send the book to “25,000 teachers every two weeks until every public-school science teacher in the nation has a copy,” according to a report by PBS Frontline

The book attempts to debunk studies finding consensus among scientists about human-caused climate change and discredit findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. 

Dan Bedford, a geography professor at Weber State, also received a copy of the Heartland Institute book. 

“My reaction to seeing this book is rather mixed,” he said. “On the one hand, the whole idea of disseminating misinformation on a large scale about any scientific topic … that’s fundamentally problematic. I was upset about that.”

On the other hand, Bedford plans to use the book as a teaching tool. He recently co-authored a book of his own, titled “Climate Change: Examining the Facts.”

“I assign critical thinking exercises to students. If they can tell me what’s wrong (with an argument) they’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “I asked Heartland Institute to send me some more copies.”

Bedford also plans to educate the community on the science of climate change during a presentation called “Global Warming: A Toolkit for Dismantling Misinformation.”

The lecture is in response to the Heartland Institute book and will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25, at Elizabeth Hall, room 229, on Weber State University’s Ogden campus. The event is free and open to the public. 

Problems with the Heartland Institute’s book run the gamut, Bedford said, from using fake experts to logical fallacies to cherry-picking evidence. 

“Just about everything they’re presenting in this book is either flat-out false or misleading, based on things that are true but interpreted in misleading ways,” he said. “There’s really nothing in this book that’s accurate.”

Sending this climate change spin to thousands of educators can cause real harm, too. One in three high school and middle school teachers bring climate change denial into their curriculum, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Science Education, published in the journal Science in 2016.

“Certainly there’s very good reasons why the public, and that includes science teachers, would be less than clear on the real strength of the scientific consensus,” Bedford said. “Groups like the Heartland Institute have being working overtime to muddy the issue.”

For more information on the upcoming presentation, visit the event’s Facebook page

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter at @LeiaLarsen

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