Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Dilemmas about Teaching > Al's Bandwagon

Al's bandwagon


Suki Smaglik, Pat Hauslein

Sophomore level Earth Systems Science seminar course.

Topic: Evidence for Global Warming

Problem: In the eight-person seminar class is an inquisitive, nontraditional, student who is a motivated popular science reader. This student challenges the conclusions made by the vocal majority of scientists that global warming is caused by human activity.

While he doesn't reject the evidence, he rejects the interpretation and suggests that "main-stream" scientists have jumped on "Al's bandwagon" and are putting all their eggs in one basket. He strongly questions the creditability of the scientists who signed the U.N. Paris Statement on Global Warming.

How can the instructor help the whole class explore the credibility of his sources?


Karin Kirk, Dex Perkins, David McConnell, Alecia Mueller

We created a menu of strategies; the first two are more detailed (and would require more time in class), while the others could be used as quicker responses to the dilemma.

  • Have the class point out which aspects of the controversy they don't understand. Discuss those points one by one. The goal is to clarify different points of view, not to change everyone's minds. Ask the class what they need to know in order to address the points that they don't agree with or don't understand. The class can then explore answers to those questions. By having students track down this information, you capitalize on a 'teachable moment' and demonstrate how science is done.
  • Facilitate role-playing to explore the points of view of different stakeholders: India, Ford, Exxon-Mobil, Sierra Club, etc. Each group can then examine the credibility and point of view of the group they are assigned to represent.
  • Allow room for discussion of the question "are you skeptical of science in general?" Is there an underlying issue with scientific integrity? Even scientists pick and choose which of their results they keep and publish. Is that okay?
  • Invite the student to do some background research on the scientists who he considers not to be credible. However, allow for the fact that it is probably difficult or impossible for a student to determine the credibility of a scientist
  • Use the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an example to show where there is consensus. Note that IPCC is a large panel whose members are appointed by their respective governments, and that it represents a 'middle ground' position.
  • Draw parallels to other scientific interpretations. If you don't believe the 90% consensus, would you not evacuate if there were a 90% probability of a flood of the river that flows through your backyard? Make the connection between probabilities of different scales and types of events.

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