Although besieged, science literacy in America is alive — watts?

The National Science Teachers Association rejects the scientific method

from Dr. Sharon camp

I have never been so inspired when I was removed from a venue. In fact, as a retired AP (Advanced Placement) environmental science and chemistry teacher, I wasn’t escorted from very many places. Maybe none. I should explain.

I’m a member of the CO2 Coalition in Arlington, Virginia, where I wear my scientist hat – a BS in Geology and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry – and a member of the organization’s Education Committee. I draw on my teaching and scientific background to support our mission to educate the public and policymakers about the benefits of carbon dioxide and the role of the gas in the world’s ecosystems.

As one of four people selected to represent the Carbon Coalition at the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) March meeting in Atlanta, I was excited to return to a conference I found so compelling as a teacher. Thousands of educators gather at the annual gathering to hear presentations and explore exhibits from hundreds of vendors for new tools for the lab and classroom.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from teachers attending the CO2 Coalition conference exhibit.

On the one hand, we offered educational materials, including beautifully designed comics and entertaining videos, as well as lesson plans. All would be useful in teaching the science behind carbon dioxide as an atmospheric gas and plant fertilizer. However, we also had a newly published paper criticizing NSTA’s position on teaching climate change.

The 40,000-member association The Teaching of Climate Science’s position paper instructs teachers to adhere to the so-called consensus that man-made carbon emissions are causing dangerous atmospheric warming and to reject conflicting evidence.

The association accepts the opinions of various organizations that support the popular global warming theory, while rejecting the differing views of thousands of scientists. These dissenters include researchers at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who disagree with the IPCC’s politicized official reports to the public, and the more than 100 members of the Carbon Coalition. The simple truth is that NSTA’s position ignores the principles of 400-year-old scientific method.

For a science teacher like me, the scientific method is more than a formalized procedure. It requires a student to be able to write a hypothesis, design experiments to test the claim, collect high quality data accurately, and apply critical thinking to the results.

My labs were data-driven, which meant students shouldn’t have preconceived notions about the results of experiments. Rather, they should rely on analysis of data collected with care and integrity. Students applied the scientific method and critical thinking to actual experiments rather than just learning about abstract concepts.

How can anyone with my appreciation for science look on calmly when a national organization claiming to represent 40,000 members casts aside an empirical approach to discovery that has underpinned Western civilization for centuries? How can one remain silent when those who claim educational dominion over children demand that they adhere to unscientific methodology and censor dissenting voices? Well I can’t.

So there I stood in a conference center in Atlanta with colleagues (a communications specialist, a geologist and IPCC reviewer, and a PhD chemist) eager to share our knowledge and teaching tools – and wondered how our criticism of NSTA’s views could look like would go into climate change.

At first we were overwhelmed by an enthusiastic, appreciative response from educators, including teachers from public and private institutions and homeschoolers. We ran out of lesson plans in two hours. There was clearly a need for non-politicized material on the science behind photosynthesis, cellular respiration, carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases.

More than half of the teachers we met expressed doubts about the rhetoric of climate alarmists. Surprisingly for us, even more were shocked when they learned of the NSTA’s position on the climate change doctrine and its unconditional rejection of evidence that contradicts establishment orthodoxy. Most teachers—unlike the NSTA leadership, apparently—understood science as a process of ongoing inquiry and debate, guided by verifiable data.

By halfway through the second day of the conference, almost all of our material had been distributed. At the time, the organizers of the NSTA meeting insisted that we stop sharing our criticism of the association’s anti-science position. Because we refused to give in to this censorship, we were escorted out of the building.

Nonetheless, we were heartened to find so many educators hungry for honest discovery and, in some cases, grateful for scientific information entirely new to them. We concluded that NSTA’s narrow-minded approach to learning is driven by a politically correct bureaucracy separate from a significant number of the association’s members.

There is hope for science education in America. Our work goes on.

This comment was first posted on [Your] News, April 25, 2023, and can be accessed here.

Sharon Camp holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Georgia Tech. She has worked in industry, for the US Environmental Protection Agency, and as an advanced environmental science teacher. She is Senior Education Advisor for the CO2 Coalition in Arlington, Virginia.


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