Anti-science legislation – state level activities are troubling

anti-science legislation

We have seen a lot of anti-science activities at the Federal government level that are scary. Massive reductions in Federal budgets for the EPA and National Institutes of Health are bad enough for those of us who support science research and education. But the emboldened right wing, at the state level, are pushing all types of anti-science legislation that will have a profound effect on how we teach science to our children. We need to pay attention to this.

I thought it would be beneficial for us to take a look at the states that are pushing anti-science legislation since the November 2016 election, when a lot of state legislatures’ composition changed (or remained the same). In general, this legislation focuses on anti-evolution and anti-climate change beliefs pushed by the right wing.

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Americans are ignorant fools about evolution

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – there is simply nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists” that have infiltrated the discussion about evolution.

The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record.  In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution.

The scientific theory of evolution is quite easy to understand – it is the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the creationist misinformation about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing scientific research examining other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no scientific disputes about the fact that evolution has occurred over a period of 3.8 billion years until present time. None.

Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Even though rarely successful, unfortunately, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently implemented antievolution legislation. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they defer to a ridiculous political and cultural “debate” while ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus.

Once again, many or most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – thus, politicians, at least in some areas of the country, think they have the political cover to do whatever they want with regards to the teaching of creationism.

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Opinion – science denial harms humanity

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that.

Recently, I read an article where Alabama, a US state with either the worst or second worst educational system in the country, had decided to enter the 21st Century – The Alabama state board of education voted unanimously to approve a new set of science standards on September 10, 2015, according to National Center for Science Education.

Surprisingly, the Alabama board stated that evolution is described as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence.” Is it possible that pigs are flying? Let me check.

But like all stories when it comes to science denial, the story isn’t perfect.

According to a story in the Washington Post, “state officials will have to decide what to do about the adhesive label that every high school biology textbook has been required to carry since 2001, a warning emphasizing that evolution is a ‘controversial theory’ that students should question.”

Let me remind the reader. There is absolutely no controversy about evolution, it is considered a scientific fact. The only controversy is amongst ignorant Republican presidential candidates, lead by someone who is ostensibly educated in science, Ben Carson.

Of course, as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated,  “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” And as medicine is a branch of biology, it’s clear that our knowledge of evolution helped Ben Carson – not just generally, but in very specific ways that were part of his medical career.

Whatever Dr. Carson says to pander to his ignorant, science denying Republicans, his medical career was filled with evolution of all types.

Science denialism is more than just a cultural discussion between two political groups. It’s dangerous. Science denial harms humanity – we should do all we can to end this absurd belief.
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Evolution vs. creationism scorecard: 2012

Since the beginning of 2012, Republicans throughout the country tried to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by pushing religion into public schools. They lumped evolution denialism and global warming denialism into the broad terminology of “scientific controversy” (in case you’re reading, there are no scientific controversies over these theories, just political ones). And those Republicans tried their best to give the children in those states the worst science education ever. Evolution is the foundation of biology, that field of science that is the basis of our health, of medicine, of agriculture, of our environment, and of every living thing on the planet.

 So far, in 2012, there have been several attempts by Republican controlled state legislatures to force religion into public schools. It’s been a mixed bag, with several close wins for the science side, and a notable loss. Continue reading “Evolution vs. creationism scorecard: 2012”

Creationism dies–at least in Missouri

After the disaster of Tennessee’s science-denying Monkey Bill being signed into law, there has been relatively (and possibly temporary) good news in Oklahoma and Alabama, who did not vote on the anti-science legislation prior to the adjournment of their state legislatures. Of course, they could bring it up again in 2013, but a win is a win.

Yesterday, the Missouri legislature also adjourned, and two antievolution bills died in the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education before getting a hearing. House Bill 1227 would have permitted teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.” House Bill 1227 would have required “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design,” both in public elementary and secondary schools and in “any introductory science course taught at any public institution of higher education” in the state. 

Again, to be absolutely clear on the point, there are no “scientific weaknesses” in the fact of evolution. There is some ongoing debate about the mechanisms of evolution, but the basic principle of change in a population of organisms over time by the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic drift is sound and fully accepted by a huge majority (about 99.6%) of scientists. And intelligent design is not science, it is creationism with different clothing. It is pseudoscience.

A win, hopefully permanent, for science education.

via Antievolution legislation dies in Missouri | NCSE.

Good news for science education in Alabama

Earlier this year, the Republican dominated Alabama legislature tried to enact a bill, House Bill 133, that would have established a scheme to allow high school credit for creationism. HB 133 would have authorized  “local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students.” The purpose of the bill was to teach creation “science” as equivalent to evolution. The bill died in the legislature, since it did not come to a floor vote before the legislature adjourned on May 16, 2012. Continue reading “Good news for science education in Alabama”

Religion and global warning denialism

The other day, I was watching some news story about climate change; it was mostly from the denialist point of view, but I was struck by what seemed to be almost the same arguments that the creationist folks say about evolution.  I began to wonder if there was a religious component to the global warming denialists, maybe at the same fundamentalist belief level as the creationists.

While I was digging through the Huffington Post’s Science Section (which publishes story about how homeopathy works or how a bug jumping on a camera lens is obviously a UFO chasing the powerful Chilean Air Force, I noticed a couple of articles by Victor Stenger, a world-renowned particle physicist who writes about scientific skepticism of religion and faith.  It’s possible that I’m too harsh about HuffPo’s general anti-science content, though Stenger only partially makes up for the rest of the anti-science articles on HuffPo. Continue reading “Religion and global warning denialism”

Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong

Obama receiving an Alabama jersey after honoring Alabama for the 2011 NCAA Division 1 football championship. Of course, it was followed by a Muslim prayer.

I’ve always considered the Deep South, which includes Alabama and Mississippi, to be a part of the country way out of step with the real world, including the rest of the country.  Without the South, the United States would basically be a liberal, religiously tolerant, progressive country, similar in a lot of respects to Canada.  Both Alabama and Mississippi are relatively poor with educational systems that rank at or near the bottom of the US.  Other than college football champion, it’s hard to see that their educational system has done much positive. Continue reading “Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong”

Creationism legislation–Alabama (update 2)

Alabama’s House Bill 133, which would “authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students”, cleared the Alabama House Education Policy Committee on February 29, 2012.  As discussed previously, this legislation is probably unconstitutional, violating the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, mainly because the school boards would be responsible for setting the curriculum.  I didn’t realize this before, but each child could have access to studies about their own religion.  So there would have to be credit given for Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian (and which sect of christianity would be taught).  And what about atheists?  I guess those kids could actually study something real, like science.  Then get the great jobs.  And discover the cure for a disease.  Then the anti-science religious student will come begging for the cure. Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Alabama (update 2)”

Creationism legislation–Alabama, the Constitution update

According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), in its article Credit-for-creationism scheme unconstitutional?, the new creationist legislation being introduced into the Alabama House is probably unconstitutional.  Incredibly scandalous news.

As discussed yesterday, Alabama is trying to pass legislation that would “authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students.”  In the landmark Supreme Court 1948 ruling, McCollum v. Board of Education, the court struck down a Illinois release time program as unconstitutional because of the public school system’s involement in the administration, organization and support of religious instruction classes. Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Alabama, the Constitution update”