Saturday, March 27, 2010

True purpose of TechTest from the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation?

Updates: Apr 4, see response by SESF's Rebane here; March 30, minor updates(*) and edits for clarity; also see "Misc Facts about SESF/TechTest", a response by SESF's McDaniel (link).

For reference: my original posts on SESF from June 2006, from shortly after its resurrection; noting its odd origin and classification, and asking about its funding.

What's the real motivation - and funding - behind the TechTest college scholarships offered by the local climate-denial group Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (site)?

The nonprofit SESF (its 501(c)(3) status restored; here's its blog) is a local outfit interwined with the local pro-property-rights, anti-regulation group CABPRO (blog).
SESF's principals include local retired engineers/ climate contrarians/ bloggers/ The Union columnists Russ Steele (blog) and George Rebane (blog). (Rebane has also recently been given a "commentator" spot on KVMR news (alas, not I*) ).

SESF generously sponsors an annual science-and-engineering TechTest for high school seniors - it's being given this very morning, in fact - and grants the highest scorers a total of up to 15k in college scholarships.

The grueling test (pretty much all physics and engineering) is preceded by two "how to work these problems" workshops by George Rebane, and succeeded by a "Survivor's Breakfast" with SESF principals and, last year, with Tom McClintock staffer Kim Pruett.

Students there today told me that last year's high score was 37%, and that the test was "crazy" - as in, very, very hard. Its difficulty is deliberate, "designed to let the eagles soar", according to Dr. Rebane (link).

The SESF intended further interaction with the students through mentoring (link)(*):
"For the coming term, in addition to TechTest2008, we are also setting up a new tutoring/mentoring program as a teacher resource for their science and math students. SESF has a growing list of volunteers who will be paired with students for augmentation and advanced study assignments. We are currently soliciting more volunteers with technology backgrounds who are willing to work with the county's young people."

The TechTest and scholarships get credulous local coverage.

You might ask why climate deniers are pouring such energy into science and technology education - when they do, after all, part ways so decisively from the existing consensus (infographics here) on climate change.

And you might ask where the money is coming from, for the scholarships or other aspects of the organization. Their IRS (nonprofit) Form 990 is no help, since with less than 25k income, they've never filed one.
The principals have said they are all volunteers, they're not being paid for their efforts.

I asked SESF's Director of Public Relations, financial advisor Mike McDaniel, about the scholarship funding. It's not a secret, he assured me; just local (*) people who cared about science and technology and educating our young people; I asked if I could know their identities, and he said he'd check.

The outcome: of the half dozen or so substantial ($500 or over) donors, McDaniel said he'd gone to pretty much all of them asking if they minded having their names known, and of all these donors, the only ones willing to be identified (*) were himself and Telestream (although, he said, clearly they were giving "for different reasons"). And he did say that two couples who donated were not local.

So, largely unknown donors.

What gets discussed at the breakfast? Russ reports:
"[Discussion of the weather] soon lead to a discussion [of] long term climate change and the impact of sunspots have on our climate. The discussion gave me an opportunity to introduce a those sitting nearby to my Dalton Minimum Returns blog, and the paper I wrote for SESF on Cooler Temps - Dalton Minimum Returns"

(I also seem to recall Russ saying he quizzed the students on what they were being taught about climate science in school, and [he] was disturbed that there was no requirement to present the "other" (read, not the consensus) side; but a quick google isn't bringing it up.)

Add all of this to the unwillingness of Russ to say that he and family aren't receiving direct-or-indirect compensation for his climate efforts, and the unwillingness of CABPRO executive director Martin Light (blog) to say what firm's name is on the 1099 or W-2 form the Executive Director receives, and, well, it's intriguing.

[2012-02-04 update: I've extensively edited the "in a nutshell" text below, removing allegations of intent - replacing "designed to" with "has the effect of", etc.]

So - in a nutshell, TechTest ends up advancing fossil fuel interests, as follows:

The TechTest lets SESF cozy up to the young sci/tech elite, the smartest - but still-impressionable - young people in Nevada County. Its extreme difficulty, like Dr. Rebane's often-difficult prose, doesn't so much "let the eagles soar" (actually, the eagles looked pretty darn cowed) as send a message of intellectual dominance, that someone designing a test that we-the-takers can't succeed at, or writing text that we-the-readers can't easily follow, must be smarter than us and better informed.

And the breakfast capitallizes on the influence that such an impression provides - the breakfasters will feel that if such smart people believe human-caused climate change is bogus, then this view has credence.


(Recommended resource for Tech-Test-takers:, for exposing misinformation )

 "We will be judged by those who come after us, both by what we did do and what we didn't do, in the time given to us."


Anna Haynes said...

For the record, George Rebane states that he is not a shill for the climate denial industry. I just now asked him:

"Have you or your family members ever been compensated, directly or indirectly, for any efforts you or they have engaged in to communicate to the public the view that climate change is natural or is not a serious problem?"

He responded "No".

Anna Haynes said...

(and what do I think? I think it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck...Rebane himself may be innocent, but once you're familiar with standard PR tactics, the effort as a whole is clear as day.)

p.s. TechTest takers, here's the effort that Rebane and Steele are part of.

Anna Haynes said...

A clarification: by "the effort...[they] are part of", I meant "the effort they are supporting, through their communications". And the sequelae of this effort risk the well-being of generations to come.

And as for "the effort as a whole is clear as day", I'd clarify/tone down this claim, to "the effect of the effort will be to enhance the credibility of contrarian climate views". Perhaps this is an accidental outcome, but it sure is a convenient outcome for the biggest & most threatened industry on earth - 10x bigger than tobacco.