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Discussion > Children's Science books

I was reviewing a children's Science book, The Story of Science, by Laybourne and Larkum, from the local library, to see if it was appropriate for my niece to read, and found these mistakes:

page 15
It's all our fault!
Scientists all over the world have found signs that the Earth is getting too hot too quickly, and that this could damage many species, including our own.
[Too vague and threatening for a children's book, and what about the current 18.75 year Pause in temperatures?]

Trees which soak up carbon dioxide, are cut down all the time, often to make room for more cows, roads and power stations.
[All the Time? Oh yes, to feed the Drax Power Station's bio-fuel requirements. The trees are to be cut down in America, turned into pellets and shipped over to the UK for fuel :)]

page 43
We now know that carbon dioxide makes up about 0.5% of the air.
[Out by 1250%]

Some cars can run on hydrogen gas.
[But how many do, how many filling stations are there and how do they stop the hydrogen leaking? Why not mention coal fired vehicles, like steam trains, or is that non-PC?]

page 93
greenhouse gas: a gas in the Earth's atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, that reflects heat back to the Earth.
[It isn't that simple and it isn't 'settled'. Why not list the most important greenhouse gases: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, and state that, without them, the Earth's average temperature at the surface would be about -1°C, rather than 14°C?]

It looked quite a good book, but these mistakes are bad, considering how sensitive the subject Global Warming, now renamed Climate Change, has become. With no Global Warming for over 18 years, no child at school has experienced Global Warming: the Antarctic has plenty of ice, the Arctic has plenty of ice and polar bears, and there is no more extreme weather now than in the past.

We had a national emergency in November 2015, with the National Grid having an insufficient supply, because the windmills were 'underperforming'! I hope that is included in the next edition: how political agenda can be detrimental to our National well being.

The book also says the Catholic Church objected to Galileo's Scientific work. It didn't! His Heliocentric ideas weren't original and he incorrectly thought that planetary motion was circular. He could have continued his Scientific work, but he strayed into the theological arena which, at the time, was potentially politically destabilising, with Europe being in a period of great change.

Dec 22, 2015 at 11:06 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher, I think that book is issued to MPs to educate them on the science endorsed by 97% of all experts. It was proof read by the BBCs self appointed experts at the Guardian.

Dare I ask whether the book was printed on paper made from trees cut down by truck-driving cows with petrol engined chainsaws?

One of the saddest aspects to this, is that your niece will get top marks if she includes all the mistakes in any coursework, because her teachers will have learnt their climate science 'facts' from the same sources.

Didn't a parent manage to get a book/film by Al Gore withdrawn from schools because it was full of convenient lies?

Dec 22, 2015 at 11:31 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Spelling of author's name is wrong, the correct is : Claybourne (writer) and Larkum (cartoonist)
and it's old 2008 and not a big seller, but the typical kind of book a library would have.

"This book is a factual book that is perfect for all the young scientists out there." : A child reviewing it onThe Guardian website March 2015

I don't know if had an errata or if the paperback edition is different, but the 2 reviews on American Amazon didn't notice the errors

I bought this book for my curious 5 year old. Each topic (electricity, evolution, planets, gravity) is covered in two pages. The text is simple without being dumb. Great for parents who want to brush up. 2009

6.5 year old Trey says, "It is so educational. I learned so much stuff from this book."
Mom says, "This series is very approachable for kids. It makes learning fun and easy." 2013

Dec 23, 2015 at 3:41 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

stewgreen, well at least the 6.5 year old is adult enough to distinguish between their own adult opinions and those of their mother's.
lol. Probably better grammar than I could manage.

On the plus side, the book acknowledges that trees thrive on carbon dioxide.
I was taught this fact when I was about seven years old, but it seems to have escaped an awful lot of "climate scientists".

Time for them to receive a seasonal visit from the ghost of climates-past, perhaps?

Dec 23, 2015 at 4:14 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Oh Edinburgh's Anna Claybourne is probably married to Greenpeace or something Twitter. Oh she just churns outs kids books, 150-200, mostly they don't even get a review on Amazon.
Here are most of her other CC books
: 100 Facts : Saving the Earth By Anna Claybourne
: Wild Weather (50 Things You Should Know About)
: NEW Endangered Earth BY Anna Claybourne
: Book of Planet Earth Hardcover – 1 Sep 2015
: various Childrens Encyclopedias
: Encyclopedia of Planet Earth Jul-2013
: The Story of Science ...Another edition Dec 2014 is listed on Amazon
: Saving Energy: Earth's Resources (Do it Yourself)Sep 5, 2008
: Saving Water: Water Cycle (Do it Yourself)Sep 5, 2008 (why you need a $21 book to tell you to save water ?)
: Recycling: Reducing Waste (Do it Yourself)Sep 5, 2008
: Animals on the Edge ..whole series
: I Love This Tree: Discover the Life, Beauty and Importance of Trees

The book is marked as "internet referenced", but I don't know the url ..perhaps they have corrections there.
BTW I note that another writer is also credited Jane Chisholm (Editor) whose name also features on similar books.

Dec 23, 2015 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterstewgreen

Anyway there is a whole industry of Untrue Green brainwashing books, for adults aswell as kids.
i would say that we know 90% of green books harge large BS, but that book is General Science. The thing is those adults in the book/media industry will be Guardian readers, radio4, BBC viewers so they'll be brainwashed aswell.

BTW her twitter feed has nothing about the environment, so rather than being an activist, the author is just brainwashed. If you know science, then such basic errors should not be creeping in in the first place, and the publisher should have proper quality control using scientifically literate people. But it's about the same as the BBC : arts people get a sniff of narrative and just run with it, no respect for proper procedures of pinning down the truth, thus garbage is broadcast.


Dec 23, 2015 at 5:15 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

JoNova posts about a Climate Scare kids book about Arctic melting especially made for Christmas

Dec 23, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Thank you Robert Christopher for that careful review. I will add it, and I hope you don't mind, to my little compilation of such books here:

Thank you also, stewgreen, for that insight into author Anna Claybourne's output. I dread to think what other nonsense she has spread in it! Will also add a note about that.

Dec 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

stewgreen on Dec 23, 2015 at 3:41 AM
Sometimes, when I use the shift key, the expected letter disappears rather than gets capitalised, so that was one of those occasions where I capitalised the second letter to correct my mistake! And I was very concerned to get my Arithmetic right: 400 ppm is 0.04%, which sounds a lot less than 400 ppm!

golf charlie on Dec 22, 2015 at 11:31 PM
The book was printed in China, using paper from a sustainable forest, but no mention of the transportation used to bring it to Europe.

John Shade on Dec 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM
Please do! It is a pity because, with a review by a sharp scientist it could have been a good book. On occasion it does come across as though what was discovered was known and accepted by everyone as true, but one party was just being awkward!

I think Einstein would have been dismayed to find (on page 37) that "In 1916, Einstein published a new theory, General Relativity, to try and explain gravity". I thought he did explain it, even if I don't really understand it myself. It goes on to say, "Today, this is still one of several explanations for gravity", yet Darwin's 'story of evolution' stands alone, though it does mention some Christians being cross! There is no discussion of the difficulties in explaining how what we have learnt since his time, like DNA, fits into it or the implication that the 'evolution' is intelligent. It isn't: it can only respond to the immediate environment, like water 'knowing' it has to go downhill! :) In fact, it says, "Since then, more and more fossil evidence, as well as the discovery of genes and DNA ... has backed up the theory of natural selection". It is useful, but we may never know that it is true.

Science isn't about belief in unprovable incidents, it is about method and understanding that no matter how many white swans you bring me, it doesn't mean that every swan is white.

What is strange is the the book has many pages without page numbers, like from 47 to 51, so it is sometimes frustrating to use the table of contents and the index.

Dec 23, 2015 at 2:36 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

An odd set of objections. It is bad that she gets CO2 concentration wrong, but I doubt the error is important to the average 8 year old (or 80 year old). The rest of your complaints look like those from someone just looking for an excuse to be offended. If the church didn't object to Galileo's scientific work why did it ban all books proposing the Copernican system?

400 ppm is 0.04%, which sounds a lot less than 400 ppm!
No it doesn't. That has got to be among the stupidest "skeptic" arguments. But I imagine both figures are fairly meaningless to an 8 year old.

Dec 23, 2015 at 8:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

I am not offended, just annoyed that we are misleading children, frightening them in some cases. I have heard of a child that didn't want to visit London, in case they were drowned by the rising sea level. Science is not just today's leading edge Technology, presented as Entertainment.

I know an expert witness who was often asked (by lawyers and law enforcement) to express measurements in units that 'looked more' when in the witness box: he was passing comment on explosions that had taken place in inhabited buildings.

All the points I made are valid, and being out by 1250% does show that the reviews were on a par with some of the alarmist climate 'science' papers.

The book is supposed to be about Science, so it should adhere to the Philosophy of Science and avoid bad mouthing other disciplines in a shallow way, without balance.

Checks and balances are needed, but Galileo wanted to go faster than everyone else, jumping the gun. Many other academics were discussing the subject, without a problem, but he had an agenda: he was declaring it reality, and he 'knew' planets traced out circles, which wasn't true.

We have come realise that we may never fully know reality, only catching glimpses. The Church was part of the Establishment, the keeper of knowledge and a major civilising force, and wanted to proceed slowly and surely. It is what should happen today.

Al Gore jumped the gun with his climate alarmist film, and we are still suffering the consequences. Pons and Fleischman's work was announced prematurely and it caused problems. Now, it looks as though they were onto something and the early announcement did harm their careers. In their case, they were not the main players in making the mistake, but they still did the suffering. At least Galileo brought it upon himself.

Dec 23, 2015 at 10:28 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

The “looks bigger” argument is core stupid. I guess its provenance is in the desire to be able to use 0.04 and the “insignificant trace gas” line of argument that used to be popular but identified its user as either ignorant or duplicitous (and still does if anyone uses the argument).

The church was the keeper of dogma not knowledge. Its aim was to maintain its own power not to enlighten. Free thought and expression were a threat to its power, much like they are for the Chinese communist party now. You make much of Galileo getting the shape of the orbits wrong but compared to what he was challenging he was within a whisker of the truth. What you appear to be proposing ("slowly and surely", regulated by some entity) is anathema to science.

Dec 23, 2015 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The reason why using % instead of ppm is advisable is that most people are familiar with %.
But outside of technical disciplines, no-one uses ppm.

If you are trying to communicate science to those outside of the discipline (like children) the only reason to avoid % is either:

A) That the numbers come out unwieldy e.g. 0.0000004%. That is not the case here.
B) To inhibit understanding.
C) Something I've not thought of.

This is looks like a case of B.
Unless someone actually has a believable C.

Dec 24, 2015 at 9:50 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

M, tell someone not from a numerate discipline that CO2 has increased from 280 to 400 ppm and they will know exactly the size of the change, even if they don't understand ppm. Tell them that it has gone from 0.028% to 0.04% and I doubt many will have much of a clue. Maybe that is why "skeptics" dislike ppm.

Dec 24, 2015 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

280 to 400 ppm sounds like a rise of about a third-ish.

And then a technically minded person would ask, "Is the response linear, geometric or exponential?"
It's exponential by the way. What it sounds like is unimportant.

But the vast majority do assume that the climate is impacted by about a third-ish.
So do the vast majority of climatologists!

However, 0.028% to 0.04% sounds like "About no change."
Which better relates to the climate change this Millennium. People know percentages.
They understand why that change has the impact of the Pause.

Dec 24, 2015 at 11:03 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I think 0.028% to 0.040% is really useful in helping people of a non scientific leaning, understand the true insignificance of the perceived problem.

Raff, is that why you think it is stupid?

Dec 24, 2015 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

M, what could "climate is impacted by about a third-ish" possibly mean? A third of what? That makes no sense.

And there are many people who understand neither percentages nor decimal points, particularly when combined. I asked an adult relative which of 0.028% and 0.04% is bigger and she said "the 28 of course". If you said there had been a 30% increase in CO2 instead of confusing her with decimal point percentages she'd know what you were talking about. But people who object to ppm would equally want to avoid such a clear measure - it sounds too big.

And what would you call someone who claimed that CO2 had risen 30% this millennium during the "pause" (BTW "skeptics" usually start their trend in 1998 to get a "pause")?

Dec 25, 2015 at 12:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

what could "climate is impacted by about a third-ish" possibly mean? A third of what? That makes no sense.
That was my point.

The numbers do not reflect what actually happens to the climate. they only reflect the magnitude of the perturbation to the climate.

I was trying to avoid excessive precision. That's why percentages are better than ppm.
Percentages give the correct impression and are commonly used by all.
While ppm just sounds sciency.

But sounding sciency isn't actually scientific.

And, more importantly, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Dec 25, 2015 at 9:20 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

M Courtney et al, when will you learn that rational argument is pointless? Whatever you say, whatever logic you use, it will be misunderstood and/or misinterpreted, and twisted out of all recognition. It is far easier and safer, for both your blood-pressure and sanity, to ignore this person’s inane ramblings, and offer a sheep and a minty boiled sweet.

And a Merry Christmas to you all!

Dec 25, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

M and anyone else, if you think these percentages are readily understood please ask a selection of 8 year olds (the target of the book) which of 0.028% and 0.04% is bigger. Don't add a trailing zero after the 4. Also ask them what 0.028% of 1000 is.

If any one person gets a question wrong, you know that fractional percentages are inappropriate. Also ask whether 400 is greater than 280 as a control to reject kids who have no numbers.

You could repeat that with other age groups. Numerate people will think you are being stupid; the rest will get only the control question right.

Happy Christmas to everyone.

Dec 25, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Radical Rodent, be charitable. It's Christmas. And Merry Christmas.

Raff, A better question is,
"Which is bigger, 'a smidge' or 'a bit'?"
And as a control,
"Which is bigger, 'that which is too small to notice it's effect' or ''that which is too small to be sure we can measure'?"

The point being that talking about very small numbers can be easier with scientific language - yes, I agree it can.
But that just enables talk of numbers before talk of concepts.
Science is firstly about ideas. Numbers are just used to test the ideas, subsequently.

Don't use overly precise number-talk before you've discussed if anything in that range is worth measuring.

Dec 25, 2015 at 9:21 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Precision has nothing to do with it. 400ppm is no more or less precise than 0.04%.

Ask the questions I suggested. Very few children of 8 will get them correct. I expect fair proportion of BH readers are not confident of what 0.028% of 1000 is without checking on their calculator. Fractional percentages are not intuitive or easy whether someone is 8, 18 or 80. Whole numbers are.

Dec 26, 2015 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The alcoholic strength of a beer, wine or spirit is generally given as a percentage, not ppm.

The composition of air is normally given as being about 80% nitrogen, and 20% oxygen, with trace gases, one of which is CO2. I do not know what constitutes a 'trace gas', but definitely not 1%. Even 0.10% would seem large for CO2 as a trace gas, but presumably 400ppm sounds so much more significant, than a 'trace'.

For the benefit of the public, how many ppm of CO2 constitutes more than a trace? Has Cook done a consensus survey to redefine the public's perception of the importance of a smidgeon, or has climate science decreed that 400ppm earns more 'oohs!' then 'errs?', even though it is still only a trace?

Dec 27, 2015 at 12:55 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Ah, the old "trace gas" chestnut. Some people are so attached to the stupid arguments. The river of stupid runs deep on BH.

Dec 27, 2015 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Percentages or parts per million and the 'old trace gas' argument:

Yes, CO2 is active in terms of warming the earth. We have equations for calculating how much temperature rise could be expected from a specified level of radiation from the sun. Lord Monckton has demonstrated low-ish temperature effects (sensitivity) from CO2.

However, the temps are not rising, either at the high IPCC rate or the low Monckton rate.

The effect of 'old chestnut of "a trace gas"' upon global temperatures can not be determined because the real world is not responding as described by any theory.

Which makes these sciencey books even more suspect.

Dec 28, 2015 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards