With the recent revelations of a prominent scientist using dirty tricks against global-warming skeptics, the overheated climate debate has taken another ugly turn. Worse, the scandal reveals that our children’s minds may be the newest battleground in the unending global warming war.
The scandal revolves around the unauthorized publication of internal documents from the Heartland Institute, an organization in the forefront of global-warming skepticism. Among the items exposed was a plan to create a K-12 curriculum casting doubt on the “consensus” that global warming is real, man-made, and dangerous. Indeed, the most damning document – which Heartland maintains is fake while confirming the authenticity of the others – says the lessons are aimed at “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”
The scandal doesn’t end with publication of the documents, or the possibility that one is a forged fraud, however. It is how Peter Gleick – hydroclimatologist, president of the Pacific Institute, and admitted deceiver – obtained some of them: by assuming the identity of a Heartland board member.
“In a serious lapse of…judgment and ethics,” Gleick stated on his Huffington Post blog, “I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name.”
This is hardly the only behavior in the climate debate jarringly inconsistent with the image of scientists as even-handed truth-seekers who simply analyze facts and report objective conclusions.
A couple of years ago a similar act of legerdemain – publication of a purloined trove of emails from climate-change believers – produced considerable evidence that the discussants had tried to strong-arm scientific journals into blackballing anyone who cast doubts on their views. “Climategate” was like getting a rancid pizza from a guy with the flu – both the delivery method, and what was delivered, made you sick.
All this illustrates why everyone – no matter where they fall on climate change – should be greatly concerned about mixing global warming with public schools. It reveals both how contentious the issue is, and how subject scientists – like all people – are to uncertainty and selfishness.
The shear contentiousness of the issue is a mammoth problem because public schools – institutions that diverse people are all forced to support – can’t handle it. Trying to teach hot-button issues usually creates, first, highly divisive conflict, and then barren curricula.
Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the book Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.