Ky. Voices: New science standards overdo focus on climate change

Martin Cothran of Danville is a spokesman for the Family Foundation.
Martin Cothran of Danville is a spokesman for the Family Foundation.

Storm clouds have been forming over Kentucky's new science standards, largely as a result of what some have seen as an overemphasis on evolution. But the stress on evolution pales in comparison with the apparent obsession with another issue: global warming.

If you do a simple word search through the Kentucky Core Academic Standards document, the problem becomes apparent: Traditional scientific terms such as "photosynthesis," "genetics" and "solar system" are buried under a veritable avalanche of terms related to climate change.

If we had only Kentucky's science standards to go by, we would have to conclude that climate and weather issues are more important than gravity, photosynthesis, electricity, genetics, radiation and quantum mechanics.

Genes are mentioned 38 times; the solar system 23 times; DNA 16 times; oxygen 16 times; mutation 11 times; chromosomes nine times; electrons six times; bacteria four times, and mitosis three times. Meanwhile the terms "climate," "weather" and "global warming" are together mentioned over 130 times.

Comets are not mentioned at all, but the word "tornado" appears nine times. The greenhouse effect is mentioned twice, but glucose has been washed away altogether.

What are we to think of science standards in which climate appears 72 times, but terms such as "mammal," "reptile" and "bird" are absent?

Whatever your views on global warming, it is hard to understand how such an inordinate emphasis on a single fashionable topic could be justified.

There is also the matter of the veritable famine of terms related to common scientific topics. In fact, some important scientific terms get no mention at all. They include: "hormone," "kinesis," "lymphatic," "neuron," "nucleotide," "osmosis," "Celsius," "Fahrenheit," "plasma," "vaccine," "protozoa" and "enzyme."

Terms such as "oxidation", "phylogeny," "cosmos" and "entropy" — which appeared in the state's previous science standards — have been dropped altogether. And the microscope, mentioned six times in the old standards, has been shown the educational door — a victim, apparently, of the fact that it is of little use in climate analysis.

It is hard to avoid the impression that Kentucky's science standards, rather than being an educational document, are trying to be some kind of global-warming manifesto. This is unfortunate because it only clouds the legitimate goals of a science education.

One would think students ought to be aware, for example, of the lives and accomplishments of great scientists. This thought, however, apparently never occurred to those writing the "Next Generation" science standards on which the science portion of the Kentucky document is based.

If you looked for names of Euclid, Copernicus, Galileo or Einstein, you would be seriously disappointed. Louis Pasteur, Thomas Alva Edison, Marie Curie and Watson and Crick never make an appearance. In fact, with the exception of Newton and Kepler, whose laws are mentioned, not a single famous scientist is mentioned in the entire 656-page document.

And it is an irony that despite all the controversy over the emphasis on evolution in the science standards, Charles Darwin isn't mentioned once.

Young students in particular often learn better when information is cast in the form of a narrative. This is why biographies and stories of great thinkers and explorers have traditionally been a prominent part of education.

But if there is trouble on the horizon for science education, it may be best illustrated by the fact that the term "hypothesis," which refers to a process central to scientific reasoning, appears only once in the state's standards.

Standards that should be designed to equip students how to think scientifically and to give them a historical context in which to understand scientific achievement instead spend too much time on the latest trendy theory.