Science Groups Demand Textbook Publishers Remove Climate Change Denialism

Social studies textbooks under fire for climate change errors

The State Board of Education plans to vote on which social studies textbooks to adopt next week.
The State Board of Education plans to vote on which social studies textbooks to adopt next week. (by Jana Birchum)

Textbooks publishers are guilty of including inaccurate and misleading information about climate change in new social studies books, charged science advocates and university scholars during a press call Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of next week’s State Board of Education public hearing and vote on the textbooks, education watchdog Texas Freedom Network, the National Center for Science Education , and other science experts are calling on the state’s two largest textbook publishers – Pearson and McGraw-Hill– to revise their books.

Speakers described the errors as “deeply concerning.” For example, an analysis of the material by NCSE showed the Pearson book cast doubt on whether human activity is the cause of climate change, which runs counter to scientific consensus. “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change. Many people, however, worry that climate change might cause environmental problems, such as increased storm activity and rising sea levels,” a 5th grade social studies book reads.

Similarly, a McGraw-Hill world cultures and geography book for 6th graders poses the question, “Is Global Warming a Result of Human Activity?” and places findings from two sources that differ vastly in credibility on par with one another – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global organization that uses peer-reviewed articles from a Nobel Prize-winning body of scientists, and the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank at the forefront of promoting climate change skepticism (formerly working hand-in-hand with Big Tobacco). "Scientists who study the issue say it is impossible to tell if the recent small warming trend is natural [...] or unnatural, the result of human greenhouse gas emissions,” the Heartland-derived text reads.

Josh Rosenau, policy director for NCSE, noted that publishers know the facts, as apparent in their science textbooks, but failed to match the same climate change accuracy in their social studies books. “It’s irresponsible and hard to understand how the social studies books went so far field,” he said. Lisa Hoyos, director and co-founder of Climate Parents, echoed the point: “Parents are alarmed and angry that [publishers] would knowingly expose kids to false information in their social studies textbooks while both companies have accurate climate change information in their science textbooks. The fact that they’re willing to distort the truth about climate change … in Texas should disqualify them from consideration from not just the Texas Education Agency but school boards across the country,” said Hoyos.

They aren’t alone in their criticisms – the National Resources Defense Council, Ecological Society of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society and American Association for Physics Teachers penned a letter to the SBOE requesting it refrain from adopting the flawed books. In addition, a petition started by TFN and NSCE has drawn more than 30,000 signatures from people supporting the rejection of climate change errors.

While some smaller publishers have made changes, the two largest publishers (and thus, most influential) have yet to agree to amend their text, although they are well aware of the concerns, say science advocates. And it’s worth remembering that when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas doesn’t usually stay in Texas: Since the textbook market is so large publishers typically sell books crafted by Texas standards to other states, meaning the books won’t only be available to the 5 million public schoolchildren in Texas but may very well reach the desks of students nationwide.

“Parents must insist that students get textbooks based on the recommendations of scholars and experts rather than on the demands of politicians who pressure publishers into distorting research and facts,” said TFN president Kathy Miller.

The social studies books have also come under fire for politicizing history and distorting topics such as religion, democracy, and slavery, as Newsdesk previously reported. The proposed textbooks were modeled after contentious standards crafted by the board’s conservative bloc in 2010. The ideological tug-of-war over textbook content is a perennial fight at the largely right-wing SBOE. (And the board’s bent toward fighting sound science runs deep – it is, after all, home to evolution deniers, including former Chair Don McLeroy, a young-earth creationist.) However, Miller said it’s unclear how the board may vote for social studies books this time around.

The SBOE will hold a final public hearing on the textbooks Tuesday, Nov. 18 and is expected to take a vote on which books to adopt Friday, Nov. 21. The books are scheduled to hit classrooms by fall 2015 and stay on bookshelves for a decade or longer. Publishers are allowed to make changes even after textbook adoption (and board members can opt to omit single books if a majority vote prevails), but Miller and science advocates hope they take action much sooner.

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