Climate Change / Global Warming Science Demonstrations, Activities and Labs

Avoiding Flawed, Problem Science Demonstrations -- Greenhouse Effect in a Bottle; Heating Carbon Dioxide vs. Air;
Example of Faulty Demos:
Keystone Center Promoted Experiment
Hands-on Science Avoiding Flawed Demos > Greenhouse Effect > Problem Examples > Keystone Center

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Avoiding Flawed

Greenhouse Effect

Faulty Demos
Errors, Misconceptions
Testing, Lab Results
Scientifically Strong

Too Cool for School
The Greenhouse

Page 7 & 12:

“Many believe that
certain gases in the
atmosphere trap
heat in the air.
This could lead
to a gradual
'warming up'
of the Earth.”

Small differences in
distances between
containers and light
bulbs make big
differences in
How carefully are
canisters placed so as
to be at equal distances
in the photo above?

Photo from a training
workshop at a major
conference for science
Distance is one of the
primary drivers of what
temperature difference
one will see between
the two sealed containers.
Yet, teachers' attention
is directed toward other
factors which have
essentially no effect on
the results.

Workshop presenter
to teachers:
"If you are not getting a
higher temperature in
your CO2 container, it
means you didn't
your CO2 correctly."

Does this have more in
common with a poorly
staged magic show,
with misdirection
and slight of hand?
... than an authentic
science experiment

With a
professional magician,
the understanding is:
you will be fooled,
no one gets really hurt,
and the experience will
be very entertaining.

In important fields of
science education,
deception does
hurt people.
Teachers should not be
fooled, this is not
the valid scientific
test it claims to be.

This web portal
is a resource within
America's online library
for Education &
Research in Science,
Technology, Engineering,

Index and Introduction (Special section's home page)
Overview of Flawed Demo Examples
Menu of the individual examples: Analysis and testing of flawed demo designs
Being most heavily promoted: Need -- National Energy Education Development     Keystone Center
Prominent demos:     CLEAN     Bill Nye & Al Gore    On BBC TV    AMNH -- American Museum of Natural History
Many examples currently on-line:    Spin on That   PBS's Nova Capturing Carbon    Pico Tech     CIRES        
Flawed demos of this variety have been carefully reviewed, tested and analyzed by other reputable scientists: Lueddecke
Common errors with these relatively rare variations: Using other heat trapping (greenhouse) gases    Sunlight as the energy source variations

"Too Cool for School -- The Greenhouse Experiment"
Part Two, Page 5-17 of:
Being promoted for use by teachers across the United States

Developer, sponsor-promoter:
Keystone Center
Keystone Center for Education
Sponsors include: BP, Chevron Texaco, General Electric, Monsanto Fund,
& American Petroleum Institute.

At a major conference for science teachers, packed training workshop.
Testing the claims, back at the lab.
Photos with visible light in foreground, same objects in infrared on screen in background.

Presentation of Keystone Center experiment,
responding to high demand by teachers
for hands-on climate science.
Experiment in operation at 2010 conference:

California Science Teachers Association

Feedback: Teachers who attempt are often
left in doubt, confusion, embarrassment,
and distrust in climate science.

Yet, experiment does not test greenhouse
effect theory, as it claims.

Despite Keystone's instructions,
the containers used are not at all "clear,"
in wavelenths of infrared.
Students are deceived, not told that like
CO2 gas, the plastic absorbs infrared heat.

Same container, now shown inverted on left:
Still showing signature of the light bulb,
even after removed from heat source.
In IR: Purple coldest, least infrared passing.
White and red are hottest, most emitted.

Flaws that exist with this widely promoted experiment and demonstration.
Based on our observation of presentations at science educator conferences; review of on-line materials;
feedback for teachers, students and parents, questions asked of workshop presenters; and lab & field test results.

General Flaws

Specific Scientific Errors

Further questions and follow up
• The experiment does not provide a test of the
greenhouse effect theory, as it claims to.

• We regularly receive feedback from teachers
who have been instructed to do this experiment:
Many feel like failures -- they help their kids to
do the experiment carefully, but get no temperature
differences."What am I doing wrong?!"
Many of their kids and their parents then wonder if
the greenhouse effect theory is a fraud.
Other teachers, who are confident that climate
science is valid, have found that it is necessary
to use tricks and bad science to produce
results showing temperature differences.
Educators who have doubts or believe climate
scientists tend to be dishonest have found that it is
easy to "prove", by following this particular
experiment's instructions, that additional
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is actually
cooling the Earth.
Teachers express: they do not appreciate being put
in an ethical dilemma -- to have to deceive their
kids one way or another by doing this experiment.

• Promotion of the use of this experiment over labs,
demos and activities that are scientifically sound,
undermines legitimate science education.

• Fosters misunderstanding about fundamental
principles in climate change and global warming
science. Creates a deceptive experience.

• Provides highly inaccuate information on
numerous required topics in state science content
standards: e.g. earth science, physics, chemistry,
experimentation and investigation.
Also in energy and climate change -- in some
states both subjects are now required to be taught
with hands-on experimentation.

• Especially for those in states where schools are
now required to provide lab experience in
climate change science, it is interesting to note how
the experiments instructions never mention the terms
"climate change" or "global warming", but have
substituted other, often unscientific, words and

• Not recommended for those who do not agree:
"It is OK to present faked science experiments,
as long as it advances desirable opinions,
political positions or one's economic gains."

• If done using careful lab techniques, does not
produce the temperature differentials teachers have
been trained to produce. Students could
gain experience using sound science lab practices,
but instructions lead them away from utilizing them.

This conclusion is based on reports by dozens of
teachers and parents who have lead experiments,
and by extensive repeated testing by the Mobile
Climate Science Labs. In addition, we have run
multiple tests on similar demos that also make
claims of differentials -- but the results come up the
same for their designs as well. Their claims are
not confirmed.
Readings are essentially identical
between the air and CO2 containers.

This result is consistent with science theory
and calculations -- the experiment as designed
would not be expected to produce temperature
differentials attributable to the absorption of
IR by CO2. This does NOT challenge global
warming or climate change scientific understanding
and theory in anyway. To the contrary, it is
consistent with theory and the findings in peer
reviewed journals.

• Temperature differentials can be easily produced,
through experimental error and bias --either
deliberately, or with students and teachers being
unaware that it is they who are forcing the results.

• In neither of the above, is the ability or inability of
carbon dioxide to absorb infrared radiation being
tested. The design of this experiment doesn't allow
for students to witness CO2's heat trapping
properties in measurable amounts as promised.

• The experiment confuses the sequential steps by
which global warming is taking place.

• Confuses differences among bands of visible light
& IR energy. Fundamental in global warming.

• Regarding the experiments dominant variables:
The instructions either do not mention these
variables at all, or do not indicate that these are the
primary drivers of what results students will get.
== Small difference in distances from the containers
to the light bulb make for big temperature distances.
== Which thermometers are read first and which
last, as all the temperatures are climb rapidly. If one
follows the terribly flawed instructions on how to
take readings.
== Leaky seals produce lower temperatures.
It is recognized that open containers are cooler.

The above are what are truly being tested, not the
greenhouse effect, as teachers are instructed to
say is the case.

• Instructs schools to use energy sources
(incandescent light bulbs) which are quite difficult
to produce a temperature differential with, but are
very effective in masking the signal students are
instructed to search for.

• Inaccurately describes properties of the materials
used in the experiment. Specifically tennis ball
containers -- the centerpiece of the exercise. They
are described as being "clear", as material through
which heat energy passes. This is the subject of the
experiment! Some forms of matter -- carbon
dioxide and tennis ball canisters, for example --
pass visible light and some infrared; but they absorb
other infrared wavelengths. Students and teachers
are misdirected not to be aware of the presence of
a very powerful solid material heat absorber, and
then be expected to measure the heat trapping
properties of a small volume of gas.

• Does not even address the essential concept,
and requirement of a good demonstration:
how do our expectations and results correspond
(or disagree) with peer reviewed scientific understanding/theory?
Should we expect to see a temperature differential
caused by CO2 absorbing infrared in an experiment
of this design? (Answer: No. Scientists would not
expect to see a temperature difference, but this
does not challenge climate science theories.
Students can be lab scientists too.
Given the chance, they too can verify the theories.)

• Despite much discussion, with frequent use of the
term "the greenhouse effect" (but never
the scientific terms "global warming" or "climate
change"), still tends to leave students confused
between the metaphor and the actual phenomenon.
Especially given that students are not actually given
the opportunity to measure an actual "greenhouse
effect", but only mini greenhouses -- from which the
metaphor was derived, as the new concept first
emerged over a hundred and fifty years ago.
The two can be confusing, but what is the point of
education if not to work to clarify when there is

• If clarity is desirable, is it wise to combine
metaphorical, figurative illustrations, and literal
greenhouses in the same experiment at the same
time? Combining them in the test runs, variables,
measurements, terminology, and conclusions --
all in the same steps?
It is very odd that this lab experiment does this.

• Opportunities are right before students, to do valid
and rewarding experiments that would demonstrate
how global warming and the "greenhouse effect"
works -- which use the very same materials called
for the instructions. Yet instructions misdirect
students from noticing them.

• How could instructional materials for America's
schools be so scientifically inaccurate and
misleading? Here is a resource being promoted in
the schools with substantial backing. Employed by
the sponsors are the most knowledgeable scientists
and engineers in the energy and plastic industries in
the world. To students, the greenhouse effect is
presented as a matter of mere belief. The lab test
provided for the theory is not valid. Students are
presented with a common plastic that absorbs
infrared much the same way as the greenhouse
gases do, but are told it is "clear" and passes
heat energy. The infrared signature of that plastic
is well understood and regularly used in industry
for testing and sorting. All the while, the
greenhouse effect and global warming theory
remains essential to the daily and smooth operation
of every major energy and plastics operations
facility on Earth. None could function without
detailed knowledge and application of the
greenhouse effect and global warming theory.

Industry sponsors send to landfill by the thousands,
old but still functional instruments which are able
to detect gas content precisely because the
greenhouse effect and global warming is
completely real. Many of these industries
have lobbied for the public funding of Americas
schools to be slashed. Then, when their
representatives come to cash starved schools
offering private corporate funding, schools are
directed toward certain instructional resource

Considering this specific example, as a well
promoted hands-on experiment:

Feedback we get from teachers is that it leads to
doubt, shame, ethical binds, and confusion.
Specifically distrust in climate change science.

Instead of instruments which can demonstrate the
greenhouse effect, schools are to scrape by on
tongue depressors and rubber bands to keep
manual thermometers from slipping out of place.

Even with only the materials called for in the
experiment: students could run lab tests that would
give them practical hands-on experience in how the
greenhouse effect and global warming works.
But that does not happen.

Why direct them away from this? Why keep quality
science out of the hands of American school kids?

• How widespread has the promotion of this flawed
experiment by major sponsors been in terms of:
== Teachers trained?
== Number of schools in which taught?
== Science museum workshops given?
== Children instructed?
== Financial incentives given (direct and indirect)
== Educators laid off who challenge the
     experiment's validity?
== Other science education materials displaced?
== Damage to reputation of science research?

Note: obvious copies of this experiment are also
widely being promoted in the schools, without
credit to the Keystone Center for its original
contributions and initiative.

• Is it being disclosed to teachers and school
administrators, students and parents: What were the
legal entities that funded the development and
deployment of this experiment? Do the
science museums that have presented this
experiment in workshops disclose the funding they
received in connection with the decision to adopt
this particular experiment?

Note: the subjects addressed by this demo are not
side issues in science education. A valid solution is
not to simply return to the position of discouraging
labs and demos from being offered in the public on
these topics. State science content standards
these subjects be covered, and done so
hands-on. It is quite possible to do this with
accurate, not faulty hands-on science
experiments and investigations (labs and demos).

Educational institutions in the United States presenting this demo include:
Science centers and museums, k-12 schools, teacher professional development workshops,
websites, videos, and educator conferences & trade shows.

Note: it has become a common practice to present educational materials without giving due acknowledgement and credit to their original creator.
This is not good academic etiquette or protocol, we feel. Notwithstanding, clear copies of the Keystone Center's demo are spreading across the US.
In addition, several popular variations are being presented, that would appear to be have been derived from the version discussed here.

Testing the claims publically encouraged: has invited workshop trainer-presenters of this experiment
to perform it publically. These are presenters who have trained, at a minimum, dozens of teachers in how to do this experiment.
In a public presentation; fellow teachers, parents, kids, scientists, and sponsors could all run the tests and examine the lab set ups together.
Repeated tests can be made. Close up viewing. Variables adjusted, variations tried, hypothesis tested. To date, that invitation has been declined.
We renew that invitation in 2012. This is science everyone can try themselves.
No one needs simply trust an authority or sponsor on this -- let's have people try it out together. Several demos can be tested on the same day.

Excerpts from Too Cool for School – The Greenhouse Experiment

Introduction to Experiment -- Page 5
"To many people, the term 'greenhouse effect' conjures up dire images of Earth's future.
Yet without it, Earth would be a frigid planet,
with average temperature around zero degrees Fahrenheit instead of the 60 degrees it is today."

"The natural greenhouse effect keeps our planet warm.
As the sun's energy reaches Earth's surface, some of it is reflected back and some absorbed.
The absorbed energy warms the earth, which in turn radiates heat back towards space as infrared energy.
Water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gasses in the atmosphere absorb some of the outgoing infrared energy, which heats them.
These molecules then radiate the energy in all directions, including back to Earth.
In effect, some of the energy remains trapped in our atmosphere, warming the planet."

"GHGs that are created or emitted by human actions are called anthropogenic."

From Page 7. Also page 12 of Workshop Copy
"The greenhouse effect is the name given to the role the atmosphere plays in warming the Earth.
Many believe that certain gases in the atmosphere trap heat in the air. This could lead to a gradual “warming up” of the Earth.
In this activity, your job is to develop and test a model that will illustrate what happens to the temperature of the air around the
Earth when heat is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere."

Comments: We'll leave it to you to consider the very interesting choice of words above.
The focus in our testing, surveys and analysis are on the actual experiments and demonstrations.

Note: Students and teachers are not informed, that by following these instructions they will in fact, NOT "develop and test a model
that will illustrate what happens to the temperature of the air around the Earth when heat is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere"
This experiment leads them away from the opportunity to do so.

Not mentioned: most of the sponsors of the Keystone Center would not be in business if the scientists and engineers who work for them
did not only "believe that certain gases in the atmosphere trap heat in the air," but utilize the greenhouse effect to keep facilities functioning.
This basic principle, which is readily demonstrated in the classroom by well designed science experiments,
is employed successfully and intelligently in factories, refineries, and petroleum extraction facilities around the world everyday.
The "greenhouse effect" is utilized 24/7/365.25 by industry. Yet, kids are given experiments that don't work as claimed? How can that be?

In the context of teachers being instructed to present heavily flawed and misleading experiments, consider the possibities:
Why are refurbished, used instruments not being made available to the schools for science demonstrations?
After having measured gas content dutifully for years, precisely by monitoring infrared absorption wavelength signatures,
instruments are regularly retired and pulled out of service by the millions, then placed into landfill. Many still function, just not up to full specs.
Of the millions thrown out, could even a few be cleaned up and given to schools, allowing students to truly study the "greenhouse effect"?
Examples: Industrial plants, refineries, research labs, hospitals, smog check stations, aerospace, and power generation facilities.
Instead, the schools have to get by with tongue depressors, rubber bands, manual thermometers and false information.

Question. What would you call this?:
When certain businesses know very well something is true, utilizing a field of science everyday in their central operations.
Such essential knowledge could help children to appreciate powerful natural forces effecting their families, their future, and generations to come.
Yet, contrary to being of help, these businesses sponsor influential programs in America's schools
which direct teachers to use experiments that mislead students about that very same science.

Questions/exercises. Teacher are instructed what the proper responses are -- in green. Page 6

" 1. Diagram and/or describe why the containers heat up.
"Both light and heat energy from the sun passed through the plastic walls of the containers
and warmed the air and soil inside the bottles causing their temperatures to increase."

Also from material lists: Page 7 & 12
"3 plastic tennis ball containers (clear)"

Comment: That is not how it happens. The cannister walls nearest the light bulb are what heat up first, most -- by absorbing infrared light.
The plastic walls of the containers are very effective in absorbing, rather than simply passing, heat energy both from the sun and light bulbs.
Instead of helping students to discover fundamental principles in climate science in operation, using the materials being given them,
the instructions give erroneous information. It is not just true for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases;
it is true for fluids, such as water. It is true for everyday common objects, such as plastic water bottles and tennis ball containers.
All may be "clear" in visible light, but they are far from "clear" in many bands of infrared light. Tennis ball containers are powerful absorbers
of infrared in some wavelengths, but let pass visible light and infrared in other wavelengths -- much the way carbon dioxide gas does.
An opportunity to demonstrate and experiment with this is placed right in front of student's noses,
but this curriculum then misdirects them away from the evidence.
As hundreds of teachers, students and parents have told us: this experiment has caused many to doubt the greenhouse effect.
People do not appreciate being deceived with inaccurate information about what is physically happening in this lesson.

The properties of PET plastic tennis ball containers are not a mystery to Keystone Center sponsors.
PET plastic has amazing, wonderful properties. It is not surprizing that it has made its way into so many aspects our lives.
The Keystone Center sponsor list contains a who's who of the original developers; and of today's product suppliers,
manufactures and testers of PET plastic products. Automated recyclers use PET's distinct infrared signature when sorting plastics.
How can the instructions they sponsor be so wrong about their products when it comes to science demonstrations for American school kids ?
Students are diverted away from the opportunity -- literally already in their hands -- to see, right before their eyes, how global warming works.

Exercise questions, with Instructions for Teachers on the what responses are to be regarded as correct.

2. Explain why the final temperatures of the three containers were different.
The air inside each of the bottles is heated up. The heat in the open container can escape and mix with the cooler air in the room.
The air in the closed containers is trapped, so the temperature in these containers increases more than the open container.
Not all gases trap the same amount of heat due to their molecular structure and density.

That is an interesting, sort of all over the place conclusion. Do we want students to be confused?
We ran tests on molecular structure? That would have been interesting, when did that happen?

What happened to the main discussion? Were students actually given the opportunity to do as promised:

"Develop and test a model that will illustrate what happens to the temperature of the air around the
Earth when heat is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere." Specifically a warming caused by CO2.

Most of the given correct response is about solid material, convection driven, literal greenhouses --comparing the open to closed containers.
Does the conclusion indicate a continued confusion in what we are referring to? Do we end up as muddled, maybe more muddled than when
we started? When are we testing greenhouses, when the greenhouse gas theory? Indentifying other factors actually driving the experiment?

Side note: There is a reason scientists often prefer not to use the term "greenhouse effect"all the time, especially on its own.
Everyone tends to get confused between the metaphorical use of the term and actual greenhouses if you combine them all the time.
Unlike in this experiment, which goes to great lengths to avoid discussion of these, students are often eager to explore:
global warming, climate change, infrared radiation absorption, and radiative forcing. All have their own value and meaning.
Quality experiments allow students to gain clarity on the meaning of each term, their actual properties, and the difference between them.
Feedback we get is that the instructions tend to leave students in a daze:
"Greenhouse, Greenhouse effect?" "They are different, but we're testing both together in the same experiment?" What? Huh?
"We're experimenting with figurative illustrations and metaphors at the same time were doing a lab about the actual thing itself,
then we are comparing measurements between the two."... "Are you trying to confuse us? Are you trying to mess with our heads? "

Most important is what is not stated, comparing the closed containers:
In this hands-on lesson, warming caused by CO2 does happen, but is far too small to measure in an experiment based on this design.
When differential temperatures readings are recorded, the most common reasons are:
1.) Even a slight difference in distance to the light bulb from each canister leads to a marked temperature difference.
2.) The recommended practice in how to record manual thermometer readings is highly flawed. It encourages experimenter bias to dominate.
As temperatures are climbing rapidly in all three canisters, teachers are instructed to follow the same sequence:
Record the thermometer reading first for A, then move over to B, then move to C. Repeat: First A, then B, then C. Pause, repeat: A, B, C, etc.
Whichever canister is chosen as A will be noted as having the comparatively lower temperature.
Whichever is C will be recorded as having a higher temperature, since more time has passed since the reading for A.
3.) Canisters with leaky lids will show lower temperatures than those with tighter seals.
4.) Adequate calibration and controls are not encouraged in use of the thermometers.
In the experiment, designed by Keystone Center, all four of the above are far more powerful than CO2's warming effect.
All four are far more powerful than the effect of nuclear fission taking place in the containers too. Nothing is measurable everywhere.
Yet nuclear fission is real, whether you want to believe it or not. This is science. The rules are different than what is OK in political lobbying.
Experiments are designed to reveal the influence of some factors, and diminish others.
The instructional materials, in use by thousands of teachers, have been silent on this.
Teachers are not informed that, inherent in this particular experiment's design,
the phenomena who's theory is purported to be under test will have so little influence as to be un-measurable.

3. The plastic bottles in your experiment were acting as a model of the greenhouse effect.
Good models try to use things that behave similarly to the “real thing”. In this case, the real thing is the Earth’s atmosphere and the sun.
List those parts of your model that were the same for the real greenhouse effect and those parts that only represented
what might be happening in the actual atmosphere.
Parts that were the same
both are exposed to direct light
both involve a gas heating up
both have soil present
both have moisture in the air

Parts that were different
plastic bottles represent the Earth & its atmosphere the temperature of the Earth
varies at different times of the year the Earth’s atmosphere does not have a physical barrier, like the plastic cap.
Instead, it is held down by gravity the real atmosphere is much larger than the layer of air trapped in the bottle.

Page 11 & 16
1. Diagram and/or describe why the containers heat up.
2. Explain why the final temperatures of the three containers were different.

Page 8 &13
Be sure to record the temperature of the three containers in the same sequence each time.

Page 8 & 13
Place all of the containers equal distance (about 5cm) from the 100 watt light bulb and socket (do not turn on the bulb yet).
[measurement techniques, that this is critical, how assure stay there. Do not lean toward or away.]

Introduction and Index
>>  Faulty demonstrations being heavily promoted -- over a dozen examples <<
Errors and misconceptions commonly found in flawed demonstrations
Testing the demos, mistakes revealed -- lab & field results from scientists and hundreds of students & teachers

Scientifically strong demonstrations engaging millions. Powerful, fun, dramatic, unforgettable.
Resources & Further Background
Encouraging rebuttal: welcoming sponsor-promoters to defend if demos are scientifically valid.
Testing the evidence for everyone to see, experience for themselves -- that's what has made science demonstrations so very powerful in history

Acknowledgements, Thank You's            Contact

©2011 Climate Education Specialists, since 1999
We are a team of teachers, docents, scientists, engineers, techs, artists, students and parents providing
pro bono services for thousands of climate education programs worldwide. While primarily based at science museums
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