Thursday, December 14, 2006

Say Goodbye

It is done.

I have successfully imported all the posts and comments from this blog to my home computer, and then over to our new WordPress Blog.

Comments are now turned off here, to keep the conversations in one place.

I'm gonna miss this place, I put a lot of work into it.

Please update your links and visit us now at UDreamOfJanie on WordPress.

I have some categorizing to do over there and some clean up and such, but we'll be watching for you.


JanieBelle, Corporal Kate, and The Boy.

0 Eloquent Orations

Science Is Taking Another Beating

at the hands of the George Orwell Bush Administration.

(This story is also cross posted at our Wordpress Blog.)

I latched on to this story via Stolen Moments, but it's being covered all over the mainstream press, as well as the BlogOSphere.

Stolen Moments' blog post begins thus:

According to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), in defiance of Congressional requests to immediately halt closures of library collections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is purging records from its library websites, making them unavailable to both agency scientists and outside researchers, . At the same time, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of its shuttered libraries, including the hurried auctioning off of expensive bookcases, cabinets, microfiche readers and other equipment for less than a penny on the dollar.

In a letter dated November 30, 2006, four incoming House Democratic committee chairs demanded that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson assure them “that the destruction or disposition of all library holdings immediately ceased upon the Agency’s receipt of this letter and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials are being maintained.” On the very next day, December 1st, EPA de-linked thousands of documents from the website for the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters.

Here we go again.

In a September 21st story on Yubanet and repeated on (sources below), the story of the EPA closing public libraries begins somewhat quietly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is closing its Headquarters Library to the public, as well as its own staff, effective October 1. This shutdown is the latest in a series of agency library closures during the past few weeks, according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As with the other library collections, the books, reports and research monographs in the EPA Headquarters Library have been boxed up and are currently inaccessible to anyone.

The Headquarters Library collection contains 380,000 documents on microfiche (including technical reports produced by EPA and its predecessor agencies), a microforms collection that includes back files of abstracts and indexes, 5,500 hard copy EPA documents, as well as more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by government agencies other than EPA.1, 3

So the EPA was closing its headquarters library in Washington, and had already begun closing other libraries in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City.

According to the Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130, the EPA is required to publicly announce such closures before they happen, and in the case of the headquarters library they made such an announcement, albeit a mere ten days before the closure. In the case of the other libraries, there was no such announcement at all.1, 3

Now although these libraries serve the general public, who really cares about EPA libraries, right? Seriously, have you or anyone you know ever been to one? Probably not. Is one of these libraries on your list of ten places you simply must go before you die? Probably not even on your top 100 list.

Here's the thing. These libraries are accessed all the time by environmental scientists. These libraries house boatloads of information and data collected about the environment by all sorts of methods, and necessary for the proper study of environmental change. They are necessary for enforcement officials of the EPA itself to track and expose polluters. Ahhh... herein lies the crux of the matter.

Scientists who are studying both natural and human effects on global climate change are now without several huge repositories of historical and current data on the environment. EPA enforcement officials are now unable to compare the amount of current pollution in a local stream or river to the amount of pollution say, twenty years ago.

This is a serious problem, and it was seen as such by Congressional Committee leaders.

EPA's library closures (which the agency euphemistically calls "deaccessioning procedures") are sparking congressional scrutiny. On September 19th, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Science, Energy & Commerce and Government Reform (Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN), John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), respectively) asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the effects that the EPA library closures will have on access to environmental information and the impacts on scientific research, regulatory quality and enforcement capability.1, 3

A reasonable and important request, given the vast amounts of important data being boxed up quietly and indefinitely.

The EPA's rationale? Funding. The EPA tells us that it will save a large amount of money by closing these libraries and digitizing their contents. That's admirable on its face, but Russel Shaw casts a somewhat different light on the financial situation in the Huffington Post.

In an action unknown to almost all Americans except policy wonks, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun closing its network of 27 technical libraries. The process, which also includes the EPA Headquarters library in Washington, D.C., was set to begin today, October 1, the onset of the 2007 Fiscal Year. Some $2 million will be saved by the closures.

Yet with seeming eagerness, the EPA has already begun the file transfer. for is less than a third the amount an internal EPA study estimates the libraries save EPA professionals in staff time and is 80% of the libraries' annual $2.5 million budget has some people wondering if the real agenda is driven by politics rather than financial management.

Although the EPA says in part that the closure is being prompted by the trend to make records accessible online rather than in dead-tree form, virtually none of the EPA records that exist prior to 1990 have been digitized.

Currently, these older records exist either in boxes or on microfilm. The latter storage media is exceptionally expensive to digitize.4

Mr. Shaw also very kindly provides a link to a .mp3 audio podcast of Ira Flatow discussing the situation on Science Friday (we're huge fans!) with Jeff Ruch, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Interestingly enough, the EPA declined to have a representative appear on the show.5

I'm not surprised.

Rebecca Carr ran an excellent story a month later (November 1st) for Cox Newspapers wherein she cuts to the chase.

But EPA employees and watchdog groups are skeptical that the agency's library in Atlanta will remain untouched in the future.

An internal June 8, 2006, memo from Lyons Gray, the EPA's chief financial officer, to top agency officials, indicates that the agency plans even deeper cuts next year, including at laboratories where much of the agency's research takes place. If labs are closing, employees say, everything is on the table.

In that memo, Lyons wrote that agency must "identify opportunities for consolidation and streamlining." That includes cutting the labs' costs by 20 percent over the next five years and closing an unspecified number of them.

"I think the level of cuts are really just a foretaste of what's to come," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonpartisan environmental watchdog group based in Washington. "Every thing is up for grabs. Atlanta could easily be on the chopping block."

The Bush administration wants to defang the EPA to benefit industry, which has long resisted the agency's pollution reporting requirements, Ruch said.

"This is a slow-motion lobotomy of the agency," Ruch said.6

This is exactly what's going on. The Bush Administration is deliberately hog-tying the EPA to protect big businesses that spew pollutants into the environment, so that they will not be prevented or penalized for their wanton destruction. It's all about the bottom line, and circumventing Congress and the law is no barrier to Mr. Bush.

Francesca Grifo, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Boston Globe in a story that ran December 3rd, ""Nobody is against modernization, but we don't see the digitization. We just see the libraries closing."7

So while the EPA was insisting that the records would be digitized and made accessible again to the public, two months later the libraries are still closing, and there's no indication of that digitizing.

The next day, the Austin American-Statesman noted:

A group of senior Democratic lawmakers has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop closing its public libraries and discarding collection materials until it has permission from Congress.

“We request that you maintain the status quo of the libraries and their materials while this issue is under investigation and review by Congress,” Reps. John Dingell, the ranking member of the Energy Committee; Bart Gordon, ranking member of the Science Committee; James Oberstar, the ranking member of the Transportation Committee and Henry Waxman, the ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, wrote in a Nov. 30th letter to Stephen Johnson, the administrator of the EPA.8

Good. The Democrats, soon to be in power, are demanding that the EPA cease and desist its shenanigans.

The same day, Facing South gives us a practical means of pressuring the EPA ourselves.

The letter follows a call earlier this month from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and 16 other senators to the Appropriations Committee asking the EPA to be directed to halt the closures "while the Agency solicits and considers public input on its plan to drastically cut its library budget and services," the American Library Association reports.

After UCS issued its alert about the closures on Friday, protest calls reportedly began pouring into the office of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. UCS is asking the public to keep up the pressure by calling Johnson at (202) 564-4700 and urging him to immediately halt the dismantling of the library system until Congress approves the EPA budget and all materials are readily available online.9

Please make that call. Make it several times. Make it several times a day.

Joel A. Mintz and Rebecca Bratspies, Guest columnists for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, hit the nail on the head on December 6th:

One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration's six-year effort to undercut environmental protection has been its contempt for the free flow of information.

Early on, the White House rewrote conclusions of the Environmental Protection Agency's scientists on global warming. Then it refused to disclose which companies and lobbyists helped draft its energy policy. Now it is seeking to weaken the Toxic Release Inventory, the 20-year-old law that requires polluters to disclose publicly the extent of their pollution.10

You'd think by this time the Bush Administration would get the hint: closing EPA libraries is a bad idea. The people who access it are against it, the scientists who make use of the data are against it, the EPA enforcement officers are against it, it won't save much if any money, and can be only detrimental to the health and study of the environment.

But don't hold your breath waiting for Mr. Bush to come to grips with reality.

On December 7th, Yubanet runs a follow up piece.

In defiance of Congressional requests to immediately halt closures of library collections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is purging records from its library websites, making them unavailable to both agency scientists and outside researchers, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of its shuttered libraries, including the hurried auctioning off of expensive bookcases, cabinets, microfiche readers and other equipment for less than a penny on the dollar.2

That's right. The same people who told us that the EPA was closing libraries to digitize all the records and save money by putting them all online, is destroying the online records that already exist!

Further, they are selling off the real world assets.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to limit Congressional options, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of the several libraries that it has already completely shuttered. In its Chicago office, which formerly hosted one of the largest regional libraries, EPA ordered that all furniture and furnishings (down to the staplers and pencil sharpeners) be sold immediately. Despite an acquisition cost of $40,000 for the furniture and equipment, a woman bought the entire lot for $350. The buyer also estimates that she will re-sell the merchandise for $80,000.

"One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors," Ruch added, noting EPA refuses to say how much it plans to spend digitizing the mountains of documents that it has removed from library shelves. "While the Pentagon had its $600 toilet seat and $434 hammer, EPA has its 29 cent book case and file cabinets for a nickel."

In spite of its pleas of poverty, EPA is spending millions on a public relations campaign to improve the image of its research program, as well as a $2.7 million program (more than its estimated savings from library closures ) to digitize all employee personnel files, in a program called "eOPF."

"No one believes that EPA is closing libraries and crating up irreplaceable collections for fiscal reasons," Ruch concluded. "Instead, the real agenda appears to be controlling access by its own specialists and outside researchers to key technical information."2

On the 8th of December, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Leslie Burger, the president of the American Library Association and director of the Princeton Public Library, decrying the closures.11

On the 9th, the Los Angeles Times' Tim Reiterman ran a story detailing another impact on science.

The NASA library in Greenbelt, Md., was part of John C. Mather's daily routine for years leading up to the astrophysicist's 2006 Nobel Prize for shedding new light on the Big Bang theory of universal origin.

So when he learned that federal officials are planning to close the library, Mather was stunned.

"It is completely absurd," he said. "The library is a national treasure. It is probably the single strongest library for space science and engineering in the universe."12

There is no longer any pretense behind which they can hide. The administration is deliberately denying access to publicly owned federal documents and records. It is actively blocking scientists and researchers from exposing the damage that large polluters are doing to the environment. It is closing off information about global warming and astrophysics. It isn't doing it to save money, it isn't doing it to modernize access. It is doing it to promote an alternate reality wherein the public sees and hears only what the White House wants it to see and hear.

These tactics are well known across the globe. There have been many governments over time that limited the free access to information. Not a one of them did it for democratic principles. Not a one of them did it for the people.

This administration is no exception. George W. Bush, who is the ultimate boss of the EPA and other executive branch libraries, is responsible for this egregious attempt at censoring information from the public that directly contradicts his propaganda version of reality.

This war on science led by the President must be stopped in its tracks.

Hat tip and thanks go to TimeThief at Stolen Moments

1. Yubanet Original Story
2. Yubanet Follow-Up
4. Huffington Post
5. Science Friday podcast (.mp3)
6. Cox News
7. Boston Globe
8. Austin American Statesman
9. Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies
10. Seattle Post Intelligencer
11. New York Times op-ed
12. Houston Chronicle

1 Eloquent Orations

Blog Announcement

Because Blogger has forced the issue by blocking all us old blogspot bloggers from commenting on any of the new Beta blogs, we are going to be doing everything we can to get the WordPress importer to rescue us NOW.

Since the importer does not work on the new Beta blogs, we have to get it done before Blogger forcibly moves us to Beta.

Raspberries to Blogger on both counts.

What this means is that I will be stripping this blog down to its bare essentials attempting to figure out what the hell is holding up the importer. (Don't worry, I've saved the template and will be able to restore it until Blogger forces us out.) I do not want to lose all the great history here.

Please excuse the ugly decor while this is going on.

5 Eloquent Orations

Another Stolen Election?

Story cross posted at our Wordpress blog.

In the 2000 presidential election, the people elected Vice President Al Gore. The Supreme Court of the United States, aided by Florida Republican Governor (who happened to be the losing candidate's brother) and his unhinged State Attorney General, denied the people's will, and appointed George W. Bush President of the United States.

Six years later, because of the sudden illness of a Democratic Senator, another Republican Governor is in a position to do the same thing in the United States Senate.

Just over a month ago, in an election that went down to the wire, the people decided they had had enough of the Republican agenda of lies and deceit and warmongering. They elected a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, spelling an end to rubber stamp approval of whatever the White House desired. They elected to stop the Republicans in the Congress from allowing Dubya to ignore our Constitutionally guaranteed protections from his Jack-booted agents of fascism.

The people of the United States of America demanded that we stop the illegal war in Iraq. They demanded that Habeas Corpus be reinstated. They demanded that the requirement for search warrants be enforced.

They threw the bums out.

This morning, CNN is reporting that Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, took suddenly and severely ill yesterday afternoon. In fact, he fell so ill that his symptoms were described as "stroke-like", and he required brain surgery.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was in critical condition Thursday after undergoing surgery, a hospital source told The Associated Press.

Johnson had brain surgery early Thursday at George Washington University Hospital after suffering stroke-like symptoms, two Democratic sources familiar with his condition told CNN.

There was no formal announcement of the South Dakota senator's condition, The Associated Press reported, but a person in the hospital's media relations office, who declined to be identified, said the hospital was preparing to announce that Johnson's condition was critical.

First and foremost, our hearts go out to him and his family. Our best wishes go to them, and our hopes for his quick and complete recovery. The Senator's spokesperson is reporting that he suffered neither a stroke nor a heart attack, which is a little good news. Hopefully, doctors have fixed whatever is ailing Senator Johnson.

From the CNN story:

His wife, in the office to have lunch with him, rode with him, Fisher said.

"It transpired very fast," she said, adding the senator's staff was shaken by the incident.

But, she said of the hospital, "we keep reminding ourselves, this is where they take Dick Cheney."

But while our primary concern is for the man, his family, and his recovery, we cannot help but notice the implications for the entire country.

Should the Senator be the victim of something which prevents him from finishing the final year of his term (he was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2002), South Dakota state law gives the power to appoint his replacement to the Governor of that state. A Republican Governor.

Should the Senator not be able to complete his term, and should the Governor of South Dakota appoint a Republican replacement, there will be a total of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the United States Senate, and in a vote, tie goes to the Administration by way of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Once again, the will of the people would be ignored. Once again, the White House will have the rubber stamp approval of a boot licking Republican Senate. While the President's power will still be diminished by the overwhelming defeats he suffered in the House of Representatives, the people's voice will be silenced in such matters as judicial appointments.

The honorable thing for South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds to do, of course, would be to appoint a Democratic replacement for Senator Johnson. The politically expedient thing for him to do would be to appoint a Republican.

The question then, is if the situation arises, will Governor Mike Rounds show his loyalty to this country, or to his party?

I can feel the White House salivating over this tragedy from here, and the maniacal laughter from Washington woke me up in a cold sweat this morning.

2 Eloquent Orations

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vote For BadAstronomy!

I voted for BadAstronomy

Dr. BA needs your help to stop the invading squid horde! A vote for Dr. Phil Plait of BadAstronomy is a vote for kittens!

Click the image to go vote NOW! Remember, you can vote once every day!

You must do your part to advance the cause of all backboned creatures everywhere! If PZ wins, creepy, crawly, squishy things will be given the right to sneak into your bed at night and slime you... or something worse! Are you really OK with man-on-squid love? There HAS to be something against that in the Bible! It's unnatural and disgusting!

If you don't vote for Dr. BA, hurricanes will destroy Dover, PA! Fire and brimstone will rain down on Kansas! American marriage will be destroyed! Communism will take over, and we'll all be sent to concentration camps by the secret Evil Cephalopod Conspiracy! Ebola will kill us all!


(What? It works for Robertson!)

P.S. Send me money love offerings to help us in our time of need.

0 Eloquent Orations

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The NSTA Is Feeding Us A Line

This story has gone back and forth, and quite honestly, so have I. I was outraged, then relieved, then confused, then lost. I'm back to outraged.

After about 6 hours more reading about the National Science Teachers of America than I ever cared to do, please allow me to be very blunt.

The NSTA is selling a pound of digital bologna, but I'm not buying it.

They have been doing the deceitful tapdance of the publicly convicted criminal who's looking for a technicality to get off. They are playing semantic games and they are doing their level best to deflect the spotlight from shining on them, because they understand completely that it does not show them in a very favorable light.

Before I continue, let me back up.

An Inconvenient Truth

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.

Thus opens the About page at the film's website.

An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary film featuring former Vice President Al Gore discussing the impact of human society on the environment. (You can also view the trailer here.) The film looks at Mr. Gore's traveling exhibit on global warming, and at the man himself. By all accounts, this is a well presented film.

An Uncomfortable Science

While there are still doubters amongst the scientific community, the ever-growing consensus on the topic within that community is that global temperatures are rising, and human activity is partially to blame. According to The Earth Institute at Columbia University,

2005 was the warmest year ever recorded, beating the previous record high set in 1998 and continue a general trend of rising temperatures dating back to 1980.

In May 2005, scientists concluded the Earth is absorbing more of the sun's energy than is being emitted back into space, disrupting the planet's energy balance and resulting in global warming.

Scientists agree the Earth's climate is being directly affected by human activity, and for many people around the world, these changes are having negative effects. Carbon dioxide levels today are nearly 30 percent higher than they were prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution, based on records extending back 650,000 years.

According to NASA, the polar ice cap is now melting at the rate of 9 percent per decade. Arctic ice thickness has decreased 40 percent since the 1960s. The current pace of sea-level rise is three times the historical rate and appears to be accelerating.

The science is strong. The earth is getting warmer, and we as a species are contributing to our own demise.

An Unselfish Offer

On September 30th of this year, Lynn Hirshfield sent an EMail to Gerry Wheeler of the NSTA in which she offered free DVDs of the film to the NSTA for distribution to their members. 50,000 of them.

-----Original Message-----From: lynn hirshfield [mailto: "Lynn Hirshfield"]
Sent: Saturday, September 30, 2006 12:49 PM To: Gerry Wheeler Subject:
Al Gore/An Inconvenient Truth
Dear Dr. Wheeler,
I work for Paramount Pictures and we have received donations to provide free DVDS of the film "An Inconvenient Truth" for sciences teachers and students across the country. We would like to know if we could work with your organization to distribute these DVDs in a systematic manner. I've attached some information about our program. Please call me if you have suggestions or questions. Lynn Hirshfield 310-4XX-XX80 Thank you!

An Unsettling Answer

The NSTA refused. In an October 12th EMail to Ms. David, David Beacom of the NSTA responded that they did not wish to be put in a position where they would be obligated to distribute materials for other special interest groups. That sounds reasonable on its face. He and the people with whom he consulted also mentioned that they didn't want to be drug into the political arena. Huh? That's an odd statement to make. Mr. Gore doesn't seem to be running for any office. Neither are any of the producers, as far as I can determine. Science certainly shouldn't be considered political, although the current administration seems to feel otherwise.

They also stated that they see little benefit in distributing the science video to their science teacher members. That just doesn't seem to make sense.

But then they make a most unsettling statement. They tell Ms. David that by accepting this free DVD and distributing it to their members, it would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters."

I'm sorry. What was that? The National Science Teachers of America is concerned about accepting and distributing a science DVD because it might upset their benefactors? What sort of benefactors to an organization of science teachers might be upset by the distribution of a science DVD?

Turns out, Exxon. ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute are all donors to the NSTA. While supporting science teachers is commendable, the idea that those science teachers should feel pressured to suppress science in deference to that support is deplorable. The Catholic Church supported science this way during the middle ages. It was all peaches and cream until Galileo started spouting off about the earth not being the center of the universe.

Now there's nothing wrong with large corporations, even oil companies, donating large sums of money to support science teachers as long as there are no strings attached. The second those donations influence the science, the science becomes tainted, worthless.

This is exactly what's happening here. As soon as the NSTA begins making science education decisions based on whether or not the large oil companies will continue their support, it calls into question the integrity of the organization and the education for which it is supposed to advocate.

An Unfavorable Opinion Piece

On Sunday, November 26th, Laurie David wrote a derisive opinion of the NSTA's decision and the reasoning behind it in the Washington Post. The piece is entitled Science a la Joe Camel.

I got wind of it via Coturnix, and blogged about it two days later, on the 28th.

In it, Ms. David describes the offer, the EMail response, the connection to big oil companies, and the implications of the decision making criteria on the education of our students.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

Let me point out again that the NSTA's EMail response to Ms. David gave as its reasons for denial -

1. The wish to not be beholden to "special interests".

2. A possible conflict with major donors.

3. Little benefit to its members in distribution of a film about the fossil fuel industry's role in global warming.

This is not the way I expect science teachers to educate. Even if this is completely innocent, it looks bad, smells funny, and tastes like crap. This is an organization that should at all times be above reproach, avoiding even the appearance of unseemly influence.

An Unequivocal Denial

That afternoon, an anonymous commenter pointed me in the direction of the response by the NSTA. A quick glance at the blogometer told me that this commenter popped in from TX, and was behind the NSTA firewall. Not surprising, given the topic, and I was both happy for the information, and very relieved that things were not so bad after all. I edited my post to include the entire NSTA response, and I do so again here.

NSTA Press Release
NSTA Statement on November 26 Washington Post Op-ed "Science à la Joe Camel"
Nov 28 2006

On November 26, the Washington Post printed an opinion piece from environmental activist Laurie David, a producer of the film "An Inconvenient Truth." In her op-ed Ms. David reports that NSTA rejected the opportunity to distribute 50,000 copies of the DVD to NSTA members.

NSTA policy states that the association cannot endorse any outside organization's products and/or messages to its members. Therefore, we do not send any such products and/or messages directly to our members, regardless of the source.

What was not mentioned in the op-ed is the fact that during conversations with Ms. David's representative we suggested making the DVD available via alternative means of distribution (e.g. by providing a mailing list of our members to producers, announcing its availability in our publications, etc.). It appears that these alternative distribution mechanisms were unsatisfactory.

It was not the intent of the NSTA to restrict "An Inconvenient Truth" from its members and we are currently pursuing options to make the DVD available to teachers.

In the op-ed Ms. David goes on to characterize NSTA as a willing corporate America partner that eagerly pushes corporate messages about the environment.

This is not true.

The perception created by the op-ed that NSTA has a conflict of interest in dealing with corporate America is misleading. This is a very serious issue to NSTA and science education. Like many organizations, NSTA does receive support from corporate America and other organizations (in FY06 total corporate support received by NSTA was 16.4% and total support from energy companies was 3.77%). Before we accept any funds from outside groups (corporate or otherwise), and as a condition of any support, we make it clear that NSTA is solely responsible for developing, directing, and implementing the programs we offer to teachers.

Let me specifically address the programs outlined in the op-ed: ExxonMobil has been a long-time sponsor of the national network we call Building a Presence for Science. In this project we have identified a "point of contact" for science in over 40,000 school buildings. Originally conceived to provide a copy of the National Science Education Standards to each school, NSTA now regularly sends these points of contact useful information on science education that they share with teachers in their buildings. Not once has ExxonMobil asked to use this network for their own purposes.

The Shell Oil Company funds national research science experts to present at our national conference, where they speak directly to science teachers about their field of research. NSTA chooses the scientists, invites the scientists, and hosts the scientists at these conferences. In addition, the Shell Oil Company sponsors the Shell Science Teaching award for K-12 science teachers who have had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom teaching. This award program is administered by NSTA and the recipients are chosen by science teachers selected by NSTA.

The partnership with API, which ended 5 years ago, led to the creation of a simulation, done entirely by NSTA, on energy usage. The video in question, "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel" was not on our website. The only record of NSTA distributing it to members we found was from 1999, prior to the current endorsement policy.

Global warming is a very important science/societal issue. NSTA has always supported sound environmental science education. We regret this current controversy surrounding our decision not to mass distribute the DVD to our members, and we are working to promote the availability of the film.

In response to an October 2005 report titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a strong consensus is emerging in the business, education, and scientific communities that our nation's future competitiveness in the global marketplace is directly tied to the ability of our schools to better prepare children in mathematics and the sciences. We should be discussing positive ways of how we can work together to strengthen the science education we provide to our nation's students.

The mission of the NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all, and for over 50 years NSTA has been a staunch supporter of quality science education. We are very proud of the work we do on behalf of science education.

Dr. Gerald Wheeler
Executive Director
National Science Teachers Association

An Unexplainable Alteration

Then something sort of strange happened. The next day, a second anonymous commenter mentioned that part of the response quoted in my post no longer appeared on the NSTA press release. I did a line by line check, and there were actually two portions of the NSTA response missing.

Here are the missing portions....

"NSTA policy states that the association cannot endorse any outside organization's products and/or messages to its members. Therefore, we do not send any such products and/or messages directly to our members, regardless of the source."

"The only record of NSTA distributing it to members we found was from 1999, prior to the current endorsement policy."

Those were both very strong statements, both very reassuring. They didn't just accidentally fall off the servers. Somebody erased those two specific passages, and for a reason. What reason could they have? I've been turning it over in my little brain for a while now, and quite honestly, the only reason I can come up with is that they must be demonstrably untrue.

So, if those passages have been removed because they are untrue, what would that mean? It could mean a few things.

First, it could mean that someone misunderstood NSTA policy, and that it says no such thing as the first missing passage. Second, it could mean that the NSTA does indeed send such products and/or messages directly to its members. The third sentence is very interesting. "The only record of NSTA distributing it to members we found was from 1999, prior to the current endorsement policy." It would seem somebody found another record that directly contradicts this statement.

On December 3rd, I came across the Science article on the topic, and blogged about it briefly.

From the article in Science, written by Jeffrey Mervis on November 30th

Not surprisingly, NSTA sees things differently. "We don't do mass distributions for anybody; we don't send our members material that they haven't asked for," says NSTA's executive director, Gerald Wheeler. As for the association's corporate ties, Wheeler freely acknowledges that 16% of NSTA's $23 million a year budget comes from businesses, including 3.7% from the oil and gas industry. "We're working hard to get corporate America engaged in reforming STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education," he says. "And in no case has anybody asked us to say anything [on their behalf], which we would never agree to do, anyway."

Wheeler says NSTA has no desire to suppress information about global warming. Just last month, for example, NSTA's newsletter for middle school teachers ran a five-page article on the topic and mentioned Gore's movie in the first paragraph. He says NSTA has also offered to post a link to the movie on its Web site and to announce the availability of the DVD in a weekly e-mail letter and a monthly publication. In addition, David could put the DVD directly in teachers' hands by buying NSTA's mailing list, at $130 per 1000 names.

David says NSTA's imprimatur was essential and that buying a mailing list is a nonstarter. "You don't want to send out a cold letter, and it costs a lot of money," she says. "There are a thousand reasons why that wouldn't work."

At this point, there was quite a bit of back and forth to sort through.

An Unflattering Interview

Last night I received an email from Jon Coifman, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the EMail, Mr. Coifman alerted me to two new rebuttals by Ms. David concerning this situation. I immediately posted his EMail to this blog, as I felt the information was crucial to understanding the debate, but withheld commentary about it until I could get a chance to go over this again, and research Ms. David's latest statements.

I also sent him a thank you note, though I felt it was probably an automated form letter. Mr. Coifman replied to me almost immediately, indicating that this was not, in fact, a form letter and was not automated.

Thank you again to Mr. Coifman.

Besides the honest disclosure of his affiliation with the NRDC and the two links, the heart of his note is this:

Among other things, it now turns out that although NSTA cited a no-endorsements policy for the global warming film, had no problem shipping at least 20,000 copies of a ConocoPhillips video series. It also looks like some of the things they said in their own defense aren’t adding up.

After reading the transcript of Ms. David's interview on Living On Earth (my browser is having audio plug-in issues) and her article at the Huffington Post, I must say that I agree with you, Mr. Coifman. Something is definitely not adding up.

An Inconvenient Truth

Among the first things Ms. David does in her latest article is link to a .pdf of the EMail conversation between herself and the board members of the NSTA.

The meat and potatoes of their answer:

--------------Original message -------------From: "David Beacom"


Well, bad news. For the reasons briefly summarized below, thoughtful folk here have decided that we should turn down your generous offer. I'm sure, when you review their reasoning, you'll understand their thinking--even if you don't quite agree. We recognize that you are trying to get important content into the hands of as many science teachers as possible. It's just that we turn out not to be the right channel for that distribution.

David Beacom

-----Original Message-----From: Ken French Sent: Thursday,
October 12, 2006 10:03 AM To: David Beacom Cc: Howard
Wahlberg; Larry Rzepka Subject: Al Gore/An Inconvenient Truth


Howard, Larry, and I met this morning to discuss this opportunity and no longer need the Friday 3:00PM meeting. There is strong consensus that we should pass of this opportunity for a variety of reasons:
* There is little if any, benefit to NSTA or its membership
* There is risk of a possible implicit endorsement of NSTA
* They could buy our mailing list, or buy a more complete list of science teachers from QED, which leads us to believe there may be an unstated interest in ?endorsement by association?
* It may be perceived as a political endorsement by our membership
* It places unnecessary risk upon the capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters
* May set a precedence for distributing free materials for other special interest groups

Larry has agreed to draft our response in a more formal fashion, if necessary. Please let us know of steps taken, or steps that need to be taken.


Ms. David goes on to show how the NSTA distributed 20,000 copies of a ConocoPhillips 10 part video in 2003, two years after they claim current policy went into effect.

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).

To make things even worse, they began covering their tracks by deleting and changing web pages.

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.

Fortunately for all of us, Ms. David caught them red-handed.

Well, the NSTA leadership can't claim they don't distribute videos from interested parties, and they certainly can't cry "Too expensive" to distribute. They sure as hell can't claim they have the best interests of science or the kids at heart.

What they can do is own up to the fact that they are bought and paid for by the oil industry. And then they can resign.

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Tsunami On The Sun


This is freakin' cool. Over at I bumped into this really neato peachy keen animation of a solar flare generated tsunami on the sun.

It's wicked.

Article excerpt below the fold.

From the article -

A major flare on the Sun earlier this week generated what scientists are calling a solar tsunami.

The tsunami-like shock wave, formally called a Moreton wave, rolled across the hot surface, destroying two visible filaments of cool gas on opposite sides of the visible face of the Sun.

Astronomers using a prototype of a new solar telescope in New Mexico recorded the action.

"These large scale 'blast' waves occur infrequently, however, are very powerful," said K. S. Balasubramaniam of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Sunspot, NM, "They quickly propagate in a matter of minutes covering the whole Sun, sweeping away filamentary material."

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Friday, December 08, 2006

EMail About the NSTA Dust Up

Just got this in my email. It looks like a form letter, but maybe I'm just a force to be reckoned with...

[UPDATE: I sent a thank you note back to Jon anyway, and he replied almost immediately. This is NOT a form letter, so I suppose that I am indeed a force to be reckoned with... Look out, Mr. Bush's successor. I may be gunning for your job next! Anyway, I wanted to personally thank Jon here for taking the time to read this blog, and for taking the time to update me on this situation.]

Neither of the links given appears to work, and this will certainly require some research.

The first link is to another piece by Laurie David at the Huffington Post, and here is a proper link to that article.

The second link should point to a Living On Earth segment, I believe, and here is the transcript from that segment. There are also links for the audio segment there.

Ok, here's the email

Jon Coifman here from NRDC, following up on an item about the National Science Teachers Association that you blogged about a few days ago.

There are two important new stories out today adding more fuel to the fire, and more information about controversy involving oil company funding for NSTA and whether it had anything to do with their decision to reject an offer for 50,000 free copies of the Al Gore global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

The rest is below the fold...

The first is a detailed piece by Laurie David that appears here:

Among other things, it now turns out that although NSTA cited a no-endorsements policy for the global warming film, had no problem shipping at least 20,000 copies of a ConocoPhillips video series. It also looks like some of the things they said in their own defense aren’t adding up.

The second story is a revealing public radio interview with Ms. David and Dr. Gerry Wheeler, NSTA’s Executive Director:

DISCLOSURE: The reason you are receiving this from *me* is that I work for the Natural Resources Defense Council, where Ms. David is a member of the board, and we have been helping out with some of the background on this story. So yes, I am not a bystander.

But it’s a good story anyhow. And it’s an important one.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jon Coifman

Natural Resources Defense Council

I'll have to look into this some more....

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Ya Probly Don't Wanna Pick On Me

Kate's on a bit of a tear into some fundy, over at Imago Dei, my new friend Amanda's blog. Look out.

For a bit of background, Amanda is a "Love thy Neighbor" breed of Christian. I happen to be very fond of many of these folks.

She's got a fundy "God hates fags and you're enabling them" breed of Christian troll.

He picked on the wrong girl.


P.S. Kate has this to say on her own blog....

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

STS 116 Launch


'bout 6 1/2 minutes to launch. Watch NASATV here.

There was speculation about the weather. The clock is still rolling, so I guess we'll see.

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Optical Illusion

Kate found a really neat optical illusion on one of those MySpace image sites. It's pretty cool so I thought I'd share.


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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

KaylaFace's Bulletin

This is too funny not to mention....

On MySpace (you can view my MySpace profile here and Kate's is here and Dr. BadAstronomer has one too!), there's a thing called a bulletin, which is sort of like an instant message to all your friends at once.

I got one yesterday from KaylaFace....

My Dad

Is the coolest guy in the whole world, and I love him more than all of you losers.

And no, this is not her Dad sneaking into her room while she's playing with the dog to post this when she isn't looking.

This is Kayla, and I mean it. Dad is cool. Dad is awesome. Dad rocks.

And this is a lesson to all her friends to not walk away from your computers while your Dad is home.

Not that this is her Dad or nuthin.

Because it's not.

Just so y'know.

He stole that last line from me.

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REALLY Recent Water On Mars!

I'm not even gonna summarize! Just go see the BA at BadAstronomy!

Flowing water WITHIN THE LAST SEVEN YEARS! (or at least a VERY strong case for it!)


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Disease Runneth Rampant

Stop by and wish The Boy and his family a get well soon. ('Specially KaylaFace.)

Just don't touch nuthin'.

Sounds icky.

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So Am I A Virgin?

Not that it's a big deal, but I'm curious.

I was surfing a bit yesterday, and encountered a discussion on the subject. It got me wondering. The conversation was ridiculous, so I didn't bother joining in, and I won't bother linking. It really was inane. It revolved around whether Mary (y'know - THE Mary) would have been able to have given birth to Jesus today, given the proliferation of battery operated pleasure machines. Y'know. VIBRATORS.

Anyway, there was this huge idiot fight - not over whether she would have used one, but rather over whether she would have been considered a virgin after having used one. Yes, there are people who would actually fight over such a thing. And they were PISSED at each other. Fundies. Just when you think they couldn't get any more ridiculous. Sounds to me like they should all go to Nicea, have a council, and start a war/crusade over it.

As usual, the conversation continues below the fold...

Anyway, sometimes the morons say really insipid things that provoke a tangential query in my widdle bwain.

Does virginity depend on sexual contact in any form? Penetration? Or is a penis mandatory for non-virginity?

So, you all know that I'm sexually active. Sexually OVERactive probably. Kate and I have poked, prodded, and explored each other's bodies rather thoroughly. There's plenty of video, and not a few stills to prove it. But since she's a girl, does that count?

Just yesterday, Kate brought home a new... um... toy. We now have a small collection going, if you really must know. (and I'm quite sure you MUST!) But since that's mechanical, does THAT count?

I haven't known a man in the biblical sense yet. I certainly will, when I come across one I like enough (pardon the pun).

Which brings up another question. What about "adultery"? Is it adultery if we bring a man into our bed together? I can't see how that would be "cheating" per se, seeing as how Kate and I are both there.

What if only one of us is there, but with the full knowledge and consent of the other? It's still not cheating, but is it adultery?

Not that I really give a crap either way, I'm just wonderin' whether I would be stoned for it because it's adultery or stoned for it because it's good clean fornication.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

End Of Ze World

This is too funny.

Full page flash version is here, youtube version below the fold.

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Shakespeare Has Something To Say

So the pup is driving me nuts while I surf. I suppose it's only fair to let him say something.

His eloquence can be enjoyed below the fold.

a2e4qQZAw4 weweaejhhhhjuny6u7h8uhyhui['l;ouih7

Well said, Shakespeare. (Can anyone here translate doggie typing?)

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Wiccans Win Some Equality From Uncle Sam

From this morning's Daily News, we learn that Roberta Stewart has finally won the right to place a Wiccan symbol on her husband's grave.

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan saw a Wiccan symbol placed on a memorial plaque for her husband Saturday, after fighting the federal government for more than a year over the emblem.

Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, and Wiccan leaders said it was the first government-issued memorial plaque with a Wiccan pentacle - a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle. More than 50 friends and family dedicated the plaque at Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery, about 30 miles east of Reno.

They praised Gov. Kenny Guinn for his role in getting the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to issue the plaque in September. The agency cited its jurisdiction over maintenance of the state cemetery.

Kudos to the Nevada Office of Veterans Services for finally pulling their collective heads out of their collective duffle bags.

It's a win for the establishment clause, and a win against religious discrimination. If Uncle Sam is going to recognize one, he needs to recognize them all. I know that will piss off the fundies who think that only their religion should get recognized, but that only sweetens the win.

The DoD is still not on board, however.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes more than 30 symbols, including more than a dozen variations of the Christian cross and the atomic whirl used by atheists, but not the pentacle.

VA officials have said they are rewriting rules for approving emblems, but the process requires a public comment period.

Last month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the VA on behalf of Stewart and others for its refusal to include the Wiccan emblem.

"Our people are on the front line in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's not right they're not getting equal treatment," said the Rev. Selena Fox, one of the Wiccan organizers of the event.

About 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics. Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves "white" or good witches, pagans or neo-pagans.

Stewart and four other soldiers died Sept. 25, 2005, when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

Look, let's be honest. There is exactly one reason why this is even an issue. Fundy Christians think Wiccans are Satan worshippers and should be burned at the stake. Truth is, most Wiccans don't even believe in Satan as far as I can tell.

Wicca is a religion that's all about embracing the planet we live on. They're nature worshipers, and they seem to practice their religion by having lots of indiscriminate sex outside. I'm pretty OK with that. It's all about the Peace, Love, Joy, and Togetherness thing. I'm REALLY REALLY OK with that.

Go Tree Huggers! - gimme some o' that old time Sex-Magick!

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As The NSTA Turns Inconveniently

Remember a few days ago, when we were discussing the National Science Teahers of America thing?

The long and the short of it is that the producers of the movie An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's movie about global warming, wanted to donate a gazillion copies of the movie for the NSTA to distribute. The NSTA turned them down, and one of their reasons was that they didn't want to piss off the folks who give them money. One of those folks is Exxon, which obviously has a vested interest in not having that movie seen.

Laurie David, one of the producers wrote an op-ed about it, and got us all pissed off about the situation. Then the NSTA wrote a response, which made us all feel a little better. Then the NSTA altered its response, which left us all a little confused, and a bit suspicious.

If you're still following this, the online version of the journal Science weighs in on the discussion....

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