In October of 2000, naturalist, writer, and environmental educator Andrew Slade left his position as Education Director of the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota. Although bound by a severence agreement not to discuss the matter, Slade’s resignation was publicly understood as him being forced out by the Aquarium’s corporate sponsors, namely Allete/Minnesota Power. One of the two board members who resigned in protest said Allete had “infringed on the academic freedom of an educator.” Always riveted by such tales, we asked Slade a couple questions about this gonzo science matter, with the perspective of nine years later.
[Slade’s North Shore blog is here; his North Shore guidebooks may be found here and here.]
Gonzo Science: Hi Andrew. The questions we would ask you for gonzoscience.com, close to the 9-year anniversary of the “Slade controversy” at GLA, would include: How does it feel to be a local symbol of corporate interference with science? Is that phrased too strongly, or inaccurately?
Andrew Slade: Since I’m not a scientist, I didn’t see my departure from Great Lakes Aquarium as a blow against science.It was a blow against public participation. Science is the process by which facts are revealed from nature…it’s not the facts themselves. Minnesota Power didn’t agree with the opinions I expressed in a column about the Arrowhead-Weston powerline. They disagreed with some of the few “facts” I used in my column. Their hotheaded CEO did use an accusation of “bad science” to try to discredit me, but never backed that up with facts or “science” of their own. He happened to be in a position to influence my employer and he used that position to his advantage.
Gonzo Science: Do you have any advice for people in the position you were in 9 years ago?
Andrew Slade: The loss of public support for Great Lakes Aquarium after my incident was really unfortunate. In my resignation and their response to it, GLA and its corporate supporters undermined eight years of hard work in the community developing support for the project and the mission. It seemed clear that the Aquarium was not for Duluthians. That’s a tragedy from which they have not recovered. If I had known that this incident would have contributed to the loss of what we had worked so hard for, I might have taken a different path in expressing my personal opinions.
Gonzo Science: Care to speculate on the existence of Bigfoot in the Northland?
Andrew Slade: Never seen one myself. But I love the idea that there are mysteries out there yet to be discovered.