- conduct research into views expressed in various media about climate change and its environmental impacts;
- develop criteria for evaluating the quality, balance, and fairness of information; and
- evaluate informational items designed to represent points of view about climate change.
Students develop criteria for evaluating the quality, balance, and fairness of informational items representing views about climate change. They then review materials on the basis of their criteria, develop informational presentations, and report back to the class.
Internet access; brochures, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, video documentaries, and other media concerning climate change and its ecological impacts; art materials: markers, poster paper, display boards, a display area; video or still cameras (optional)
People have many different points of view, particularly concerning environmental issues, like climate change. It is often difficult to discern fact from falsehood, objectivity from subjectivity, and accuracy from exaggeration. Sometimes, people are knowingly selective in what information they present about a topic. Other times, they do not realize that they are presenting only a narrow view of the topic — that the way they see the world is not the only possible perspective.
All things are subjective, or subject to an individual's views. Objectivity is one goal of science. Even in the precise world of scientific measurement, pure objectivity without some influence on the part of the observer may be beyond reach. It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve objectivity in a pure and technical sense.
If objectivity is so difficult to achieve, what can we do to develop our own skills of objectivity? One way is to become more discerning about balance and fairness. When someone presents information on a topic — particularly a controversial issue like climate change — is that person making an effort to describe the topic as a whole? Or is he or she selectively describing only a personal point of view? Does that person acknowledge that there are differing points of view? Is he or she presenting accurate information or opinion as if it were factually based? These are some of the questions that this activity is designed to address, specifically relating to climate change.
Providing information about the environment is a widespread activity in media as varied as the Internet, television, magazines, newspapers, books, and exhibits. The main purpose of such media is to inform the public. The result may be a mixture of information, entertainment, and propaganda. Often, the message is one-sided, and its effect is more to indoctrinate than to educate.
Sometimes, the distortion of information, or its lack of completeness, may be intentional. Other times, the limitations are a reflection of emerging and conflicting perspectives about what is accurate concerning a topic. Science itself is not free from controversy. Climatologists, for example, sometimes argue about whether global warming is real, whether it is natural or caused by human activities, whether its impacts are catastrophic or insignificant. Biologists may disagree about whether climate change is harmful to wildlife and habitat.
The major purpose of this activity is for students to develop and use their own set of criteria to evaluate the quality, balance, and fairness of information presented in various media. Special emphasis is placed on information concerning climate change and its environmental impacts.
- Assemble a file of sample brochures, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, video documentaries, public service announcements, advertisements, and other informational items on climate change issues, such as global warming, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and habitat loss. As an additional or alternative approach, have students conduct their own research through the Internet, television, print publications, or materials obtained from industry, government, conservation, and environmental groups. An effort should be made to obtain information expressing divergent points of view.
- Prepare a student assignment sheet with questions such as the following:
- Does the informational item cite or list facts? What are they?
- Does the item make claims? Are they supported by facts or evidence? Describe the claims and supporting facts and evidence.
- Does the item base its claims on science or technology? Are scientific laws or principles used to support these claims? If so, what are they? Is a scientist or engineer cited as an authority? Who is he or she and how is his or her expertise established? Which fields of science or engineering are employed?
- Have data or facts been used selectively to support a particular point of view? Does the item attempt to persuade the public or does it encourage people to make up their own minds?
- Does the item acknowledge that there are different points of view about the topic?
- Is there any indication that the author of the item stands behind its accuracy or validity? Will the publishers or editors support the claims? Will the advertisers back up their products?
- How could you go about verifying the claims and facts?
- What is your overall assessment of the accuracy of the information? Exceptionally accurate? Generally accurate? Somewhat accurate? Generally inaccurate? Exceptionally inaccurate?
- Have groups of students develop their own informational items, such as pamphlets, newspaper articles, advertisements, mini-documentaries, and public service announcements, expressing views about climate change. Then, have the rest of the class evaluate each item's quality, balance, and fairness by applying the criteria from the check-list and suggesting improvements.
* This activity is based, in part, on "Facts and Falsehoods" from the Project WILD Activity Guide.
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