Sunday, 25 September 2011

Education or Muddled Disinformation and Propoganda?

From Cardiff University, where I spent some time in the 1960s:
A new bilingual educational resource developed by academics from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences to help Welsh secondary schools deliver stimulating lessons about climate change has been launched by the Chair of Climate Change Commission for Wales.
The "pack" entitled Adapting to Climate Change in Wales is intended both for teachers, and for children at "key stage 4", that is between the ages of 14 and 16. The CU "Learning about climate change" news page continues
The Climate Change Educational Resource Pack for Key Stage 4 explains the scientific basis of climate change and explores how changes in climate could impact citizens of Wales. In particular it looks at how citizens could adapt to living in a different climate.
Aimed at pupils and teachers, the multidisciplinary pack is tailored to meet the requirements of the Welsh national curriculum. It will be distributed to at least 100 secondary schools in Wales to help teachers deliver high quality, balanced information and inspire young people to adapt their behaviour to ensure their future sustainability. Although the focus is on Wales, this packs draws on examples from all over the world and covers everyday issues such as how food supply, settlement, transport and health may be affected.
In the second paragraph, note "high quality, balanced information". How does the "pack" meet that description? Not too well, it seems. Right at the beginning of "Theme 1: The Global Climate Perspective" we find
Key learning outcomes
1. To understand key components of the greenhouse effect
2. To understand the influence of humans on climate
3. To understand predicted global climate changes
... and on the following page (page 7) is this, relating to item 1 of the "Key learning outcomes"
Principle of the “Greenhouse Effect”
The sun shines down on the surface of the earth. About half the heat naturally reflects back out into space. When greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released into our atmosphere, they trap heat and stop it reflecting back out into space. This causes additional warming of the earth surface, ocean and atmosphere… just like a greenhouse!
That would seem to encompass and explain precisely none of the "key components of the greenhouse effect", in my opinion. A greenhouse doesn't trap reflected heat. The glass transmits incoming solar radiation and traps the warmed air. Greenhouse gases don't trap reflected heat. The phrasing implies that they do that only when "released into our atmosphere" and not otherwise. It isn't difficult to briefly describe the essential components of the "greenhouse effect" for all 14-16 year-olds in a similarly short paragraph, though since this is intended as the scientific basis for the entire "pack", surely it deserves a longer (and accurate) description?

There's an illegible graphic below that travesty of a description of the "Greenhouse Effect” and here it is (pdf embedded graphic, not from a screen-print)

That's really of use as an "educational resource" isn't it? The link below it is to the website home page, and not the page containing the graphic, which takes some finding. Perhaps that's intentional - the home page is pure alarmism. It's sourced from What is The Greenhouse Effect?, and here's the original, saved from the web page

If the authors could have actually read the text and just copied it verbatim, they'd have got this:
Solar radiation powers the climate system. Some solar radiation is reflected by the Earth and the atmosphere. About half of the solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth's surface and warms it. Infrared radiation is emitted by the Earth's surface. Some of the infrared radiation passes through the atmosphere, but most is absorbed and re-emitted in all directions by greenhouse gas molecules and clouds. The effect of this is to warm the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere.
That is just 17 words longer than the "high quality" but zero-content description in the "pack". It's something few should take issue with in an educational document intended for 14-16 year-olds.

Apparently the “Greenhouse Effect” stuff (it's "stuff" and not information) was "developed by academics from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences". If this is a sample of the quality of the rest of the "pack", then I despair. Unfortunately, it's almost matched by this gem from the opposite column on the same page (my bold)
Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere significantly increased around 1900. This coincided with the Industrial Revolution. At this time, levels rose from about 250 parts per million to more than 375 parts per million.
Teachers should have fun explaining how 1900 "coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and how "at that time" (implying no more than a year or two) "Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere significantly increased".

I've already alluded to the quality of one of the graphics in the pdf; the quality of most of them is very poor. Many (most?) seem to have been edited from computer screen prints, rather than saved images (as above). Here's one from page 27, of a climate-change "adapted house" (pdf embedded graphic, not from a screen-print). Source: author it says below, so why use a thumbnail and not a legible (and zoom-able) image?

Since there's no link to an original, perhaps I should offer a small prize to anyone who can read the text.

Many of the web references are to news reports - are Welsh school-children to rely on the knowledge and abilities of news reporters? Much of the rest of the document goes into interminable detail of the possible consequences of increased winter rainfall, rising sea level etc. Is this the sort of detail needed in an educational "resource" aimed at 14-16 year-olds? I'd argue that most could absorb and comprehend only small amount of that detail, even if backed up by classroom sessions.

The picture painted is of the worst possible, rather than likely scenarios, and even if these include the caveat "could" or "may", the overall impression I get is of alarmism. I suspect the impression most readers will get is that the depicted events are likely to occur in the near future, so the "pack" is misleading at best, frightening at worst. I give it 3 out of 10 - "could (and should) do better".

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