4 June 2015

An Online Course Every High School Science Student Should Take

Posted by Dan Satterfield

John Cook at the University of Queensland (along with others) has produced a very good course about climate change and its denial. He also covers the consensus among scientists, and why the claims by the deniers are so laughably wrong. I keep up with the research, and have read a lot about the psychology behind why people will refuse to accept the obvious, but I still learned quite a few things I did not know. 

If you’re a high school teacher, think about this course as an extra-credit opportunity, or at least mention it to your brightest students! To be clear here, this is a course about science and evidence, not the political issue of how we deal with it. While the course is almost over, I suspect you will be able to go back and read the materials/watch the videos for a while (I will double-check with John Cook on that). If you just want to watch the videos, there are a bunch and you can see them on You-Tube here.

This course is not aimed at just high school students of course, it’s for anyone interested in knowing more about HOW we know that we are playing a dangerous game with our planet’s thermostat. John interviews folks like Dr Ben Santer (he is a member of the Nat. Academies of Science, and ranks as the smartest person I know) and Dr Naomi Oreskes who is an expert on the scientific consensus that has developed, and also on how the doubt about that consensus has been purposefully manufactured. 

This image is from a handout in the course.

This image is from a handout in the course.

One other thing, and that’s what not to do. DO NOT give this to your friend/neighbor who thinks climate change is a hoax. John Cook has done some fascinating research into the denier mind, and he’ll be the first to tell you that it will probably make them even more certain they are right.

In short, those that do not believe it are afraid of the possible consequences, or they refuse to believe it because that’s the price of admission to a group they wish to identify with. It has nothing to do with the science (which they likely have not even spent time reading). If you have ever spent time trying to tell a chem-trail believer that the government is not spraying us with mind control chemicals, you will understand where I am coming from! 

This course is for two types of people I think.

1. Those who have not paid much attention to the subject and have no real opinion on it, but are curious.

2. Those who want to understand more of the science, and have a better understanding about why the frequently heard claims by the science deniers are wrong.

It is certainly possible that this course could change the minds of those who are uncertain about it, but those who have joined a tribe that refuses to accept it will not have their mind changed. It will however give YOU some better critical thinking skills that will immunize you against some of the propaganda out there! It did me, and I deal with this stuff all the time!

Below is one quick video from the introduction to the course in week one and is about the consensus of the science and how (astonishingly) a large section of the public still believe that scientists are divided on whether this warming we have experienced is human caused. Trust me they are not, and the IPCC put it best when they said that the odds are 95% that almost all of the warming over the past 50 years is human caused.

The great thing about this course is that in learning why the claims by those who deny the science are wrong, you get a feel for how easily you can be tricked about any subject. Richard Feynman said “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and YOU are the easiest person to fool.”