Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Environmentalists vs NSTA: an inconvenient truth

Two months ago, we described a strange lawsuit that the environmentalists filed against the Environmental Protection Agency, the so-called

You might think that a bureaucratic structure whose very name shows that it protects the environment is an unlikely target for the environmentalists who also claim that they want to protect the environment. You would be wrong for the first time.

The EPA wasn't the last unexpected target of these groups. The environmental movement often says that they support science education. So you would think that they wouldn't attack the National Science Teachers' Association. You would be wrong for the second time.

The National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA) has adopted a very sensible policy back in 2001, namely a policy against product endorsement. Because the ecoactivists often argue that they want the state institutions to remain independent from for-profit organizations and commercial pressures, you might believe that the policy against product endorsement was not the reason why NSTA was attacked. You would be wrong for the third time.

Capitalism is a great gadget to optimize products and to increase the consumers' satisfaction. If the consumers are satisfied, the products sell well which is what the producers want. This mechanism works remarkably well.

However, consumer satisfaction is not quite the same thing as the scientific truth. Unless the consumers are rational people who are familiar with all the required facts and who moreover depend on the validity of a proposed scientific theory, you may be pretty sure that the direction in which the market pressures push a product is different from the direction that would be selected by the scientific method.

If a product depends on science, it is almost inevitable and it must be expected that the underlying science will be selectively presented, biased, twisted, oversimplified, or exaggerated in order to increase the profit of the producers. Sometimes the effect is strong, sometimes it is weaker but all reasonable policymakers must be aware of the fact that this effect exists. This is why it's so sensible for an institution that cares about something like the objective truth to adopt a policy against product endorsement.

I am sure that you don't have to read Money, religion, and science in order to know what I mean.

Example: a DVD

In November 2006, we had the opportunity to see how wise the policy actually is. A producer has offered her DVD to NSTA so that the teachers could advertise it in the classrooms and their students would buy a lot of these DVDs. Because the particular DVD is cheap to produce but it is sold for $19.99, you may guess what it would do with their profits.

The DVD contains a horror movie whose primary market strength is that it claims to be based on science - and perhaps, it is nothing else than science. Is it science? Well, it hasn't been peer-reviewed. More precisely, it has been informally peer-reviewed by many scientists and it has been rejected as an unreliable source of information by most of them. Most scientists have described the movie as one-sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative, or plain wrong.

The environmentalists often say that they want science to be peer-reviewed so you would guess that they surely agree that NSTA shouldn't become a tool for producers who claim something to be science but couldn't stand a peer review to fill their pockets. You would be wrong for the fourth time. How is it possible that you would be wrong once again?

Well, environmentalists only like science to be peer-reviewed when it suits their agenda. When the producer who has made the shameless suggestion is a self-described "global warming activist" such as Laurie David (indeed, Einstein is turning in his grave because his quote has appeared on her website) who wants to fill her pockets in ways that make the average Philip Morris shareholders look like angels and when the main actor in that movie is a former future president, the rules of the game suddenly undergo a first-order phase transition.

However, NSTA has had its wise rules and therefore the association has, of course, refused to become a tool of these shameless profiteers and it has politely explained its position. You might think that a few arrogant people were simply stopped by the internal regulations of an educational institution and the story is over. You would be wrong for the fifth time: I am sure that at this moment, you must already be tired of being wrong all the time ;-) so I will try to avoid this rhetorical sleight-of-hand from now on.

New pressure

How is it possible that you would be wrong? Well, we live in the early 21st century and the discourse is contaminated by all kinds of lobby groups with no self-consistent moral constraints and with no accountability whatsoever. Eleven of them have written a truly disgraceful text

in which they have attacked NSTA by their usual Goebbelsian methods. This attack includes the standard comment that NSTA are stooges of ExxonMobil. They offer their universal proof of this statement: the money is circulating so NSTA has surely received a dollar from ExxonMobil. As long as NSTA fails to obey every wish that the ecoactivists - and at this moment, it is really more appropriate to call them ecoterrorists - have, it is clear that they must be stooges of ExxonMobil.

Well, I really don't think that NSTA has received enough money from ExxonMobil to grant the company a significant influence on their acts. More importantly, I think that the people who would ever view such an argument - a hypothetical link with ExxonMobil - as evidence for anything are too stupid to deserve any attention. ExxonMobil is a great company that substantially contributes to the well-being of the whole mankind while the ecoactivists mostly belong to the moral bottom of hypocrites who are parasiting on the society and who profit from human stupidity and fear.

When the main actor in a movie is Al Gore, all previous rules must be suppressed because he is apparently our Savior. He can argue that the people shouldn't emit carbon dioxide but he can emit as much as 800 average people do. He can preach that individuals shouldn't earn hundreds of dollars by twisting scientific insights but he can earn millions by doing the same thing.

For many of us including me, he is a rather perverse politician and manipulator who doesn't follow his own principles. Can you imagine the fireworks that would explode if Michael Crichton offered his "State of Fear" as recommended literature for students via NSTA? What is the difference between the real case of Laurie David and the hypothetical case of Michael Crichton? In fact, there are two main differences:

  • Michael Crichton knows more about the climate than Laurie David and her collaborators, by an order of magnitude
  • Al Gore enjoys the political support of a significant portion of the universities and some climate blogs that have become extremely politicized

Sadly enough, the second difference is more consequential in the real world of 2007. Fine: you can see that this is almost the last paragraph. So you might think that the RealClimate.ORG folks will be satisfied with their criticism of NSTA. I don't want to say that you would be wrong for the sixth time but you would be wrong anyway. ;-)

In reality, RealClimate.ORG attempts to create an alternative NSTA whose goal is, on the contrary, to endorse products and spread them through schools and through the most easily manipulable teachers - but only the products that will pour money directly to Al Gore's pocket and indirectly to theirs.

I am sure that every good person in the Academia and beyond is ashamed of the hypocritical and morally defective approach of RealClimate.ORG and others and I am confident that it is only a matter of time before most people figure out how much they're being cheated.

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