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Climate science provokes textbook battle in Texas

The causes of climate change are in dispute, but the consequences are clear: lakes are drying up.
The causes of climate change are in dispute, but the consequences are clear: lakes are drying up. MCT

Several textbook publishers have withdrawn passages from social studies textbooks that could have lead middle school students to think that climate change is not caused by human activity, an advocacy group said Monday.

The move comes a day before elected Texas school officials vote on whether to approve the books.

The decisions of the Texas State Board of Education could have national impact because the state is the second-largest textbook market behind California, so textbooks written for its market tend to end up in other parts of the country as well.

Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors, and at times opposes far-right religious issues and groups, said publishers were under pressure from social conservatives to include passages that distort climate science and promote denial of the seriousness of the issue. But four publishers recently withdrew or changed passages on climate change that science reviewers found inaccurate, said Dan Quinn, a Texas Freedom Network spokesman.

McGraw-Hill School Education agreed to make changes on Monday, he said.

"We applaud these publishers for responsibly listening to scholars and the tens of thousands of people from across the country who have signed petitions insisting that the textbooks put education and facts ahead of politics," Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller said in a statement Monday.

She added that she hoped publishers would "stand firm in their decision and resist pressure from politicians on the state board...”

The State Board of Education will hold a preliminary vote Tuesday and a final vote Friday. The board can only reject books that don’t meet state standards or that contain factual errors, Miller said. But in the past it essentially has rejected books by not putting them on the list of those it approves, she said.

The state school board has 10 Republican members and five Democrats. The Republicans are divided evenly between social conservatives and more traditional conservatives, Quinn said.

The National Center for Science Education reviewed the proposed social studies books and reported its findings in September. It’s a nonprofit group that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change.

A passage in the McGraw-Hill text that the science education center said was “deeply concerning,” but apparently has been removed or changed, compared a passage from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group that rejects climate science, and one from the International Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored organization that compiles scholarly reviews of international climate research reports. The report said that students weren’t given the background information they needed to assess the two statements.

The Heartland Institute section claimed that scientists don’t agree whether climate change is caused by human activity that releases heat-trapping emissions.

The U.N.-sponsored panel’s review and other studies of the literature show that scientists overwhelmingly agree that human activity, mainly burning coal, oil and gas, is the cause.

“There’s no debate about what’s causing climate change. It’s human activity,” climate scientist Camille Parmesan, a professor in geology at the University of Texas at Austin, told reporters in a telephone briefing last week.

Parmesan, who also holds the National Marine Aquarium chair in the public understanding of oceans and human health at University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, said U.S. children won’t be able to compete globally if they aren’t scientifically literate. She urged the board to reject textbooks that don’t agree with mainstream science.

Earlier, Brian Belardi, director of media relations for McGraw-Hill, said the company would not comment about the textbook dispute. The Heartland Institute didn’t respond to an earlier request for comment.

Another battle over science textbooks occurred last year in Texas, but the board eventually approved books that are scientifically accurate, Quinn said.mail:

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