…It is according to the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan Leshner, in a released statement:
“It is alarming that the Louisiana Senate and a key House committee have passed a bill that would undermine science instruction in public schools, despite strong opposition from scientists, teachers and others,” wrote Leshner, who also is executive publisher of the journal Science. “If it becomes law, the bill would unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about the fundamental nature of science and unprepared to excel in a work force that increasingly requires science-related skills.”
What is the object of this alarmist statement? It is the Louisiana Science Education Act, mentioned in part in my previous entry. I have since come across the more complete text of the Louisiana Science Education Act. Here are the key sections (minus the lawmaker speak):
B.(1) The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
(2) Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.
C. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
D. This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
Is there anything in the wording of this bill that restricts or hinders scientific inquiry and learning? I certainly don’t see why educators would consider this to be anything but a good thing, except for those who consider this a subversive plot to eventually eliminate the teaching of evolution from schools and replace it with religion. Note that it is these opponents who always focus the attention on evolution, even though the bill itself specifically refrains from being restricted only to the teaching of evolution. The great fear of those like Barbara Forrest is that students might hear of any knowledge, either real or implied, that evolution is scientifically controversial.
Seems to me that proper scientific inquiry is about going where the evidence leads, not trying to silence those who may bring evidence contrary to your position. John G. West, author of Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, wrote an article entitled “Louisiana Confounds the Science Thought Police” for the National Review. He states:
Students need to know about the current scientific consensus on a given issue, but they also need to be able to evaluate critically the evidence on which that consensus rests. They need to learn about competing interpretations of the evidence offered by scientists, as well as anomalies that aren’t well explained by existing theories.
It was the very slight anomaly between the observed orbit of Mars and the previous assumption that planets traveled in circular orbits that compelled Kepler to scrap all earlier models and eventually conclude that planets traveled in ellipses. Kepler described how important this tiny difference between observation and theory was to his new discovery:
For, if I had believed that we could ignore these eight minutes, I would have patched up my hypothesis accordingly. But since it was not permissible to ignore them, those eight minutes point the road to a complete reformation of astronomy: they have become the building material for a large part of this work.
Where would we be today if Kepler had chosen to stick with the “proven” theory and not followed through with analyzing the discrepancy? What if he had listened to those who told him that he could not question the circular orbit of planets?
It is through open and critical discussion of the evidence that scientific theories are affirmed or falsified. And yet the agenda of those who oppose the Louisiana Science Education Act seems to be the stifling within the classroom of this very process of scientific inquiry and the acquisition of critical thinking skills. Who is really leading the assault on scientific integrity?