“An Inconvenient Truth,” the Davis Guggenheim documentary on global warming starring Al Gore’s presentation on the subject, provides an accurate, engaging, accessible, thought-provoking and (at times) even humorous introduction to one of the most important scientific issues of our time ( see our review of the movie). In some countries, viewing “An Inconvenient Truth” has actually become a required part of the science curriculum, and with good justification, we think. Given that the DVD is currently selling for $19.99 through Amazon.com, you’d think that the National Science Teachers’ Association ( NSTA) would jump at the chance to quickly get 50,000 free copies quickly into the hands of their members. Yet, when Laurie David, one of the producers of the film, made this offer to NSTA last November, it was summarily turned down on the grounds that the NSTA has a 2001 policy against “product endorsement” (as if Laurie David were trying to shop some new deodorant to high school science teachers). What in the world is going on here?
Before continuing with the history of NSTA’s bizarre decision, let us provide you with the most important information: Up to 50,000 US science teachers can receive a free copy of the DVD by filling out a simple request form here . The deadline for requesting your copy is January 18, so if you want a copy, take a few minutes to put in your request right away.
Laurie David described her correspondence with the NSTA in a Washington Post Op-Ed, where she notes that an email sent to her by NSTA invoked not only the product endorsement issue, but also a fear that distributing the film would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.” David goes on to point out that one of these supporters is in fact ExxonMobil (whose efforts to spread confusion about climate change are described in a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.) Is NSTA for sale? Did concern about losing ExxonMobil funding lead to NSTA’s timidity about accepting the donation of the DVDs?
The NSTA responds to David’s charges here , pointing out among other things that they offered to sell David the NSTA’s commercial mailing list and that the email to her regarding the fundraising issue was unauthorized. We ourselves find the NSTA’s defense unconvincing. While it is impossible for us to know the extent to which ExxonMobil funding has compromised NSTA’s objectivity on global warming, a perusal of the NSTA web site shows that their teacher resources are rather short on support for teaching about the fundamental science of global warming. This contrasts strongly with their in-depth support for the teaching of Evolution. Indeed, the NSTA’s “compromise” of providing a link on their homepage to the independent DVD giveaway strikes us as uncomfortably similar to placing a sticker on a biology textbook disclaiming Evolution as “Theory, not Fact.” Their willingness to link to the giveaway without providing it directly to their members conveys a distinct impression that the film is somehow tainted.
Doing a search on “Global Warming” on the NSTA site turns up only a paltry supply of useful educational material. It is also illuminating to go into their “recommendations” section and type in “global warming.” That will turn up this recommended book by Kenneth Green, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute whose article Clouds of Global-Warming Hysteria in the National Review endorsed Michael Crichton’s view of global warming and called supporters of climate change action “One-worlders and other socialist sorts.” Needless to say, the NSTA recommendations (as of today) did not turn up “An Inconvenient Truth” either in its DVD or book form. Nor did it turn up Revkin’s book directed at juveniles “The North Pole Was Here,” nor any of the other scientifically respectable introductions of which we are aware
Perhaps the NSTA policy has not been compromised by its funding sources, but it will have to work a lot harder to convince us. The best way it could do that would be to bring their support for teaching about global warming up to the same standards as their support for teaching about Evolution.
Meanwhile, there have been scattered reports of outright censorship of “An Inconvenient Truth” in the classroom. In a widely reported case, one Seattle school district has essentially banned the film. We have also heard from a science teacher in a populous East Coast state, who was forbidden from showing the film after some parents complained that in fact the earth was “cooling, not warming.” (We have been asked to keep this teacher’s identity confidential so as to prevent reprisals). Hopefully these are isolated instances. We are eager to hear from our readers, not only on the issue of censorship of the film, but also with regard to their experiences with teaching about human-caused climate change in the K-12 classroom (and the extent to which “An Inconvenient Truth” has proved a useful tool).