Re: [asa] pursuing objectivity in the classroom (Global W.)

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Wed May 16 2007 - 21:35:36 EDT

There's no such thing as truly objective but the closest we can probably get
is the technical summary of the IPCC. This differs from the summary for
policy makers (SPM) in that the politicians didn't touch this report. But
don't stop there. Inside the report are markers of confidence of how certain
the scientists believe they are correct. This is not merely a "gut feel"
kind of indication of confidence but rather an indication of the "error
bars" in the measurements. Only take the high confidence and very high
confidence statements for granted. Or alternatively you can take the medium
confidence as areas where the case really isn't closed and more work needs
to be done. A particular example that could be used as an exercise is the
issue of determining sea level rise (Chapter 4). Your students can compare
this against the "true believers" and the "skeptics" and see how well their
respective positions can be supported. It's also a helpful exercise in
decision making when there is large amounts of uncertainty. This report can
be found here:
The technical summary is here:

There's also a very good FAQ here:

Chapter 8-9 are especially helpful so that you can see how the climate
models are evaluated and how the root causes of climate change are
attributed. They can apply what's seen here and determine if for example you
can attribute the recent climate change to solar irradiance or anthropogenic
CO2.. Your students can also look to see if there are any methodological
flaws here. They could also run down the thousands of footnotes, etc. etc.

On 5/16/07, Merv <> wrote:
> I challenged a couple students yesterday to "see what they could find"
> on the net regarding glacier loss and its connection to global
> warming. It was an open ended challenge (and a dangerous one -- I gave
> no direction or "guidance" whatsoever.) So they were free to migrate to
> the sites that would most line up with their own opinions (or those of
> mom and dad at home). In fact, I am blissfully naive of most high
> profile political organizations on this and can peruse web sites myself
> which would probably curl the hair of most policy savvy citizens who
> have a major ax to grind here. But I let each site's contents speak for
> itself. And I'm hoping that I can model a kind of open-ended
> objectivity on this to my students. Very few today are actually
> interested in truth, but instead have departed from any truth-questing
> in favor of persuasion and marketing. And this may be appropriate --
> what else are you supposed to do after all when you are already
> convinced of the truth of something? But meanwhile, those of us who
> haven't issued a personal verdict yet, find ourselves surrounded by
> nothing but committed "defense lawyers" and "prosecuting attorneys".
> The actual Jury seems to be almost non-existent as everyone has become a
> lawyer/marketer who can be counted on to reveal only what is favorable
> to his cause. So the jury has to do its homework listening to all
> sides. Granted. But meanwhile, I am wondering how I can nudge my
> class to at least set their sites on such objectivity as is humanly
> possible. I know I can insist that they seek out sites that are
> contrary to their present convictions. But that can still just be a
> case-building exercise (you scout out enemy territory searching for
> their weak points).
> Any tips any of you may have on this would be appreciated. I realize
> most here are probably grinding axes of their own and will tell me
> "there is no real scientific debate on this" (global warming) --- which
> whether or not it is true, is decidedly unhelpful in any educational
> sense. Everybody is happy to declare "case closed" exuding personal
> candor and confidence such as only a professional marketer could
> muster. And we are left still deciding who to trust.
> --Merv
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Received on Wed May 16 21:35:59 2007

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