What will the incoming administration mean for science education in the United States? In particular, what impact might Betsy DeVos, the pick for secretary of the Department of Education, have on what is taught in our nation’s science classrooms?

A few loud voices dismissing science can be enough to intimidate teachers into diluting their treatment of evolution and climate change, permanently short-changing a generation of science learners.

DeVos is likely to take a quieter approach. She hasn’t taken strong positions on either evolution or climate change, and likely won’t focus on them as curriculum issues. But if her views on school choice are implemented, even more students may be miseducated. DeVos favors letting parents use publicly funded vouchers to send their children to private and religious schools where, in contrast to public schools, creationism can be taught without violating the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state.


During Senate hearings Tuesday on DeVos’s nomination, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked point-blank if a DeVos-led Department of Education would side with students or with purveyors of junk science. She evaded answering — but conspicuously used the “critical thinking” catchphrase beloved by creationists and climate change deniers alike.

Others in the Trump administration have been more outspoken challengers of climate change and evolution.

During the campaign for president, Donald Trump repeatedly called climate change a hoax. His recent claim that “no one really knows” is a scant improvement.

While evolution was not as much in the headlines during the campaign, Vice President-elect Mike Pence once saw fit to denounce evolution on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Support for teachers

The federal Department of Education has little power over what teachers are required to cover. Science education standards are set at the state level. Evolution is generally integrated into current standards and textbooks, and climate change — a relative newcomer to American science education — is increasingly included in them.

But just including evolution and climate change in standards isn’t enough. Teachers must feel confident when presenting the material in their classrooms. Unfortunately, they often don’t. Only 54 percent of American science teachers teach climate change forthrightly, while only 28 percent do the same for evolution.

The rest? Some deny the science outright and present climate change denial or creationism. Others compromise by skipping the topic, omitting key elements, or downplaying the solidity of the evidence.

Among the most powerful reasons for their reticence is teachers’ perceptions of the attitudes toward these socially contentious topics in the communities where they teach. Nationally, only about two-thirds of Americans accept that human activities are responsible for recent climate change, and a similar percentage accept that human beings have evolved over time.

The consensus among scientists on those two topics, though, is nearly universal. There is, in truth, no scientific debate: Evolution and climate change are both supported by mountains of fully vetted evidence amassed over decades by multiple scientific disciplines.

Although most science teachers accept the established science, many of them live and work in places where they fear that the majority of their community does not. It takes courage to tackle forthrightly topics that may provoke community disapproval or even hostility.

Put yourself in a teacher’s shoes. You’ve just begun a lesson on, say, how atmospheric carbon dioxide contributes to Earth’s temperature. This is straightforward physics — not a matter of opinion or debate.

Then one of your students raises a hand to protest, “But the president says that no one really knows whether climate change is real!” What would you do?

“Make lemonade from lemons” is my advice to science teachers in such situations. Invite students to think like scientists by asking questions such as “How could we figure out whether our climate is changing?” or “What kind of evidence should we gather?”

Students would quickly learn that just about any kind of evidence they might name has already been collected and they can examine the data for themselves — at the websites of NASA and NOAA, at least for the time being.

Not only are students who do this kind of exploration more likely to be convinced about the reality of climate change, they will also come away with an invaluable lesson in how science works and how they can put scientific thinking to work in their own lives.

Most parents, whether they live in blue or red states, want their children to get a good science education. They know it can open up a world of better jobs and a more secure future. That’s why we and our colleagues at the National Center for Science Education work hard to let teachers know that the scientific community, and the majority of people in their communities, will have their backs when they teach the science without compromise.

Science teachers will find their jobs more challenging if our political leaders dismiss scientific findings and question the motives of scientists and research agencies. Sadly, then, we predict that NCSE will be busy during the new administration.

During the Trump years, it will be up to all of us to let science teachers know that we recognize, support, and applaud them for the crucial and difficult role they play in equipping the next generation to understand the power of scientific thinking.

Ann Reid is the executive director and Glenn Branch is the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education.

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  • Scientists who believe in old universe origins and evolution have put men on the moon, revealed an extraordinary universe, revolutionized modern medicine, created a multi-billion dollar biotech industry, produced mountains and mountains of knowledge on how the world works, how biology works, how life works. Creation “scientists” have produced a giant wooden boat in rural Kentucky. Who do you want your children learning from??

  • The scientific method stands upon a created universe. Galileo: “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe”. Re-affirmed by Einstein: “What I’m really interested in is whether God could have made the world in a different way; that is, whether the necessity of logical simplicity leaves any freedom at all.” Faraday, esteemed a genius by Einstein: “The Bible, and it alone, with nothing added to it nor taken away from it by man, is the sole and sufficient guide for each individual, at all times and in all circumstances”. Balance these startling assertions against these men’s advice to keep an open and unbiased approach – and we have three certainties. 1). If it is scientific, it may be expressed mathematically. 2). The Word of God is the final and foundational authority. 3). We may draw rational conclusions – about a rational universe.

    Climate alarmism fails on every count. We live on a rationally created planet more than four thousand million years old. Atmospheric CO2 must have always been present, since carbon reliant life was always present. Minimum required? Possibly 0.0002 atm.? – but higher is necessary for complex life. Simultaneously and concurrently, climate must have never exponentially run on to extremes, causing extermination. By estimation of geologic deposits, over that incomprehensible time, of the order of 12, repeat, of the order of 12 atmospheres CO2 or its equivalent were sequestered in our strata and our waters. Carbon is non-renewable other than by re-supply from Space or from the Earth below. Volcanism being an obvious source.
    This is the story for carbon – a minor greenhouse gas. Carbon, supplied by comets and volcanoes, certainly could not have remained steady! So if our climate is governed by carbon gases, where is the mathematical expression of climate science which proves rate of carbon gases emission from volcanoes is proportional to the temperature adjustment requirement of the globe?
    Further, even if, by some surreal co-incidence, carbon was finely tuned into the system – were water vapour, ozone, nitrous oxide, and all other greenhouse gases concurrently fine tuned to the system? More: did the sun mysteriously act unlike other observed stars and decide to not fluctuate in output at any time?

    Fairy tale science. Unmathematical, unempirical.

    Four thousand million years, every fear of ‘climate science’ a certainty— exponential runs, CO2 evaporating from the waters, extensive ice cap melts, triggering, through isostasy, massive volcanism, more CO2, more heat input, triggering more melting, more atmospheric carbon ……… then, at length, carbon runs short ……. the world begins to freeze….. on and on.. The one certainty of geology. This planet was doomed. Like the billion billion other blasted ruins of Space.

    “Heaven is my throne….. Earth.. .. my footstool….Out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” We live in a rational universe.

    What mechanism kept the planet from ruin? The Bible specifically links magnetism and climate (JOB 38:24) and concurrently makes the sun the main control. Einstein was puzzled by our magnetic field and thinking people remain puzzled. All conductors in motion within a magnetic field generate electric current and thus set up a secondary field. Therefore, our circulating oceans (salt water is conductive) contribute to our magnetic field. Oceanic circulation is influenced by the shape of the ocean basins and ….. climate. Atmospheric circulation presumably is interlinked. The geomagnetic record shows an undeniable, mystifying link between palaeoclimate and frequency of magnetic field reversal. New discoveries about the sun point to a possible mechanism of temperature moderation ………. . Empirical, mathematical, rational. The sun is in control and we feed back our requirements. Geologic history makes sense. Please feel free to learn more, CreationTheory dot com . Or go direct, “Climate Moderation Magnetic Interaction Sun – Earth”. (Philip Bruce Heywood.)

    • You said it yourself, the word of God is final. The Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Therefore, none of what you said makes any sense.

    • Just a few Bible quotes:

      “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)

      “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:3)

      “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

      What is wrong with teaching science , climate change etc. alongside religion , creationism and climate change denial. On the latter all the climate change denial arguments I read are very very dubious but if there are some that are legitimate , just present both cases in a class!
      Science still has many gaps. What science does however is admit those gaps very openly. Further when science makes mistakes, they are discovered and new theories form. I personally can’t say that about religion, however since I am not everybody , again why not teach main religions/creationism etc. As US is a christian nation it makes absolute sense to spend more time on Christianity and other compatible ideas.
      I think school vouchers are a great idea BUT they have to be paired with minimum standards and good information to base parent’s choices on.

  • Considering that republicans control both houses of parliament and the new president is alike. I can confidently state that the battle for scientific thinking against creationists and science deniers has been already lost a while back.
    Conservatives thrive on the ignorance of people and they worked hard for decades to achieve that goal

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