Huffpost Chicago
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Shawn Lawrence Otto Headshot

They're Coming for Your Kids

Posted: Updated:

Secret budget and fundraising documents of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a libertarian "think tank" and a leading voice of U.S. climate change denialism, lay out the group's plans to spend $100,000 preparing a phony K-12 science curriculum based on propaganda and pushing an ideological agenda.

Phony Science Expert

The plans call for a 20-module curriculum for K-12 science classes emphasizing what Heartland claims to be the "scientific controversy" around climate science. The curriculum is to be prepared by Dr. David Wojick, who the Heartland Institute lists as one of their experts. According to the leaked fundraising plan:

[Wojick] has conducted extensive research on environmental and science education for the Department of Energy. In the course of this research, he has identified what subjects and concepts teachers must teach, and in what order (year by year), in order to harmonize with national test requirements.

I checked with Jen Stuntsman, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson, about Wojick's expertise. Stuntsman told me that Wojick has never done any scientific research for DOE, in climate change or any other scientific topic. She gave me the following DOE statement for the record:

David Wojick has been a part-time support contractor for the Office of Scientific and Technical Information since 2003, working to help the office manage and organize its electronic databases. He has never advised or conducted research for the Department on climate change or any other scientific topic, and the office he works for is not a research organization. As would be the case for any of the Department's roughly 100,000 contractors, his collaboration with the Heartland Institute is outside of any consulting work he has done with the Department, and any comments he makes on the subject matter of climate change are made as a public citizen and are not reflective of any Energy Department policies or research.

Wojick did not return a request for an interview.

Phony Scientific Controversy

So Wojick's expertise is as a contractor to help DOE manage their databases. It has nothing whatsoever to do with climate science or any other scientific research. So why is he being paid $100,000 to prepare a national K-12 science curriculum on the subject?

The answer seems to be because his PhD and DOE affiliation lends him a veneer of credibility which the Heartland Institute can use to market him to the unsuspecting science teacher, administrator, school board member and parents. This is similar to the tactic the organization used to promote the OISM Petition Project, in which they claimed that more than 31,000 "scientists" had signed a statement saying they disagreed with the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. The only problem is that 99.9% of the scientists listed in the Petition Project are not climate scientists. The petition is open to anyone with a Bachelor of Science degree. This is one of the foundations to their claim of a "scientific controversy."

According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, however, there is no scientific controversy about anthropogenic global warming. The organization released a recent report stating that the science is supported by so many independent lines of data over the last 50 years that it should now be regarded as "settled facts." This is similar to the conclusions of every other national academy of sciences around the world.

Disinformation Pipeline

The other reason to pay Wojick is because the curriculum has nothing to do with science -- but Heartland says that through his DOE work, "he has contacts at virtually all the national organizations involved in producing, certifying, and promoting science curricula."

So a major factor appears to be Wojick's access to a pipeline to spread disinformation into the nation's K-12 school resource stream.

Phony Science Curriculum

If there is a perception of a controversy, that is enough to persuade many science teachers to give it a pass in order to avoid being hassled by politically motivated parents, or "parent triggers," and uneducated politicians. This is the same strategy often used by political opponents of teaching evolution in science classes. The secret documents show the curriculum is intended to create a similar false sense of scientific controversy:

Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on "modules" for grades 10-12 on climate change ("whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy"), climate models ("models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial"), and air pollution ("whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions").

Wojick would produce modules for Grades 7-9 on environmental impact ("environmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather"), for Grade 6 on water resources and weather systems, and so on.

But this is not science; it is antiscience. It is the corruption of science, because it is creating a curriculum that is not based on knowledge gained from 50 years of observation and experimentation, but is instead promulgating a predetermined political objective that has been set not by the laws of nature, but by the Heartland Institute and its donors.

The Great and Powerful Oz

And who might those donors be? The Heartland Institute's secret fundraising document details the corporations that are supporting their varied activities.

They include Allied World Assurance Company, AT&T, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Comcast, Eli Lilly, General Motors Foundation, John William Pope Foundation, Kaiser Family Foundation, Microsoft, Murray Energy Corporation, Reynolds American, State Farm, Time Warner Cable, and USAA.

If you deal with these corporations, you might ask them why they fund an organization engaged, in substantial part, in the unAmerican activity of dumbing down U.S. science education for political ends.



Get Shawn Lawrence Otto's new book: Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, Starred Kirkus Review; Starred Publishers Weekly review. Visit him at http://www.shawnotto.com. Like him on Facebook. Join ScienceDebate.org to get the presidential candidates to debate science.