Friday, December 18, 2015

Nick Matzke Tracks the Rise of Anti-Evolution Bills in the United States

The Los Angeles Times is running a story about Nick Matzke's efforts to chronicle the rise of anti-evolution bills in the United States.  The catch: he is using evolutionary principles of descent with modification to show where they came from and how they "adaptively radiated."  Karen Kaplan writes:
The forces opposed to teaching evolution in U.S. public schools just got a new reason to resent the bedrock scientific theory: A researcher has used the principles of evolutionary biology to show that laws ostensibly aimed at improving science education are firmly rooted in efforts to make classrooms safe for creationism.

The analysis of dozens of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country reveals how a single innovation from a small Louisiana parish (population 156,325) was incorporated into 32 subsequent bills through a process the study describes as “descent with modification.” Two of those 32 bills became law and now “negatively affect science education” for students throughout Louisiana (population 4.7 million) and Tennessee (population 6.5 million)
The article is a phylogenetic masterpiece, showing stem and crown groups, based on the wording of different bills in different states.  There is one takeaway that is obvious, based on looking at the graph.  Bills have been forwarded in the following states:
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
In other words, “all over the map.”  Only five of those are southern states, belying the notion that the Bible Belt is the only place you find this kind of legislation. His conclusion:
The creationist antievolution movement has reinvented itself not once but twice in the decade since Kitzmiller. The first guise was “academic freedom,” but after the success of the Louisiana SEA [Science Education Act], AFA [Academic Freedom Act] proposals were almost completely replaced with SEAs. The inclusion of global warming in the SEAs indicates that societal debate over evolution education has the potential to leak into other societal debates where high-quality science education is inconvenient to certain established interests. The passage of SEAs in Louisiana and Tennessee have spread language devised in Ouachita Parish, population ~150,000, to negatively affect science education in two states with ~11.2 million people. Additional policies on the books in other states (table S1) indicate that science educators have substantial work to do to ensure that science classes teach the best science available, rather than false critiques and controversies promoted by creationists. Advocates for science education should not be dissuaded by the strategic vagueness of SEAs: The creationist origins of modern antievolution strategies are clear (table S1), and at least 63 of 65 antievolution bills considered here can be tied directly to creationism through statements in the legislation or by sponsors (SM).
The article is free to non-subscribers (or at least it is at the present moment) and, despite being somewhat technical, is a good snapshot of how these bills have proliferated.

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