Unit 1: Identifying Misconceptions & Logical Fallacies
Students will identify how they, as individuals, think about climate science and explore common perceptions and misconceptions that exist about climate science. The activities within this unit incorporate individual reflection by students, small group work, and larger group/class discussions, and endeavor for students to learn how to discern true and untrue statements using logic and fact. Students are presented with various statements about climate science and are tasked with determining whether these statements are factually true and whether they are logically valid. We recognize that students may have limited background factual knowledge in climate science before starting these activities, so some exercises are intended more as a way for students to evaluate how they think about climate science and how to create logically valid scientific statements (i.e., how to think and talk like a scientist). By learning how to identify logically and factually true and untrue statements, students will, by the end of this unit, be able to create and evaluate statements about climate science (even with limited factual knowledge) and critique common misconceptions about climate science.
Learning Goals for this unit:
- Students will be able to identify common types of logical fallacies.
- Students will be able to identify a logically correct statement.
- Students will be able to critically evaluate statements about climate change.
Context for Use
This unit is designed for use in an introductory-level geoscience or environmental science class. It can be adapted for use in online instruction, individual/independent study courses, and large lecture hall-style classes. The exercises are designed to be completed in a 50-minute course structure, but they can be shortened or lengthened based on the level of detail desired for class discussions. This time estimate does not include any out-of-class extensions to the activities. Students and instructors will need copies of handouts, computer, access to the Internet, and a classroom projector.
Description and Teaching Materials
The activities within this unit encourage students to evaluate how they think about climate science and how to create and evaluate statements about climate science, in terms of factual and logical correctness. The image below represents how one can assess any particular statement.
The activities are geared toward first learning how to evaluate statements for logic, and later, how to evaluate statements based on fact. In addition, these activities allow students to reflect on their own background knowledge and bias.
The suggested sequence of this unit is:
- What Are Logical Fallacies: This activity is a brief introduction to the structure of commonly used illogical statements (called logical fallacies). Students will learn the formal names for a variety of common logical fallacies. (20 min)
- Evaluate Statements About Climate Activity: Instructors use a PowerPoint presentation to present common statements about climate science. Students are asked to reflect on whether they think each statement is factually true or false and to explain their rationale. The results of this activity can help instructors and students identify and evaluate commonly heard false statements about climate science. (20 min)
- Summative Assessment: This is a short quiz that can be administered during a subsequent class or included as a larger, whole-module assessment. (10 min)
1. What Are Logical Fallacies?
The activities in the handout and presentation below are designed to introduce students to the structure of commonly used logical fallacies. We envision that the instructor introduces the concept, construction, and examples of logical fallacies with the class using the presentation and the first and second page of the handouts. The final page of the handout provides students with logically invalid claims about climate science; their goal is to identify which illogical structure is used for each statement. The statements range from the subtle to the outrageous. This activity can be completed individually or within small groups. Requiring students to provide justification for their answers may help facilitate further class discussions. A final, formative assessment to use at the conclusion of these activities is a YouTube video in which students hear ridiculous statements and must identify which logical fallacy is used.
PowerPoint format :
Word format: What Are Logical Fallacies? (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 45kB Aug10 16)
PDF format: What Are Logical Fallacies? (PDF) (Acrobat (PDF) 117kB Aug10 16)
Instructor Key to handouts:
a) Watch the YouTube video, which presents a few bombastic statements, and identify any misconceptions and illogical errors. Explain your reasoning.
Instructor Key to video:
b) After learning about logical fallacies, have each student create two to three illogical statements and identify which logical fallacy format/structure represents each statement.
2. Evaluate Statements About Climate Activity:
This activity addresses how to evaluate statements based on fact (the horizontal rows of the image above) and is structured as a "Think/pair/share" activity when students complete the quiz on their own, explain their answers with one or two other students, and then present their answers and reasoning to a larger group.
The activity is intended as an initial assessment of students' background understanding of climate science and as a way to identify common misconceptions about climate science. We do not expect that students will necessarily know anything about climate science beforehand and as such, we encourage instructors to emphasize that this is a self-reflection activity. This activity may also function as a non-graded formative assessment of your students' abilities.
The PowerPoint file for this activity includes 12 statements about climate science. Individually, students should identify whether they think each statement is true or false and offer a brief explanation of their reasoning. After completing all the statements, students discuss their answers in small groups. After the small group discussions, the instructor can facilitate a group discussion of each question, noting which aspects of the statements are factually correct and/or incorrect. The presentation notes in the PowerPoint file provide text supporting and explaining answers for each statement, and this additional information can provide instructors with more supporting details and/or help facilitate and guide class discussions. Not only do these notes provide technical details, but they can also help reveal scientific habits of mind in creating and evaluating scientific statements.
Further goals of this exercise are to help students think critically about scientific statements by learning important scientific terms and concepts; become aware of common misconceptions and preconceived notions of climate science and how to address these misconceptions with facts; and recognize factually correct and incorrect statements about climate science.
Presentation (same slides as used in Part 1):
Presenter Notes (same notes as used in Part 1):
Handout of Statements:
Word format: Evaluate Statements About Climate Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 37kB Aug10 16)
PDF format: Evaluate Statements About Climate Handout (PDF Format) (Acrobat (PDF) 58kB Aug10 16)
Teaching Notes and Tips
What Are Logical Fallacies:
After completing these activities, instructors may have students create their own logical fallacies (related to climate change/science or not) as an in-class or homework assignment. This extension will provide students with more opportunities to understand the construction of logical fallacies and may help instructors better assess students' mastery of identifying specific logical fallacies.
This activity has the potential to bring up examples or topics that are controversial and/or uncomfortable for some students. Instructors may want to review the following approaches to handling these types of dilemmas in the classroom:
Evaluate Statements About Climate:
The wording of each statement in the presentation is intentional, and instructors should encourage students to evaluate each statement explicitly as written. The activity can be used for a variety of purposes. Some possible uses are for students to become more aware of their preconceived notions of climate change and how they evaluate the validity of statements (i.e., to further develop students' metacognitive abilities). Instructors may also use this activity as a pre-assessment tool, helping to quickly identify gaps or strengths in their students' understanding of climate change. We do not recommend assigning a point value to this activity, except perhaps as a participation grade and/or for the thoroughness of a student's supporting reasoning for each statement.
The summative assessment for this unit is a brief quiz that requires students to determine whether a statement about climate science is true or false and provide reasonable justification for their answer. Additionally, students must identify the correct logical fallacy based on the definition of each fallacy's typical construction. This quiz can be deployed at the end of this unit or at the completion of this module. (Time estimate: 15 min)
Instructor Answer Key:
References and Resources
To read more about common misconceptions with climate change and for data-rich and articulate answers to many common misconceptions, visit:
For additional explanations of common logical fallacies, try: