Monday, April 11, 2016
Uncovering the Corporate Influence Over Climate Change
An excerpt from a very elaborate "report" below. It depends entirely on content analysis, a notoriously shaky procedure. They collect documents issued by an organization and categorize them in terms of whether the documents support or oppose the global warming religion. But given past absurd content analyses from Warmists such as Naomi Oreskes and John Cook, we have to expect vast mis-categorization this time around too.
Even if done honestly, content analysis is very difficult. I did a small bit of content analysis during my research career so I know where the skeletons are buried. How for instance would they rate a statement that: "there is some warming going on but we need more data to decide how dangerous it is". My guess is that the galoots below would categorize that as anti-warmist even though it admits that warming is going on. And that is just the first difficulty: Deciding what goes into each category. And then there is the problem of inter-rater reliability, rater objectivity and so on.
And the galoots below say openly that some organizations undermine the Warmist message in "ever-subtle ways" so they are obviously very inclusive in what they count as anti-Warmist. Just a hint of being anti-Warmist is apparently enough for you to be consigned to the naughty bin. The whole thing is prettily presented rubbish
Corporate influence over the climate change debate and policy process has at many levels been cited as a key reason for the relatively slow progress of both the UN COP process and national-level climate legislation. We have forensically evaluated the 100 leading, publicly traded companies along with 30 trade associations and have scored them according to the extent to which they are exerting this influence.
Our full ranking is now publicly available online. Below are some findings and analysis of what our scoring means for business.
More than lobbying
We use the term "influence" rather than lobbying for good reason. The capture of climate change policy by corporations extends beyond formal and financial interactions between lawmakers and corporations and their representatives. Since the 1990s corporations have invested heavily in messaging (advertising, PR, social media, etc.) to ensure their views on climate science and the appropriate policy response are heard loudly at multiple levels. Corporations try to ensure they are continuously engaging at all levels of the policy making process - from providing engineering expertise on matters technical, to CEO phone-calls to political leaders at key policy moments. All of these activities constitute corporate influence and we attempt to objectively assess as much as possible in our analysis.
Trade associations at the center
The role of trade associations and other influencers in controlling climate policy has been studied, by among others our collaborators USC in the US and our advisor Ben Fagan-Watson in the EU. The same rigorous method InfluenceMap uses on the analysis of corporations is applied to the leading trade associations they are affiliated with. In the US, the lowest scoring influencers in our system are ALEC and the American Petroleum Institute, closely followed by NAM and the US Chamber of Commerce. In Europe, powerful trade federation BusinessEurope and industry-specific trade groups CEFIC (chemicals) and ACEA (automotive) score poorly. Japan's powerful Keidanren openly opposes most climate regulations, suggesting industry can lead the way on its own terms. All of these organizations, and more, have consistently undermined climate regulations over the last decade in ever-subtle ways, increasingly arguing for a global treaty that maintains competitiveness while obstructing many of the key regulatory details needed to enforce it. Our system also assesses corporate links to these associations that results in a relationship score for each company along side its own score. In most cases these relationships greatly reduce the final performance band the corporation ends up in, in the system.
The Gore effect again
(He brings snow with him)
Something happened recently that always entertains: the Gore effect.
New York was predicted to see 3 inches of wet snow on Saturday
And the weather was so non-spring-like that when Al flew from New York to Harvard where he gave a sustainability talk, the flight was cancelled and he had to drive to Harvard
The Left’s Climate Inquisition’s New Target
Hans von Spakovsky
In a truly outrageous abuse of his authority and a misuse of the law, the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude E. Walker, has served a subpoena on the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) demanding documents related to CEI’s research on global “climate change.” Walker is part of a network of state “AGs United for Clean Power” who have formed a grand inquisition to go after those they claim have lied about climate change—which is a contentious and unproven scientific theory.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a non-profit public policy institute (like the Heritage Foundation) that researches and publishes studies and reports on issues it believes are “essential for entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity to flourish.” It is dedicated to the principles of “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” CEI is well-known for its high-quality, objective research on energy and climate issues, which clearly has made it a target of Inquisitor Walker.
Although Walker’s jurisdiction does not extend outside the Virgin Islands (a U.S. territory), he had a subpoena issued through the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where CEI is located.
The voluminous, harassing 14-page subpoena says Inquisitor Walker is investigating ExxonMobil for “misrepresenting its knowledge of the likelihood that its products and activities have contributed to and are continuing to contribute to climate change in order to defraud the Government … and consumers.” This supposedly violates the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is the Virgin Islands’ version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO.
The subpoena demands that CEI turn over all documents, communications, statements, emails, op-eds, speeches, advertisements, letters to the editor, research, reports, studies, and memoranda of any kind—including drafts—that refer to climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon tax, climate science, and the like, in any way related to ExxonMobil or the “products sold by or activities carried out by ExxonMobil [that] directly or indirectly impact climate change.” It covers the period between January 1, 1997, and January 1, 2007. And Walker wants donor information, too.
There are so many things wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start. First of all, the basis for the investigation is absurd. Walker is using a criminal statute designed to go after major drug dealers and mob organizations to go after a company that produces the gasoline and diesel fuel that Americans (and the rest of the world) use in their cars, trucks, boats, lawnmowers, and other equipment of every kind. And ExxonMobil and CEI are being targeted for having taken what these legal barons consider the wrong side of a scientific theory that is being actively debated and questioned.
The fact that ExxonMobil produces a relatively cheap, reliable energy source that helps power our world but is disfavored by Progressives and their political representatives like Walker seems to be what the company is really guilty of.
The root of what is going on here appears to be an effort to intimidate, harass, frighten, and possibly imprison or fine anyone who Walker and his fellow warders think is saying the wrong thing and who is standing in the way when it comes to forcing the rest of us to switch to politically correct and unreliable energy sources like wind and solar.
This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition. It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials.
This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition. It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials who are willing to exploit their power to achieve ideological ends. As CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman says, “it is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”
Given the coalition that has been formed by state attorneys general to conduct a grand inquisition against climate change deniers, this subpoena from the Virgin Islands attorney general is probably just the first assault in their quasi-religious war against unbelievers. Researchers, scientists, think tanks, universities, and anyone else who works or speaks in this area should be aware that they may soon become a target of these malicious investigations.
Fortunately, CEI has already announced that it intends to resist and “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena.”
That is important, because if Walker and his “Axis” alliance succeed, “the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time,” according to Kazman.
CEI will be defended by the Free Speech in Science Project, which was founded by Andrew M. Grossman and David B. Rivkin Jr. to defend “scientists, writers, businesses and others targeted for speaking out on scientific issues and policy.”
As they point out, the public needs to understand how actions like this threaten “our precious First Amendment rights,” as well as “deliberative democracy, when scientists, think tanks, and private businesses are persecuted for their views.”
Make no mistake about it. What is happening to ExxonMobil and to the Competitive Enterprise Institute is persecution. It is an affront to our grand tradition of free speech and vigorous scientific debate and should not be tolerated.
Donors Decline to Back More Fracking Research After Study Finds No Link to Water Contamination
The lead researcher in a study that concluded that fracking in Ohio didn’t contaminate groundwater told The Daily Signal that, contrary to her previous remarks, donors to the study did not pull funding because of “specific disappointment” with those results.
Amy Townsend-Small, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati who conducted the three-year study, did acknowledge that some financial backers “have declined to continue funding past the initial study period.”
However, Townsend-Small said in an email Monday to The Daily Signal, those decisions not to donate more might be because the study didn’t establish a relationship between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and water contamination in Carroll County and other areas that include the Utica Shale deposit.
Townsend-Small also said the results “show that fracking does not always lead to groundwater contamination, but that continuous monitoring is needed to ensure contamination has not occurred.”
“The left likes to continually talk about settled science, but often it’s settled on a predetermined outcome,” Nick Loris, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation who studies energy issues, told The Daily Signal. “Politicians use that predetermined outcome to justify policies that drive up the costs of affordable, reliable energy—even though those policies have little to no environmental benefit.”
‘Fracking Is Scary’
The Daily Signal sought comment from the Deer Creek Foundation on why it decided to stop funding the fracking study in Ohio, but its executive director did not respond.
The major goal of the study by the University of Cincinnati’s geology department was to measure the presence of methane (CH4) in groundwater prior to the onset of fracking, and to compare the results to methane measured during and after the process.
In fracking, engineers inject water mixed with sand and chemicals into a well at high pressure, producing a fluid that fractures the rock and releases previously trapped oil and natural gas.
The energy industry has used the fracking technique for several decades. What’s new is the use of hydraulic fracturing together with precision directional drilling, enabling wells to be drilled horizontally right through the oil or natural gas rock itself.
The initial results of the university’s study were released Feb. 4 on the Carroll Concerned Citizens website during a regular meeting of the group, which seeks to inform residents about the long-term health and economic effects of mineral extraction.
Townsend-Small, the lead researcher, discussed key findings during this meeting. Her presentation may be seen on YouTube.
“I am really sad to say this, but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results,” Townsend-Small was quoted as saying. “They feel that fracking is scary, and so they were hoping this data could be a reason to ban it.”
‘We Did Not Find Any Changes’
The geologic research team concentrated its groundwater measurements in a rural farming area of Carroll County because that county has the largest number of hydraulic fracturing permits in Ohio.
The team also measured groundwater in the state’s Belmont, Columbiana, Harrison, and Stark Counties, but less frequently than in Carroll. The study occurred in tandem with a sharp increase in the number of active gas wells in Carroll, from three in late 2011 to 354 in 2015.
“We measured dissolved salt, pH, methane concentration, and methane isotopic composition in groundwater over several years in the Utica Shale fracking region of Ohio,” Townsend-Small said in the email to The Daily Signal, adding:
These measurements can indicate whether fracking fluid or natural gas was introduced into groundwater over the study period. We did not find any changes in any of these measured constituents over the study period, in which the number of fracking sites in the region increased dramatically. This does not mean that contamination did not happen in other parts of the region or has occurred after our study ended, but it does indicate that fracking can take place without contaminating water resources, as has happened in other regions.
We measured about 25 groundwater wells[.] … We found no relationship between CH4 [methane] concentration in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites, and no significant change in CH4 concentration or isotopic composition, pH, or conductivity in water wells during the study period. We also did not find evidence for natural gas in water wells, although we did have several study sites with CH4 concentrations in the dangerous range, but the CH4 in these wells was from coal beds, not natural gas.
Private donors to the three-year study included the Deer Creek Foundation and the David and Sara Weston Fund.
But taxpayers also covered some costs in the form of a $85,714 grant from the Ohio Board of Regents and federal funding from the National Science Foundation, which news reports said went toward an isotope ratio mass spectrometer.
State Rep. Andy Thompson, a Republican who represents a district that includes Carroll County, has called for the university’s study to be more widely circulated because it received taxpayer support.
‘They Declined to Renew Funding’
On the question of continued funding, Townsend-Small sought to modify her reported remarks that some donors were “disappointed” in the results because they hoped the findings would support a ban of fracking, which they consider “scary.”
She told The Daily Signal in her email:
Just to clarify, none of our funders have expressed specific disappointment in our work, but some have declined to continue our funding past the initial study period. The study is not being suppressed, as has been published elsewhere. A preliminary version of our report is available through my website at UC and the website of our community partner, Carroll Concerned Citizens.
Our study was funded by the Deer Creek Foundation and the David and Sara Weston Fund. The Weston group is continuing to fund our project at a small level. The Deer Creek Foundation never expressed specific disappointment about our findings. They just declined to renew our funding and I assumed it was due to a lack of excitement about our results.
While the University of Cincinnati study did not find a connection between fracking and groundwater quality, Townsend-Small told The Daily Signal, this was not necessarily a hard and fast rule:
Other groups we have pursued funding from have expressed some confusion about why monitoring was needed if our initial results indicated a lack of contamination. It’s important to note that our results do not discredit previous studies that have linked fracking and groundwater contamination; rather, we show that fracking does not always lead to groundwater contamination, but that continuous monitoring is needed to ensure contamination has not occurred.
Methane mendacity – and madness
Radical green and government agitators slam methane in latest bid to terminate fossil fuel use
Quick: What is 17 cents out of $100,000? If you said 0.00017 percent, you win the jackpot.
That number, by sheer coincidence, is also the percentage of methane in Earth’s atmosphere. That’s a trivial amount, you say: 1.7 parts per million. There’s three times more helium and 230 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You’re absolutely right, again.
Equally relevant, only 19% of that global methane comes from oil, natural gas and coal production and use. Fully 33% comes from agriculture: 12% from rice growing and 21% from meat production. Still more comes from landfills and sewage treatment (11%) and burning wood and animal dung (8%). The remaining 29% comes from natural sources: oceans, wetlands, termites, forest fires and volcanoes.
The manmade portions are different for the USA: 39% energy use, 36% livestock, 18% landfills, and 8% sewage treatment and other sources. But it’s still a piddling contribution to a trivial amount in the air.
Of course, the Obama EPA and Climate Cataclysm Industry ignore these inconvenient facts. They insist that methane is “a far more potent greenhouse gas” than carbon dioxide, and that its emissions must be drastically reduced if we are to avoid “runaway global warming.” So EPA and other federal agencies are preparing to unleash a tsunami of new regulations to block natural gas drilling, fracking, flaring and production, while radical environmentalists orchestrate new assaults on petrochemical plants that create plastics, paints, fabrics, computer and vehicle components and countless other products for modern life.
They want us to believe that government regulators can decree Earth’s climate simply by controlling methane and carbon dioxide – regardless of what the sun, ocean circulation, recurrent planetary temperature cycles and other powerful natural forces might do. They say it’s pure coincidence that these two trace gases (CH4 and CO2) are the only climate-affecting mechanisms that are associated with the fossil fuels and industrialized economies they despise.
They also want us to believe reducing United States methane emissions will make a huge difference. But even if US manmade methane emissions are 20% of the worldwide total, the 39% US fossil fuel portion of that US portion means even totally eliminating US methane emissions would reduce global manmade methane output by a minuscule 7.8 percent. Under a best-case scenario, that might keep atmospheric methane below a still irrelevant 0.00020% (2.0 ppm; 20 cents out of $100,000) for a few more years.
This smells like fraud. And as New York AG Eric Schneiderman so kindly reminded the climate skeptics he’s threatening with RICO, “The First Amendment does not give anyone the right to commit fraud.”
Perhaps EPA plans to go after America’s agricultural sector next. After all, as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan intoned last year, red meat is bad for us (cancer) and for the climate (animal flatulence and manure). Moreover, “insects have a very good conversion rate from feed to meat,” there are 1,900 species of edible insects on Planet Earth, and more than a billion people already make bugs part of their diet. Perhaps the IPCC and White House will serve roasted roaches at their next state dinners?
That would reduce US methane emissions a bit more. But it gets even more deceitful, more barking mad.
The un-ratified 2015 Paris climate treaty obligates the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe to continue reducing their fossil fuel use and emissions – even though they can hardly afford to kill more millions of jobs and further roll back living standards for all but their ruling elites.
Meanwhile, developing countries will not and cannot afford to lock up their fossil fuels, shut down their economic growth, and leave billions of people mired in poverty, malnutrition and disease. Indeed, under the Paris treaty, they are not required to reduce their fossil fuel use or “greenhouse gas” emissions; they need only take voluntary steps to reduce them, when it is convenient for them to do so.
That means slashing US methane (and carbon dioxide) emissions – and the jobs, living standards, health and welfare that fossil fuels bring – will have no effect whatsoever on atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
But that is irrelevant to Mr. Obama and his EPA. The fact is, this methane mendacity and madness has nothing to do with stabilizing Earth’s climate. It has everything to do with hogtying and bankrupting US fossil fuel companies, controlling industrial activities and people’s living standards – and mandating a costly transition to renewable energy, while rewarding the hordes of scientists, activists and industrialists who benefit from the $1.5-trillion-per-year Climate Crisis, Inc. money train.
That raises a critical question: Just where and how will we produce those “eco-friendly” biofuels?
US ethanol production alone requires all the corn grown on an area the size of Iowa (36 million acres), and it makes up only 10% of the country’s E10 gasoline blends. Replacing all gasoline with ethanol from corn, sorghum or still-illusory switchgrass would therefore require ten Iowas: 360 million acres. But there is one other critical factor: ethanol has one-third less energy per gallon than pure gasoline.
That means we would need to plant an additional 120 million acres, 480 million acres in all, just to replace gasoline. That’s equal to Alaska, California and West Virginia combined!
Replacing all the liquid petroleum we use annually (291 billion gallons) would require twice as much land – some 45% of all the land in the United States: six times more land than we currently have under cultivation for all cereal crops – plowing even marginal croplands, deserts, forests and grasslands.
We’d also need far more fuel to grow, harvest and convert those crops into “eco-friendly” fuel. That would likely mean turning southern Canada into a vast biofuel plantation – unless, of course, the ruling classes simply impose lower living standards and vehicle ownership restrictions on us commoners.
Growing biofuel crops also requires hundreds of times more water than is needed to conduct hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations to produce the same amount of energy from oil and gas, on a tiny fraction of the acreage. Where on this water-starved planet will that precious liquid come from?
Biofuel crops also require prodigious amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. And if organic and anti-GMO factions have their way, far more land would be needed, pest control would be minimal or done by hand, and fertilizer would come from human wastes and animal manure – raising even more complex issues.
To put it bluntly, a biofuel future would be totally and disastrously unsustainable.
There’s another deep, dark secret about biofuels. Somebody needs to tell Obama, McCarthy, Clinton, Sanders and their army of “green” supporters that biofuels are hydrocarbons! They are composed of carbon and hydrogen, though in less complex molecular structures than what we pull out of the ground – which means we get less energy per gallon. And when we burn them, they release carbon dioxide!
We have at least a century of untapped oil and natural gas (and of coal) right under our feet. To lock that up, based on unproven, illusory, fabricated, fraudulent climate chaos claims, is utter insanity.
Even crazier, most anti-fossil-fuel zealots also oppose nuclear and hydroelectric power – and want future electricity generated primarily or solely with wind turbines and solar panels. To blanket our scenic, crop and wildlife lands with wind farms, solar installations and biofuel plantations – and destroy economies, jobs, living standards, health and welfare in the process – is nothing short of criminal.
President Obama and presidential candidates Clinton and Sanders assure us we can have 30% renewables by 2030, 50% by 2050, 100% by 2100 – or some similar magic, catchy, sound bite concoction.
Voters should demand to know exactly how they will make this happen. If they cannot or will not answer satisfactorily, a strong case can be made for the proposition that they are too ignorant and dishonest to hold office – and that their supporters are too stupid and anti-environment to vote. J
Radical environmentalists want museums to stop taking donations from conservatives
A group of prominent scientists have united for an odd quest: to reduce funding for science education. They’ve joined with environmental groups and progressive activists to demand that hundreds of museums of science and natural history “cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation,” which means rejecting donations or investment dividends from anyone who doesn’t meet their standard of purity.
They began last year by demanding that the American Museum of Natural History in New York have nothing to do with the industrialist David Koch, a major benefactor and member of the museum’s board of trustees for more than two decades. There was no evidence that Koch had influenced the content of any exhibit at the museum—donors are prohibited from involvement—but the activists got their wish this year when Koch resigned from the board. Though he and the museum said his departure was voluntary, the activists are hailing it as a victory and pointing to other museums, including the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, that have divested themselves of fossil-fuel investments and banned donations from these companies.
Nearly 150 academics have signed on to the cause, including George Woodwell, founder and director emeritus of Woods Hole Research Center; James Powell, former president of the science museums of Los Angeles and of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; and some prominent climate researchers, like James Hansen of NASA, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. They claim to be concerned that museums compromise their integrity “by association with special interests,” but some interests are obviously more special than others. The scientists and their allies haven’t objected, for instance, to the Boston Science Museum’s wind-energy exhibit being sponsored by an engineering firm that helps build wind farms or by a Massachusetts state agency with the explicit mission of promoting wind power.
Only fossil-fuel companies are targeted, supposedly because they’re causing climate science to be distorted or censored, yet the scientists and their allies can’t point to any damning examples. Their favorite accusation involves a Koch-sponsored exhibition at the Smithsonian on human evolution and adaptation that includes one panel asking if millions of years from now, some humans’ bodies might have adapted to various new environmental conditions—a hotter planet, a colder planet, or another planet with lower gravity. What’s wrong with asking those questions? Nothing, except that the mere mention of human adaptation is taboo to devout greens: There must be no distractions from their predictions that global warming will wipe out the human species.
If you’re looking for biased environmental science at museums, you can find it, but the bias goes the other way, toward eco-alarmism and left-wing politics. Before any more scientists denounce David Koch’s influence at the American Museum of Natural History, they might try visiting the place first. A good place to start the tour, for historical perspective, is in one of the least popular parts of the museum: the Hall of New York State Environment. It’s a quaint nook with a musty collection of dioramas from the early 1950s, long before Koch was on the board.
The human impact on the environment is depicted in a historical series of dioramas of Dutchess County in upstate New York.
First, there’s “The Forest Primeval,” some of which is cut down to make room for “The Settlement” in the 1790 diorama. Most of the forest has given way to farmland in the 1840 diorama, titled “High Tide.” But by 1870, some of the farmland is lying fallow, and by 1950, much of it has been covered again with forest. One cause of this trend is depicted in the tiny models of farming equipment, a progression from a simple ox-drawn plow to more elaborate machines drawn by horses and, ultimately, by a motorized tractor. By 1950, the diorama’s copywriter exults, “the invention of the gas engine” and “the remarkable development of specialized machines” enabled farmers to grow more food with less labor on less land, allowing farmland to revert to forest.
That is indeed a remarkable trend, but you would never guess it from the modern environmental exhibits at the museum—the ones that get a lot more visitors. In the Hall of Biodiversity, there are no homages to gas engines and machines. Fossil fuels and modern technologies are the great villains. Photographs and videos of gas pumps and smokestacks are juxtaposed with images of traffic jams, smog-filled skies, and vanishing woodland. Forests are shown being destroyed by pollution, burned by farmers, and bulldozed to make room for ranches, roads, and factories. Nowhere is there a hint that the rest of the world is going through the same transition that occurred in the United States: the rate of global deforestation has slowed and has already reversed in many places. Just as in upstate New York, the amount of forestland in China and India has been increasing.
Which message do the visitors take home? A few years ago, I went to the museum and gave a quiz to a class of high-school students who had just toured it. I asked about two long-term trends in the United States: Was air pollution getting better or worse, and was the amount of forestland increasing or decreasing? None of the students—nor their teacher—got both questions right. Most had no idea that air pollution has been declining for decades while the amount of forestland has been increasing.
You can’t blame them, given what they’d just seen at the Hall of Biodiversity. The message is unrelentingly gloomy, and sometimes just outdated or wrong. There’s an image of a forest supposedly decimated by acid rain, which was a much-proclaimed eco-catastrophe three decades ago—until an extensive federal study concluded that there was ‘”no evidence of widespread forest damage.” There are warnings of resource shortages and admonitions to “reduce, reuse, recycle—and rethink.”
One exhibit panel claims that “global warming has already resulted in more frequent and severe coastal storms as hurricanes,” which is contradicted by both data and theory. There has been no upward trend in hurricanes over the past half century (the last decade has been especially calm), and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that “future changes in storms are likely to be small.” A video shows much of Florida and Long Island disappearing under the rising ocean—representing a sea-level rise far beyond what IPCC projects.
The hype was even worse when the museum presented a special show on climate change in 2008. The exhibition, which toured other science museums in the United States and abroad, displayed a model of lower Manhattan under 16 feet of water, while the rest of the world was ravaged by storms, droughts, fires, and plagues.
In a review of the exhibition for the New York Times, Edward Rothstein criticized it for being concerned less with science than with frightening visitors. “What we need from a museum is not proselytizing but a more reflective analysis,” he wrote, complaining that the exhibition “made me feel like an agnostic attending church and listening to sermons about damnation.”
Unfortunately, that’s the trend in science museums, as Rothstein has documented over the past decade while writing about museums and exhibitions for the Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Curators pride themselves on promoting moral agendas. Showing the wonders of nature is no longer enough: visitors must be hectored to transform their lives, check their privilege and prejudice, respect native cultures, and save the planet. “Over the last two generations,” Rothstein concluded in 2010, “the science museum has become a place where politics, history and sociology often crowd out physics and the hard sciences. There are museums that believe their mission is to inspire political action.” And the political actions are inevitably the sort that academics deem “progressive.”
Given this trend, why would anyone worry about the influence of donors like David Koch? Even if conservatives ever imagined they could use their money to promote their ideology, they’ve so obviously failed that they’d be idiots to expect any future returns on it. Since they’re not shaping science exhibits to their politics, why not use their money to make better museums that teach more people about science?
Because the current campaign against Koch and other donors isn’t really about science or museums. It’s about politics. The campaign is sponsored by a coalition of environmental and progressive groups, including MoveOn.org and the Working Families Party. It’s being led by a group calling itself The Natural History Museum, which sends a bus around the country with exhibits about “the socio-political forces that shape nature.”
The group is financed by various foundations promoting progressive causes like “the relationship between economics, racism, climate, gender and sexual orientation” (as one donor, Solidaire, describes its interests). The donors also include a group promoting the construction of green buildings (another apparently acceptable special interest) as well as the Queens Museum (New Yorkers’ tax dollars at work!). The Natural History Museum’s mission statement isn’t easy to understand—it reads like a sophomore trying to impress his Marxist professor of sociology—but it seems to be mainly about moving beyond the evils of “capitalist enterprises” to “a collective future.”
To reach this future, the group is using the modern Left’s favorite method of debate: silence the opposition. The activists and the scientists allied with them are following the twelfth of Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals”: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” The letter to museums is part of the larger campaign to demonize David Koch and other conservatives, to deny them any public credit for their philanthropy, and to prevent any reputable institution from having anything to do with them. The goal is not only to punish David Koch for his support of conservative groups but also to intimidate other philanthropists. The letter is a warning shot to donors and corporations: if you give money to a conservative cause, you will be banished from museums and respectable society.
In this fight, the science museums are just bystanders. If their budgets suffer, if their visitors end up paying higher admission fees or seeing fewer exhibits, that’s just collateral damage. A dedicated leftist can excuse it as a small tradeoff to reach our glorious collective future. But the curators and scientists who have signed on to the cause have no excuse for the damage they’re doing. They’re supposed to give science priority over politics—or at least that used to be the professional ethic. These days, it’s looking as outdated as those dioramas from the 1950s.
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
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Posted by JR at 12:33 AM