Books voice doubt over whether climate change is real and suggest global warming could be beneficial, researchers say in analysis of four science texts

California, study, climate change, sixth grade, textbooks, SMU, Stanford, Public radio, sacramento

Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif., covered new research co-authored by SMU teaching expert Diego Román.

The new study measured how four sixth-grade science textbooks adopted for use in California frame the subject of global warming. Sixth grade is the first time California state standards indicate students will encounter climate change in their formal science curriculum.

Co-author on the article is K.C. Busch, a Ph.D. candidate in science education in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.

Studies estimate that only 3 percent of scientists who are experts in climate analysis disagree about the role of humans in the causes of climate change. And the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the evidence of 600 climate researchers in 32 countries reporting changes to Earth’s atmosphere, ice and seas — in 2013 stated “human influence on the climate system is clear.”

Yet only 54 percent of American teens believe climate change is happening, 43 percent don’t believe it’s caused by humans, and 57 percent aren’t concerned about it.

“We found that climate change is presented as a controversial debate stemming from differing opinions,” said Román, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the SMU Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “Climate skeptics and climate deniers are given equal time and treated with equal weight as scientists and scientific facts — even though scientists who refute global warming total a miniscule number.”

The findings were reported in October 2015 at the 11th Conference of the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA), held in Helsinki, Finland.

The findings were also published in the Environmental Education Research journal in the article, “Textbooks of doubt: Using systemic functional analysis to explore the framing of climate change in middle-school science textbooks.”

The radio report published Nov. 30, 2015.

Listen to the report.


By Amy Quinton
Capital Public Radio

Sixth-grade is usually the first time California students are formally taught about climate change as part of their science curriculum. A recent study shows some textbooks present the subject as a debate stemming from opinions rather than science.

Stanford and Southern Methodist University researchers analyzed the language in four sixth grade science textbooks from major publishers. All were published in 2008 and adopted for use in California.

The authors found that the books contain language that frames climate change as possibly happening and that humans may or may not be causing it. Fewer than three percent of scientists refute climate change. But when attributing information to scientists, the textbooks used verbs like “believe”, “think”, or “propose.” Rarely were scientists said to be drawing conclusions from evidence or data.

“What’s happening is that if you just leave it as the general ‘some scientists agree’ teachers will have to interpret what does the ‘some’ mean, it could be 60 percent, 40 percent, so it’s up to the teacher, it’s up to the student to interpret that,” says Diego Román, with Southern Methodist University and co-author of the study.

The authors say the textbooks discussed the impact of climate change in hypothetical terms. Some suggested that global warming could be beneficial. Some states have begun adopting new national standards for science education, but the textbooks in the study are still in use.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Education Research.

Listen to the report.