What You Should Know About Exxon-Mobil’s Hypocritical Science Education Ad Campaign

by Dominique Browning, via Time Ideas

If you were watching the Masters golf tournament last weekend, you would have noticed it was laced with ads from Exxon Mobil calling for … better science. That’s right. The very company that funded decades of science denial takes it back. Sort of. ExxonMobil ranks high in a short list of powerful institutions that has done this country an enormous disservice in undermining the overall credibility of the scientific method in general, and climate scientists specifically.

They now realize, of course, that without scientifically sophisticated workers, our global standing slips backwards. The company plans to spend a small fortune on the ad campaign featuring the National Math and Science Initiative and is a founding sponsor of this effort to dramatically improve science education in the U.S.

I have a friend, Jackson Robinson, who runs a green investment company called Winslow Management. He regularly asks CEOs, what is keeping you awake at night? More than half the time, the answer has to do with the work force: how hard it is to find educated, skilled people to take their companies to the next level. The workforce issue has gotten so serious that Chicago, with 100,000 jobs that could not be filled in 2010, has had to launch a “college to careers” movement to train students. For the record, not one CEO has ever responded to Jack that he stays awake because of global warming. And I imagine one reason it isn’t top of mind: a disinformation campaign that has been raging for decades.

The ExxonMobil website explains that its ads are meant to alert people about “underperformance” of U.S. students, who rank internationally 25th in math and 17th in science. Considering that the company employs more than 18,000 people around the world, their success must depend on a capable workforce—“Its not just U.S. leadership in energy that’s at risk—it’s also our leadership in medicine, research, technology and other pillars of the American economy.”

No kidding. The ad campaign was slick, and smart on many levels, not the least of which is to position ExxonMobil as a science-friendly company. Which, undoubtedly, it is—so long as the science supports their agenda. Though ExxonMobil pledged to quit funding climate change deniers back in 2008, as recently as 2011 a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act turned up evidence that the company was still at it, though ExxonMobil denies this.

I suppose we should be grateful for support to science and math from any quarter, these days—given what’s happening in places like Tennessee, where students will soon be learning that evolution is just one of those quirky ideas those radical science types throw out there to confuse people, since God made the universe not so long ago—and in a week, no less. Which is why we have weekends free to play golf.

Still, how about teeing up another campaign? ExxonMobil tells Americans that it was wrong to mislead people. That it was wrong to undermine credibility in the scientific method. That we have entered an era of manmade global warming, that it could lead to cascading catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen, that we are rolling the dice, way off the game board, in the risks we are taking in contributing further to greenhouse gas pollution—and that ExxonMobil is proud to announce that it is doing everything in its power to support the training of a new generation of scientists who will show us how we can adapt to this difficult new reality.

Dominique Browning, the former editor of House & Garden, is the author of Slow Love. This piece was originally published at Time and was reprinted with permission.
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17 Responses to What You Should Know About Exxon-Mobil’s Hypocritical Science Education Ad Campaign

  1. David Goldstein says:

    HA!-Thanks for writing this article. I was watching The Masters and yelling at the TV when the Exxon commercials came on. The obfuscation and ‘bait and switch’ tactics seem to be reaching a crescendo in our society. I wonder…is it because the American public is so dumded-down that corporations and public figures can basically do and say whatever they want without fear of being called out? ‘Up is down, cats are dogs, hot is cold’!

  2. T.J. says:

    Yes, better science, better at more efficiently raping the planet and building better pointless techno-novelties. That’s the kind of science that oligarchs and capitalists can get behind, not science that illustrates that their entire system is leading to disaster and cannot be maintained indefinitely, that’s bad for business, and as we all know business is all that matters.

  3. cervantes says:

    I wonder what they think about this bit of science?

    Like snow sliding off a roof on a sunny day, the Greenland Ice Sheet may be sliding faster into the ocean due to massive releases of meltwater from surface lakes, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s insulting to keep getting lied to like this. Exxon needs to be held accountable.

  5. Leif says:

    I got a suggestion EXXON. Now that you are people like the rest of us, how about accepting your “people” social responsibilities like your peon brothers. Pay your fair share of taxes so we could spend more on education. Just this add campaign $$ would go a long way. (“We the Peons” are tapped out if you hadn’t noticed. Wars, storm damage clean up, health care costs etc. are taking their toll.) I cannot get far polluting my neighbor’s yard for a profit for starters, you however appear to be doing just fine doing that very thing. Respect ALL science because by definition we do not know where the brake troughs will come from. Gravity works every day all day for all. You don’t get to pick and choose the “reality” you like. You cannot have creative scientists by endorsing “holes” in the science fields in total.

    “Welfare” and “Warfare” are mutually exclusive. Stopping profits from the pollution of the commons will help on both fronts.

  6. HPE says:

    I agree that we need to improve the math and science teaching in the U. S., especially at the K-12 levels of education. Giving children a good foundation in these areas will produce greater opportunities for them and provide them with the tools that they need as citizens to make good choices about the future.

    However, don’t be fooled when a company like ExxonMobil says they need more “educated, skilled people.” What they mean, in my experience, is that they can’t find people with exactly the education and skills that they want at the salary that they would like to pay, and so they want the government to create an oversupply of workers with those skills so that those workers will have fewer options and will be willing to work for less money. I know that’s a cynical intepretation, but until I see more companies investing in retraining programs for the large number of unemployed workers in this country, I won’t believe that employers are all that desperate.

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The 1% do not want to pay to get the population educated, Corporations fund those who slander scientists and now they cry we do not have enough trained people.

    Companies will not even spend time training those with a skill set close to what they need. The companies only want experienced people, then complain they don’t do it their way.

    The war on education funding gets even worse as they cry about an insufficiently trained workforce. The are reaping what they sow, unfortunately we all suffer.

  8. ExxonMobil or any corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to stockholders. They MUST influence public opinion in any way possible – that is just business. Nothing personal.

    I have long noticed that “Meet the Press” is heavily sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. This is not censorship – this amounts to total content management. In this case it is: discuss anything but CO2, Coal or Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    We should realize that our outrage means little to them.

  9. Leif says:

    Now that Corporations are people, they also have the added fiduciary responsibility to the rest of their brothers. i.e. they cannot continue to pollute the commons for a profit. I can not get away with throwing a paper cup out the car window, Corpro/People can dump tons of toxins into the environment and reap billions of $$$… They are “People”now, Even Mitt said so, what gives them the right to pick and chose the laws they want to follow. Not to mention killing off the population of the world, species by the droves, disrupting ocean sea life food chains and on and on.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    David, as Chomsky and Herman pointed out in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, and as commonsense tells us, the MSM in capitalist economies is an increasingly crude and strident propaganda system, a brainwashing apparatus to ‘keep the rabble in line’. They have succeeded amazingly in demonising all collective activity and human solidarity, promoting greedy, atomised, individualism as the natural state of man, and encouraging those who the capitalist system is reducing to immiserated serfs and debt-peons, to love the architects of their travails, insanely imagine that they too might one day be a Big Boss, and hate and fear most of the rest of humanity. This, of course, is a recipe for a society of high malignancy, and that is what we are getting. Such a society, needless to say, cannot survive shocks such as the ecological crises, and will rapidly collapse into internecine warfare and foreign aggression.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    By whom? The recidivist liars of the political caste, who they own? The politicised judiciary? Or the entirely Rightwing MSM, who they also own?

  12. Raul M. says:

    they will probably need to have a big grant program to
    find people smart enough to educate and make that computer which would explain that with global warming we are screwed in only a few short years.

  13. Raul M. says:

    Maybe a big problem though, is that the truth doesn’t go along with the concept that those new graduates have the world at their disposal (I mean that the world will reward their talents). And that their children will enjoy the beauty of the Earth.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Polluting the commons is the next best fun for our kleptomaniacal masters to looting the commons. They simply define the commons as an ‘externality’ and-hey, presto-like magic it disappears.

  15. Raul M. says:

    looking at the global map of water vapor, is that a swirl pattern that is a new kind of formation in the Atlantic?
    It seemed to form at one place and becoming more of such.

  16. Timeslayer says:

    Exxon-Mobil is simply evil. But what does that make the New York Times, which quotes Exxon shills from the Competitive Enterprise Institute in its climate change stories, AND actually DEFENDS that craven practice?


  17. Attila says:

    Where can I see the commercial? Those of you who seen it, did you guys see athletes in it?