Accountability Opinion

Here’s a Science Quiz for U.S. Senators

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — February 04, 2015 2 min read
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Recently John Rudolph wrote a thoughtful ‘On California’ post about the civic uses of science and scientific method. The U.S. Senate has created an object lesson about why such teaching is necessary.

Nearly half of United States senators don’t believe that human activity contributes significantly to climate change. These are the same people that, even today, are drafting federal laws that will determine the standards to which students, teachers, and states will be accountable. Before they examine the kids, they should ask themselves some hard questions.

This travesty began last month when, during the vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, the Senate voted on an amendment about the causes of climate change. As Wired reported in a story that included the roll call, the lawmakers had previously overwhelmingly voted to affirm that climate change is “real and not a hoax.” Then, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) offered an amendment asking his colleagues about significant human causality. 49 senators voted no, including almost all the Republican majority. No Democrat voted to deny that humans caused climate change. (More reports from Slate, The Hill, and West Virginia state school board altering science standards to question global warming.)

The “no” voters included also nearly all the Senate Republican majority and 9 of the 12 GOP members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is busy drafting the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The three who believe that human agency causes climate change are committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

This dumb-as-you-want-to-be moment should inspire a qualification test for senators. After all, high school students in Arizona are being asked to master the material included on the citizenship examination for immigrants. If teens should understand basic civics, shouldn’t knowledge of basic science and its method be required of the people who want to hold teachers accountable?

The First Draft of a Short Quiz for Senators

  1. A homeowner puts a greenhouse in her backyard. Why would she do this?

    1. It keeps the birds from eating the young plants.
    2. The sun goes through the glass, warms up the inside, and allows plants to grow in cooler weather.
    3. It’s a trendy thing to do, and all the neighbors have one.
  2. How is this greenhouse like and unlike the earth?
  3. Greenhouse gas is:

    1. The funny smell produced by tomatoes.
    2. The heat trapped inside the greenhouse.
    3. Just a theory.
  4. What are the primary causes of greenhouse gases:

    1. Cow flatulence.
    2. Burning dirty carbon fuels.
    3. The byproduct of political debate.
  5. When in history has there been a sharper rise in world temperatures.

    1. Never.
    2. At the end of the last ice age.
    3. It doesn’t matter because the earth will heal itself.
  6. Short answer: describe the chemical reaction that takes place when carbon is extracted for the earth and burned.
  7. Short answer: Can something be so bad that it can’t be true?
  8. Short answer: Explain cognitive dissonance.

Just a Draft

Science teachers (and others) step up to the plate. Submit your questions for our Senate Science Quiz.

Photo: courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhoto.net.

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