June 7, 2017

In Letter to DeVos, Senators Call Out Phony Science Materials Sent to Teachers Nationwide

Washington, D.C. – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today to highlight bogus materials sent by the Heartland Institute, a group with a long record of climate denial, to more than 300,000 public school science teachers across the country.  Heartland’s 11-minute DVD and 135-page book, which are made to look like typical curriculum materials for science teachers, are explicitly designed to call into question the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.  Among other claims, they push teachers to “consider the possibility” that climate science is not settled and “students would be better served by letting them know a vibrant debate is taking place among scientists.”

“The Heartland Institute has disseminated ‘alternative facts’ and fake science at the behest of its industry funders for decades,” the Senators write.  “In the 1990s, it teamed up with Phillip Morris to challenge facts about the health risks of tobacco.  The tobacco industry’s conduct was found to be fraudulent.  Using the same strategies, with funding from the Koch family foundations, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests, the Heartland Institute now seeks to undermine the scientific consensus about climate change.”

The Senators ask whether DeVos and her staff have had any contact with the Heartland Institute on science education.  They also inquire whether the Department is working with Heartland in any capacity.  DeVos has a history of donating to industry-funded front groups and just last week applauded President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“It is our sincere hope that neither White House staff nor Department of Education officials have turned to the Heartland Institute on the issues of climate change and climate science, or had any role in this mailing to educators,” write the Senators.  “At your nomination hearing, you were asked whether you would stand on the side of students or with the political entities trying to force junk science into schools.  You responded that you ‘support the teaching of great science and especially science that allows students to exercise critical thinking and to really discover and examine in new ways.’  We agree that ‘great science’ and critical thinking are cornerstones of a high-quality education, but that is not achieved with Heartland’s industry-funded and possibly fraudulent materials.”

A PDF copy of the Senators’ letter is available here.

Earlier in the week, Whitehouse sent a letter to over a dozen science and education groups regarding the Heartland mailer.  Whitehouse’s letter points out that the Heartland Institute is backed by the fossil fuel industry and has a long track record of denying science.  Heartland also played a central role in the effort to deny the health risks of smoking.  Whitehouse asks the science and education groups to share any strategies they have found effective in the fight against the spread of false information to students.

Whitehouse sent the letter to the National Science Teachers Association, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, the Association for Science Teacher Education, the International Association for Science, Technology and Society, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Chemical Society, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, the National Association of Geology Teachers, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers.

A PDF copy of Whitehouse’s letter is available here.


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