Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tennessee “Academic Freedom” Bill Returns

One of my favorite Murphyisms is “No one can kill a bad idea.” True to form, the NCSE reports on Tennessee Senate Bill 893, which is the counterpart to House Bill 368, which passed in April of last year 70-28 is scheduled for a vote tomorrow. Here is the text of the bill:
This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming. This bill also requires such persons and entities to endeavor to:
(1) Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues; and
(2) Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.

“...such as evolution and global warming.” Why single those two out for special treatment. Surely there must be weaknesses in other scientific theories, such as physics. Why isn't that mentioned? It isn't mentioned because the writers of these bills have no interest in anything except evolution and global warming. It is not even clear that there is much interest in global warming, but evolution they want gone.

What this bill does is give cover to someone who disagrees with the evidence of evolution to institute what they think should be taught without any accountability for doing so. We have already seen how this has played out when young earth creationism was almost implemented in Louisiana, in Livingston Parish after the passage of a similar “academic freedom” bill, which has been subject to almost continuous efforts to have it repealed by science groups since its passage and seen the state subject to almost universal condemnation by science groups.

To this end, several groups have come out against the Tennessee bill and have written signed letters to that effect. The letter from the Tennessee Members of the National Academy of Sciences reads, in part:
These bills misdescribe evolution as scientifically controversial. As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm -- along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences -- that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is
overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals ("creation science" and "intelligent design") and there is no scientific evidence against it.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences also wrote a letter to Governor Haslam, which reads in part:
It is important to note that there is no scientific controversy about the legitimacy of evolution or global climate change. These scientific concepts have repeatedly been tested and grown stronger with each evaluation. Any controversy around these concepts is political, not scientific. Indeed, evolution is a core principle that helps to explain biology and informs the development of biology-based products and services, including pharmaceuticals, food, and biotechnology.
They are absolutely correct. The controversy is manufactured. The problem is that state legislators do not know this and, as importantly, the vast majority of their constituents do not, either. Such is the state of modern scientific education. Evolution is settled science and has been so for almost a hundred years. There is no controversy. Further, as we have seen from the genetic revolution, the evidence for biological evolution just gets better every day.

These bills are irresponsible and badly conceived. It is almost certain that they will lead to the teaching of young earth creationism in some school districts which will, in turn, likely lead to more court cases like the one in Dover, Pennsylvania. That is something that neither the students nor the state can afford.

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