Crooked Curriculum: Oil Company Money Scandal at Nat'l Science Teachers Association Deepens

The scandal at the National Science Teachers Association just keeps getting worse. We've learned that NSTA is willing to sell direct access to America's schoolteachers to any Tom, Dick or Exxon that shows up with a checkbook.
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The scandal at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) just keeps getting worse.

Since the Washington Post published an op-ed I wrote asking if NSTA's puzzling decision to reject 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore's global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth might - just might - have had anything to do with more than six million dollars the organization has accepted from ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute, the muck keeps piling up.

ExxonMobil, of course, remains the standout among a large group of fossil fuel companies that have done everything in their considerable power to delay, deflect, and derail any serious effort to cut global warming emissions. Funding scientific disinformation has long been one of their favorite tactics.

New evidence flatly contradicts statements NSTA has made in defense of its suspect partnerships, and efforts appear to be underway to wipe out online evidence showing that what the oil industry got in exchange was the group's imprimatur on classroom videos, teaching guides, and other "educational" materials that play down threats like global warming and play up the glories of continued oil dependence.

We also learned that NSTA is willing to sell direct access to America's schoolteachers to any Tom, Dick or Exxon that shows up with a checkbook.

And here's the icing on the cake: NSTA Executive Director Dr. Gerry Wheeler - a top figure in the world of science education, remember - confessed to at least one reporter this week that he hadn't actually bothered to see the acclaimed film before he turned it down.

Cuddling Up to Conoco

NSTA's initial rejection e-mail included comments from a staffer worried that accepting the offer would "place unnecessary risk upon the capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters."

Now NSTA is arguing that distributing An Inconvenient Truth to teachers would violate their 2001 policy against endorsements. But that policy didn't stop them from shipping out 20,000 copies of a whopping 10-part video funded by ConocoPhillips in 2003.

In fact, Gerry Wheeler himself is listed as executive producer of the film series, alongside a ConocoPhillips corporate PR man named Ron Stanley. His interest in cinema apparently didn't extend to An Inconvenient Truth, however. At least not until it landed him in the paper.

Wheeler says this is OK because NSTA had editorial control of the project. If that's true, then maybe he can explain why the only scientist cited in the largely dismissive global warming section appearing in chapters six, nine and ten of the teaching guides is Dr. Robert Balling - a well known global warming skeptic who has acknowledged taking more than $400,000 from the fossil fuel industry (others say the figure is higher).

Shredding the Evidence

We also discovered that somebody somewhere is meticulously shredding the online evidence of NSTA's cozy corporate partnerships.

NSTA now says it is no longer partners with the American Petroleum Institute, asserting that the project ended five years ago. Yet it looks as if the curriculum was alive and well until reporters started asking about it these past few weeks.

As of November 26 - the day the Post article appeared - both NSTA and API were promoting the course materials they produced together on their web sites. Immediately after the article appeared, however, we noticed that references to the joint "Science of Energy" program were quickly disappearing from the web.

The 'Science of Energy' website itself is now gone altogether, and API has rewritten language touting their relationship with the science educators. But we captured some telling links before they started vanishing.

To see the disappearing documents, go here.

Falsified Promises

Last Thursday, NSTA released a statement claiming it had offered us "many options" for "publicizing such programs" as An Inconvenient Truth to their members. In fact, Wheeler had promised by phone just the day before that he would meet with his board and come back with possible ways to get the disks into teacher's hands. Instead he went straight to the press, claiming I had turned down an offer I never received.

More troubling is that their suggestions were nothing more than another set of 'For Sale' signs: Offers to sell their "commercially available member mailing list"; to sell us ads in their magazine and online newsletters; to sell us a booth at one of their conventions (hopefully not next to ExxonMobil).

And as it turns out, all of these things are already for sale on the NSTA website to anyone who shows up with the cash.

By the way, why are science teachers' names for sale at all?

Teacher Reputations on the Line

This story goes far deeper than a truckload of DVDs. What it's really about is NSTA's big money relationships with oil companies - the biggest, most powerful special interests on the planet.

It's truly a shame a group that does so many other good things has so badly undermined its own stature and credibility. What's worse is that NSTA's sleazy partnerships - 'partnership' is their word, by the way -threaten to tarnish the good reputation of science teachers all across America.

We're working on better ways to get those 50,000 DVDs into the hands of teachers who want them. Judging from hundreds of emails I've received from outraged teachers we know there will be plenty of interest.

To see the disappearing documents mentioned above, go here


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