The Narrow Perspective On Climate Science Being Communicated To Physics Teachers

Students who are being taught climate science are being indoctrinated into a narrow viewpoint of climate science [thanks to Ben Herman and Phil Krider for alerting us to this article]. The article below published by the American Association of Physics Teachers documents this bias.

Michael D. Mastrandrea and Stephen H. Schneider, 2008: Resource Letter GW-2: Global Warming. American Journal of Physics, Volume 76, Issue 7, pp. 608-614

This article is a “Resource Letter” whose mandate is described below: 

Resource Letters are guides for college and university physicists, astronomers, and other scientists to literature, websites, and other teaching aids. Each Resource Letter focuses on a particular topic and is intended to help teachers improve course content in a specific field of physics or to introduce nonspecialists to this field. The Resource Letters Editorial Board meets at the AAPT Winter Meeting to choose topics for which Resource Letters will be commissioned during the ensuing year. Items in the Resource Letter below are labeled with the letter E to indicate elementary level or material of general interest to persons seeking to become informed in the field, the letter I to indicate intermediate level or somewhat specialized material, or the letter A to indicate advanced or specialized material. No Resource Letter is meant to be exhaustive and complete; in time there may be more than one Resource Letter on a given subject. A complete list by field of all Resource Letters published to date is at the website Suggestions for future Resource Letters, including those of high pedagogical value, are welcome and should be sent to Professor Roger H. Stuewer, Editor, AAPT Resource Letters, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota, 116 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455; e-mail:

with the abstract

This Resource Letter provides a guide to the literature on human-induced climate change, also known as global warming: Resource Letter GW-1: Global Warming, John W. Firor, Am. J. Phys. 62, 490–495 1994. After an introductory overview, journal articles, books, and websites are cited for the following topics: the greenhouse effect and radiative forcing, detection and attribution of human-induced climate change, carbon cycle feedbacks, paleoclimate, climate models and modeling uncertainties, projections of future climate change and climate impacts, and mitigation and adaptation policy options.

As an example of the exclusion of papers on climate issues, with respect to the 2003 western Europe heat wave, the authors include the papers

Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003,” P. A. Stott, D. A. Stone, and M. R. Allen, Nature London 423, 610–614 2004

“More intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat waves in the 21st century,” G. A. Meehl and C. Tebaldi, Science 305, 994–997 2004

yet ignored papers that conflicted with the conclusions in the above papers; e.g.

Chase, T.N., K. Wolter, R.A. Pielke Sr., and Ichtiaque Rasool, 2006: Was the 2003 European summer heat wave unusual in a global context? Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, L23709, doi:10.1029/2006GL027470

whose conclusions were indepencently confirmed in

Connolley W.M. 2008: Comment on “Was the 2003 European summer heat wave unusual in a global context?”by Thomas N. Chase et al. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L02703, doi:10.1029/2007GL031171.

as discussed in

Chase, T.N., K. Wolter, R.A. Pielke Sr., and Ichtiaque Rasool, 2008: Reply to comment by W.M. Connolley on ‘‘Was the 2003 European summer heat wave unusual in a global context?’’Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L02704, doi:10.1029/2007GL031574.

Other climate topics were similarly presented selectively; for example, the neglect of the paper

Feddema et al. 2005: The importance of land-cover change in simulating future climates., 310, 1674-1678

where landscape change in this century was found in thier model runs to be a first order climate forcing.  However, this viewpoint was ignored.

 The article does contain valuable references (they do include a cite to the 2005 National Research Council report, for example), but, except for that publication,  it does not communicate the range of peer reviewed papers and books that conflict with the author’s viewpoint.

The article clearly misinforms the students and the physics teachers as to the actual diversity of issues with respect to the human role within the climate system, as well as the significance of natural climate forcings and feedbacks.  

Climate Science recommends that physics teachers read more widely than the list in the American Association of Physics Teachers resource list. 

While, we, of course, also have our own biases, our book

Cotton, W.R. and R.A. Pielke, 2007: Human impacts on weather and climate, Cambridge University Press, 330 pp

does provide a more inclusive set of peer reviewed papers and research summaries than is provided in the Mastrandreaa and Schneider article.

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