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One of my favorite books, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster, has a wonderful description of the penalties for making decisions without carefully evaluating the facts. Whenever the characters in the book arrive at a decision too quickly, they end up, literally, “jumping to Conclusions,” an island far off the shore.

The penalty for quick blog posts isn’t so high. And, I’m pretty certain that no blogger has been stranded on a distant island for writing something without having all the facts. Still, it seems that the story of the offered “An Inconvenient Truth” DVDs, wasn’t as straightforward as others have described here and here.

It is true that the NSTA (National Science Teachers’ Association) did refuse to distribute the DVDs.

Consider though, mailing 50,000 DVDs isn’t cheap, in fact if we guess 60 cents per DVD, that would be $30,000, which I think is quite a lot to ask from a non-profit organization. So far, no one has mentioned if Ms. David’s group offered to pick up the bill.

Apparently the NSTA did offer to spread the word to teachers and let them know how to get a copy of the DVD.

According to the NSTA:

During conversations with Ms. David’s representative we suggested making the DVD available via alternative means of distribution (e.g. by providing a mailing list of our members to producers, announcing its availability in our publications, etc.). It appears that these alternative distribution mechanisms were unsatisfactory.

It was not the intent of the NSTA to restrict “An Inconvenient Truth” from its members and we are currently pursuing options to make the DVD available to teachers.

In the op-ed Ms. David goes on to characterize NSTA as a willing corporate America partner that eagerly pushes corporate messages about the environment.

This is not true.

[snip]

The NSTA does recieve funding from corporations, one of them is Exxon, and they don’t try to deny or hide this.

Like many organizations, NSTA does receive support from corporate America and other organizations (in FY06 total corporate support received by NSTA was 16.4% and total support from energy companies was 3.77%).

What have Exxon and Shell Oil done for science teachers?

ExxonMobil has been a long-time sponsor of the national network we call Building a Presence for Science. In this project we have identified a “point of contact” for science in over 40,000 school buildings. Originally conceived to provide a copy of the National Science Education Standards to each school, NSTA now regularly sends these points of contact useful information on science education that they share with teachers in their buildings. Not once has ExxonMobil asked to use this network for their own purposes.

The Shell Oil Company funds national research science experts to present at our national conference, where they speak directly to science teachers about their field of research. NSTA chooses the scientists, invites the scientists, and hosts the scientists at these conferences. In addition, the Shell Oil Company sponsors the Shell Science Teaching award for K-12 science teachers who have had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom teaching. This award program is administered by NSTA and the recipients are chosen by science teachers selected by NSTA.

The partnership with API, which ended 5 years ago, led to the creation of a simulation, done entirely by NSTA, on energy usage. The video in question, “You Can’t Be Cool Without Fuel” was not on our website.

You can read the complete rebuttal from the NSTA here.

To be completely upfront about this, I was very impressed the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and I have blogged about global warming. I belong to the NSTA and I won an award once from Exxon for innovative teaching and they sponsored the best genetics education conferences I ever went attended (The Genetics Revolution, 1996).

Comments

  1. #1 Fred
    November 28, 2006

    Does this mean that “An Inconvenient Truth” has more than one meaning on some ScienceBlogs?

  2. #2 rhubarb
    November 28, 2006

    I think it does mean that, Fred. I did notice, though, that coturnix has backed off and linked to this post. Nicely done, Dr. Porter.

  3. #3 Kristjan Wager
    November 29, 2006

    I think it does mean that, Fred. I did notice, though, that coturnix has backed off and linked to this post.

    Nonsense. For example, PZ Myers started of with asking if any of the readers knew more. He, and others, reacted to the information at hand, but are obviously willing to be convinced otherwise (like Coturnix has demonstrated).

  4. #4 Paul Decelles
    November 29, 2006

    Good post Sandy,

    We have to be careful when reacting to information that we react in a way that reflects a bit of caution that we probably don’t have the whole story…but the nice thing about blogging is that it is self correcting imperfectly…but self correcting.

  5. #5 bob koepp
    November 29, 2006

    So… we have the comfort of knowing that some sciencebloggers react to the information at hand, and where that information is silent, proceed to make unkind assumptions that comport with their political biases, though, of course, they are willing to convinced otherwise. This is a strange way to promote critical thinking.

  6. #6 Drake Milton
    November 29, 2006

    The following two quotes from an NSTA email to David worry me:

    “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members”

    “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

    NSTA hasn’t addressed this. Were they true quotes? If so, those are terrible things to say and the main cause for all this.

    Another problem is the time it took NSTA to respond. I know that they dug up some numbers (which takes time) to craft a well written letter but the damage was already done. They needed to respond immediately.

    I quick letter explaining their policy, the cost issues with distribution and their support of environmental concerns would have cooled the blogosphere and kept them off of MSNBC.

  7. #7 John Huizinga
    November 29, 2006

    I agree with Drake on this. We still don’t have the complete story if the above quotes are real quotes.

    It looks like they were willing to help out in indirect ways without publicly putting their stamp of approval on what might be construed as being a biased and political movie by some of their sponsors. Making it sound like it’s about distribution money seems like a dance around the real issue which they�d already admitted to.

    Perhaps there are some statements in the movie that are more political than solid science. I haven’t seen the movie but I have no reason to believe global warming isn’t at least partly a result of man released carbon.

  8. #8 Sandra Porter
    November 29, 2006

    First, I saw the movie. There was a fair amount of material on Al Gore’s presidential bid. The information in the movie was impressive, but I admit I’m not a climate scientist. I think the movie could be a very good teaching tool that could interest students in the subject and encourage them to research global warming on their own. It would be a good jumping off point in a class on environmental education.

    What do the climate scientists think? Members of the Associated Press interviewed 19 climate scientists who said that the movie got it mostly right (“Scientist give two thumbs up to Gore’s movie on global warming,” USA Today, 6/27/2006).

    Second, Drake makes a good point about the quotes that David presented in the Op Ed article. I would like to see the NSTA respond directly to those quotes.

    Third – the blogosphere reaction and fact checking. I almost expect the sky to fall as I type this, but I think the reactions here highlight the difference between bloggers who write posts in their spare time, people who write Op Ed articles (which are opinion pieces) and professional journalists. This is an probably idealistic notion on my part, but I was bothered by the missing piece – the NSTA response. I wouldn’t expect an opinion piece, like an Op Ed article, to include the whole story, but I would hope that an article written by a professional journalist would have included an interview with someone from the NSTA.

    I’ve never known the NSTA to distribute any kinds of teaching materials, political or otherwise. They are very careful not to endorse anything, except high standards in science teaching. For them to have suddenly mailed out 50,000 copies of the DVD, would have sent a strong message of endorsement that would have contrasted greatly with the way that I’ve seen them behave over the years as an NSTA member.

    The NSTA news always has a section on free stuff for teachers. It would be consistent with NSTA policy to publicize the DVD in that space and it appears that they offered to do something like this.

    Further, I was the one who speculated on whether the cost of this “free gift” made a difference or not. It think it’s important for people to realize that mailing out 50,000 DVDs is not a trivial task, nor is it free. Accepting donations of “free” items can have a cost.

  9. #9 Drake Milton
    November 29, 2006

    And what happened to this paragraph?

    NSTA policy states that the association cannot endorse any outside organization’s products and/or messages to its members. Therefore, we do not send any such products and/or messages directly to our members, regardless of the source.

    I remember seeing this in the original press release yesterday.

    Other bloggers have copied it. See it here, here and here

  10. #10 Sandra Porter
    November 30, 2006

    Thanks Drake, that’s an important point that was completely missing from the Op Ed. article.

  11. #11 balagem
    November 30, 2006

    Some news about the story… it looks like the quote about “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign” came out accidentally from an internal email that made it’s way to David.

  12. #12 NRDC
    December 8, 2006

    There is a new round of news on this today … more dirt, and also answers to some of the questions raised here.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-david/crooked-curriculum-oil-c_b_35829.html

  13. #13 Sandra Porter
    December 8, 2006

    I read the post and I wrote about what I found: A paucity of proof.

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