No inconvenience, your honour

19th October 2007 at 01:00
'An Inconvenient Truth', former US vice-president Al Gore's controversial film on global warming - which won him the Nobel Peace Prize - can still be sent to schools, despite factual inaccuracies. Henry Hepburn reports.Al Gore's film about global warming will continue to be shown in Scottish schools, even though a High Court judge in England found it to contain nine "scientific errors".

Every secondary school in Scotland has been sent a copy of An Inconvenient Truth, but it has been stressed that it was only part of a range of materials - and that the film's most contentious sections might even be the most useful in the classroom.

The former US vice-president won the Nobel Peace Prize last week for his work to raise awareness of global warming, but also suffered the embarrassment of being pulled up for factual inaccuracies by Mr Justice Burton.

The judge decided the Government could send the film to schools, but only if it was accompanied by new guidance for teachers. That ruling has no legal relevance to Scotland - the High Court in England has no jurisdiction over the Scottish curriculum - and each school must decide whether to use the film.

A spokeswoman for Learning and Teaching Scotland said a copy had been sent to all secondary schools as part of an educational resource on climate change, launched in September. "The resource brings together the different ideas and viewpoints surrounding climate change to encourage discussion and debate with senior pupils, and the documentary is one of a series of films and programmes identified as tools to do so," she said.

"The materials have been drawn together from a large number of sources and, where possible, information is offered on how a changing climate is affecting Scotland and on local activities."

Rhona Goss, chair of the Association for Science Education in Scotland, does not think last week's ruling will have any impact on how the film is used in Scottish schools. She said it was a good starting point for discussion, and should be used to get pupils thinking more critically about science.

She believes that singling out certain parts - including the most controversial claims - could be beneficial, but is not convinced about the need to show the film in its entirety.

"We are trying to get pupils to be more critical," she said. "They see a graph - what are the axes? Who is the 'expert' in a film or on the news? What is their background? Words such as 'expert' are bandied about but aren't necessarily meaningful."

Mrs Goss, who is principal teacher of sciences at Monifieth High in Angus, said the film had a lot of potential for cross-curricular work. Media studies pupils, for example, could scrutinise the merits of how conflicting arguments were presented. She believes the judgment "doesn't change anything at all" and is happy for the film to be used in the classroom, as long it is not in a "dogmatic way".

She pointed out that the evidence presented in The Great Global Warming Swindle, a documentary screened on Channel 4 earlier this year, was shakier than in Al Gore's film, and that it was impossible to make a documentary on global warming that was not controversial.

The legal action was brought by Dover school governor Stewart Dimmock, a member of the New Party, whose satisfaction at the verdict was tempered by his failure to see the film banned from schools.

Kevin Brennan, Children's Minister in England, stressed that nothing in the judge's comments undermined the film's central arguments.

Gore's gaffes

The nine errors identified in An Inconvenient Truth included:

Mr Gore's "distinctly alarmist" assertion that sea-levels could rise by up to 20 feet "in the near future".

His claim that the drying of Lake Chad was attributable to global warming; population increase, overgrazing, and regional climate variability were deemed more likely causes.

The suggestion that there was scientific evidence of polar bears drowning while searching for ice melted by global warming.

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