Should schools teach the global warming controversy by showing students only Al Gore’s alarmist movie? Roger Williams University just learned the answer to that question the hard way.

One week before Earth Day, the professors of the RWU course, “Core 101: Science, Technology and Society,” required their students to watch “An Inconvenient Truth.” The students were not presented with any other viewpoint on global warming.

Controversy erupted when the president of RWU’s College Republicans club complained to assistant dean Jeffrey Hughes, “With the issue of global warming being such a highly politicized topic, with the scientific community unsure if global warming is man-induced or part of the natural cycle of the earth, do you think that it is intellectually honest to only show the alarmist viewpoint?”

Hughes responded that Gore’s movie is an “ideal subject for a Core lab” because “the point of Core is to inform students of scientific principles and help them make decisions on issues with a scientific basis in their everyday lives,” according to a CNSNews.com report.

Dean Hughes continued, “After an initial and heated debate, scientists no longer question whether the atmosphere is being warmed due to human activities and instead are increasingly impressed with the speed and impact of the process.

"I repeat: There is no doubt that we’re warming the earth and that a continuation of our activities will lead to profound changes. Penguins, polar bears and your unborn children have no vote in this. They must live with decisions we make today. As educators, we’re charged to encourage your intellectual growth.

"That can (actually, will) be uncomfortable at times, and we’re also here to help you deal with that discomfort. It’s truly what makes being a human such a joy, privilege and challenge.”

But if anyone has learned about how “uncomfortable” learning can be, it is Dean Hughes, who seems to have changed his mind about RWU’s one-sided global warming curriculum.

An RWU spokesman told me that the backlash against the required viewing of Gore’s movie prompted Dean Hughes to “explore alternatives” to teaching global warming. The spokesman said that one alternative includes the presentation this fall of the counter-alarmism movie, "The Great Global Warming Swindle," a Channel 4 (U.K.) documentary that is best described as must-see global warming TV.

As the chastened Dean Hughes learned, while many people have made up their minds about global warming, many others have not. Further, there is evidence that, when presented with both sides of the debate, many believers end up changing their mindset from alarmism to skepticism about the alleged climate crisis.

Last March, the prestigious New York debating society Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate on global warming.

On the alarmist side of the debate were the Union of Concerned Scientists Brenda Ekwurzel, NASA climate modeler Gavin Schmidt and University of California oceanographer Richard C. J. Somerville.

The skeptical view of global warming alarmism was presented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist Richard S. Lindzen, University of London bio-geographer Philip Stott, and “State of Fear” author Michael Crichton, who is also a Harvard-trained physician and an instructor at Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A pre-debate poll indicated that, by 2-to-1 (57 percent to 29 percent, with 14 percent undecided), the audience believed that manmade global warming was a crisis. But in the post-debate poll, the audience reversed its pre-debate views — the ranks of the skeptics swelled to 46 percent, the believers plummeted to 42 percent and the undecided declined slightly to 12 percent.

That’s the power of debate.

It follows that schools, if they choose to teach the global warming controversy at all, ought to be teaching both sides of the controversy, not just Al Gore’s alarmism.

Last fall, the National Science Teachers Association rejected Al Gore’s offer of 50,000 free DVDs of “An Inconvenient Truth” for use in classrooms.

Recognizing that Al Gore and his global warming viewpoint is just that, opinion rather than undisputed fact, the NSTA expressed concern that other “special interests” might also want to distribute materials and that it didn’t want to offer “political” endorsement of the film, according to a Washington Post report.

The NSTA probably made the correct decision at the time simply because it would be egregiously biased to present just one particular viewpoint about a controversy as heated and important as global warming.

Now that the counter-viewpoints are available, however, schools ought to show their students “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Great Global Warming Swindle” and the Intelligence Squared debate.

According to a recent front-page Washington Post story, one-sided teaching about global warming is taking a terrible emotional toll on children.

“For many children and young adults, global warming is the atomic bomb of today…Parents say they're searching for ‘productive’ outlets for their 8-year-olds' obsessions with dying polar bears. Teachers say enrollment in high school and college environmental studies classes is doubling year after year. And psychologists say they're seeing an increasing number of young patients preoccupied by a climactic Armageddon.”

It’s time to learn that bias plus teaching does not equal education.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Respond to the Writer