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The Sciences

Chilly climate, Part II

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitNovember 28, 2006 7:52 AM

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In other climate news, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) -- which represents tens of thousands of science teachers in the US -- has apparently refused the gift of 50,000 DVDs of "An Inconvenient Truth" for its members (the linked article at the Washington Post was written by one of the producers of the film). I have not seen this movie (I plan to), but I know that environmental scientists seem to support it. Since I am not that particular flavor of scientist, I'm moved to listen to those who are. It seems odd to me that the NSTA would refuse the gift. From the WaPo article, NSTA said:

Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

Wow. I mean, really. Wow. If they wanted to say that they didn't want to participate in a political debate, I might find that acceptable, except that I get the NSTA newsletter, and they have political notes in it quite often. Also, according to this poster at the NSTA discussion board, they distribute educational videos produced by the oil industry. Then there is this, also from the WaPo article:

NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record -- citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way -- but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.

I used to be a member of the NSTA but let my membership lapse due to my own laziness. However, I am now reconsidering ever renewing it. The NSTA does a huge amount of really good work, but if this is true it's appalling. Avoiding angering a sponsor is understandable, but this would be standing in the way of open debate and in fact looks like they are swayed by the sponsor the other way. That, to me, does not sound like science at all. Hopefully more information will air out about this soon. In general I support the NSTA's mission, of course but these questions need to be answered.

Note: After writing this essay Sunday night, I saw that PZ Myers has similar thoughts. Also, Sara Robinson has some harsher words for the NSTA. And to do an end-run around any global warming deniers who will post in the comments, take a look at RealClimate.

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