The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘bill’

Good News From Louisiana: New Orleans Bans Creationism

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2012

If you’ve followed the creationism issue at all, you know that Louisiana is a hotbed of this fringe pseudoscience.  However, in a more than welcome move, the city of New Orleans sent a clear message that they would not tolerate such nonsense being taught in their public schools.  Here’s more on the good news from the National Center for Science Education :)

The Orleans Parish School Board “OK’d policies that prohibit the teaching of creationism or so-called ‘intelligent design’ in its half-dozen direct-run schools, or the purchasing of textbooks that promulgate those perspectives,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (December 18, 2012). As specified in the documents for the board’s December 18, 2012, meeting, the new policies provide (PDF, pp. 100 and 101), in part, that no “science textbook [shall] be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories” and that “[no] teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.” [emphasis added]

Ouch.  There you have it, in no uncertain terms: creationists and their pseudoscience need not apply for New Orleans public school science classes.

One more positive thing about this development is that student activist Zack Kopplin, who has been fighting the creationists in Louisiana, appears to have had some influence in these developments:

… the only speaker on the textbook policy at the meeting was Zack Kopplin: “‘Creationism certainly is not science,’ he said, warning that students not only will not meet higher education standards, but they ‘won’t find New Orleans jobs in the Bio District.’”

Kopplin, the young activist who organized the effort to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act (and who received NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award in 2011), told NCSE, “Between this and the New Orleans City Council’s rejection of the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act, the city of New Orleans has fully rejected creationism.” (The New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution in May 2011 endorsing the repeal effort.) Kopplin added, “It might also be enough to prompt the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to lift their boycott of New Orleans,” which began in 2009, owing to what SICB’s president described (PDF) as “the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula.”

I would like to encourage supporters of science and reason to contact the Orleans Parish School Board and thank them for promoting good science education, and please pass this news along so that we can reinforce this good governance!

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Thoughts on Calling the Creationist Bluff

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2012

I’m happy to say that I received a bit of a shout out from my scientific and skeptical colleague Greg Laden over at Science Blogs for my recent JREF Swift post “Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?” I think Greg makes some excellent points and observations about my post in his analysis, so I wanted to return the favor and make note of some of his points.

[**Aside: If you’re in the Minneapolis area this July 5-8th, drop by Convergence 2012 and see both Greg and me.  We’re both participating in the Con, and I look forward to discussing these topics with him (plus anyone else interested) more there.]

For Greg’s full breakdown, check out his entire post…

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

My comment: What’s next? Teaching “The Flintstones” as scientifically-verified, historical fact?  *facepalm*

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. …

Exactly.  The basic premise is this: if you want to allow one non-scientific “alternative” (such as young-earth creationism, the standard form of creationism pushed by fundamentalist Christians in the United States), then you’d better be damn well ready to allow every other alternative that comes knocking at the public school door.  That means, as Greg points out, Islamic views of creationism (that’ll get the Christian fundies’ knickers in a twist), Raelianism (basically the atheistic idea that aliens, not God, created humankind – kind of like in the science fiction movie “Prometheus”), and perhaps even Scientology (which is so nutty I’ll just refer you here for more on that weirdness) should be expected to receive “equal time” in the public school science class.

Greg goes on…

… Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art….

Exactly, again.  Of course, I’m not being serious – at least, I’m not being serious in the sense that I actually want our public science education system to collapse into a deepening, spiraling abyss of stupidity.  Which is what would happen if we allowed every goofball with a hare-brained “theory” to promote their nonsense as science.

Finally, some closing points from Greg on precisely why we shouldn’t be allowing YECs (or Islamic creationists, or Raelians, or Scientologists) to push their religious/pseudoscientific agenda in our schools:

… First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. … [emphasis mine]

Yup.  Just picture this… we allow the pseudoscientists to push whatever nonsense they wish, under the auspices of “equal time” and “teaching all views”.  If we were to seriously do that, how much time do you think would be left over to teach actual science to kids in our schools?  I’m thinking… around two weeks… which should really boost those ACT scores!

Greg continues:

… Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. …

I spoke to this above, but it bears mentioning again because Greg nails it here.  The danger to our public school system goes beyond watering down the science curriculum in school; it also goes to the broader question of funding.  If we allow these creationists to get away with pushing their nonsense as science in schools, then we will reinforce their arguments that funding should be deviated from the public schools to the kinds of blatantly religious schools Greg mentions.  And the less money for the public schools, the less they can afford to teach science (because it’s expensive!), and so on… I think you get the idea.

Greg’s last point, which is also (in my opinion) the most important one:

… Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. …

That’s it, in a nutshell.  We teach science in science classes, period.  If you want to talk about religion and God, there’s a place for that, even in our secular public schools: it’s called comparative religion or philosophy/humanities class.  And if you want to worship a particular deity, there’s also a place for that: it’s called church.

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Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2012

[**Note: The following post is a guest post hosted over at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s blog.  Enjoy! :) ]

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state’s public schools to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

“Maybe it has a no-religion clause,” the Tennessean characterized the law’s critics as arguing, “but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose.” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, “waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection.”

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes. …

Click here to continue reading the entire post

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Tennessee “Monkey Bill” Becomes Law and Science Education There Backslides

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2012

The National Center for Science Education has reported that the infamous “Monkey bill” in Tennessee has now become law by default, because while Gov. Haslam didn’t sign the bill, his refusal to veto it led to it automatically becoming law after a certain waiting period.  More from the NCSE…

Governor Bill Haslam allowed Tennessee’s House Bill 368 to become law without his signature on April 10, 2012, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012). The law encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

In a statement, Haslam explained, “I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact. I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools. The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature.” …

… Probably contributing to Haslam’s unwillingness to sign the bill were the protests from state and national civil liberties, educational, and scientific groups, the editorials against the bill from the state’s major newspapers, and the petition effort organized by Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University, which garnered thousands of signatures calling for a veto of HB 368.

What happens next seems inevitable: sooner or later, some creationist teachers are going to attempt to use this law as cover to teach creationism in public school science classes; they’ll get called out on it and taken to court; they will lose, likely costing the state many millions of dollars (plus giving them much-deserved embarrassment) in the process.

It looks like Tennessee has taken one step along the road presented by this graphic:

Way to go, Tennessee!  Welcome back to the 19th century!!!

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Help to Turn Back the Assault on Science Education in Tennessee!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 4, 2012

Finally getting back to completing my series of recent posts about evolution and creationism (see here and here for the previous ones), I wanted to pass along an update about a situation in Tennessee.  It seems that, in its infinite wisdom, the Tennessee legislature has decided to pass  its own version of the Louisiana “Academic Freedom” Law, which is little more than a touchy-feely way of saying that they want to protect teachers who want to teach creationism in public school science classes. The National Center for Science Education has an update on the bill…

Continued opposition to Tennessee’s “monkey bill”

Tennessee’s House Bill 368 was sent to Governor Bill Haslam on March 29, 2012 — and columnists in newspapers across the state are continuing to press the case against the bill. Nicknamed the “monkey bill” by former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh, HB 368 would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Haslam now has till April 9, 2012, to sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it.

The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal (March 29, 2012) editorially lamented, “At a time when Tennessee is becoming a national center for technological and alternative fuel research and development, it is odd — to say the least — that our state Legislature would push scientific debate back more than 85 years,” adding, “Science and teacher associations across the state and nation oppose this legislation, yet our Legislature is determined to impose its will on the classrooms of Tennessee, showing a general disrespect for scientific academia in favor of running its religious views up a flagpole.”

Writing in The Tennessean (March 29, 2012), Leslie Brunetta — a science writer and cancer survivor — argued that antievolution bills such as Tennessee’s “are bad for my health and the health of each of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year,” for while evolutionary theory helps to guide cancer research, the “challengers of evolution theory” provide no actual research program. She concludes, “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.”

And writing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (March 30, 2012), columnist Pam Strickland commented, “Tennessee has already tried this teaching creationism once before, The story is known worldwide as the Scopes Monkey Trial and is told through the play and movie ‘Inherit the Wind.’” She added, “if Haslam or his staff is reading, they need to know that the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Bioscience Teachers and the National Earth Science Teachers Association are all against HB 368.”

So that’s the bad news: the Tennessee legislature has passed the bill.  But there is good news: it seems that the governor of Tennessee is having serious reservations about signing the bill into law, seemingly because he sees it as ripe for a lawsuit which the state will inevitably lose while spending millions upon millions of dollars in court costs attempting to defend.  And, especially in a time when taxpayer dollars are so tight, it doesn’t make much fiscal sense to try defending a law which is highly likely to go down in flames.

That’s where you and I come in: we need to help encourage Gov. Haslam to veto this bad legislation!  To do so, please consider signing onto the following petition, and then spread the word to all of your friends – especially the ones who live in Tennessee!

Urge Tennessee Governor Haslam to support sound science and veto HB 368

As parents, educators, and concerned citizens, we call on you to veto HB 368, which encourages teachers to present scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as “controversial.” This bill is deeply misleading and will only serve to confuse students about well-established scientific concepts. Our children need the best education possible in order to excel in college, compete in a 21st-century job market, and cope with the future challenges of climate change. Governor Haslam, we strongly urge you to support sound science and veto HB 368. …

Click here to read the entire petition

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Indiana Creationist Bill is DOA: Good Riddance

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2012

I recently blogged about the pending creationist legislation in the Indiana legislature and its radically stupid “teach all views” language.  Well, now there’s some good news: apparently, even though the bill (SB89) passed the IN Senate, it was too stupid for the IN House :)

Creationist School Bill Looks Doomed in Indiana

… On Tuesday the Indiana Senate approved a bill, S.B. 89, that would have allowed schools to teach “various theories on the origins of life.” It didn’t specify whether the instruction should occur in a science class or in another setting, but its sponsors made clear that they saw it as a way to challenge prevailing views on scientific evolution. The bill, which passed 28 to 22, drew widespread media coverage and triggered condemnations from scientific organizations in the state and across the country.

The original measure had mentioned “creation science” as one idea that could be taught. But before the vote it was amended to require that teachers also discuss “theories from multiple religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

The next day, however, the speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives decided that the legislation, which had triggered national media coverage, had become too hot to handle. As reported by Dan Carden of the The Times of Northwest Indiana, House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis, said at a press availability on Wednesday that “delving into an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has, on at least one occasion, said is not compliant with the Constitution may be a side issue and someplace where we don’t need to go.” He was apparently referring to a 1987 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a Louisiana state law requiring the teaching of creation science violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by advancing religion. …

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Indiana’s New Creationism Bill Leads the Way into an Abyss of Stupidity

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2012

**Update (2/4/12): It seems the inclusion of the “teach all views” amendment to SB89 was actually an attempt to sabotage the creationist bill, for the very reasons I have outlined below.  Read more at this link.

***********************************

There’s been a lot of news lately about a new creationism bill coming out of Indiana.  Yesterday (Jan. 31), according to the National Center for Science Education, it seems the Indiana Senate has passed the bill, and the Indiana House is also expected to pass the bill (my guess is that Gov. Mitch Daniels will also sign it into law).  If this idiotic bill becomes law then there is going to be a whole mess of trouble coming to Indiana; for the reasons why I say this, take a look at some details from the NCSE…

Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate

On January 31, 2012, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 in favor of Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 provided, “The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.” On January 30, 2012, however, it was amended in the Senate to provide instead, “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.” … [emphasis added]

Note the bolded text above.  That one line in the legislation is going to be the source of much mischief, and it is going to eventually cause really big headaches for the Indiana legislature. Unfortunately, in the meantime there are going to be a lot of kids in that state who are going to receive a more than substandard science education.  Allow me to elaborate:

1. The first thing to note within the bold text is that a requirement is to include religious explanations for the origins of life. Pardon me, but I thought we were supposed to be teaching science, not religion, in science classes.  If only there were a place to give religious views on these matters within the public schools… like in a comparative religion or philosophy class, perhaps?

So the way this bill is worded it actually requires the muddling of science and religion in the public school science classroom, which will only lead to much confusion on the part of students about what is and isn’t science.  The inevitable result will br a more scientifically illiterate populace in Indiana, one which isn’t prepared to compete in the 21st century.

But it gets worse…

2. Make note of the following text in bold above: “… include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.

Wow, talk about opening a BIG can of worms!  This phrasing, in my view, seeks to allow the creationists (most likely those of the young-earth fundamentalist Christian variety) to have their cake and eat it too.  They are going to use this phrasing as a kind of political cover for Christian YEC school board members, classroom teachers, and parent groups to put maximum pressure on local schools to favor their particular religious view of creationism to the exclusion on all others.  Here’s why I say this…

The purpose of that particular wording is to give the impression of being completely open-ended (the so-called “teach all views” argument), but note the key word: may.  That’s not a “shall” and that makes a huge difference.  By saying “may” instead of “shall”, the legislation gives free reign to the Christian YECs to include their views on creationism in public science classes (“It says we may do this…”) while coming up with a thinly veiled legal rationalization for excluding every other creationist view (“Sorry, we just don’t have the time to go into all of that now…” wink-wink).  By this dishonest sleight-of-hand, I suspect the Christian fundamentalists hope have the law pass constitutional muster since it doesn’t, on it’s face, appear to favor one religious group over another (and thus violate the separation of church and state).  Of course, how the law would actually be implemented is another story… wink-wink…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bill Filed to Repeal Louisiana’s Creationism Law

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2011

[**Update (4-21-11): 41 Nobel laureates are backing Zack’s effort! :) The laureates today sent a letter to Governor Jindal and members of the Louisiana legislature urging them to repeal the LSEA. The AP has the story: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Nobel-laureates-push-repeal-of-La-education-law-1347159.php ]

You may recall some time ago that I wrote a blog post about a grassroots campaign to repeal the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana which would give creationists cover to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools.  The driving force behind the repeal effort is a high school senior – Zack Kopplin – who has gotten so much attention that a bill has been introduced in the Louisiana state legislature to repeal the law!

We need more kids like Zack Kopplin – this kid is all kinds of awesome!

**Aside: read my previous post on this to learn why it is that this “academic freedom” language is quite troublesome for science & fact-based education.

Please take some time to get involved in this effort…

Check out Zack’s “Repeal Creationism” website

Look up the movement on Facebook and become a member

Here are more details on the latest developments of the repeal effort from the National Center for Science Education:

Senate Bill 70 (PDF), prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on April 15, 2011, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort is Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The repeal effort is endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators.

“Louisiana’s ‘job killing’ creationism law undermines our education system and drives science and technology based companies away from Louisiana,” Peterson said in a press release dated April 17, 2011, with Kopplin adding, “Louisiana public school students deserve to be taught accurate and evidence based science which will prepare them to take competitive jobs.” The press release pointedly asked further, “How many businesses will locate elsewhere because they want well trained scientists? How many researchers will take their talents elsewhere or never come to Louisiana because of this anti-science law?” …

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