Did Smithsonian Bow To Warming Skeptics?

Visitors walk through the rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, Tuesday, June 15, 2004 in Washington. The Museum marked its 100th anniversary, and is one of the most popular attractions in Washington, featuring a massive elephant called Henry in the rotunda.
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As suggested by its original name - "Arctic Meltdown" - there was nothing warm and fuzzy about last year's exhibit on the earth's northern climes at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. At least not in the first version.

But the Washington Post reports that museum's director ordered last-minute changes to add "scientific uncertainty" about climate change to the exhibit's script, according to internal documents and correspondence.

Scientists who worked on the project charge that the museum officials downplayed global warming in the exhibit to avoid criticism from congressional appropriators and global-warming skeptics in the Bush administration.

But museum director Cristian Samper denies it, telling the Post in an interview last week that "there was no political pressure - not from me, not from anyone."

Unfortunately, Samper hasn't had the most inspiring record when it comes to situations like these. He's scheduled to meet with the Board of Regents on Monday to discuss another controversy: a $5 million donation from the American Petroleum Institute to fund the Natural History Museum's Ocean Initiative exhibit hall and Web site.

Samper approved the gift offer and sent it to the regents, who have the final say. Two regents have raised questions about the appearance of oil companies donating to a major marine exhibition.

The Post gathers an array of rather damning evidence, including some hints that some of the last-minute changes were made as a result of, in the words of one National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, "the HQ push to appease the senior senator" -- legendary climate change skeptic and zealous bridge builder Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

But the most interesting debate was over the name. "Arctic Meltdown," the name proposed in a June 2003 statement of purpose, was changed to a new name based on the Inuit word ugganianaqtuq, which a scientist interpreted to mean "you are not yourself."

Smithsonian researchers changed the title in 2003 to "The Arctic: A Friend Acting Strange," and the last word later became "Strangely."

That title was almost jettisoned when a linguistic expert questioned the translation, saying that uggianaqtuq really means "being eaten by dogs or lice."

Katrina Rebuilding Money Is Bypassing Mississippi's Poor

The world "Katrina" has become shorthand for America's national shame at not doing right by its poor.

So there's special irony in the New York Times report that federal money allocated to help those hit by the hurricane in Mississippi is bypassing those same poor people whose plight the storm exposed.

So far, Mississippi has spent $1.7 billion in federal money on programs that have mostly benefited relatively affluent residents and big business. The money has gone to compensate many middle- and upper-income homeowners who lost their houses to flooding, to aid utility companies whose equipment was damaged and to prop up the state's insurance system.

Just $167 million, or about 10 percent of the federal money, has been spent on programs dedicated to helping the poor, mostly through a smaller grant program for lower-income homeowners. And while that number will certainly increase, Mississippi has set aside just 23 percent of its $5.5 billion grant money for these programs.

Mississippi is the only state for which the Bush administration has waived the rule that 50 percent of its Community Development Block Grants be spent on low-income programs, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Gulfport, for example, the state is spending $600 million in federal cash to repair and improve its port. Meanwhile, in the mostly black neighborhood of west Gulfport that's home to Anthony Thompson, pastor at Tabernacle Faith Ministries, he said, "I see a lot of people waiting on help; I see a lot of houses still damaged."

Are Cockroaches The New Lemmings?

The next time you consider calling someone a lemming for his tendency to follow the crowd over the cliff, consider switching that epithet to cockroach.

The New York Times reports that researcher using robotic roaches were able to persuade real cockroaches to do things that their instinct told them were not the best idea.

The experiment in bug peer pressure found that cockroaches, who naturally prefer to hang out in the dark, could be lured into the light by a robot doused with cockroach sex hormones about 60 percent of the time.

"I thought it was very gratifying they could get roaches to do what they normally would not do," said Stephen Pratt, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University.

Hey, sometimes it's the little things.

(Lemmings, by the way, aren't actually as into mass suicide as popular culture would have you believe. According to Snopes, they do sometimes migrate in big groups, and very occasionally fall off cliffs accidentally because of all the crowding. But our image of them as the symbol of mindless followers really comes courtesy of Walt Disney, whose documentary "White Wilderness" includes footage of lemmings migrating and running head-long over a ledge. An investigation later showed that the Disney film makers faked the entire sequence using lemmings bought from Inuit children, a snow covered turntable on which a few dozen lemmings were forced to run, and literally throwing lemmings into the sea to show the alleged suicides.)

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