What’s up, NSTA?

This is a troubling development, and perhaps some members of the National Science Teachers Association in the readership here know something about it. They seem to be in the pocket of the oil industry.

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, global warming activist Laurie David writes about her effort to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association. The Association refused to accept the DVDs:

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 NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs. …

[T]here was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

As it turns out, those supporters already include “special interests,” including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, which have given millions in funding to the NSTA.

This is not merely an attempt to avoid entanglement in a “controversial” (not that global warming is actually controversial among scientists), since the article mentions that the NSTA has distributed PR for the oil companies. I like the NSTA and I read their newsletter…but this sounds like they’ve been bought and paid for by Exxon-Mobil, and it casts an unfortunate shadow on their reputation. Can we please have a science advocacy group we can trust?

I like the way Sara Robinson’s mind works.

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.

Memo to parents: It might be time to find out if your kids’ science teachers are members of this group, and have a word with them about it. If you — or the teachers — want to complain directly to the NSTA, the complaint form is here. They need to hear from everyone who still thinks that scientific truth shouldn’t be auctioned off to the highest donor.


  1. says

    Doesn’t surprise me one bit. Let’s consider the set-up. A bunch of science teacher found an organization (ominous) that is large enough to attract the attention of the oil industry at all (gee! think this was a way to make money in the first place?) and then they hang out around Washington DC (to teach other lobbyists?)… Face it, all these jokers are corrupt to begin with.

  2. Mayonaise says

    I’m sorry, PZ, you don’t get a blank check for liberal “activism”. Exxon Mobil has donated $42M to education “in the last year”, and yet this association (which may or may not be the frequent beneficiary of physical donations) wants to ignore a distractingly political movie? Give me a break.

    Exxon Mobil has just spent $100M on a new-solutions institute at Stanford. This guy’s info on CEI involvement is also outdated.

    Could someone seriously explain to me why everyone would rather side with this idiotic ascetist (especially here!!), other than that XOM is the biggest corporation in the world. It’s strange: economists’ blogs are a lot more reasonable outside their field than biologists’.

  3. Steve LaBonne says

    Mayonaise, your’re either extraordinarily naive or on somebody’s payroll. Exxon Mobil is unique even among the big energy companies in that, rather than cautiously edging toward an acknowledgement of reality and beginning to plan for the inevitable future of restricted carbon emissions, it is still actively promoting and funding the most blatantly dishonest denialism.

  4. Steve LaBonne says

    P.S. Gore’s film is in no way “liberal activism”- a truly brain-dead formulation- but accurately reflects the sober consensus of climate scientists. There are signs the situation may in fact be even worse than Gore depicts it.

  5. says

    I recall the X-Files slogan: Trust No One. Especially those who are in receipt of large quantities of unmarked small denominations from organisations of dubious scientific standing.

  6. feduptaxpayer says

    Can we please have a science advocacy group we can trust?

    Why not? Just fund one. You have the money, right? Oh, you don’t? Wherever are you going to go for the money, if not to the people who have money?

    Oh, I forgot. You’re in favor of stealing, I mean goverment appropriations. Because it’s great to be in the pocket of the government when you’re a “trustworthy” science advocacy group, right?

  7. archgoon says

    feduptaxpayer, taxes are not stealing. You are a citizen of this country. You get to pay rent (or membership fees). If you feel the rent is too high, or is being allocated inapproriately, you have the option of voting. If you are unable to find enough support, you retain the option of moving and terminating your citizenship. There are countries with lower taxes than the US.

    Now, can you restate your point without resorting to attributions of thievery to your opponents? Aside from implying that college professors are poor and that taxes are theft, I couldn’t figure out whether you considered the NTSA trustworthy or not.

  8. Lettuce says

    PZ, you’re on the A-List, right? Maybe you can convene a blogger ethics panel to discuss this?

    feduptaxpayer is a hoot. Trot out the old theft trope and run it around the block one more time for old time’s sake.

    Any news on the continuing appropriation to continue the slaughter in Iran?

  9. says

    It’s always so amusing to listen to corporate cheerleaders talk about stealing and government appropriations. By the way, I have post over at my site on self-delusion.

  10. Caledonian says

    The government does many things that, if a private entity did them, would be called crime. Compare the gambling lotteries of organized crime to the lotteries instituted by the government after the former were shut down, for example.

    The more money that runs through the system, and the more people involved, the harder it is to ensure that it only goes to deserving projects. Hence the widespread corporate handouts, and the current war, and so on and so forth.

  11. George says


    NSTA’s Guiding Principles

    Model excellence

    Embrace and model diversity through equity, respect, and opportunity for all

    Provide and expand professional development to support standards-based science education

    Serve as the voice for excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning, curriculum and instruction, and assessment

    Promote interest and support for science education, collaboratively and proactively throughout society

    Exemplify a dynamic organization that values and practices self renewal


    They could add one more:

    Do whatever Exxon-Mobil says.

  12. feduptaxpayer says

    It’s always amusing to listen to government cheerleaders try to think up other names for taking money that does not belong to them.

    I don’t oppose taxpaying for causes that I think I should support. I would gladly support a “fair” science advocacy group, if it came to that, and I think the actions of the NTSA are pretty lame. I do oppose the “pay for what we decided you should pay for or go to jail” and “pay or we’ll run you out of your home” mentalities. I don’t agree that you get to force me to pay for your idea of a “fair” science advocacy group if I should choose not to support it voluntarily for some reason.

    It’s not delusional to ask strong questions about whether a group of people is entitled to bring force to bear on other people to make them support their “good ideas.” It’s delusional to expect the money to just flow freely despite the fact that people have to work and produce for the money to exist in the first place, and delusional to expect people not to protest when someone deprives them of their property without asking or justifying the seizure beyond “well, it’s for the common good.”

  13. Florence M Rollwagen, PhD says

    Hi there PZ! I’m a frequent lurker here at Pharyngula, and like your site very much. I just retired this summer from my faculty position at an East-coast medical school, and am teaching biology/microbiology part-time at a local community college. I’ve just had my first experience with “I don’t believe in evolution” interaction with an undergraduate. It’s been an education, to say the least!

    I just emailed the NSTA regarding the movie DVD issue, don’t expect a reply. How effective do you think emails from science teachers would be? Do you think we should organize some campaign? Would it be effective?

    I also saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and have become (more) appalled at the condition of our planet. Don’t think this is left-wing liberalism at all.


  14. Jud says

    It does seem to me that NSTA could have figured out a way to maintain a greater degree of integrity while not unduly antagonizing big donors. Those donors need students with good science educations, which is why they donate in the first place; this fact should give NSTA a bit of leverage to politely (always politely) inform donors from the get-go that donations assure a fair hearing for donors’ positions, but don’t guarantee NSTA will agree with those positions.

  15. Mayonaise says

    Steve, please tell me more about this active denialism (exxonsecrets.org does not count). This is not an idle request.

    I believe the Stanford Institute (search: Exxon Stanford “global warming”) demonstrates an outlook that considers a carbon-restricted future, but even if not, why should you care? It’s for governments, not corporations, to shift policy. Without a Kyoto-like lever, you can’t expect corporations to do anything except profit maximization. If you think Shell and BP are pro-environment or anti-GW in the slightest, then you are naive one.

  16. feduptaxpayer says

    As for “voting,” if you offer me something for sale and I either do or don’t choose to buy it, that’s the best “vote” I can give. What passes for voting in this country is nothing more than a travesty of choice, utterly disregarding of minority needs and arguments, and cynically manipulated by the special, political and corporate interests you so deplore. Honestly, anyone would think people who advocated going to the polls were in the pockets, as you put it, of the special interests.

  17. George says

    Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: 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.

    If they reverse their decision immediately, they could still save face.

    This is really bad.

    Maybe the teachers could contact the distributor directly to get the movie.

  18. Opiwan says

    One thing I think you all are missing is that the oil giants depend on science majors to find their oil and figure out how to exploit it, so it makes sense to support those who teach science at the basic level (NSTA). Without science education at the elementary-high school levels, they wouldn’t have the geologists who go out and find the geological formations that are indicators of oil deposits, the engineers who design and maintain their equipment, the polymer chemists who design their catalytic cracking and distilling processes, etc. Feel what you will about the oil industry (can’t say I’m a huge fan, either), but they still employ a lot of scientifically trained people. It’s in the interest of the industry to be friendly to the people teaching the future generations of these types of employees. Not everything has to be 100% nefarious, 100% of the time when it comes to the oil industry, regardless of what you think about their social or environmental policies.

  19. Grumpy Physicist says

    It’s weird: I was on transpacific flights a couple of times in the past few months, “An Inconvenient Truth” was on the in-flight entertainment schedule (one of those ~8 channel pick-your-own-channel type systems, not the ‘movie for everyone in the cabin’ setups)

    First time, there was video but no audio.

    Second time, there was just a blank screen.

    Funny, all the other channels were working fine, both times.

    Yeah, I should have complained, but it’s all too easy to blame “the equipment”. Paranoia, or someone for whom the Truth was all to Inconvenient?

  20. JYB says

    As I said when Cotournix blogged about it…. I’m a science teacher and frankly we’re so broke we’d take anything. My budget allows for one piece of paper per student per week. If someone wants to give me “An Inconvenient Truth” I’ll take it. If Exxon wants to donate, I’ll take it.

    It’s up to me as the teacher in the classroom to pick and choose what I want to use or show.

  21. llewelly says

    It’s in the interest of the industry to be friendly to the people teaching the future generations of these types of employees.

    But somehow, despite the fact that the energy industry needs huge numbers of engineers and scientists, they still think it is in their interest to fund the most rabidly delusional psuedo-science outside of creationism – and they’ve been doing it for at least 15, maybe 20 years now.

    They have an interest in funding the education of the next generation of engineers and scientists. Yet they have deliberately deluded an entire generation about numerous basic facets of science. This is an industry that must construct and maintain roads, pipelines, and buildings on melting permafrost, to endure decades of climate change – climate change that they themselves have deluded an entire generation about.

    It is popular to portray business decisions as sterling examples of rational self-interest. Yet observation indicates that they perceive their self-interest through a colorfully tinted and severely distorted lens, and implement their decisions upon a framework of deeply embedded cultural delusions.

  22. Mayonaise says

    I read the predecessor to that link, where EM promised to stop funding CEI, and apparently it did (though the WP article didn’t pick up on it). And seriously, $2.9m to 39 organizations is a drop in the bucket for Exxon. This, compared to 10M/yr for the Stanford institute and millions more for other non-profits / educational institutions (their employees have 3x matching with edu, 1x I think with 503c)

    The only concrete claim I see in that article for Exxon’s beliefs is that they are skeptical that human activities are causing measurable global warming. Is this not true? What’s the confidence interval for our activities subverting a natural cycle?

    Also: “Environmentalists regard ExxonMobil as one of the least progressive oil companies because, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell, it has not invested heavily in alternative energy sources.”

    Sigh. Environmentalists hate ExxonMobil most because it’s big, and very few can keep from helping themselves to a plate of anti-globalism while at the activist buffet.

    Oil companies get the overwhelming majority of their profits from oil because there is no reason to do otherwise. If you have a problem with this, moan about how cheap it is to support the politicians who don’t redirect the market’s ambition through regulation or incentives.

  23. llewelly says

    If someone wants to give me “An Inconvenient Truth” I’ll take it. If Exxon wants to donate, I’ll take it.

    But apparently NSTA believes they must choose either Exxon donations or An Inconvenient Truth – not both.

  24. Robert M. says

    Mayonaise: I lived in Anchorage, AK in March of 1989, and grew up watching Exxon weasel out of financial responsibility for arguably the biggest single-event environmental disaster in human history.

    I don’t have a problem with globalism or corporations; for instance, I wholly support free trade (when combined with human rights oversight). What I do object to is global corporations that operate without regard for environmental impact, actively mis-educate the public about the actual impact of their policies, and erect financial and legal structures to avoid responsibility when it (inevitably) comes home to roost.

  25. says

    I passed this article on to my friend, a science teacher, who happens to teach at the school where Laurie David’s kids attend. She and her colleagues are discussing resigning from the NSTA over this.

    Opiwan siad:

    One thing I think you all are missing is that the oil giants depend on science majors to find their oil and figure out how to exploit it, so it makes sense to support those who teach science at the basic level (NSTA).

    I don’t think that anyone is missing that particular point. The point here is that the NSTA has caved in and is following the wishes of one donor in a direction away from good science. Both of those things are bad, as far I and many others here are concerned. If E-M wants to fund good science, then more power to them — if they want to censor good science in favor of their corporate self-interest, then perhaps they shouldn’t be funding NSTA.

  26. Mayonaise says

    Robert, Exxon made millionaires out of every two-bit fisherman in that Bay, and spent billions cleaning up. Regardless, we are talking about the now. Is Dow to be held in suspicion forever for Bhopal?

    If governments are unwilling to create harnesses under which companies can toil for the environment, you should be shaking your finger at the politicians. It seems like this is the next big issue in globalization–global externalities–after local effects like job loss and immigration are taken care of.

    And again, where is the active miseducation? I see the accusation bandied about, but not from voices I can believe.

  27. KevinC says

    Yes, DOW should have a shadow over it’s head for the next 100+ years for Bhopal. True justice would have been disolving the corporation as was done to control corporations when they were first invented. If one is not a good citizen you lose your corporate charter.

  28. says

    …taxes are not stealing. You are a citizen of this country. You get to pay rent (or membership fees).

    We get to pay rent? What a fantastic opportunity. And here I thought that paying taxes, er, rent was mandatory, meaning that I will be threatened with violence or imprisonment if I don’t pay them. I’ve never heard of this kind of penalty with regard to ‘membership fees’. You should stop reading Lakoff.

    If you feel the rent is too high, or is being allocated inapproriately, you have the option of voting. If you are unable to find enough support, you retain the option of moving and terminating your citizenship. There are countries with lower taxes than the US.

    I agree about the voting, but renouncing citizenship isn’t so straightforward, at least with regard to taxes. From the State Department‘s website:

    Also, persons who wish to renounce U.S. citizenship should also be aware that the fact that a person has renounced U.S. citizenship may have no effect whatsoever on his or her U.S. tax or military service obligations (contact the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Selective Service for more information). In addition, the act of renouncing U.S. citizenship will not allow persons to avoid possible prosecution for crimes which they may have committed in the United States, or escape the repayment of financial obligations previously incurred in the United States.

  29. George says

    “And again, where is the active miseducation?”

    Via Think Progress:

    New Ads Funded by Big Oil Portray Global Warming Science as Smear Campaign Against Carbon Dioxide

    The first ad portrays global warming science as a vicious smear campaign against carbon dioxide. The ad, which despite appearances is not an SNL parody, helpfully reminds us that carbon dioxide is “essential to life” because “we breath it out.”


  30. says

    (not that global warming is actually controversial among scientists),



    Just like a three year old. Saying it often enough then makes it true.

  31. Mena says

    True, let’s repeat after hoody:
    There’s no such thing as global warming, there’s no such thing as global warming, there’s no such thing as global warming…

  32. Robert M. says

    Robert, Exxon made millionaires out of every two-bit fisherman in that Bay, and spent billions cleaning up.

    The demand-for-evidence game works both ways: name one two-bit fisherman that became a millionaire in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. Note that the fisheries in Prince William Sound still haven’t recovered.

    Regardless, we are talking about the now.

    Sure, let’s talk about now. Let’s talk about science educators afraid to anger major corporations, including ExxonMobil, by pointing out that global warming is a real problem.

    Strangely enough, this brings us back around to the original point of the post: what on FSM’s green earth is the NSTA thinking?

  33. SchizoidMan says

    PZ: You said you like the way Sara Robinson’s mind works. Sorry, I don’t agree. She says:

    If they started telling kids the truth about global warming, they whined, that money might go away.

    That’s a rather unfair rendering of what the NSTA e-mail said. Not only that, if one examines NSTA’s journals, books, e-mail newsletters, etc., one would be hard-pressed to find evidence of an organization that kowtows to a coporate overlord on the subject of global warming. The topic is covered broadly and repeatedly, and I have yet to see it undercut with scare quotes or industry propaganda. Maybe Ms. Robinson’s beautiful mind has found such. My homely little one has not.

    For better or worse, NSTA has decided to accept corporate money in furthering its science education goals. A fair-minded person might conclude, from observing its behavior over the years, that it tries hard to keep itself “clean.” Has it made mistakes? No doubt. Have I ever filled my gas tank with Exxon, or Mobil, or ExxonMobil gasoline? Yes, I have. I, too, am a bit smudged, here and there. Maybe Ms. Robinson is as well.

    Last time I checked, there still were two sides (at least) to every story. We have heard Laurie David’s. It will be interesting, in the days ahead, to hear NSTA’s. What if we were to learn that NSTA tried to accommodate Ms. David’s distribution request in some other way (e.g., making its member list available)? Wouldn’t that be amusing? Wouldn’t that take some of the piss out of her righteous indignation?

    One final dig, if I may. Ms. David cites the NSTA e-mail as asserting that “there would be little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members.” Compared to the benefits Ms. David has received (incalculable publicity for her and her projects), an NSTA member would be spared the $5 needed to rent the DVD for classroom viewing, and NSTA would reap the “benefit” of seeming to promote one particular way of framing the global warming issue, and with a prominent politician’s name attached to boot! Ms. David’s dismissal of all political ramifications is naive, at best. A good case could be made that the NSTA e-mail writer had it right. You and I know An Inconvenient Truth is chock-full of good, chewy science. But are we so obtuse as to not notice that it also carries a political message? That’s a good thing. But there it is. You all can see it, can’t you? Laurie David is called a “global warming activist” up there in the original post. I happen to like her activism. But would NSTA’s sponsored distribution of An Inconvenient Truth be an apolitical act? Honest people should be able to disagree and remain friends.

    Just for the record: I hate global warming and commute to work by bicycle. I voted for Al Gore, and have only seen Curb Your Enthusiasm a couple of times (it was okay).

  34. FHS says

    This is my fifth year as a science teacher at a high school in South Los Angeles. I became a member of NSTA and I attended my first NSTA national conference in Anaheim California this past year. While I’m not happy with NSTA’s actions regarding this issue, based on personal experience with NSTA, I’m not ready to condemn them as greedy oil industry puppets either.

    If the NSTA national conference is any indication, their involvement with the oil industry is fairly transparent at the level of interaction with classroom teachers.
    I attended a number of sessions, fieltrips, and NSTA sponsored social events, and was even a volunteer on a fieldtrip myself. I was never aware at any time that oil companies are involved in any way with NSTA moreso than any other type of corporation. I do have a nice set of wine glasses from from a McGraw Hill/ Glencoe raffle. Their vendor booth, from all appearances, seemed to have all the usual companies that service science education. Perhaps I just didn’t notice a banner here or a complimentary video give away there from oil companies specifically.

    Of course, that does not mean that NSTA isn’t involved in coercion on behalf of the oil industry. I’m just here to tell you I wasn’t aware of it at any level at their national conference or since.

    In contrast, I left last year’s conference with a car full of oil industry free materials and hours of oil industry free training that I can use in my classroom to help the 150 kids that depend upon me for their science education. In my classroom, the State of California, LAUSD, and my administrators have an infinitely greater impact on the curriculum I teach than NSTA. You’ll all be happy to know that we were able to take our kids to see a showing of An Convenient Truth as part of our Ecology unit. I imagine with the money I saved in supplies this year from the NSTA conference, I can buy my own DVD copy and show it in class every year, perhaps to the chagrin of NSTA if they are indeed evil oil industry puppets.

    I’ll be happy to write a scathing email to NSTA but I won’t be withdrawing my membership anytime soon. I demand a bit more explanation, not to mention hard evidence, from Think Progressive as much as I do from NSTA at this point.

  35. TTT says

    It certainly doesn’t help that Gore is a prominent politician and likely ’08 candidate. I would understand it if history teachers refused to air an otherwise well-made and accurate documentary about the history of federalism that was written and narrated by Newt Gingrich. It just looks improper.

    My advice: have a “teacher’s edition” of AIT that redubs the narration and superimposes Some Random Guy in place of Gore. No, seriously. His life story is meaningless as far as students are concerned–so bring in someone else to talk about the science.

  36. Pete Dunkelberg says

    The NSTA – EM press release lets you know right off which view is which:

    On November 26, the Washington Post printed an opinion piece from environmental activist….

  37. Ellen says

    Pete – don’t get your point. Are you saying that the NSTA is using the descriptor “environmental activist” as an opprobrium? I didn’t read it that way. Laurie David is an environmental activist. It is just a description, a way of explaining who she is (she is a major donor to and works with the NRDC). On her bio, she makes it abundantly clear that she’s an environmental activist: http://www.lauriedavid.com/bio.html. I read as just a way of identifying her. She isn’t just a nobody who wrote an article.

    You seem to be saying that they are giving that term a negative connotation and thus attempting to diminish her credibility with it.

    I just don’t read it that way at all.

    Again, not taking sides. I just think that scientists (I am making the perhaps erroneous assumption that most PZists – and that is a term of admiration! – are scientists) should be more skeptical of what they read. Scientists shouldn’t assume that A’s version of the truth is any closer to the actual truth than B’s version, or more complete than B’s version. Scientists should always take the scientific approach and not join the general public (nondiscriminating nonthinkers) when considering a matter outside the realm of their scientific research.

  38. Drake Milton says

    “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.”

    This is no longer in the press release. What happened to it?