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Skeptical Science Helps Students Debunk Climate Myths

Posted on 10 August 2011 by John Cook

Professor Scott Mandia teaches Global Climate Change at the Suffolk County Community College. He's just published an interesting blog post about how he uses SkS as part of his course:

I used John Cook’s as the student resource for this summer’s research papers.  As you will see from the two example papers highlighted on this blog, information found at is accessible to the typical college student and likely to the general public.

The assignment:

Each student was randomly assigned a topic from Skeptic Arguments & What The Science Says.

Students were asked to carefully study all the information appearing in the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced tabs.

Students were required to summarize, in their own words, the information learned from researching the topic.  Students were also encouraged to use other resources, especially course notes, to help them complete the paper.  Students were to use proper APA Citation Style formatting within the content (parenthetical citing) and in a Works Cited page appearing as the last page.

Scott then goes onto give a few examples from his students' work (who of course gave permission for their work to be reproduced). Definitely worth checking out, as is a previous post where Scott posts 4 papers by his students debunking common climate myths.

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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. Here's a brand-new myth for them to debunk: AGW is impossible because "energy can be neither created nor destroyed. So to look for input of energy into the atmosphere, you have to come from a foreign source." I believe I'll go and have a drink now.
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  2. Phila, Many classical myths have at least some basis in fact. This one seems to come from another time and place altogether. `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
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  3. Maybe "A pirate" should take a hint from Professor Mandia and teach critical thinking.
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  4. Greetings, I also started using SkepticalScience for a similar activity in my Science & Global Change course:
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  5. AT at 3 I find your comment highly insulting. Critical thinking can be defined as: Reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. I push the envelope in my school district because I often diverge from the curriculum because I want my students to leave my class at the end of the year know how to "think" and express their thoughts. And, my students routinely score well on end of course testing even though I "don't teach to the test". When my students are researching any subject, I direct them to the source. Depending on the subject, that could be NOAA, USDA, USGS, USACE, HADCRUT, USEPA, University of Colorado, etc... I don't direct my students to WUWT or SKS. And, we prefer they don't use Wikipedia either. AGW is a polarizing issue and I would rather them study the real data and come to conclusions on their own. One site is pro AGW and one site is anti AGW. If they find either site on their own - it's okay. When I present the subject of AGW (or any other), I am very careful not to tip my hand to my opinion. They are shown resources, videos, and powerpoints both pro and con. Then they read, research and write. You may, or may not, know it, but I am in a personal e-mail dialogue with Sphaerica and he has actually changed my position on the anthropogenic contributions of CO2 to the rising atmospheric concentrations. You can look at the list below and I can tell you that 1-6 came into play on that. A critical thinker: 1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives 2. Desires to be, and is, well-informed 3. Judges well the credibility of sources 4. Identifies reasons, assumptions, and conclusions 5. Asks appropriate clarifying questions 6. Judges well the quality of an argument, including its reasons, assumptions, evidence, and their degree of support for the conclusion 7. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position regarding a belief or an action, doing justice to challenges 8. Formulates plausible hypotheses 9. Plans and conducts experiments well 10. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context 11. Draws conclusions when warranted – but with caution 12. Integrates all of the above aspects of critical thinking So, before you toss off a flippant comment like that, please think twice about what you are saying. If I told my classes to research global warming on AGW only from WUWT, you would scream that it was biased. Just as the opposite is true if the only source is SKS.
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    [DB] "I am very careful not to tip my hand to my opinion."

    So you wouldn't dream of posting Inhofe's "A Skeptic's Guide To Debunking Glabal Warming Alarmism" but calling it "A Skeptics Guide to Global Warming" on your student's homework assignment page?

    Many such as you propound false equivalency.  "Blind guides" is a term for them.

  6. I would be horrified if you were directing science classes to get make their minds "on what to believe" (awful choice of word) in a science question on the basis of opinion expressed anywhere. This is not the same as forming an opinion on a political matter. Instead, I would hope that science students make up their minds on the basis of reading published science papers. Skepsci is a good index of these, WUWT is not. That is the difference between the sites.
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  7. DB at 5 First, it is not a student's homework assignment page, it is a link to a pragmatic representation to combat the one-sided media coverage they are exposed to via the local newspaper and internet sites. Second, most students never visit a teacher's website (at my school at least). The website is a district requirement. Most of my students do not have internet access at home. We are a district with a high poverty level and the host of issues that go along with that and broken families.
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    [DB] "it is a link to a pragmatic representation to combat the one-sided media coverage"

    Pragmatic? One-sided? The words are English but from your usage it is obvious you have little understanding of their meaning.

    This is truly a momentous day.  First, EtR abandons all pretense of honest broker and reveals himself for the dissembler he is.  Now you.  You try to defend your relabeling of Inhofe's "A Skeptic's Guide To Debunking Glabal Warming Alarmism" as "A Skeptics Guide to Global Warming" under the weak pretense that "most students never visit a teacher's website"?

    You are entrusted with your students' minds, can you not see how utterly bereft of moral certitude and integrity your position and excuse is?

  8. scaddenp at 6 Your syntax is a little off (it happens - I do it often enough), so I am not sure about your first sentence. When one studies an issue and forms an opinion, then you are choosing what to believe. They aren't tasked to believe an opinion from another site such as SKS, the are tasked to develop their own opinion from the original data source. That was plainly stated in my earlier post. SKS and WUWT are both sources of links to original data.
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  9. So, you would suggest that students find out about the energy balance of the planet by reprocessing the original data rather than reading Trenberth et al 2009? You must have some pretty impressive computer power at school. I dont think of either Skpsci or WUWT as sources of data but one is a good index to the published science papers on climate subjects and the other is index pseudo-science "papers" and blog rants that most certainly could never be published. It would be a mistake to see the sites as simply expressing different sides of the argument. My earlier assassination of the English language (why I dont write much) was meant to highlight that in science questions, opinion is conditional on data and changes when data changes. This is different from non-scientific questions like "should murderers face capital punishment" where the mode of argument and belief are different. I think it is extremely dangerous to use thought-modes from this kind of discourse in science inquiry and would hope students learnt that distinction.
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  10. apirate: The first source for scientific information on climate science rightly ought to be the relevant peer-reviewed literature. Since we are not all of us practicing climatologists, we must often rely on others to interpret & represent the peer-reviewed literature for us. So the question becomes, who to trust on this count? The answer is, whomever can be demonstrated to be most accurately interpreting & representing the literature for their audience. I do not find it a stretch to conclude that Skeptical Science is far superior at this task than is WattsUpWithThat?.
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  11. DB at 7 Earlier I had a much longer reply to you, but lightning struck and knocked it out even with an APU> My Biology class (which I have been teaching longer) website was archived because I am not teaching it this year. It had links to pro and anti AGW sites. I am building my Env. Sci. site. Tell you what I will do - you (and any other active participants of this site) compile a list of website links that you would like to be added to my "teacher page". I will add them comment free. You can even come up with the heading (if I can add that). Just make sure your suggestions are balanced!
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  12. Apirate, My comment wasn't flip. It was in earnest. While I respect your chosen profession, and that you are open to changing your mind (really, kudos on that - it appears we must simply wait for you to process all the good information you are getting and apply it to your life). I am very sensitive to the cognitive skills and development of teenagers, and I believe the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" applies more to teenagers than even to computers. As to your reply to me, your critical thinking, in falsely equating WUWT to SkS fails at points 3 (you have failed to judge the credibility of WUWT), 4 (you have failed to identify the assumptions of WUWT) and 6 (you have failed to judge the quality of the argument of WUWT). Given that, how can you possibly site 1-6 of your list as support for WUWT? You are not being internally consistent here. Here is a critical thinking assignment for your students (that you would benefit from): Pick an article in WUWT on a subject that also has an article in SkS - have your students compare and contrast the articles through the lens of 1-6 above. I think you will be surprised by the outcome. Most of us have already gone through this (or else it was intuitively obvious).
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