High School Textbook Challenged for Global Warming Bias


April 09, 2008

For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

Houghton Mifflin’s ‘American Government’ downplays threat posed by global warming, misleads on science; top climatologists, environmentalists respond

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A textbook used in high school government courses across the country has come under fire from scientists and environmentalists for its misleading approach to global warming.

The textbook, “American Government,” presents basic facts as matters of debate—leaving students with the misconception that there is no scientific consensus about human contributions to global warming when in fact a strong consensus exists. The textbook also dramatically downplays the threats global warming poses.

“It is simply unacceptable for information this biased and misleading to be taught in public schools,” said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth, which today launched a campaign to pressure publisher Houghton Mifflin to revise the textbook. “It’s the equivalent of a history textbook saying the jury’s still out on whether there was ever a moon landing, or whether the earth is flat. Global warming is a matter of fact, not opinion, and it must be taught as such.”

The book has come under fire on a variety of fronts. After New Jersey high school student Matthew LaClair called the passages to their attention, two of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Michael MacCracken, sent letters to the publisher (here and here) asking that the book’s inaccuracies be corrected. The pro-science group The Center for Inquiry has released a detailed report (here) on the book’s myriad biases, which extend beyond global warming. And Friends of the Earth has launched an e-mail campaign asking activists to contact Houghton Mifflin and demand revisions.

Among the more outrageous passages in the textbook’s most recent edition:

• "It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem, because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming." (p. 559)
• "The earth has become warmer, but is this mostly the result of natural climate changes, or is it heavily influenced by humans putting greenhouse gases into the air?" (p.559)
• "On the one hand, a warmer globe will cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal communities; on the other hand, greater warmth will make it easier and cheaper to grow crops and avoid high heating bills." (p. 559)
• "But many other problems are much less clear-cut. Science doesn't know how bad the green-house effect is." (p. 566)

The book was authored by a prominent conservative, James Q. Wilson, who is affiliated with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute—which has received oil industry funding, and by John DiIulio, who served as director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush White House.

Friends of the Earth and the other involved groups are calling on Houghton Mifflin to immediately send a corrective addendum to schools, and ensure that the corrections are included in the next edition of the textbook when it’s published.

Friends of the Earth (www.foe.org) is the U.S. voice of the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 70 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a more healthy, just world.

###