Science calls for scepticism

9th September 2011 at 01:00

Douglas Blane's article about Richard Milne's work on climate change (19 August) is littered with bias, which is dubious given that under Curriculum for Excellence we are supposed to develop pupils' high-order thinking skills, as well as scientific literacy. This suggests that pupils should be given the opportunity to evaluate critically all the evidence in a balanced manner which should enable them to form their own opinions. Having developed these opinions, they should then be able to defend them in an intelligent and respectful discussion.

The article contains factual inaccuracies regarding climate change. It states "human activities are the main cause". I would argue that the evidence for this claim is somewhat doubtful, since it is virtually impossible to separate natural variation from human-induced changes.

Even worse is the claim that the Earth is warming as a result. The scientific consensus suggests the rise in global temperature over the past 150 years is ~0.8C but a recent paper in PNAS (Kaufmann et al., 2011) suggests there has been little increase in global surface temperatures between 1998 and 2008, and that between 2005 and 2008 there was a 0.2C decrease. Other research shows that the US Historical Climatology Network's temperature record contains a serious warming bias (Fall et al., 2011). This is all the more remarkable considering the Kaufmann paper's authors are prominent members of the alarmist clique.

Are these scientists lying? I do not think so. Dr Milne's suggestion that deniers are not interested in truth is disingenuous, since in many cases the "truth" is either illusive or highly dependent on one's point of view and often gets entangled with personal biases.

I am wary of experts suggesting that climate change science is clear and simple. My sceptical instincts twitch when that "expert" then suggests that any opposing argument which is contrary to his worldview should be ridiculed. The idea that a categorical distinction exists between those who are naturally sceptical about climate change and those who deny it is naive. To suggest that sceptical scientists are lying is rude.

Scottish education should not swallow expert opinions as fact. Scottish science education should resist such peddlers of dogma and remember that being scientific is to be sceptical.

The science is not simple; it's very messy. Climate change is a complex issue requiring rational, balanced and objective consideration. It is arrogant for either side of the debate to suggest that their view is correct or the only view that Scottish youngsters should hear. Dogma has no place in science education.

Stephen Day, biologyscience teacher, Greenfaulds High, North Lanarkshire

Richard Milne will speak on "Climate Change - truth, controversy and evidence" at the Scottish Learning Festival. 21 September.

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