Thursday, November 30, 2006

The NSTA has some explaining to do

Think Progress recently reported that the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) rejected 50,000 free copies of An Inconvenient Truth. An op-ed by one of the producers of An Inconvenient Truth includes the NSTA's response:
In their [the NSTA's] e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.
That seems like pretty dubious reasoning (it's a movie about climate change for goodness sake), but the NSTA didn't stop there:
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.
The NSTA has some great resources for educators available on their website, and has been very involved in moving science education forward in the US. However, I don't like the sounds of this one bit; professional science organizations should be independent of their corporate sponsors, not beholden to them.

The NSTA has an official response on their website, wherein they include this statement:
"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."
While that sounds good, it doesn't address the accusation that they rejected the videos because they were afraid they'd lose corporate sponsorship. In fact, nothing in their official response attempts to explain why they rejected the videos.

If the NSTA is censoring (or otherwise regulating the content of) the materials they distribute to members in order to protect corporate sponsorship, I have absolutely no interest in being a member of their society in the future.

They've got some explaining to do.

(via PZ Myers)

Update 12/1/06:

The NSTA has updated their press release to include more justification for why they didn't distribute the DVDs to their members. Apparently the NSTA's board in 2001 adopted a policy "prohibiting product endorsement":
NSTA established its non-endorsement policy to formalize our position that the association would not send third-party materials to our members without their consent or request. NSTA looks forward to working with Ms. David to ensure that there are many options for publicizing the availability of the DVD to the national science education community, and to broaden the conversation on the important topic of global warming.
They've also published a letter wherein they discuss how they could facilitate distribution of the DVDs to their members while still holding to their policy of not endorsing products:
1. Providing a link on NSTA’s website (two million page views per month) that will enable middle level and high school teachers to obtain a free copy of the DVD from your distribution center.
2. The opportunity to purchase our mailing list for your distribution.
3. Announcing the availability of your DVD through a number of our channels to science teachers, which include the NSTA Express, our weekly email blast (circulation 250,000); NSTA publications (circulation 55,000 plus pass-along rate of an additional 50,000); and the NSTA Building a Presence for Science network online newsletter (circulation 40,000).
4. Providing your representatives the opportunity to exhibit at the National Conference on Science Science Education in St. Louis, MO. This would be an additional opportunity for you to interact with the attendees, distribute the DVD, and share the educational material supporting it.
5. Creating an online message board that would focus on the issue of global warming. The message board would be open to both NSTA members and nonmembers worldwide.
I only have one question: does the NSTA sell their mailing list to anyone who comes along and wants it? I sure hope not (I don't want to be getting "The Benefits of Oil," "Global Warming: Liberal Myth," and "Creationism: It's Pure Science" videos if I'm an NSTA member), but if they don't sell their mailing list to everyone, aren't they tacitly endorsing the companies to which they do sell their mailing list?

Thanks to Sean, who pointed out the update in the comments.

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