Old News

According to an article in today’s Chron, a Stanford study found the portrayal of climate change in California middle school science textbooks “dishonest”.

I’m not going to link the Chron story; it’s a bit short for my taste. I prefer the story on the Stanford News site. Or, if you’re curious, the actual paper discussing the study is available for free.

The short version of the study is that the science textbooks currently in use in California present climate change as something that “may” be happening and that it “might” be “partially” caused by humans. In other words, the texts are taking the Republican anti-science line.

Bluntly, there is no scientific debate about the reality of climate change or its cause. There’s a political debate, but actual scientists are as united in their agreement about climate change as they are about the theory of evolution, the safety of vaccination, and, to be quite blunt, the existence of gravity.

My initial assumption was that this is another case of Texas setting the national standards for textbooks*. It turns out, however, that there’s more to it than that.

* We’ve covered the subject before, but it bears repetition. Texas is a huge part of the textbook market, so publishers often have to slant coverage of certain subjects to be acceptable in Texas.

Part of the problem is that the textbooks are almost a decade old. California, it seems, only updates its list of approved science textbooks every ten years.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Given the amount of time it takes to write a textbook, get it through the publication process, and then approved by school boards, it’s likely–and I’ll admit I don’t have any hard data on this–that the information in the books is three to five years out of date by the time a book makes it onto the “approved” list. By the time a school district actually replaces a textbook, it could be fifteen or twenty years behind current science. Anyone want to put a bet on the proportion of middle school astronomy textbooks that still list Pluto as a planet, nine years after it was demoted?

So yeah, if you care about the quality of science education in schools, have a chat with your local school board and make sure they know you disapprove of “teaching the controversy” in any field where the only controversy is political (see that list in Paragraph Four for starters).

And while you’re talking to them, find out how old the books they’re using now are. If you don’t like the answer you get–personally, I’d be upset at hearing anything more than five years–urge them to update. Schools are, in most states, free to add “supplemental” materials that provide newer and more accurate information, even if they haven’t been formally added to the state-wide approved lists.

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