Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

SkepticalScience.com Helps Students Debunk Climate Myths

with 8 comments

I teach MET295 – Global Climate Change to first and second year community college students.  MET295 is a three credit lecture course that serves as a science elective for the general student population.  Basic high school algebra is the only prerequisite.  (See the course outline.)

I used John Cook’s SkepticalScience.com as the student resource for this summer’s research papers.  As you will see from the two example papers highlighted on this blog, information found at SkepticalScience.com is accessible to the typical college student and likely to the general public.

The assignment:

Each student was randomly assigned a topic from Skeptic Arguments & What The Science Says.

Students were asked to carefully study all the information appearing in the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced tabs.

Students were required to summarize, in their own words, the information learned from researching the topic.  Students were also encouraged to use other resources, especially course notes, to help them complete the paper.  Students were to use proper APA Citation Style formatting within the content (parenthetical citing) and in a Works Cited page appearing as the last page.

I asked all students to please refer to the Term Paper Grading Rubric to maximize their final paper grades.

Skeptic Argument: There is no consensus debunked by Laraine Gorman

Excerpt:

In conclusion, I must tell a personal story from about just one week ago. While talking to a well educated, intelligent neighbor and describing to her my report topic “consensus”, I asked her if she realized that scientists were, for the most part, no longer deliberating about whether or not there is human induced climate change. She stated “Well, you know how exceptionally smart my brother is and he’s into science and all, and he says global warming is a myth and it’s just all propaganda to scare people“. Six weeks ago, that statement would have given me a feeling of peace inside knowing that this very smart person believed that our world was not being destroyed. Now, after taking this course, it didn’t make sense, so I went out on a limb. I had a hunch and asked: “Who does he work for?“ her response was: “Exxon Mobile…..”. The silence was profound, we stared at each other, and we both could just read each other’s minds at that point. Though I did not feel the inner peace of being reassured that the Earth was O.K, I felt empowered because it made sense. It gave some clarity to a topic that, until now, to me, did not seem to have clear answers for the everyday people who are not scientists. I told her that next time he came over, I would love to talk to him about it. (just curious to know what Exxon is telling its employees so that they can continue to make their billions).

Skeptic Argument: Ocean acidification isn’t serious debunked by anonymous

Excerpt:

Marine organisms provide 15% of animal protein for 3 billion people worldwide. Fish provide the main source of protein for another 1 billion (UNEP,2010). Ocean acidification places these valuable food resources in jeopardy. While the UNEP report makes eight recommendation for addressing this issue, the last recommendation might be the best place to start, by fostering “increased awareness of this issue through diverse media.” (2010). Only when people become aware of the seriousness of this issue, will they be ready to take decisive action toward reducing our CO2 emissions and saving our oceans.

Note: Both students gave me permission to post their papers but one wished to remain anonymous.

Please also see: Skepticalscience.com Educates My Students to read four student papers from the spring 2011 semester.

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Written by Scott Mandia

August 8, 2011 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. “Being into science” and being a Scientist are two completely different things. I have found that non-scientist, in general, are either unaware or just completely ignorant on how science and scientific theories actually work. Scientist just don’t guess on topics. They rigorously test, and then re-test their data, which is then peer-reviewed by even further testing. Scientist follow the data and evidence where ever it leads them, sometimes in opposite directions from which they would have originally hypothesized. I can understand being skeptical. That is completely normal in science. But the reality is, scientist base their theories on the data and the overwhelming amount of data is pointing towards AGW. Yes, some studies may come out that contradict other data points but that does not mean that climate scientist just do an about face and turn the ship around.

    There are tons of anomalies unexplained by the dominant theory. That does not mean that the prevailing theory is wrong or that alternative theories are right. It just means that more work needs to be done to bring those anomalies into the accepted paradigm. In the meantime, it’s ok to live with the uncertainty that not everything has an explanation….. yet.

    Ryan C.

    August 8, 2011 at 10:41 am

  2. Great work Prof. Mandia, but I fear it’s far from enough. Besides getting the facts through into people’s brains, we also want them to stay in their brains. Smooth-talkers who are out to spread misinformation aren’t going to say, ‘hello, I’m a smooth-talker who’s out to spread misinformation’, and the next part of the challenge lies in giving people the skills to reliably figure out the truth and spot bullshit. Do you have any thoughts on that, professor?

    — frank

    • It is critical that teachers educate their students in the scientific method as early as possible. We also need to get climate change into the curricula of middle and high schools across the country while simultaneously educating the teachers on the secondary level. These things take time that we do not have, unfortunately.

      Scott Mandia

      August 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

  3. I teach a similar course on Earth Systems Science to first and second-year college students, and I also use SkepticalScience.com as an information source for my students, and also as a vehicle to help improve their scientific literacy- exactly what Ryan C. and frank are talking about.

    With the democratization of “knowledge” that the internet has provided this generation of college students, it is critical that science educators get students to understand why the peer-reviewed results of scientific research papers are the only reliable sources of information about politically- charged science issues. This includes an understanding of the peer-review process itself (scientist’s ‘peer-policing’) learning to recognize a research paper from an editorial or popular magazine when searching a library’s database or the internet (essentially the spotting-of-bullshit that frank mentions), and fostering an understanding that science is slow- it takes time to do proper research- but that the accumulation of that research is what builds a scientific consensus. All of these points can be addressed in the classroom with fairly simple reference-search assignments and reading of peer-reviewed articles with opposing results during the development of a scientific theory or paradigm, like climate change or even Plate Tectonics.

    My goal as a science educator is to get my students to go to the source of the information (or misinformation) that they are exposed to, even if it sounds reasonable on the surface. So when my students read something on the internet, or hear a neighbor who is “into science” say that climate change is a myth, they listen, then they question, then they use sites like SkepticalScience.com to help them find a peer-reviewed article on the topic. This is also what Prof. Mandia’s students did- Ms. Gorman was able to spot a ‘smooth-talker’ in her conversation with her neighbor, question where her neighbor’s information was coming from, and silently, get her neighbor to question it as well. This is fantastic. This is what we need to do more of as scientists and science educators. Content does not preclude the development of critical thinking.

    rock scientist

    August 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

  4. […] Aug 10 2011 Skeptical Science Helps Students Debunk Climate Myths By Skeptical Science Professor Scott Mandia teaches Global Climate Change at the Suffolk County Community College. He's just published an interesting blog post about how he uses SkS as part of his course: […]

  5. […] Professor Scott Mandia teaches Global Climate Change at the Suffolk County Community College. He's just published an interesting blog post about how he uses SkS as part of his course: […]

  6. […] Posted on 10 August 2011 by John CookProfessor Scott Mandia teaches Global Climate Change at the Suffolk County Community College. He's just published an interesting blog post about how he uses SkS as part of his course: […]

  7. […] student papers from previous semesters may be viewed here and […]


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