Miss USA certainly doesn't set education policy, but the state pageant winners – especially the one wearing the Miss USA crown – have broad reach into households that may not read Scientific American, but who do vote for school boards and press their children's teachers on the coverage of evolution. Knowing how these role models think about evolution is important not just because these women have a bully pulpit, but because they are chosen to represent their states, and it is rare that we can see a national cross-section of how the non-scientist public views evolution (even as self-selected heavily vetted a cross-section as this group of pageant-winners). Indeed, understanding how Miss USA contestants talk about evolution can help us better understand how politicians talk about evolution, and how we can better promote science education.In retrospect, he is probably right in some ways about the pageant giving us a cross-section of views on evolution. It certainly reinforced how badly evolution education really is in this country, a point also noted by Dr. Rosenau.He also writes:
Like the Miss USA contestants, most politicians (excluding those on local school boards or state boards of education) will have little opportunity to influence how evolution is taught. In answering questions about evolution during campaigns, their goal is rarely to indicate a clear conception of how science works and why evolution is central to modern biology. Instead, they must alienate as few constituents as possible, keep their base happy, and avoid an embarrassing misstep that could draw harmful national mockery.I am not so sure this is true. It may be true on the democrat side but, increasingly, it is not true on the Republican side, as the recent examples of Michelle Bachmann's endorsement of Intelligent Design and the spate of “academic freedom” bills that have been pushed by politicians in Louisiana, Indiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee to name just a few. In all, there are eleven states that currently or have recently had academic freedom legislation promoted. Louisiana drew nationalwide condemnation from science organizations for its LSEA last year and it didn't phase them. A recent attempt to have the bill repealed failed by a 5-to-1 margin. I think these politicians are trying to keep their constituents happy. The problem is that many of their constituents are young earth creationists. The problem is not that they don't have much influence. The problem is that they have too much.