Friday, January 15, 2010

The Nexus of Politics and Science

Politics has reared its ugly head in the Calfornia Science Center case in which it is alleged that they cancelled the film Darwin's Dilemma without just cause, resulting in a First Amendment violation. The American Freedom Alliance and the Discovery Institute have brought suits against the California Science Center. Now we have come to learn that the house minority leader in California has launched a probe into the violation. Dennis Hollingsworth. He writes:
I am contacting you this date in order to inquire into a disturbing situation that occurred last fall at the California Science Center ("CSC"), wherein it appears that CSC engaged in viewpoint and content based censorship of a scheduled scientific exhibition (the "event"). This is especially disturbing in light of CSC's mission statement
"The Science Center's Mission: We aspire to stimulate curiosity and inspire science learning in everyone by creating fun, memorable experiences, because we value science as an indispensable tool for understanding our world, accessibility and inclusiveness, and enriching people's lives."
The Discovery Institute has a posting about this development in which they say
“The constitutional implications of [the Science Center’s] actions are concerning” wrote Senator Hollingsworth in the letter, citing various court decisions protecting private parties against viewpoint discrimination. “It is fundamental that when a governmental entity or sub-unit (such as CSC) opens its facilities as a public forum, it is not constitutionally permissible to censor speech based on viewpoint or content.”
The film in question has been reviewed by John Humphreys and has been found to be lacking in scientific accuracy and integrity. His final paragraph reads:
To draw this novel length critique of Darwin’s Dilemma to a close, let me re-emphasize that although lacking historical accuracy, scientific legitimacy and professional integrity the film’s production value and underlying truth-manipulating strategy make it a dangerous opponent to education and reason. The people behind the film are dishonest, unethical and immoral; they lie, doctor evidence and misrepresent science as a whole. In the process of attacking evolution, they falsify history and tear down the sciences of geology and chemistry.

Though they are fundamentalists and propagandists, they are also cunning and well funded… Take caution.
It is not clear on what the suit by the AFA is based. I have no practical experience in law but what I was able to find of the California code that covers such dealings reads:
Civil Code section 51.5 prohibits business establishments from discriminating against, boycotting, blacklisting, or refusing to buy from, sell to, contract with, or trade with a person because of the actual or perceived race, creed, religion, color, national origin, sex, or disability of that person; the person's partners, members, stockholders, directors, officers, managers, superintendents, agents, employees, business associates, suppliers, or customers; or because of that person's association with a person who has or is perceived to have any of these characteristics. A person, as defined in this section, is a person, firm, association, organization, partnership, business trust, corporation, limited liability company, or company.
What the California Science Center is alleging is breach of contract, but even if that doesn't hold up (and there is no reason to think it won't), refusal based on ideological grounds is not covered in the building code. If the film is a piece of junk, the California Science Center is not obligated to show it. It is also not in the best interest of the Discovery Institute to challenge based on religion because the focus on the film is purported to be scientific, a position that has been disputed. The DI is focusing solely on the violation of free speech rights while ignoring the contract breach but it seems to me that even the First Amendment issue is on shaky ground as well. If anyone with law experience has a thought on this or if I am way off base here, please ring in.

It is concerning that the California state legislature can find the time, amid a 23 billion dollar shortfall in their budget to address this kind of concern. Senator Hollingsworth is a Republican and can now be added to the growing list of political figures who see it as their duty to meddle in science education. His statement in the letter that he is addressing "viewpoints that challenge Darwinism" indicates that he has limited understanding of the actual science behind evolution, or he would not use that pejorative. This is a disturbing trend in politics.

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