Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Too Inconvenient

The bloggers over at ThinkProgress provide a heads-up about a piece appearing in tomorrow’s Washington Post, written by the environmentalist Laurie David. In the piece, David tells the story of her attempt to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of Al Gore's generally excellent documentary about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association.

The Association remarkably refused to accept the free DVDs, suggesting that were they to do so other “special interests” might ask them to distribute their materials, too. The Association said they didn’t want to offer any “political” endorsement of the film. They also saw “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs.

Yes, the National Science Teachers Association is implying that the scrupulously researched, incomparably widely affirmed case offered by the film An Inconvenient Truth is the "politicized" expression of "special interests."

There is a sense in which I am happy to concede that the film does foreground the special interest scientifically literate people have in the usefulness to sound public policy of the advice of consensus science... but it is truly difficult to grasp how this could pose a difficulty for The National Science Teachers Association, given the dictionary definitions of all the terms of which their organizational name is comprised.

Laurie David draws special attention to the Association's concern that accepting thse DVD would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

I scarcely imagine anybody will be particularly surprised to discover that these "certain targeted supporters" include Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, all of which have already given millions of dollars in funding to the NSTA. You will forgive me if I suggest that the NSTA's fastidiousness concerning "special interests" would appear to be somewhat selective.

Laurie David savors (then spits out) the irony that the very selfsame NSTA that shrugged aside An Inconvenient Truth, has, however, eagerly distributed “educational” content funded by the oil industry. Among these fine nonpoliticized educational materials, she points out, is a video produced by the American Petroleum Institute, which offers up the immortal opening lines: “You’re absolutely not going to believe this, but almost everything I have that’s really cool comes from oil!”


BrookfieldCT said...

During the holidays we probabaly spend more time thinking about our
family and future. I just finished watching the movie "An Inconvenient
Truth", please send this link to everyone you know. Watch the movie,
share it with your children, friends, tell everyone you know.

Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the
world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major
catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic
destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and
killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.

We can all make a difference,

Don't ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can
make a difference. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Forward this email, its not a chain letter, you won't receive good luck
or bad luck, but you could make a difference!

Steve Schappert
"Making the world a little greener"

Anonymous said...

Everybody should directly pressure the NSTA to act in the best interests of science education. Add a message to this discussion on the NSTA discussion board: You can also register a complaint at

Anonymous said...

What a joke. Whether or not Climate Change is a serious problem (it is) aside, to suggest that An Inconvenient Truth is not politicized is the stupidest thought I've come across in a long, long time. Amazing how bias can blind even the most brilliant.

Anonymous said...

And Laurie David is a hypocritical moron. Climate Change is too serious a problem to put on the shoulders of self-important semi-celebrities. Get scientists out there at the forefront -- not politicians or widely recognized left-leaning folks, of whom the general public will instinctively always be hesitant to believe.

Dale Carrico said...

The brave "Anonymous" decries Laurie David as "hypocritical" and as a "moron" but provides nothing in the way of support of this claim.

The "general public," we are told, "will instinctively... hesita[te] to believe" a "left-leaning" figure such as she, although I suspect the "public," to the extent that this is not a meaningless denotation at this level of generality, ascribes to any number of attitudes this brave soul would likewise decry as "left-leaning," among them a shared concern for industry-induced climate change, unsustainable agricultural practice, environmental toxicity, and such.

I am glad my Anonymous commentator is willing to concede, at any rate parenthetically, that there are indeed serious environmental problems confronting our generation. One hopes the commentator will grant that this seriousness might move us to use the tools at our disposal to do what we may, even if occasionally it is a celebrity who acquires the spotlight we must avail ourselves of.

As for the "politicization" of science, my views of the politics of consensus science are too complex for a bumper sticker, but should the reader be interested to read them I would direct their attention, first, to a piece of mine entitled Is Science Democratic? and, then, to another piece entitled Democracy Among the Experts.

I quite agree that scientists should be among the forefront of this struggle (among some others, as it happens). That the overabundant majority of scientists already agree with me and, to all appearances, with Laurie David on this particular matter, and yet the world is still careening pointlessly to catastrophe due to the short sighted idiocy of the corporate-military Royalists who (far more than even the most saucer-eyed celebrity knuckle-heads) constitute the truly most dangerous tribe on earth at the moment shows how foolish it is to imagine that some "depoliticized" fantasy of scientific practice will ever do the actual work of enlightenment and emancipation that falls to us all, scientist, celebrity, citizen, alike.

Thanks for reading and for responding.

Jose said...

Pat Robertson apparently believes in anthropic climate change (not sure if he's recanted his claim that Katrina was caused by Helen DeGeneres though). He's hardly a left leaning figure.

The key here isn't right or left but christian dominionist vs reality. Eighty million evangelicals are reluctant to accept that the central moral issue of our time has nothing to do with their religion at the gut level.

We need to find a way to sell it to these people. Al Gore clearly makes an attempt at this in Inconvient Truth by casting it as a moral issue but he's making a secular pitch. We need a Jesus would drive a Prius pitch.

Dale Carrico said...

You're right in much that you say, Jose. There's no doubt about it, of course, already there are a number of historically-legible "Conservationist" conservatives who are allies rather than enemies of sensible environmentalist causes, just as there are any number of people of faith (in all the variations of that phrase) for whom sustainability and environmental stewardship is already a key value. Check out the folks at the Interfaith Alliance for a good glimpse of this.

The loudmouthed mouthbreathing corporate-militarists of the handholding neoconservative and neoliberal wingnut wings of our debased public life in this fraught historical moment (of atrocity and new hope) hardly represent much but the short-sighted short-term interests of the rich in lucre and poor in thought.

As for selling sustainability -- I agree that this is important, but personally think this importance is overstated.

Mandating sustainable standards in the name of public health and safety seems to me incomparably more important than making sustainability "sexy" for saucer-eyed American consumers, if you know what I mean. When ghoulish Cheney smugly insists that Americans will never relinquish their murderous/suicidal pill-popping landfill SUV "lifestyle" he really means that sociopaths like himself will continue to make money by manufacturing the commercial consensus reality that facilitates this end (via unfair global trade, externalization of social costs for corporate profit-taking, surreally subsidized militarism, corporate broadcast-mediated distraction, debased critical education, and the inculcation of general citizen stress), whatever the consequences otherwise. Get those awful Royalist sociopaths out of the elite boardrooms and into the prison cells and therapists' offices where they truly palpably belong and I am quite sure "the people" will be open to reason on matters of social justice, environmental health, and human rights.

As usual, when we finally get down to it, the clash here is the oldest one in the book: democracy versus aristocracy.