Apr 15 2008

CFI catches textbook propaganda

The Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York is a secular humanist organization that publishes, among other things, the excellent Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer magazines. They also cover lots of advocacy and such all around the world poromoting critical inquiry and secular humanism.. Of course, with us secular humanists being a distinct minority, large as is it is, CFI doesn’t seem to make it in the news so much unless its one of their spokesman on a news show calling bullshit on the latest psychic nonsense or quack medicine.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night to read that the CFI has drawn some serious attention to a high-school textbook that essentially has a fair amount of bullshit in it regarding both global warming and a highly distorted view of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. From the Center for American Progress:

Last week, the Center for Inquiry, a Hudson, NY think tank, announced that “a civics textbook used in many secondary schools around the country contains inaccurate and misleading statements, in particular in its analysis of certain constitutional law issues, including school prayer, and global warming.” The Center had been notified by Matthew LaClair of Kearny, NJ, a high school senior whose Advanced Placement (AP) Government class uses American Government, written by James Q. Wilson and John DiIulio, Jr. The Center’s critique is forcing the book’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin, and the College Board (which runs the AP program) to review the book, now in its 11th edition. According to President Bush, Wilson “may be the most influential political scientist in America” and DiIulio is “one of the most influential social entrepreneurs in America.” Wilson is the Ronald Reagan Professor for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and the chairman of the Council of Academic Advisors of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. DiIulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor, was the first head of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives but later became disillusioned with the “Mayberry Machiavellis” inside the White House. By co-authorizing this textbook, DiIulio threatens to jeopardize his impressive academic record on criminal justice and American public life.

It’s a good read, and the article describes how some of the book reads like your typical list of discredited right-wing talking points:

The book claims that “the scientific community is divided over the issue” and that “activist scientists say that the earth is getting warmer; skeptical ones note that the earth’s atmosphere has been getting cooler.” Furthermore, it claims, “Science doesn’t know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all.” Environmentalists are portrayed as “elites who often base their arguments on ideology as much as facts.” The section on global warming is illustrated, without explanation, by a photograph of a snowstorm.

And of course, if one looks at the references for the global warming, it’s chock full of – you guessed it – conservative and industry-funded think tank “scientists” which is almost often the case with these things, as my regular readers would know quite well.

The b.s. isn’t limited to global warming misinformation. In regards to Constitutional law, it gets it quite wrong in regards to gay rights and school prayer, among other things, even pushing the incredulous line that the ridiculous Christian concept of “original sin” was highly influential on the Founding Fathers in writing the Constitution, even though:

The doctrine of original sin was explicitly rejected by Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams. The Constitution is indeed designed with checks and balances because the Founders recognized the fallibility of mankind, but “their conclusions about human nature were based on historical experience, not religious doctrine.” In fact, in the Federalist Papers, the records of the Constitutional Convention, and the state ratification conventions, there is not a single reference to “original sin.”

Of course, the publisher says they will “review the book” and possibly make some changes, but considering who the authors are and the general mindset of the book, I wouldn’t count on it being a more factual revision. Hats off to CFI for calling bullshit on this.