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Think tank challenges climate change with mass mailing to science teachers

Students from Minuteman Career and Technical High School of Lexington, Massachusetts, learn about the effects of shoreline erosion at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts with the National Park Service's Climate Change Response team. Photo: NPS via Flickr
Students from Minuteman Career and Technical High School of Lexington, Massachusetts, learn about the effects of shoreline erosion at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts with the National Park Service's Climate Change Response team. Photo: NPS via Flickr

Matthew Fox is a high school science teacher in California. Recently, he received materials about climate change in his school mailbox. He tried to put aside his feelings and look for the evidence in the booklet. After all, Fox must teach his own students how to look at the world like a scientist, without letting personal opinions or bias interfere. 

Fox was part of the first wave of 25,000 science teachers in March who received an unrequested package from the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank. It is a conservative group who thinks the government should be less involved in people's lives. It does not believe humans play a role in climate change. While many people agree that climate change is happening, some people do not think humans are responsible. Instead, they argue that climate change is just a natural part of the Earth's warming and cooling cycles. 

The package contains a booklet titled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming." It also included a DVD and a cover letter. The letter encourages educators to teach their students that a lively debate over climate change continues to take place among scientists.

“None of my colleagues were fooled. I think we are all very aware of the limitations of what we know now, because it obviously is a relatively new subject,” said Fox, admitting that scientists still have much to learn about climate change. However, he said that the arguments in Heartland's booklet did not make sense.

Majority Of Climate Scientists Believe Humans Are The Cause

Most climate scientists, about 97 percent of them, say humans are the primary cause of climate change. The booklet argues that these scientists do not exist. It also describes several climate change studies in order to point out their flaws. 

“When someone says there’s no debate and there shouldn’t be a debate, they’re actually denying the scientific method,” said Lennie Jarratt. He is Heartland’s manager of the Center for Transforming Education. Scientists constantly review and revise their research, he added.

People have different responses to the booklet, Jarratt said. “A ton of vitriol of people calling us crazy, and teachers requesting more books so they can give them to other teachers.” The materials continue to be sent out. According to Jarratt, Heartland wants to reach 300,000 public and private school science teachers as well as college professors across the country. 

Heartland’s efforts to bring doubt to human-made climate change have caught national attention before. It put up a billboard in 2012 featuring an image of Ted Kaczynski. Known as the "Unabomber" for his attempts to bomb universities and airplanes, Kaczynski is a convicted serial killer and terrorist serving several life sentences in prison. He is responsible for the deaths of three people. Under his image, the billboard said, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”

Heartland's Sources Were Unreliable

As Fox read through the Heartland booklet, he said it became evident that it contained too many conclusions based on incomplete information. In addition, many of the booklet's sources were weak or unreliable.

Many of the booklet's sources link to blogs. Blogs are personal websites that do not have other people checking or editing the content. The booklet also uses Heartland’s own website instead of outside studies, according to the National Center of Science Education, or NCSE, a nonprofit organization that monitors political interference in science education. Along with other science education groups, the NCSE has been speaking out about the Heartland packet. It says it is inappropriate for the science classroom since the information is not backed by scientific evidence.

“It’s a nefarious act to try to slip this kind of politically motivated attack on science into the science classroom,” said Ann Reid. She is the NCSE’s executive director. She thinks Heartland's mailings are underhanded and sneaky. “It is the same old tired arguments suggesting that the climate science is unsettled that they’ve been pushing for a long time.”

Making Things Harder For Science Teachers

Understanding science is fundamentally an education issue, said David Evans. He is the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. Evans spent 40 years as a scientist before moving into science education.

More political pressure is being put on science teachers to remove references to human-made climate change. In addition, the current presidential administration wants to stop funding environmental protections. As a result, teachers, the ones on the front lines, need to know they are supported, Evans said.

In what he sees as an increasingly “anti-science society,” Evans tells teachers to “stay focused on the science.”

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Anchor 5: Text Structure

The author uses the introduction [paragraphs 1-4] to:


emphasize Fox's first reaction to the booklet


inform that climate change is over


present ways to solve fake stories


help students understand politics

Anchor 5: Text Structure

WHY does the author include the section "Heartland's Sources Were Unreliable"?


It lists popular science blogs on the Internet.


It compares blogs with books for researching.


It gives teachers additional teaching tools.


It explains that blog sourcing is mostly unreliable.

Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Matthew Fox would be MOST likely to agree with which of the following statements?


Climate change is a natural cycle, according to the Heartland Institute.


Blogs are extremely useful for studying science or history.


Science is based on peer-reviews, experimentation and expert studies.


Humans are not responsible for climate change.

Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

What is the MOST important reason why people at the Heartland Institute want to send booklets to science teachers?


They want to refute climate change.


They want to help the community stop climate change.


They want to change the way science is taught in America.


They want to get national attention for their political agenda.


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