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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Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana

creationist_wheel_of_misfortuneIn 2008, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. The law contends that “the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.” The law gives permission to Louisiana’s teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” OK, I understand, we need a state legislature to mandate that more critical thinking is necessary for evolution and global warming; and we don’t need any more critical thinking in other areas of science (sarcasm intended).

Though the law sounds like it would help teaching of science in the state, it really was nothing more than an attempt to get creationism (along with global warming denialism) taught in Louisiana’s public schools. Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magical , rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic tenets of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional bookContinue reading “Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana”

New Orleans School Board bans creationism

new_orleans2008Louisiana is at the frontline of the religious war on science and evolution. With its ironically named Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows the teaching of creationism and evolution in public schools, the state is attempting to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits state and federal governments from “establishing.”

Teaching creationism, which is solely based on religious beliefs that lack any scientific evidence, in public schools is definitely an attempt to establish a religion by the government. Court cases, such as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and Edwards v. Aguillard are critical court decisions which have rejected teaching of creationism because it is a religious belief.

Well, one part of Louisiana understands the constitution and science. According to the National Center for Science Education, The Orleans Parish School Board, which controls the curriculum and teaching policies for schools in New Orleans, voted to ban the teaching of creationism as science. The new policy specifically bans teachers from including “any aspect of religious faith” in science courses and from using history textbooks adjusted to include Christianity (in reference to Texas textbook guidelines which use  historical revisionism).

The actual wording of the the new policy is what all school boards should support:

No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.

Yes. Yes. And yes. Simple and to the point, and clearly stating what should be taught to children. If they want to learn about some false history based on religions, or anti-science beliefs, learn it at home. The public school should not enable it.

But there’s more:

No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.

The outgoing President of the Orleans School Board, Thomas Robichaux, stated that “when this was done in Texas, all this talk was what massive influence would do in other states. We want to make sure kids are taught history that has been properly vetted by academics and prepared for their consumption…. I have no problem teaching [religion] in a religion or philosophy class, but the science class is not the appropriate place for it.”

Yes!

New Orleans is just one part (a big part) of Louisiana, so it’s a good step in the right direction. And the students in that district will benefit from this policy, because they can be researchers, scientists, doctors, or just educated with proper critical thinking skills. 

Thanks New Orleans.

Antievolution legislation updates–Indiana and Montana

With respect to evolution denying legislative activities, 2012 was a fairly good year for science. Of course, Tennessee passed the anti-science Monkey Bill, which encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of global warming and evolution. Of course, there is no “scientific weakness,” just political debates that have no scientific relevance. But states like Indiana (through a shrewd maneuver of a Democratic legislator), Oklahoma, Alabama, New Hampshire and Missouri failed to pass proposed antievolution legislation, mostly through parliamentary issues, but also in an up and down vote in New Hampshire.

With the conclusion of the recent Presidential election, newly formed state legislatures are planning their 2013 legislative programs. So that means right wing, anti-science legislators in more conservative states are going to once again push evolution-denying legislation.

In Montana, state Representative Clayton Fiscus (Republican) is going to introduce a bill that will require the teaching of “intelligent design“, a form of creationism. This requirement would be in conflict with the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, where plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the Dover school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The losing lawsuit against the Dover school district cost them over $1 million, money which could have been used for purposes such as teaching children real science. I can only conjecture whether the bill will include funding for school districts that implement this potential requirement to defend against the inevitable constitutional lawsuits.

Similarly, in Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse (Republican) has told a newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill essentially written by the Discovery Institute (a non-profit religious “think tank” famous for its attempts at getting intelligent design taught in American schools). His bill will be similar to the aforementioned Monkey Bill in Tennessee and another one that was passed in Louisiana in 2008, the misleadingly named Louisiana Science Education Act.

I can only hope that as happened last year, either the state legislatures decide that the view of the American electorate has moved on from this anti-science viewpoint, or they just decide there are more important issues on the docket.

 

Antievolution legislation: Missouri and Kentucky attack science education

Usually, summer is a quiet time for state legislatures, so it was a chance to take a breath from the evolution denialism that many states were trying to force on some of the public schools. Of course, anti-Constitution forces won in Tennessee, continued to make fools of themselves in Louisiana, and failed to gain traction elsewhere, but it’s an ongoing battle.

Unfortunately, new activities in Missouri and Kentucky might attempt to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which explicitly prohibits state and Federal governments from showing any preference toward any religion, which includes creationism. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has reported that Missouri voters approved, by an 83-17 margin, a constitutional amendment (pdf) that adds a provision “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” According to NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau, the change is worrisome from the point of view of science education, because “those words give students the legal right to skip assignments related to evolution if the subject matter conflicts with their beliefs, Rosenau says.” Continue reading “Antievolution legislation: Missouri and Kentucky attack science education”

Louisiana will spend $12 million to teach creationism

The state of Louisiana is doing everything it can to force feed its students creationism despite numerous constitutional restrictions that prevent religious activities in public schools. It also passed the Academic Freedom Act in 2008 which allows “science” teachers to teach creationism as a “theory” equivalent to evolution to students. Of course, I also discussed how Louisiana provides vouchers for students to attend private Christian universities, some of which use textbooks that think a real Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution.  

According to an article in the the Lafayette, LA Independent Weekly, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considered a set of accountability guidelines for private schools at its July 24, 2012, meeting. Zack Kopplin, “an 18-year-old Rice University student best known for his efforts during the last two legislative sessions to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, was one of several people who addressed BESE recently in opposition of the controversial voucher program”,  testified that of the roughly 6600 spaces available for students under the program, 1350 will be filled “at private Christian schools that teach creationism and peg evolution as ‘false science.’” Kopplin claims that Louisiana is about to spend almost $12 million to fund the teaching of creationism through this new voucher program that uses public school funds to pay for tuition and certain fees at private schools for students who attend low-performing public schools and whose family income is below 250% of the federal poverty level.  Continue reading “Louisiana will spend $12 million to teach creationism”

Where Louisiana Republicans hate the Constitution and Business

In 2008, Louisiana passed the Louisiana Science Education Pact (LSEP)which allowed public school teachers to present “scientific criticisms” of evolution and climate change.  Most scientists considered the law to be anti-evolution, since it was supported by the Discovery Institute (the Seattle based promotor of the evolution denialist Intelligent Design belief).  The law’s sole purpose was to allow the teaching of creationism in public schools.  Also, since it is very similar to Tennessee’s Monkey Bill (or more correctly, the Monkey Bill “apes” the Louisiana bill), it also allows teachers to instruct students about those non-existent scientific controversies in global warming and abiogenesis too.   Continue reading “Where Louisiana Republicans hate the Constitution and Business”

Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 3

One of the two anti-evolution and anti-climate change bills, introduced into the Oklahoma legislature earlier this year, died in committee.  The remaining bill, HB1551, was passed by the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee in February, so may be scheduled for a floor vote soon.  The surviving bill is modeled upon the Louisiana Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, which states:

…the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.

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