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A Small Victory for Accurate Climate Science — And in Texas of all Places

The world's largest textbook publisher caved under public pressure and removed a passage denying human-caused climate change, but another publisher continues to say there's a debate about climate science.

by Matt Smith
Nov 14 2014, 11:30pm

Image via AP/Eric Gay

Bowing to public pressure, the world's largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state. 

Proposed wording in Pearson Education's English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of "some scientists." It then went on to say: "Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change."

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

'What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas.'

"For these textbooks to present climate change as a 'debate,' or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children," AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board's leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

"Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat," it says. "As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns."

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"What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas," Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a group that has objected to several proposed textbooks, told VICE News. Since Texas is the largest single market for K-12 textbooks in the United States, its textbooks are often purchased by smaller, less influential states.

In a statement to VICE News, the publisher said: "Pearson values input from the public regarding instructional materials developed with Texas educators to support student learning and academic growth."

The company added that it looks forward to the board's review and vote next week.

Quinn said in addition to climate change, misrepresentations of history, religion, and culture are also being fought over at the Texas State Board of Education.

Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

Here's what Republicans are thinking when they deny climate change. Read more here.

"It's certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change," Quinn told VICE News. "It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this."

McGraw-Hill did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.

The company recently altered the exercise by including additional information about both the IPCC and the Heartland Institute.

Josh Rosenau at the National Center for Science Educatiosaid the current wording better explains "who the groups are and what their biases might be."

Rosenau approved of Pearson's changes but continues to view McGraw-Hill's text as insufficient.

"There's still time for McGraw-Hill to get on board," he told VICE News. "It's an improvement but it still basically sets up students to view this as something where everyone has a bunch of different opinions and everyone's opinion is more or less valid."

Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl