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Politics and 'An Inconvenient Truth' 630

Posted by Zonk
from the get-this-sorted-out dept.
Frogbeater writes "The producer of 'An Inconvenient Truth' is accusing the National Science Teachers Association of being in the pocket of Big Oil because she can't get preferential treatment for her film. The entire situation is turning into a 'if you're not with us, you're against us' yelling match. Regardless of the viewpoint, is it even possible that science can remain apolitical? Has it ever been?" The Washington Post makes things out to be less than above board: "In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school ... 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."
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Politics and 'An Inconvenient Truth'

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  • Re:I'm SHOCKED (Score:5, Informative)

    by MECC (8478) * on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:18AM (#17016630)
    She's not complaining about a 'lack of preferential treatment' - she's citing that the National Science Teacher's Association rejected [blogspot.com] an offer to provide free copies of the movie to classrooms, for fear of losing money from Exxon.

    From the above link:
    The producers of An Inconvenient Truth have offered to supply American classrooms with 50,000 copies of the movie free of charge. That offer has been rejected by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the nation's leading science education teachers group, citing a risk to funding from key financial supporters.

    One of those supporters is Exxon-Mobil.

    Or if that's not enough, how about this from NSTA directly:"Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters."

    Me - 1
    /. Editors - 0


  • This isn't new..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LordPhantom (763327) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:20AM (#17016670)
    .... Seriously folks, there have been big corporations and governments trying to influence the way schools go with everything from computers to food. Advertising brought into schools to get kids to buy things. Special interest groups spending money on things schools need to get a new generation of consumers interested in them.

    Try:


    * Discounts from Apple, Microsoft, etc on computers (I'd link, but I'm going to go with this as a given...)
    * Coca-Cola [commercialalert.org]
    * Book It (Pizza Hut) [bookitprogram.com]
    * A growing trend of commercialization of sporting events and buildings [asu.edu]
    * Large amounts of money being spent by religious lobbies to support Creationist teachings in schools....
    * Large amounts of money being spent to promote evolution as a science teaching in schools
    * Politicians getting involved in the above 2 items
    * Politics derailing attempts to get anything done about improvments in materials and course work [toledoblade.com].

    Where there is money and future political mindsets involved, people will spare no amount of money and/or stupidity on all sides of a debate. It's really too bad that politics and ideology wars have to get in the way of doing what schools should be doing, give the kids the ability to think for themselves instead of telling them what to think.
  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:25AM (#17016784)

    Just to add and what a cursory review can turn up:

    Junkscience.com

    The most visible public activity of TASSC [The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) was an tobacco-industry-funded lobby group which promoted the idea that environmental science was "junk science", which should be replaced by "sound science" more favorable to corporate interests] was its support for the Junk Science website run by Steven Milloy, who describes himself as the "Junkman". Milloy denounces research on environmental issues such as climate change, pollution and public health as junk science if it produced results suggesting a need for public intervention or regulation. He promoted the idea of sound science, interpreted in practice to mean science favorable to corporate interests.

    Adverse publicity about Milloy's links to Phillip Morris were followed by his departure from the Cato Institute, where he had been an adjunct fellow, at the end of 2005, and the removal of links to junkscience.org from the Cato website. However, Milloy remains influential as the science columnist for Fox News.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advancement_of_Sound_ Science_Center [wikipedia.org]
  • by mc6809e (214243) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:26AM (#17016790)
    Also we all laughed while the film had a diagram of most of the oil evaporating and doing little harm in Valdez.


    Why would you laugh? An oil slick really will evaporate over time. It happens every day in the Gulf of Mexico where oil literally rises to the surface from the sea floor.


    Immediately after the laughter, your science teacher could have made the important point that the results of experiments often conflict with what our intuition suggests.

  • by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:29AM (#17016826) Homepage Journal
    How in the hell can anyone be stupid enough to think that there is a political motive behind "Big Oil" giving to science education? I don't think Welsely Mouch from Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged would be that moronic.

    Maybe because the NSTA themselves admitted it [thinkprogress.org]? As a previous poster pointed out: "Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place 'unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.'"

    How in the hell can anyone be stupid enough to think that's NOT a political motive? ;)

  • by ductonius (705942) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:30AM (#17016856) Homepage
    Also we all laughed while the film had a diagram of most of the oil evaporating and doing little harm in Valdez.


    That's actually what happens, you know. Most of the lighter fractions of crude oil (the majority of the oil, that is) evaporate very quickly leaving behind the sticky tars and such. One of the most ecologically sound methods of getting rid of an oil spill is to light it up [ec.gc.ca] (since that's what were going do with the oil anyway), but that can't happen after the lighter fractions evaporate since the tars need 'help' to burn.
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:33AM (#17016918) Journal
    Come up with a reasoned set of arguments that explain why a couple thousand physicists or biologists are all wrong,

    To be "wrong" means their model doesn't match the real world. And that's my point: it doesn't matter how complex and cool and difficult to understand your model is; all that matter is, does it make valid predictions? Your focus is on whether someone can reproduce the model's result rather than whether the model matches reality:

    Other people are free to use the same equations, write their own simulation, and if they aren't deliberately feeding the models misinformation, will converge to a result within some confidence interval similar to yours, presuming you did your job correctly as well.

    If the model were making valid predictions (the same model, that is), you could parade an endless list: our model predicted this climate change in this region, and this increase this this kind of weather activity. No, not the past. I mean, predict it *now* and see if it bears out in the future. But obviously, you aren't getting that, or it would be used ad infinitum to shut up global warming skeptics.

    Again, my point is not that the models themselves are without basis, just that it is difficult if not impossible to do the empirical tests that will determine if they are valid.
  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:34AM (#17016938) Homepage Journal
    Carbon exhaust is causing climate change. Okay.
    1) there is no scientific consensus on this
    2) I seriously doubt that consensus will be forthcoming withing less than 10 or 20 years
    I assume by "consensus" you mean everybody who calls themselves a "scientist" agrees? I think that will take longer than 10 or 20 years. If you mean the mainstream scientific community, then the consensus has already occurred. You will see people occasionally raise doubts about certain aspects of it, but the base is sound and excess CO2 is defiantly warming the Earth.

    When you think about the scales involved (the US alone emits around 1.5 Billion (with a B!) tons of CO2 a year[1]), and the fact that only about half of that gets reabsorbed by the biosphere[2], coupled with the fact that we know CO2 causes a greenhouse effect (this has been replicated in high school science labs), and there really isn't much room for doubt that the Earth is warming due to human influences.

    1. http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science/each- countrys-share-of-co2-emissions.html [ucsusa.org] 2. http://www.john-daly.com/co2-conc/ahl-co2.htm [john-daly.com]
  • Re:I'm SHOCKED (Score:1, Informative)

    by fastcoke11 (805687) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:40AM (#17017062)
    It's nice to pretend. I don't think it's that far of a leap to take to draw the conclusion that an anti-oil "documentary" is being rejected by the NTSA because, admittedly, they are afraid of losing funding from a donor, and that the donor who would stop funding them is an oil company.
  • Can you guess where the maximized profits are going [treehugger.com]?
  • by alex_guy_CA (748887) <[alex] [at] [schoenfeldt.com]> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:50AM (#17017254) Homepage
    I know /. is not a news outlet, but the level of bias in the summary "..because she can't get preferential treatment..." is pretty offensive.

    It seems to me from reading TFA that the producer does have some type of legitimate gripe. Just take this sentence FTA "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."

  • by MoralHazard (447833) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @11:55AM (#17017342)
    Taken to the limit, this means that a company will take any action neccessary to secure and guard profits.

    You totally misunderstood Friedman's point, probably because you never read Friedman, but instead took the quote out of context.

    First of all, in the section of his book where he makes the quote you pulled, he's not talking about how companies do behave, he's talking about how he thinks the should behave. Friedman argues that corporations engage in all kinds of frivolous charity, making donations to causes and such, and that they should stop. Instead, corporations should return those profits to their shareholders, and let the shareholders make charitable donations as they wish.

    Second of all, Friedman didn't believe that corporations should take any action necessary to secure profit. His understanding of corporate responsibility is the commonly-accepted, rational one: corporate businesses, like all businesses, individuals, non-profits, clubs, or other human agencies, should obey the law equally. In other words, if corporations take less-than-optimal actions, and they're not breaking the law, you need to change the law, not the corporation.

    Your interpretation is akin to saying that Winston Churchill was a big supporter of Hitler--it's the exact opposite of the facts.
  • science / politics (Score:3, Informative)

    by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @12:05PM (#17017510) Homepage
    "Climate change" is about science. "Global warming" is about a political agenda which is indifferent to the science.
  • by Pedrito (94783) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @12:36PM (#17018182) Homepage
    "If I was all noble and I made a movie I genuinely felt people needed to see to save the earth, wouldn't I just give it to PBS on day 1?"

    Did it occur to you that: A, PBS doesn't exactly have the biggest audience of all the networks. Second of all, the people that generally watch PBS are probably educated enough to have a pretty good idea that Global Warming is for real and that man is causing it.

    So, let's assume for the moment, that the target audience isn't the people who already know this stuff, but perhaps the people that don't. So, putting it in the theater will help give it a wider audience than it might otherwise get on PBS.

    And you're bitching about this not being noble, but they're trying to GIVE AWAY tens of thousands of copies to schools FOR FREE and the schools won't take them.

    Look, you say what you want, but Gore truly cares about this issue. He spent about 20 years of his life in congress and the senate doing everything he could to bring it to peoples attention. This has been his #1 issue for just about his entire career. Show me anyone in politics who's tried to do something more noble!
  • Re:Difference (Score:4, Informative)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @12:43PM (#17018296)
    I know very little about climate science (my total exposure is what I gather from Scientific American and some other rags), but I would point out that you are comparing two very different things. In the case of global warming, they are trying to model the amount of CO2 contained in the entire system (Earth), whereas in hurricane prediction they are trying to model a very complex process in a very specific region of the system (the Atlantic seaboard). They also know exactly what happened to their model - an unexpected El Nino - and when they plug that into their model, it more closely matches what actually happened this season.

    I suppose that you could argue that some unforeseen event will occur that dramatically throws off the CO2 model, and most climate researchers would probably agree with you. However, I'm not really into depending on a natural disaster blocking out sunlight. We should probably do something about this ourselves.

    One could also argue that we're going to run out of stuff to burn pretty soon, so all of this is just academic anyway :)

    And in a billion years, the sun's intensity will increase - rendering the planet uninhabitable no matter what we do, and no matter who controls congress (the otters?). Happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @12:46PM (#17018350)
    Both the dust and the el niño effect were likely caused by global warming

    No, the el niño is periodic thing that's been happening for a very, very long time, and is considered a natural coupling of the ocean and atmosphere [wikipedia.org] with a predictable recurrance. Whether any larger change in global temps has anything to do with how it interacts with other weather patterns is a separate issue, and not at all clear. But it is not "caused by global warming." That's complete BS. Likewise, the dust from Africa exists because the Sahara desert has been there for 2.5 million years [wikipedia.org]. Dust storms blowing out to sea are completely expected, and happen all the time. We're just now getting the regular use of imaging tools and computer models that help us to understand how readily that hot bowl of dust impacts Atlantic storms. The Sahara is as dry now as it was 13,000 years ago, but has gone through numerous huge fluxuations in wetness and vegetation unrelated to "global warming" as that phrase is now used. Unless, of course, you consider the last ice age - things were cooler, then, and the Sahara desert was much larger, drier, and dustier than it is now.

    What about the 2005 hurricane season? It was also global warming that caused that.

    What are you talking about? We have a hurrican season every year, and we're in the middle of a cyclic 25-30 year peak, which has been going on for thousands of years and is most likely tied to solar variation. Further, the number of storms reported in 2005 include storms that never came ashore - seen (and thus counted) by satellites that we've only recently had at our disposal. During a previous cycle (say, 100 years ago?) the dozen or so Atlantic storms that we saw stay out to sea might also have been there (or been more frequent), but they'd never have made it into the statistics that we now generate because they would have gone unobserved.

    Take a deep breath, how about.
  • Re:I'm SHOCKED (Score:5, Informative)

    by hswerdfe (569925) <slashdot.org@how ... .com minus caffe> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:10PM (#17018866) Homepage Journal
    maybe you should actually look into some climate research.
    No, Global warming did not predict 15 hurricanes hitting NYC this year.
    Some Scientists be believe that one of the effects of warmer global temperatures could be more and stronger hurricanes.
    This is one effect that may be caused by global warming. There are other effects that Might be caused by global warming including :
      * more drought
      * more floods
      * desertification
      * loss of productive farm land
      * more extreme weather changes in local areas
    All of these effects are predictions of what might happen because of global warming based largely on data and simulation. Some effects are more widely accepted then other effects.

    but what is OBVIOUS is that
      1. we now have more carbon in the atmosphere then at any time in well a really long time.
      2. CO2 is a green house gas
      3. Global temperatures are starting to go up

    If Carbon emissions are left unchecked by 2050 we will have twice the pre-industrial age level of carbon in the atmosphere. and there is a good chance we won't be be able to slow them down fast enough to avoid massive temperature increases. Every time in earths history the climate has radically changed the dominate life form on the planet became extinct. Guess what species is the dominant life form this time.

  • Full quote (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sapphon (214287) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:17PM (#17018982) Journal
    there is one and only one social responsibility of business-to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

    From "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits", The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970
    copies here [uni-mannheim.de] or here [wwu.edu] (annotated)
  • That's not funny. (Score:4, Informative)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:21PM (#17019054)
    You can mod that funny, but eugenics was considered a scientific endeavor at during the '30s when the KKK was at it's peak. Many people simply took it as fact that white people were genetically superior to other races. It is an apt comparison, though most people wouldn't agree because global warming is "real" and eugenics is "fake".
  • by Grendel Drago (41496) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:36PM (#17019400) Homepage
    No, no, not bible-beating rednecks, well-heeled industry shills! And that stereotype exists largely because there's a well-documented conspiracy to debase science and muddy the waters [motherjones.com] on behalf of said industry. (There's an analogue for creationism [antievolution.org] as well.)

    You're welcome to question global warming, just as you're welcome to question the theory of evolution. It gets old when the same [timlambert.org] tired crap [talkorigins.org] is thrown out time and again, designed not to advance anyone's understanding of anything, but to sow public confusion and doubt.
  • Re:Difference (Score:3, Informative)

    by ErroneousBee (611028) <neil:neil[ ]cock.co.uk ['han' in gap]> on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:05PM (#17020030) Homepage

    The methane level 'predictions' you talk about are actually methane level 'projections'. In the absence of any data indicating how methane sources respond to climate change and changes in land use they pretty much have to just take a stab at the methane release rate, and they incorrectly projected a continuing rise.

    Methane is not as dire a global warming gas as you characterize it. It oxidises in the atmosphere. I would guess its atmospheric 1/2 life somewhere in the range of 6months-2years (CO2 has an atmospheric 1/2 life of about 30 years). There is more on the impact of methane at realclimate [realclimate.org].

    BTW, almost everything you say is innaccurate:

    • scientists that can predict the next millenia's weather to three decimal points ... they predict between 2 and 6 degrees of warming, and express what this means for the weather in very vague terms (increased storminess, etc).
    • didn't forsee the recent unexplained drop in atmospheric methane levels ... read the literature. Theres loads of dissenting opinion on how much the various sinks and sources contribute, and how they change according to climate change and land use.
    • drop in atmospheric methane levels ... Wrong, levels remained constant.
    • Methane is a worse greenhouse gas the CO2! ... Methane is oxidized quite rapidly, so a 1 tonne release of methane does not have the long term effect a 1 tonne release of CO2 would have. (Ive seen similar, even more wrong, arguments about water vapour)
    • You can make all sorts of dire predictions if you assume that things will remain constant. ... You can make all sorts of dire predictions if you assume things will change too. This statement is more meaningless than innacurate.
    • The problem is that in the real world, nothing is constant. ... apart from the physical constants, and the laws of physics, and human stupidity.
    • GIGO ... really? [wasteonline.org.uk]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:24PM (#17020404)
    I can't believe anybody would cite Crichton as some kind of authority on science and policy. He's an opportunistic pulp fiction writer at best and a disingenuous propagandist at worst. Biotechnologists have had to defend their work from the unreal dangers portrayed in Jurassic Park [sdnhm.org]. Nanotechnologists have had to defend their careers from the falsehoods of Prey [nanotech-now.com]. Non-xenophobes were stuck defending the Japanese in Rising Sun [nybooks.com]. And now, climatologists are forced to defend their science from the spin and outright lies in State of Fear [realclimate.org]. Crichton is a one man show in overhyped doom-mongering and crap pseudoscience. Serious people ignore him.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:25PM (#17020432)
    You MUST be new here. That is standard operation for Slashdot.

    The lunatics are running (moderating) the asylum. Slashdot is nothing more than an echo chamber
    for those who:

    a) hate America
    b) blame America
    c) hate capitalism
    c) hate conservatism
    c) hate Chrisitianity
    d) hate Christians
    e) hate Microsoft
    f) hate non-free software
    G) hate George Bush

    (If you say something even remotely positive about anything listed above, you are on the fast-track to
    being labeled a Troll or Flamebate. It is absolutely predictable and enternaining to watch this phenomenon.)

    Slashdotters are notoriously/hilariously sheep-like as well. You will, no doubt, find that the vast majority (OK, all.) of
    threads/posts not only devolve into an opportunity for the sheeple to spout one of, if not more of, the ideals listed
    above, but that at least one, if not all of the following little blurbs will be found in any thread. No, you will not
    find much original thought or dissent here at good 'ol Slashdot. Gotta love those tolerant and open-minded liberals!

    1) Nice straw man...
    2) Oh wait...
    3) x != n
    4) ...tin-foil hat...
    5) Er,
    6) Nice. (usually followed by some predictable, unintelligent sarcasm)
    7) Wow! (usually followed by some predictable, unintelligent sarcasm)
    8) Any of the multitude of childish spellings of "Microsoft" or "Windows". (M$, Windoze, etc...)

    If anyone would like to challenge the validity of anything I just wrote, please do so. What, no takers? Thought so...

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled propaganda...
  • by kenh (9056) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:49PM (#17020966) Homepage Journal
    Not to say it is anything other than above-board, but the producer of "An Inconvienient Truth" wrote BOTH pieces cited - they are not separate sources that reinforce each other, they are the same argument repeated. There is nothing wrong with the producer sharing her thoughts/opinions as widely as possible, but the original poster seems to have missed they are both by the same author (and the latter is on the Op/Ed pages, not the "news" section.

    For those unfamiliar with edited, printed newspapers - there is a difference between the two sections.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:54PM (#17021112)
    Basically, everything you wrote was wrong except for the bit about the Greenpeace founder.

    1. There is no global warming on Mars [realclimate.org]

    2. DDT is dangerous to the environment [epa.gov]

    3. The Kyoto Treaty exemptions are based on CUMULATIVE emissions, not annual emissions. The US and Western Europe have released the most CO2 into the atmosphere by far [wri.org]. That's not even when you factor equity into account on a per capita basis.
  • by Samrobb (12731) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @05:11PM (#17023980) Homepage Journal

    Asking Google to define:propaganda [google.com] turns up:

    • information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause
    • Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda. At its root, the denotation of propaganda is 'to propagate (actively spread) a philosophy or point of view'. The most common use of the term (historically) is in political contexts; in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments or political groups.
    • Any media text which seeks openly to persuade an audience of the validity of particular beliefs.
    • The promotion of specific ideas or views, often political in nature.

    And dictionary.com [reference.com] says that propaganda is:

    1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
    2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
    3. the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.

    So, really, by definition, propaganda is any deliberate attempt at advocacy. The format and genre of "An Inconvenient Truth" may be that of a documentary, but it is definitely a piece of propaganda.

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