Second Paper Assignment

Length: 1800 - 2100 words (6-7 double spaced pages).

Grade: Your grade on Paper 2 will contribute 15% of your final course grade. This paper will be re-written as part of the CI requirement. The rewrite will be due Wednesday, November 10, and will contribute another 15% of the final course grade. Further details will be provided closer to that due date.

Few areas of modern science have become more contentious than global warming. Is warming happening? Are humans causing it? Must we restructure our energy production and economy to minimize its consequences? The debates engage the central questions of our Nature block: what is the relation between humans and nature, are the things of nature changing or unchanging, and what are the relations between science and commerce.

Find two primary sources (from newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, blogs, Web sites, movies, etc.) that offer conflicting perspectives on global warming. Do not offer a judgment about which is right or wrong. Instead, informed by the article by Oreskes and Conway and the ideas presented in lectures, offer an interpretation / make an argument about why the disagreement exists. For example, do the authors reflect competing commercial or political interests? Do they rely on different assumptions about the relationship between humans and nature? The type of arguments that you choose to make will depend on the details of your sources and your own interests.

Your task will be easier if you find two good sources. What is a good source? Something concise (a 1-2 page op ed) is easier to work with than a movie. Something which makes its own argument will provide better fodder for your own arguments. Something with authors who can be identified and situated (i.e., you can determine where the author is coming from) is more useful than something with unclear authorship.

Since the issue has been so fiercely contested, it should be easy to find sources from different perspectives. What might be informative?

  • Media: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The American Spectator, etc. — try to get a sense of the general political leaning of the source.

  • Scientists: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes regular reports, but its reputation has been tarnished recently. There are also many scientist skeptics.

  • Corporations: ExxonMobil and all the others have official policy statements. The Koch Industries Web site has a section on climate change; David Koch is a major donor to MIT (e.g., the new David H. Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research).

  • Think Tanks: Many have dedicated sections of their Web sites. For a range of perspectives, see the Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Union of Concerned Scientists, or the Brookings Institute.

  • Blogs: has a collection of thoughtful blogs. Others can be found by searching. For instance, google [nova global warming koch] for a flap about a recent episode of the TV show "Nova."

To get the ball rolling, you should each bring one of your sources to class on Wednesday. We will discuss them in recitation.

The first paper asked you to provide a close reading of two primary sources. This assignment asks you to (1) find two relevant primary sources that offer conflicting accounts of a problem, and (2) use a secondary source to put the disagreement into historical perspective.

As with the first paper, you should articulate a clear thesis or argument, which you defend with specific examples from the readings and lectures. There is no single correct answer to these questions. What matters is how clearly you articulate your thesis, and how well you defend your position with examples and evidence. You are strongly encouraged to work with the Teaching Assistants while preparing your essay. You can meet with them or send them outlines, summaries of your argument, or even drafts. If you have additional questions, you may always consult with Professors Kaiser and Jones.

Many of you will also want to sign up for one of the peer response groups being lead by our Writing Advisor. All students must do at least one over the course of the semester.

You should use standard footnote conventions, giving full bibliographic information for all sources from which you draw, and include a bibliography at the end. This is especially important since you will be providing your own two primary sources. You are not required to consult sources beyond these and the article by Oreskes and Conway. You may, of course, consider additional sources if desired.

These resources describe how to use other sources properly:

  • Footnotes, Bibliographies, and the Good Life (PDF): examples of appropriate footnote and bibliography formats.
  • Guidelines for Writing Papers: tips on how to organize your essay and information regarding proper use of web-based sources.
  • Academic Integrity at MIT: MIT's own guide to working with sources.

Failure to use appropriate footnote and bibliography formatting will lower your grade. Any evidence of plagiarism (i.e., passing someone else's phrases, paragraphs, or articles off as your own, without giving appropriate credit to the original author) will be referred to the professors and, if necessary, to the Committee on Discipline.

If you ever have any questions about how to cite your sources, please check with any of the instructors.

Sample Student Work

(Courtesy of the students, used with permission.)

"The Impossible Climate Consensus" by MIT Student (PDF)

"Weighing the Climate Change Scales" by MIT Student (PDF)