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A Perversion of Science?
Volume 15, Number 2: 11 January 2012

In a front-page article in the 20 December 2011 issue of EOS, entitled "What Do U.S. Students Know About Climate Change," Kevin M. Theissen makes some egregious statements that are not in harmony with basic principles that should be embraced by true practitioners of science.

First Example: "Relative to climate experts, the skeptics have an unreasonably large platform in the media and on Web sites." Irrespective of whether that claim is true or false, the suggestion that there are "experts" on one side of the debate and "skeptics" on the other side is degrading to the people that Theissen considers to be skeptics, for it implies that none of them are "experts." In reality, there are experts on both sides of the climate change debate. There are those who are truly alarmed about what they think is happening to earth's climate as a result of anthropogenic CO2 emissions - who for that reason are often referred to as climate alarmists - and there are those who are skeptical of the contentions of those scientists, and who for that reason are often referred to as climate skeptics. Neither of these last two appellations are degrading when they are used together; but when one group claims to be the "experts" on the issue, it degrades the other group unjustifiably.

Second Example: "... when asked what they view as reliable evidence of climate change, some students instead repeat myths like 'it's part of a natural cycle' ..." The word myths, as used in this context, is once again degrading to those to whom it is directed. A less pejorative and more appropriate word that could have been used is hypotheses, which implies neither rightness nor wrongness. Moreover, the word myth implies not only something that is wrong, but something that is unscientific. And there is an enormous body of scientific work that has established the reality of a natural cycle of climate, which going backwards in time from the Current Warm Period brings one to the Little Ice Age, then the Medieval Warm Period, then the Dark Ages Cold Period, then the Roman Warm Period and etc., throughout interglacial and glacial periods alike.

Third Example: "... many students and roughly half of the general public believe that there is no scientific consensus about climate change despite much evidence to the contrary," implying that there truly is such a consensus. However, the very fact that Theissen felt he needed to write what he wrote is evidence that there is not a "scientific consensus." And perhaps the best proof of that fact is the existence and body of work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the one hand, and the existence and body of work of the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) on the other hand, all of which may be readily accessed on the internet.

Fourth Example: "... while students' depth of understanding of the greenhouse effect increased in a course on climate change, the majority of their misconceptions about this process remained after focused instruction on the topic." This statement clearly suggests that there was something seriously wrong with the students and/or the instructor, when it could well have been that the students were merely much more open to thinking for themselves than they were to being cajoled into believing what to them was unbelievable. And that, unfortunately, is probably why Theissen promotes the view that "the Earth science community should consider agreeing on a set of 'accepted explanations' that serve as minimum knowledge that students can be expected to have about key climate principles such as the greenhouse effect," which sure sounds to us like he and the others he quotes are promoting ideological dogma, which has absolutely no place in the practice of science.

In conclusion, we are saddened that EOS would allow the publication of an article so antithetical to the true spirit of unfettered scientific inquiry.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso