[pullquote]If you’re looking for a cure for your cancer, don’t look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders.–Leslie Brunetta[/pullquote]
A quick update on Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill”, which is a Republican-led anti-evolution and global warming denying bill. The bill, HB 368, was sent to Governor Bill Haslam this week for consideration. Gov. Haslam has until April 9 2012 to either sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it. The bill encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” in topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life (known as abiogenesis), global warming and human cloning.” The scientific weaknesses are nearly nonexistent, except in the mind of the science denialists that inhabit the Republican Party, particularly in the South.
Governor Haslam has received a number of letters and comments urging him to veto the bill, but the one most pertinent was from a someone about whom I’ve written previously. Leslie Brunetta, a breast cancer survivor and accomplished evolutionary biology writer (Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating), wrote in The Tennessean:
The theory of evolution started researchers down this promising path. When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, there was as yet no way to explain two of the three legs upon which his theory stood. Those three legs are inborn variation among members of a species; that environmental pressures allow only some of those members to leave surviving offspring; and the passing of the favored members’ traits to the next generation. How was variation generated? And how were traits passed to offspring? The theory predicted the discovery of material answers.
That material would later be known as genes, stretches of DNA. But in 1859, biologists knew little about reproduction. Darwin attempted to answer these questions with a misguided hypothesis he called pangenesis. Other evolutionary theorists, notably August Weismann, put forward alternative hypotheses.
In line with the scientific method, each hypothesis was more than an opinion: It was testable. As researchers tested these hypotheses over decades, evidence accumulated showing first that the material of inheritance was contained in the cell nucleus, then that it was located on the chromosomes, then that it was composed of DNA. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their DNA model, which explained in physical terms how variation is generated and how offspring inherit traits from parents.
The hunt for cancer-causing genes is thus just a later phase of the hunt that began with the theory of evolution. Meanwhile, creationists, “intelligent design” advocates, and other challengers of evolution theory propose no research program. A recent national survey of public school biology teachers indicated that, cowed by the political climate, fewer than a third explicitly endorse the theory of evolution in class. High school students are our future researchers. They are also our future voters and politicians.
She concludes with a pointed and accurate political commentary:
If you’re looking for a cure for your cancer, don’t look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders.
If you think these antievolution fools are just annoying, think again. Real science, whether its evolution, or just understanding the scientific method, is the basis of critical knowledge that helps mankind. If we are ever to cure “cancer”, it’s going to take a lot of smart people who don’t pick and choose their scientific beliefs. It will be on the shoulders of students who are well-versed in all aspects of science, who understand how evolution is the basis of biology and the basis of medicine.
From just a pragmatic point of view, real science makes money. Does Tennessee understand that if all of their students are ignorant fools in science, they can’t contribute to the growth of scientific and medical knowledge? Do they not understand that a well-educated populace means more to technology companies than just about everything else? A pharmaceutical or biotech company wants to know that they have a local, well-educated (in science) population. Of course, if you have those people, it means more individuals employed in high-paying jobs, paying more taxes. And then, you have the company itself employing contractors and local companies to help it expand, making more money. It’s simple economics, something missing from Republicans.
Governor Haslam do the smart thing for Tennessee. Reject this bill and let your students learn how to think critically. Reject this bill and block Tennessee from being the laughingstock of the scientific world. Reject this bill and make an economic case for your state.