Here's the Teacher-Friendly Antidote to Heartland Institute's Anti-Science School 'Propaganda'

By Ashley Braun

On a Monday morning at the end of October, Rob Ross asked a group of Earth scientists and educators a question: How many of them had received copies of the Heartland Institute book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming?

You could feel an immediate sense of frustration in the air. Roughly half of them raised their hands. The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based think tank that rejects the scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and has received funding from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and fossil fuel industry.

In March, it mailed, unsolicited, a 135-page book and accompanying DVD to tens of thousands of science teachers at public high schools across the U.S., with plans to keep that up until the report was in the hands of every last one.

While it received swift backlash—including from Democratic senators, Heartland's most recent effort (though not its first) to spread climate science denial in public schools had a somewhat fortuitous timing. Ross and his colleagues at the Paleontological Research Institution were putting the finishing touches on their own book for science educators, The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

We "had it mostly done when we learned about the Heartland Institute's project to distribute misinformation" to teachers across the country, Ross told DeSmog. He recalls finding out about Heartland's teacher mailing either through Facebook or the news. It caused an immediate stir among the community of Earth science educators.

"At first, we were, of course, incredibly alarmed but our second thought was, 'Well, OK, we have a product to counter it,'" said Ross, who was one of The Teacher-Friendly Guide's editors.

"This gave us a really strong motivation to get the book in the hands of as many teachers as possible across the country."

Don Duggan-Haas, who also contributed to the guide, said their team felt compelled to respond more directly to Heartland's misinformation but in a way that wouldn't delay their own publishing date.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide already had 11 chapters covering everything from the evidence and causes of climate change to the obstacles in addressing and reasons for teaching it. Adding a final chapter, written by Alexandra Moore, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ) seemed like the best approach.

Taking on Heartland Institute Myths

While they don't explicitly mention the Heartland teacher mailing in the FAQ, Duggan-Haas pointed out, "The first question of the FAQ chapter is 'Is there a consensus among climate scientists that global warming is occurring and that humans are the cause?'"

The title of the Heartland book, of course, was Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.

"That's a pretty direct response to the theme of their publication," he said.

In keeping with best practices for science communication, Duggan-Haas said they didn't want to trigger the "backfire effect," a phenomenon that may occur when trying to correct misinformation.

"We're trying to avoid restating the myth in a way that would reinforce it," he said.

Ross agreed: "We did not dwell on the Heartland Institute, even in the FAQ, but we did try to make sure we addressed some of the most important points that the Heartland Institute was making in their propaganda."

In its FAQ, the Paleontological Research Institution's teacher guide answers 18 questions touching on common climate science denier points, including why we can trust the proven reliability of computer climate models and why humans, rather than natural variation or the sun, are the most likely explanation for observed global warming.

One of the questions, "Are people who are arguing that global warming is happening being alarmists?" is a likely reference to the derogatory term, "alarmist," frequently used by the Heartland Institute and other climate denier organizations.

Heartland and NIPCC Called Out

While The Teacher-Friendly Guide doesn't mention the Heartland Institute's propaganda sent to teachers, it does call out the science-denying think tank by name. Question 16 in the FAQ reads like this: "Climate websites refer to both the IPCC and, more recently, the NIPCC. What is the difference between these two organizations?"

The former, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consists of thousands of climate scientists and was created by the United Nations. It has reviewed more than 9,000 scientific publications and released five reports on the state of climate change science, written by 500 lead authors and checked by 2,000 outside scientists.

But the NIPCC, the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change," is a product of the Heartland Institute and regularly directs criticisms at the IPCC reports.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide goes on to describe Heartland and the NIPCC:

"The 'Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change' is sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a U.S.-based conservative think tank best known for fighting government regulation of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. Heartland has campaigned to downplay threats posed by second-hand smoke, acid rain, and ozone depletion, as well as against the Endangered Species Act. The Heartland NIPCC also issues periodic reports, timed to coincide with the release of IPCC assessment reports and formatted to look like them. NIPCC reports are authored by fewer than 50 individuals and the most recent report cites only 72 papers, mostly written by the NIPCC authors."

The National Center for Science Education handily debunks the NIPCC—and so has DeSmog.

Correcting the Record With More Mail for Teachers

Published in May, The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change has its work cut out for it. Ross says their plan is "to send a guide to every high school in the country with CDs for every teacher in the high school."

And they're crowdfunding to raise more money, on top of their original National Science Foundation grant, in order to pull that off.

But Heartland reports that it has delivered its publication to "more than 300,000 K-12 and college-level teachers all across America."

And while Duggan-Haas says his earth science teacher colleagues did not fall for it—and even discussed plans for using it in lessons on detecting biased publications—he acknowledged that American science teachers, generally and unsurprisingly, reflect the knowledge and attitudes of the broader American public on climate change.

Still, six months after the first release of The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, it seems to be in high demand: the paperback version ($25 each) has already run out until early December. But anyone can access a free PDF of The Teacher Friendly Guide online right now.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

Show Comments ()
Solar shade canopies. University of Hawaii

This College Could Become the First 100% Renewable Campus in U.S.

As a growing number of U.S. cities make pledges towards 100 percent renewables, it's easy to forget that the entire state of Hawaii set this important benchmark three years ago when it mandated that all of its electricity must come from renewable sources no later than 2045.

To help the Aloha State meet this ambitious commitment, in 2015, the University of Hawaii (UH) and the Hawaiian Legislature set a collective goal for the university system to be "net-zero" by Jan. 1, 2035, which means the total amount of energy consumed is equal to the amount of renewable energy created.

Keep reading... Show less

Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Wash Out, May Be Toxic

By Sukalyan Sengupta and Tabish Nawaz

Humans have known since ancient times that silver kills or stops the growth of many microorganisms. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have used silver preparations for treating ulcers and healing wounds. Until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, colloidal silver (tiny particles suspended in a liquid) was a mainstay for treating burns, infected wounds and ulcers. Silver is still used today in wound dressings, in creams and as a coating on medical devices.

Keep reading... Show less
4.4 million premature air pollution deaths could be avoided in Kolkata if emissions are reduced swiftly this century. M M / CC BY-SA 2.0

Study Finds Timely Emissions Reductions Could Prevent 153 Million Air Pollution Deaths This Century

One of the roadblocks to swift action on climate change is the human brain's tendency to focus on threats and stimuli that are an obvious and noticeable part of their everyday lives, rather than an abstract and future problem, as Amit Dhir explained in The Decision Lab.

Now, a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the air pollution that is already a major urban killer, thereby saving millions of lives within the next 40 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Lands threatened by BLM's March 2018 sale include Hatch Point. Neal Clark / SUWA

Trump Administration Sells Oil and Gas Leases Near Utah National Monuments

The Interior Department on Tuesday is auctioning off 32 parcels of public lands in southeastern Utah for oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) lease sale includes more than 51,000 acres of land near Bears Ears—the national monument significantly scaled back by the Trump administration last year—as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments.

Keep reading... Show less
Katharine Hayhoe talks climate communication hacks at the Natural Products Expo West Convention. Climate Collaborative

Katharine Hayhoe Reveals Surprising Ways to Talk About Climate Change

By Katie O'Reilly

Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Tide NA / Twitter

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather

By Andy Rowell

Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.

Keep reading... Show less

The Grapes of Trash

By Marlene Cimons

German monk and theologian Martin Luther probably said it best: "Beer is made by men, wine by God." It's true—the world loves its wine. Americans, in fact, downed close to a billion gallons of it in 2016. But winemakers create a lot of waste when they produce all that vino, most of it in seeds, stalks and skins.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Mike Pompeo Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than Rex Tillerson

By Kelle Louaillier

As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was one of the most blatant revolving-door cases in the Trump administration and a clear sign that Trump's government was of, by and for the fossil fuel industry. But make no mistake: Mike Pompeo could be far worse.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!