The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘NCSE’

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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NCSE Now Taking on Climate Change Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2012

There was some very welcome news this week on the science education front: the National Center for Science Education, long associated with the strong defense of evolutionary science curricula in public schools, is now joining the cause of defending climate science from the deniers.  This statement from the NCSE illustrates why they’ve taken this important step…

Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help. …

In true NCSE fashion, they provide a page of resources for teachers, scientists, parents, and concerned citizens to help with the promotion of good climate science education while also battling back against the climate science deniers.  Check it out and pass it along…

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The National Center for Science Education: A Little Truth Goes a Long Way

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2011

I just wanted to take a few minutes to share with you an excellent post over at the Skepticblog by Donald Prothero titled “A Visit to the Creationists’ ‘Mordor'”.  In it, Donald speaks about the National Center for Science Education, an organization very near and dear to my heart as a skeptic and science teacher.  The NCSE is the clearinghouse in the United States that tracks all things creationist, and it serves an absolutely vital purpose in countering attempts to force creationism into public schools under the guise of science.  Take a few minutes to read Donald’s article, and consider joining the NCSE today

A visit to the creationists’ “Mordor”

… I decided to pay a visit to another cultural landmark: the headquarters of the National Center for Science Education. This is the chief non-profit organization in the U.S. that helps local school boards and scientists and teachers when creationism threatens their classrooms. If you read the creationists’ literature and the posts on the ID creationist Discovery Institute’s (DI) website, the NCSE is this monstrous organization which exerts mind-control over every scientist in the country, and forces them to robotically chant “I accept evolution.” According to the creationists, the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science. In Ben Stein’s crappy little creationist propaganda film Expelled,Ben pays a visit to the gleaming  headquarters of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which occupies a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff. Over and over again the DI staffers complain about how they scientific establishment is against them, and how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do.

So it’s surprising to actually visit the headquarters of the NCSE and get an abrupt reality check. This bête noire of creationism occupies a small, rundown, poorly ventilated commercial space in a rough part of Oakland, surrounded by fundamentalist churches. Their tiny staff is paid a pittance compared to most academic or business salaries, and they occupy cramped cubicles cluttered with piles of work. About the only way you could tell it was not any other kind of typical non-profit organization was the decoration: creationist and evolutionary posters and “timelines of creation”, casts of famous hominid fossils and prehistoric animal models,  dolls and posters and bobble-heads of Charles Darwin, clever signs from many different school board protests, and over the staff calendar and status board, “You  are not in Kansas any more.” …

And here are Donald’s thoughts on how a little bit of truth really can go a long way:

… Despite the polls showing that about 40% of Americans agree with the major tenets of creationism, and the fact that there are many creationist organizations which are larger and more powerful, the NCSE has two key weapons: the law and reality. Fundamentalist ministers may be able to bamboozle their flocks with lies about evolution, but in the marketplace of scientific ideas, there is no longer any doubt that evolution is the way the world actually works.  Creationists may try to gussy up their ideas as “intelligent design” or hide behind the “teach the controversy” tactic, but the myths of illiterate Bronze Age shepherds are still a narrow religious dogma believed by only a minority of Americans. And that’s the ultimate line of defense: no matter what a local school board or state government does, if they leave ANY trail of their religious motivations for their acts (which is why the NCSE archive is crucial for detecting this), they run up against the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and ultimately the law is (at least in this case) on the side of scientific reality.

But it’s a never-ending struggle in this country. Creationists may not do any real science, or never learn any new arguments, or never concede that their old arguments were long ago debunked, but they are dedicated and well-funded and never give up. So the job of the NCSE never seems to end, and these hardworking underpaid staffers will never see  an empty “hot board map” showing no towns with current infections. Back in 1982, I was one of the original members of the Committees of Correspondence, Stanley Weinberg’s first effort to combat creationism in the Midwest, which evolved into the current NCSE. I’ve debated Gish and Meyer and Sternberg and a bunch of guys from ICR and DI, and written a book debunking their ideas about evolution and fossils. So I do what I can, but I don’t have the patience or time to do the job that the NCSE does. For that, I’m very grateful that they are there, fighting the good fight in the trenches, and manning the barricades that few scientists or teachers have time to deal with. We members of the skeptical and scientific community should all honor them for doing an essential job in trying to preserve the scientific integrity of our educational system, and fighting back against the untiring never-ending hordes of the forces of darkness, all while showing the patience of Job. And if you’re not already a member of NCSE, you should join, because they are doing this important job for all of us!

 

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Texas State Board of Education Actually Votes IN FAVOR of Evolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 23, 2011

In a bit of good news regarding the ongoing Texas evolution/creationism textbook battles, the pro-science side scored a major victory today!  You may recall that in recent years there has been a big conflict in Texas regarding the issue of material presenting (or not presenting) evolution in state textbooks.  This is also a national issue because the market for textbooks in Texas is so large that many publishers write their textbooks to cater to that market, and the rest of the country just has to follow along.  Well, due to the downturn in the economy, Texas didn’t purchase new textbooks (which would have likely been influenced by creationist nonsense, due to the idiocy of the previous BoEd); instead, the current BoEd has decided to purchase supplemental materials for Texas schools.  And here’s where the cause for celebration comes in: the BoEd voted today unanimously (8-0) to accept scientifically-accurate supplements!

The National Center for Science Education reports more details 🙂

Victory for evolution in Texas

Pop the champagne corks. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution. In an 8-0 vote, the board today approved scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers–and did not approve the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

“This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers,” said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements–recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators–without amendments, and to reject International Database’s creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes. …

This just goes to show you that if we in the skeptical and pro-science community are persistent, unite, and organize, then we can affect real, substantive change!  Who would have thought – with all of the lunacy coming out of Texas regarding evolution and education in the last few years – that we would have seen such a resounding victory (not one board member voted against these scientifically-sound supplements – NOT ONE!) on this subject?

Let’s not rest on our laurels, folks.  You can bet the creationists and their religiously fundamentalist allies won’t rest; they’ll be looking for their next opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools as soon as we aren’t watching.  So stay vigilant!

 

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Evolution Bumper Sticker Contest!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 7, 2011

I just received the following note from the National Center for Science Education, and I view this as a perfect chance to promote science in a fun and meaningful manner.  Read on 🙂

Two examples of previous NCSE bumper stickers

Announcing NCSE’s Bumper Sticker Contest!

Our classic bumper stickers…

“Evolutionists do it with increasing complexity”

“Honk! If you understand punctuated equilibria”

…will remain in the lineup. But it’s time to bring some new players onto the field.

This is your chance to speak loud, speak proud for evolution, by crafting a killer slogan that could end up on the tail end of thousands of cars. The aim of this mobile message: to spread the good word about evolution and evolution education. Your bumper sticker can be funny, profound, fierce—whatever, as long as it’s good.

Send your entries to bumpersticker@ncse.com

Rules & regulations:

  • Be original. Run a Google search and make sure your slogan hasn’t been used or overused.
  • Size constraints. Your basic bumper sticker is about 2.75″ high and about 15″ wide. That’s enough room for up to two lines of text, approximately 22 characters across (including spaces) per line. Remember: shorter is better.
  • Submit as many bumper sticker slogans as you like. Winning slogans become the property of NCSE for all time. By emailing your entry to bumpersticker@ncse.com, you warrant that the slogan is your own work, to which you own the copyright, except for any phrases that fall within the scope of fair use, the public domain, or a Creative Commons license.
  • Entries must include your full name and postal address.
  • Winners will receive one of these prizes: 1) a bumper fun variety pack of evolution books, 2) NCSE’s famed “ooze” T-shirt, 3) a Darwin bobblehead, 4) the 2009 UK Charles Darwin £2 Brilliant Uncirculated 200th Anniversary Coin, 5) a copy of Greta Schiller’s new documentary, “No Dinosaurs in Heaven”, OR 6) an 11×16″ Darwin poster suitable for framing.
  • Submissions will be accepted between July 5, 2011 and September 5, 2011

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Creationism Creeping into Mainstream Geology?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2011

I just received the following update from the National Center for Science Education, which states the newest tactic that creationists are attempting to employ in pushing their ideas as “science”.  The latest tactic is to have some creationists attend professional geology conferences and sometimes host a field trip afterward where they use cleverly disguised creationist language (meant to hide their overtly non-scientific notions) and then “Voila!” declare after the fact that they “presented creationist ideas at a geology conference.”

Of course, this is just plain silly, because they aren’t really presenting creationist ideas at these conferences; in fact, they are actively trying to conceal their creationist ideas except by making the most subtle references (so subtle that most people miss the references entirely!)  Had they actually presented creationist ideas, such as the so-called “evidence” for Flood Geology, they would have likely been laughed out of the room because – as this link to Talk Origins shows – mainstream geological science has found creationism to be wholly flawed.

The NCSE elaborates on this latest trick up the sleeves of the creationists…

“Creationism creeps into mainstream geology,” a report by NCSE’s Steven Newton, is the cover story of the July 2011 issue of Earth, published by the American Geological Institute. In his article, Newton discusses a geological field trip conducted during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in 2010. He explains, “it was an example of a new strategy from creationists to interject their ideas into mainstream geology: They lead field trips and present posters and talks at scientific meetings. They also avoid overtly stating anything truly contrary to mainstream science. But when the meeting is over, the creationist participants go home and proudly proclaim that mainstream science has accepted their ideas.”

“During the trip,” Newton relates, “the leaders did not advertise their creationist views, but rather presented their credentials in a way that minimized their creationist affiliations,” adding, “the field trip leaders were careful not to make overt creationist references. If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren’t familiar with the field trip leaders, it’s quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community.” But clues — such as referring to Cambrian outcrops as rocks that are “called Cambrian” and hinting at the continental extent of a “massive marine trangression” — were abundant “if you knew what to listen for.”

I particularly like the last section of the article, for it points out how open and accommodating scientific conferences can be.  Even though mainstream scientists may ridicule and roll their eyes, believe it or not, the argument is made that creationists should actually be welcomed to come present their ideas openly at these meetings.  Just because they are heard, however, doesn’t mean they should expect to be taken seriously…

Creationists love to boast about their participation in scientific meetings, Newton observed, even when it consists only of conducting field trips or presenting unrefereed papers and posters. But he suggested that it would be counterproductive for societies such as the GSA to exclude creationists from participation in their meetings, however, arguing, “We let a thousand flowers bloom, weeds and all. The best ideas from the meetings are further subjected to peer review in journals, which is where theories are built; conferences are more freeform. Geology will not suffer if creationists participate in our meetings, but the public relations damage from the misperception that we are systematically hostile to any view — especially religious views — is real.”

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Creationists Try New Tactic in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2011

Well, you have to give creationists credit for one thing: they are incredibly persistent.  Despite the fact that in Texas the creationists were defeated at the election polls, and they were also defeated on the question of textbook selection, they still keep trying to come up with ways to minimize and/or erase good science education in Texas public schools.

Here’s the latest twist: when the creationists fail to get what they call “supplemental materials” (read: creationist literature & books) into the curriculum via textbooks and whatnot, they try exactly the same thing using a different medium – the Internet.

The National Center for Science Education has more details – read on:

Creationist materials submitted in Texas

Materials “laced with creationist arguments” have been submitted for approval by the Texas state board of education, charged the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education in a joint press release issued on April 25, 2011. As the press release explains, “The Texas Education Agency has made available on its website science instructional materials — all of them web-based — that publishers and other vendors have proposed for high school biology classes across the state. Materials approved by the state board in July could be in Texas science classrooms for nearly a decade. An initial review by NCSE and TFN has revealed that materials from at least one vendor, … International Databases Inc., promote anti-evolution arguments made by proponents of intelligent design/creationism.” …

Folks, be on the lookout.  As I said, these creationists are persistent, and if you let your guard down for one second, they’ll take advantage of your schools at either the local or state level.

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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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