Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blurring the line between science and propaganda

This past weekend my wife and I took our daughters to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It had been a while since I was last there and it looked like a fun way to spend the afternoon. The kids were excited because Daddy was coming this time.

One of the first exhibits we looked at was the Weiss Energy Hall. All you need to know about the exhibit can be summed up with a list of corporate donors. Every energy company you've ever heard of, and some you haven't, threw the museum a few bones. It was a paean to the oil industry.

There were samples of drill bits and casing. They had little tanks with marbles and cranks so the kids could see the relative "weight" of various kinds of oil. They had games were the kids could take turns trying to be wildcatters. There was an exhibit about offshore drilling. They even had an example of slant drilling - a unique Texas way of stealing your neighbor's oil without him even knowing it.

There was a ride that simulated a trip down to the bottom of a well - and we even got to hear about the wonders of hydraulic fracturing.

But, interestingly enough (though not unexpected) there was not a single word about the environmental hazards of oil exploration or transport. Nothing about the Deepwater Horizon. Nothing about the dangers of fracking. Nothing but sterile, hygenic corporate propaganda about how wonderful the oil industry is.

I guess that's to be expected, seeing that the last thing the museum wants to do is piss off its corporate donors by putting in an exhibit that looks at the science of the oil industry. Heaven forbid we allow our children to see both the good and the bad of oil exploration and transportation. We certainly don't want out little tykes growing up and questioning the very foundations of the Texas economy. Better to turn them into quiet little sheep who won't go looking under rocks to find out the truth.

Of course the whole donor problem is nothing new to those of us who listen to NPR or watch PBS. Whenever the announcer tells us who gave the money so that the show could be broadcast you know you won't hear a critical word about that company during the broadcast.

But there is at least a little bit of hope. The other day on the local news segment on NPR there was a story about a University of Texas researcher, Cliff Frohlich, who came to the conclusion that the process of storing the used fracking fluid in deep underground injector wells was causing a multitude of minor earthquakes in North Texas. The Houston Chronicle even picked up on the story.

There was even an article that dared to look at the contamination of ground water by hydraulic fracking fluid. Here is a link to the study that looks at five ways in which fracking fluid can contaminate surrounding drinking water.

If the museum actually wanted to educate the public about the science involved in the oil industry these are some of the topics that should have been discussed in the exhibit. But, instead of putting together a science exhibit, the museum, instead, put together an industry-sponsored commercial. Now why should any of that be tax deductible?