Saturday, December 02, 2006

RE: Atheist's Challenge

Science teachers’ association accused of oil company influence

Nov 27, 2006 Special to World Science

Some science educators are questioning whether the lead­ing organization
of U.S. science teachers has acted as a shill for the oil industry.

The controversy erupted after the National Science Teach­ers’ Association
rejected an offer of 50,000 free copies of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the
popular film on global warm­ing by erstwhile presidential candidate Al Gore.

A producer of the movie claimed that as one reason for rejecting the DVDs,
the teachers’ group stated that accepting them could hinder its fundraising.

Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, a producer for the movie sug­gested it
may be no coincidence that the group’s funders include Exxon-Mobil Corp.
The company has for years tried to “stifle” ho­nest discussion of global
warming, the producer editorialized.

Spokesmen for the association and Exxon-Mobil did not respond to re­quests
for comment for this article.

Most scientists believe industrial emissions are gradually warming Earth’s
climate, killing off a range of species and threatening possible environmental
catastrophe. The oil industry—which could suffer financially from regulations
designed to curb the problem—has sought to play down or dismiss the fears.

The idea that the industry might influence a group closely involved in
educating American children sparked an out­cry across the blogosphere this
week, including from some scientists.

The association “seem[s] in the pocket of the oil indus­try,” wrote P. Z.
Myers, a biologist and associate profes­sor at the University of Minnesota,
Morris, in his popular blog “Pharyngula.”

The Arlington, Va.-based teachers’ association, which des­cribes itself as
the world’s largest group of its kind, claims a membership of more than
55,000 science teach­ers. The group describes its mission as promoting
excel­lence and innovation in science teaching.

The Washington Post opinion piece was by Laurie David, a producer of “An
Inconvenient Truth” and wife of comedi­an Larry David, creator of the
television shows “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

She wrote: “At hundreds of screenings this year of ‘An In­convenient Truth,’
the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every
student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.”
Thus, “the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000
free DVDs to the National Science Teachers’ Asso­ciation” for classroom
use. But the teachers turned it down.

“In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that oth­er ‘special
interests’ might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn’t want
to offer ‘political’ endorsement of the film; and they saw ‘little, if any,
benefit’” to the group or its members in accepting it.

However, she wrote, “the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by
leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students
in Norway and Sweden.”

Also, she added, “there was one more curious argument in the e-mail:
Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place ‘unnecessary risk upon the
[group’s] capital campaign, es­pecially certain targeted supporters.’ One of
those sup­porters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp. That’s the same
Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to
muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort
to solve it.”

The oil industry as a whole, and with other corporations, have been similarly
influencing education for years, she argued.

David abstained from directly accusing the teachers’ group of bending to oil
company influence. She also of­fered some words of sympathy for the
organization, sug­gesting it might have trouble raising money.

Some bloggers were less generous.

“Memo to the Christian Coalition: The NSTA is for sale. For a mere million
bucks a year, I’ll bet you could get them on board with Intelligent Design,
too,” quipped Sara Robin­son, co-author of “Orcinus,” a liberal blog.

But the blog of the U.S. National Association of Manufac­turers sided with
the teachers’ group, criticizing the movie as “politics masked as science”
and accusing David of hy­pocrisy. “We applaud the move of the nation’s
science teachers, who teach the scientific method every day, who hopefully
are instilling in young minds some degree of cu­riosity, inquisitiveness and
yes, even skepticism,” the blog stated.

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