New research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) found that some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation.
In a language analysis of four major California science textbooks, the SMU researchers found that the books delivered a message "that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action."
The study concluded that the four 6th grade textbooks -- including books from major national publishing companies McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson -- used language and writing techniques that "more closely match the public discourse of doubt about climate change rather than the scientific discourse" one might expect from academic texts. The books used language that misleadingly amplified uncertainty about the causes of climate change, undermined the expertise of climate scientists, and implied a false balance narrative around the realities of climate change within the scientific community.
For example, the authors found that only 21 percent of the instances discussing the cause-effect factors in climate change identified the effects of human activity, and that in the texts, "Scientists were often said to think or believe but rarely were scientists said to be inferring from evidence or data."
The SMU study explained that conservative media falsehoods about climate change contribute to a shift in public discourse, which eventually influences textbook language by creating competing interests within the textbook market. Publishers' attempts to cater to the largest market -- which includes textbook buyers who ascribe to the "public discourse of doubt" around climate change -- ultimately result in misleading textbook language and factual inaccuracies. Although the study focused on California textbooks, such a large textbook market often "set[s] standards for the rest of the country" according to the study's authors -- an effect that may already be seen in Texas.
How does this "public discourse of doubt" on climate change first develop? The researchers at SMU cited Fox News' coverage of climate science as one factor in shaping misinformation, pointing to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves (emphasis added):
[I]n discussing the topic of climate change, some segments of the media use the journalistic norm of 'balance' -- giving equal weight to all positions about this phenomenon -- when building frames to present to the public (Boykoff 2007). When frame setting, segments of the media adhere to this norm to give equal time to a climate scientist and a climate denier when addressing climate change. For example, Fox News presents climate change as uncertain by interviewing a greater proportion of climate deniers (Feldman et al. 2012). As a result, at the individual-level effects of framing stage, the audience may come to understand human-caused climate change as controversial. And indeed, viewers of Fox News are more likely to be climate skeptics even when taking into account political affiliation (Feldman et al. 2012). The effects of framing go beyond individual positions about specific topics. Frames accumulate into larger discourses, which are 'a shared way of apprehending the world... enabling those who subscribe to it to interpret bits of information and put them together into coherent stories or accounts' (Dryzek 2013, 9). We see two discourses prevalent in climate change communication: a 'scientific discourse' and a 'public discourse.'
The researchers' implication of Fox News in the creation of a misinformed public discourse is well founded. Media figures at Fox have a long record of repeating scientific inaccuracies on air and allowing fringe figures to perpetuate widely debunked claims. The similarities between the doubtful language and inaccurate claims on Fox and in the textbook examples from the study are striking:
The SMU study found that the textbooks dedicated substantial portions of their passages on climate change to discussing natural causes rather than human causes, despite that "there is little doubt about the causes of current climate change" within the scientific community that human activities are the driving force behind the phenomenon:
All four textbooks dedicated a substantial portion of the chapters about climate change to describe the natural factors that could be causing this phenomenon. Although all four textbooks indicated that human beings could be having an impact on climate change, they framed this topic as an issue in which not all scientists are in agreement as can be seen in the following example:
- Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate. (Prentice Hall 2008)
The study stated in a discussion of its findings: "The causes of climate change were shrouded in uncertainty in the texts we analyzed. Specifically, the human contribution to climate change was presented as a possibility rather than a certainty."
Fox Host: Is Global Warming Man-Made? "Nobody Knows." In a June 2014 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox News' Steve Doocy asserted that "nobody knows" if the causes of global warming are natural or man-made:
STEVE DOOCY: Keep in mind: nobody is saying that the planet isn't getting warmer. Although, you know, we had a story a couple of days ago that the 1930s were much, much warmer than the decade we're in right now. And the globe has not warmed in 17 years. Here's the thing - nobody's saying the globe isn't warming. The question comes down to, if it is, what's making it warm up? Is it just a natural climactic [sic] cycle? Or is it something man-caused? Nobody knows.
Fox News Correspondent: "There Is Not Consensus" On Causes Of Climate Change. On the September 1 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Dan Springer rejected the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, stating that "while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus," before cutting to an economist from the conservative Heritage Foundation to support his claim.
DAN SPRINGER: Scientists say the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Sea ice is arriving later in the fall and melting sooner in the summer. This was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the Last Frontier State -- 5 million acres burned, about the size of Massachusetts. But while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus.
The SMU study identified language in multiple textbooks that emphasized the historical context of climate change "to support the idea that climate had been changing well before humans were here and, therefore, is a naturally occurring phenomenon," including the following examples:
However, climates have gradually changed throughout Earth's history. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
Scientists have found evidence of many major ice ages throughout Earth's geologic history. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Media figures often appear on Fox News to suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. Media Matters compiled several, such as Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner, saying: "Climate changes. It always has, it always will."
The SMU study noted that "all four textbooks mentioned the negative effects of climate change, but two of them also discussed the potential positive results of this phenomenon," pointing out the following examples:
Global warming could have some positive effects. Farmers in some areas that are now cool could plant crops two times a year instead of one. Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland. However, many effects of global warming are likely to be less positive. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
But farther north, such as in Canada, weather conditions for farming would improve. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Fox's Gutfeld: "Even If There Is Global Warming ... It's Good For Human Beings." On the April 11, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted : "even if there is global warming ... it's good for human beings. If a polar bear dies, I don't feel bad. Honestly I don't. No, human beings. When temperature goes up, human beings live longer. When you have cold spells across countries, people die."
Fox Turned To Mark Levin And A Coal Miner To Say "CO's What Make Plants Grow." During an hour-long special on the "green agenda" in 2012, Fox News turned to right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who denied that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that should be regulated, saying: "Carbon dioxide is what we exhale. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants." Fox later aired video of coal miner Robert "Buz" Hilberry echoing this, saying: "I'm no scientist but CO's what make plants grow and what make you breathe, so they're trying to choke us all out by stopping the burning of coal."
Fox Frequent Marc Morano: Record High Carbon Dioxide "Should Be Welcomed" Because "Plants Are Going To Be Happy." Marc Morano, who was featured on Fox News to discuss climate change 11 times in 2014 alone, said to Bloomberg that Americans "should welcome" a record high in greenhouse gases because "This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
From the November 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the November 4 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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From the September 29 edition of Fox's Outnumbered:
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Fox News highlighted a blog post by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) freshman to attack an English course on the "literature of 9/11" for being one sided in favor of so-called "terrorists," despite evidence that the course includes diverse perspectives on the attacks and the War on Terror that followed.
On the August 31 editions of Fox & Friends and Outnumbered, Fox hosts criticized a course offering at the University of North Carolina, entitled "The Literature of 9/11." The segments drew from an August 28 post at the conservative blog The College Fix, written by a UNC freshman, that was also featured on FoxNews.com. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed that the course did not represent the views of victims of the 9/11 attacks or their families, then briefly interviewed a man who lost his cousin in the attacks:
ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: Students at one of the top universities in the country will learn about the September 11th attacks through the eyes of the terrorists, instead of the victims. A UNC-Chapel Hill's freshman seminar class, "Literature of 9/11," sympathizes with the terrorists who sparked the national tragedy, presenting America as imperialistic. Some of the required reading includes poetry by Guantanamo Bay detainees, but nothing at all from the perspective of September 11th victims or their families.
Outnumbered co-host Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery introduced a segment on the class by citing The College Fix's claims that "None of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the Sept. 11 attacks from the perspective of those who died or from American families who lost loved ones." The co-hosts then focused their discussion on the supposed "one-sided" perspective of the course, and questioned whether the class should be cancelled. Kennedy went on to read her own comic take on what a poem written by a Guantanamo detainee might sound like, and stated that "most of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage":
KENNEDY: I want to point out a little bit of the syllabus. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a little bit of literature told from the perspective of a Pakistani-American who finds America to be greedy and imperialist.
SANDRA SMITH: It appears from the course's online description, of which you read some of it, it says "We will explore a diverse array of themes related to the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror." A diverse array of themes. But, you-- going back, none of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the perspective of those who died, or the families who lost loved ones. How is that a diverse array of theme? There's no diversity in this course.
KENNEDY: It's not diverse at all. And I think we should offer a thousand dollars to the first student who takes this class from Professor Neel Ahuja and actually disagrees with him, and we'll see what kind of a grade they get. Because I guarantee you--
HEATHER MACDONALD: Right, because he will shut down debate, that professor. Yeah.
KENNEDY: I guarantee the first person who presents a logical argument for why much of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage -- I don't have a parrot, but if I did I would probably line the bottom with a lot of this literature -- and, you know, present a more well-rounded opinion of what actually happened.
The course, titled "ENGL 072: Literature of 9/11," is one of 82 freshman year seminar courses across all departments offered at UNC for the Fall 2015 semester, as of August 31. Professor Neel Ahuja, an Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Geography, has taught the course since 2010. The original College Fix post about the course also cited a UNC student-driven rating page called Blinkness, which posts anonymous comments from supposed former students, to suggest that Ahuja had a personal agenda. Professor Ahuja's rating page received just four relatively positive comments from 2010 through August 29, 2015, but has since been swarmed with dozens of hateful messages demanding that he be fired, deported, or handed over to the terror group ISIS. According to his personal website, Ahuja was raised in Topeka, Kansas.
In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks. Here are just a few examples the Fox hosts failed to mention:
The course does include a collection of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but all of the selections were cleared for release by the United States military during the Bush administration. One of the poets was detained at 14 and held for seven years without charge before his release. Another poet, the only journalist ever held in Guantanamo, was also released without charge after seven years in captivity.
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From the May 21 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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North Carolina newspapers have largely missed the connection between a Koch-funded education non-profit organization contracted to help shape new statewide history curriculum materials, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative model legislation mill that wrote the bill mandating the new course work.
In 2011, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill known as the "Founding Principles Act," which would require high school students to pass a course on "Founding Philosophy and the Founding Principles of government for a free people." The bill was generated as a piece of model legislation by ALEC, a conservative group that brings corporations and politicians together to vote on and construct bills to be used in multiple states. According to the Huffington Post, North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction, which has been tasked with drawing up the curriculum required by the Founding Principles Act, proposed on December 3 to "'highly recommend' social studies material from the Bill of Rights Institute," an organization which "receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers."
Of the four largest papers in North Carolina (by circulation), The Charlotte Observer, the News & Record, The News and Observer, and the Winston-Salem Journal, only the Raleigh-based News and Observer produced an original report on the connection between the Koch brothers and the new history curriculum. Its story was reprinted by The Charlotte Observer and the Winston Salem-Journal, the latter of which added quotes from local teachers. The News & Record only ran a short Associated Press story that referenced the original News & Observer article.
As the News and Observer reported, the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) was contracted to help create course material. What all of the state papers missed, however, was the BRI's own connection with ALEC. According the Center for Media and Democracy, BRI was an ALEC member and part of ALEC's Education Task Force. Documents obtained by The Guardian show that BRI's ALEC membership lapsed in April 2013, though the institute was listed as providing research materials for the new curriculum in February of the same year.
Fox News misrepresented the latest news about a controversy over the Advanced Placement (AP) history curriculum in Jefferson County, Colorado, falsely portraying a vote by the county's school board as a decision to "mak[e] history courses more patriotic." In fact, the board voted to change the way the school district reviews its curricula, but it did not adopt the supposedly "patriotic" changes to the AP history curriculum, which Fox has been promoting.
Hundreds of Jefferson County high school students have walked out of class over the past few weeks in response to the proposed changes to the AP history curriculum. The original resolution, introduced by school board member Julie Williams, "stated that AP history classes should promote 'patriotism and ... the benefits of the free-enterprise system' and should not 'encourage or condone civil disorder.'"
Fox News has reported on this story several times, including hosting Ken Witt, the conservative president of the school board, to scapegoat teachers unions for supposedly "using students" as "political pawns," despite a statement to the contrary by the president of the local teachers union. Fox host Gretchen Carlson even told students "that if they 'don't like it here,' then they should just 'get out.'" Fox's disapproval of these protests stands in stark contrast to the network's previous lauding of students who stood up against things like healthy school lunches and rules regarding religious texts.
On the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on the Jefferson County school board meeting the night before, claiming that the board "voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic" while an on-screen graphic read "A Win For Patriotism":
NAUERT: The controversial history plan that sparked massive protests in Colorado still alive this morning despite students, parents, and teachers protesting for days. The Jefferson County School Board voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic. There was a bit of a compromise, though. The board will let students and teachers get more involved in that process. [emphasis added]
Nauert's report, however, is misleading. Though she is correct that the vote allows for input from students and teachers, according to reporting from local TV station KUSA and the Associated Press, the board in fact voted 3-2 "to revise procedures for reviewing curriculum but did not specifically approve a review of AP U.S. History." The report continued:
Ultimately the board adopted a compromise proposal penned by Superintendent Dan McMinimee to revise current review procedures to include students, teachers and other community members. But the committee that was approved is not course-specific and has not been charged at this point with reviewing AP U.S. History, according to Marlene Desmond with Jeffco Public Schools.
While another Associated Press report acknowledged that Williams "refused a call to withdraw her original proposal," The Washington Post emphasized that "it's not immediately clear whether the committee will review the history course, only that the meetings must be held in public." In addition, NPR reported that after two weeks of protest in the county, "the original language about patriotism was dropped," though "the resolution still calls for a committee to review course materials."
Meanwhile, FoxNews.com published an Associated Press story that also described the events accurately.
News of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal" has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :
WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."
Fox News promoted an effort to ban Isabel Allende's award-winning novel The House of The Spirits, thanking a North Carolina mother for a "keeping up the good fight" and using her campaign to lob yet another off-base attack at the Common Core educational standards.
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck reported that "parents are outraged over a new book being assigned to their high school students containing references to abortion and prostitution," and was quick to tie the book to the Common Core educational standards -- falsely labeling them the "Common Core classroom curriculum." She welcomed North Carolina mother Chastity Lesesne on to discuss:
The campaign to censor The House of The Spirits in North Carolina's Watauga County school district has sparked national scrutiny in recent weeks. As Michael Keegan, president of the free speech advocacy organization People for The American Way noted, Lesesne's censorship attempt ignores that "The House of Spirits is an internationally renowned work that is taught in high school Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs throughout the country." Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union-NC Legal Foundation, also warned of the "the slippery slope of banning books that promote critical thinking and classroom dialogue" and urged district officials to vote "in favor of the freedom to read."
Promoting censorship is an unusual position for Fox given that the network has previously cited First Amendment concerns as reasons to reject anti-bullying policies, allow anti-gay discrimination, contest a private company's decisions, and even offer a pro-fracking film undeserved awards.
Fox News used a selectively edited video to falsely claim an Obama administration education initiative, Common Core, would reward students for getting math problems wrong.
Co-host Steve Doocy falsely claimed that the video revealed students could answer math questions incorrectly and still "get it right" under Common Core, simply if they "explained" their wrong answer to their teacher. Guest co-host Anna Kooiman furthered the attack by suggesting a student who learned math under Common Core might become "a doctor and operat[e] on the wrong knee."
But the unedited video of August's comments reveals that she very specifically stated that wrong answers would be corrected, and that the school simply wants to ensure that students understood the process behind coming to the correct answer:
AUGUST: Even if they said, '3 x 4 was 11,' if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer really in words and in oral explanations, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we're really more focusing on the how.
OFF-SCREEN: You're going to be correcting them, right?
AUGUST: Absolutely, absolutely. We want our students to compute correctly. But the emphasis is really moving more towards the explanation, and the how, and the why, and 'can I really talk through the procedures that I went through to get this answer, and not just knowing that it's 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?
While Doocy described the program as "a new national curriculum the Obama administration is imposing on schools," Common Core is not a curriculum, but a set of standards that delineates what skills students should acquire at each grade level. States have the option to decide whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards, and school districts determine their own curricula to comply. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the program. Many private and religious schools have opted-out.
Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham institute and Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute explained in the National Review that according to Fordham Institute research, compared "with existing state standards ... for most states, Common Core is a great improvement with regard to rigor and cohesiveness."
The New York Post reported this morning that a public elementary school in New York City will require its students to learn Arabic. The story describes the school is "a so-called 'choice' school and no kids, even those living nearby, are forced to attend it," and even quotes a student and parents that are very supportive of the program. Nonetheless, right-wing media figures are already responding to this reporting with their usual anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry.
Right-wing blogger and anti-Muslim hate group leader (and Fox News regular) Pamela Geller described the Arabic language program as "Islamic supremacism on the march in the public square," and suggested that it would be a "public school madrassah."
Right-wing author Matthew Vadum responded to the news that Arabic would be taught at a public school by making a reference to explosives:
And right-wing blogger Andrea Ryan of Gateway Pundit had this to say:
Now, they want our children be able to read the Quran, listen to the draconian precepts of sharia, and watch Al Jazeera inveigh against Christianity, democracy, equality, and freedom in its native Arabic language. When Communism aimed its missiles and armies at our nation President Reagan didn't fold and force our children to learn Russian.
Leave it to the Liberals to try to completely destroy all that is good about our culture and turn it into something distorted, ugly, and dangerous.
Far from being "dangerous," learning Arabic is actually important for our national security. In remarks to a January 2006 summit of U.S. university presidents, George W. Bush introduced a language initiative to teach students -- starting in Kindergarten -- languages important to national security, such as Arabic:
[O]ne of the reasons why the Secretary of Defense is here. He wants his young soldiers who are the front lines of finding these killers to be able to speak their language and be able to listen to the people in the communities in which they live. That makes sense, doesn't it, to have a language-proficient military -- to have people that go into the far reaches of this world and be able to communicate in the villages and towns and rural areas and urban centers, to protect the American people.
We need intelligence officers who, when somebody says something in Arabic or Farsi or Urdu knows what they're talking about. That's what we need. We need diplomats -- when we send them out to help us convince governments that we've got to join together and fight these terrorists who want to destroy life and promote an ideology that is so backwards it's hard to believe. These diplomats need to speak that language.
So our short-term strategy is to stay on the offense, and we've got to give our troops, our intelligence officers, our diplomats all the tools necessary to succeed. That's what people in this country expect of our government. They expect us to be wise about how we use our resources, and a good use of resources is to promote this language initiative in K through 12, in our universities. And a good use of resources is to encourage foreign language speakers from important regions of the world to come here and teach us how to speak their language.
You're going to hear a lot about the specifics of the program. What I'm trying to suggest to you that this program is a part of a strategic goal, and that is to protect this country in the short-term and protect it in the long-term by spreading freedom.
From the December 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the December 5 edition of TBS's Conan: