A recent poll of climate scientists by the University of Illinois found that 97% now accept that human activity is causing climate change (http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/01/19/eco.globalwarmingsurvey/index.html). Yet many high school and university science educators who are not climatologists remain skeptical, and pass that skepticism on to their students. What science educators need to realize is that they are teaching their students to be skeptical not about one scientific theory, but the entire scientific process. If science educators don’t accept the overwhelming consensus of scientific experts, why should their students or the public? My concern isn’t so much whether students learn and accept the scientific consensus on global warming; my concern is that they will conclude that science isn’t a legitimate source of knowledge, and that it shouldn’t play a role in public policy decisions. If scientists don’t trust science, if they don’t believe it is the most effective method for discerning the truth, then why should anyone else? Frankly, I feel sorry for science educators who dedicate their lives to a process that they don’t trust. They do science and their students a disservice by not having an unbiased expert present the facts so that their students can form their own opinions. All of us should avoid giving opinions on subjects we are not qualified to evaluate.
Now climate contrarians are allying with creationists to keep the teaching of global climate change and evolution out of the public schools (see “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets”, Kaufman, published March 3, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/science/earth/04climate.html). For over a century creationists and their predecessors have fought against earth scientists about the age of the earth, biologists about evolution, and astronomers about the age of the universe. Now the same anti-science groups are fighting climatologists about global climate change. Scientists in these fields need the support of other scientists; we need them to take the time to learn about these issues; we don’t need them to undercut science by voicing their opinions rather than presenting the facts to students.
Students of science: Don’t believe anyone who states opinions about scientific issues without presenting supporting facts, including me. If your teacher or Professor makes an unsubstantiated statement challenging the consensus scientific view, be it on evolution, global climate change, or any other topic, challenge them to explain what evidence they base their opinions on. On global climate change, ask them why they think they know better than the 97% of climatologists who believe the evidence shows that the earth is warming. Ask them how all of those climatologists could be wrong. If the response is not based on science, but on something else like politics or religion, call them on it. If they claim that the scientific experts in that field are unreliable or have all committed fraud, ask them why you should trust any scientific authority.