Here at BA Central, I have my hands full trying to battle the Forces of Darkness: those who would spin, fold, and mutilate reality for their own gain. They may be motivated by greed, or power, or ignorance, or ideology, but the thing they all have in common is, they’re wrong. They come in many flavors: homeopaths, psychics, creationists, antivaxxers… and yes, sadly, far too many politicians.
And I can rail against them time and again, my arsenal filled with the facts from an entire Universe at my disposal, yet make hardly a dent in their armor.
Sometimes, though, a small dose of satire penetrates right through that shielding and pierces the very heart of antiscience. Thank you, The Daily Show, for fighting this good fight:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Weathering Fights – Science: What’s It Up To?|
To say I am not a fan of Rick Perry, Republican Presidential candidate, is to seriously underestimate my antipathy toward him. He is anti-science in almost every sense of the word, and his stance on nearly every issue on which I’ve heard him speak is the exact opposite of where I stand.
But then something like this comes along, and shows just how far outside of reality he is. In this video, a little boy asks him how old the Earth is, and Perry then gives an astonishing answer:
After equivocating about the age of the Earth, Perry — a man who, if elected President, will swear to uphold the U. S. Constitution — says, "In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools."
This is a jaw-dropping assertion. I find it difficult to interpret this as other than him saying he supports blatantly violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by teaching religion in public schools. Gawker does take a different tack saying, " Texas does not, in fact, teach creationism, or anything like it." But even if that’s true, it means Perry is — at the very least — woefully out of touch with his own state’s school system, and — at the worst, which is where I think we stand — he is unfamiliar with the very first amendment of the document upon which all the laws of the United States of America are based.
I could go on and on — though apropos of this it’s worth reminding you that Perry appointed creationists to be the head of the Texas State Board of Education three times in a row. It’s very clear that this man has no concern at all for science (like, say, global warming, about which the Washington Post strongly implies he’s a liar) or for doing and saying whatever it takes to push his religious agenda.
Every day, it seems, Perry says something similar to this, and it’s very early yet in the campaign process. Yet, incredibly, he’s leading in the Presidential candidate pool among likely Republican voters in the primary next year. We have a long, painful election journey ahead of us.
Tip o’ the Burgess Shale to Ken Plume.
– Update: reality wins for sure in Texas!
– Sorry Texas, you’re still doomed
– Texas creationist McLeroy spins the educational disaster he created
– Texas State Board of Education confirms irony is dead
– Michele Bachmann needs to check her ID
Last month, I wrote about the Texas State Board of Education debating the adoption of textbook supplements, some of which had creationist material. As I wrote then, those materials, after much argument, were rejected. Yay!
However, the story wasn’t quite done. One of the pro-science supplements was still being held up by a creationist on the Texas BoE, who obviously didn’t care for the way evolution was being portrayed… that is, accurately.
The good news is that as of last week, that final supplement has been approved! The creationist’s complaints about the supplement have been determined to have been "sufficiently addressed" by the publisher. In fact, the supplement now supports evolution even more strongly. I took a look at the complaints made and the publisher’s response (PDF): it’s actually a thing of beauty. Where the complaints were minor wording issues, the changes were made. When the creationists made more substantive complaints, talking about the fossil record or genetic differences between humans and chimps, the publisher either did not make changes to weaken the science, or did change the wording to make an even stronger case for evolution!
Fantastic! And this is an important distinction: it’s not just a win for science, it’s a defeat for those who would try to undermine it.
So, once again, I get to use a graphic I hope I can continue to use in the future:
Still… a gentle reminder of why this battle took so long and had to be fought so hard by scientists, educators, and parents who supported science: the head of the BoE for many years was Don McLeroy, a staunch creationist whose disdain for actual science and evidence-based reality was palpable (read through the links in the Related Posts section below, especially this one). And who appointed him to this position? Texas Governor and now Presidential candidate Rick Perry.
Note that in 2010, when McLeroy’s tenure was up, Perry considered another creationist for the position, eventually appointed a third creationist, and when her appointment was up he appointed a fourth creationist, Barbara Cargill. To head the State Board of Education.
Some great news out of the Lone Star State: the Texas State Board of Education unanimously rejected creationist supplements to textbooks, instead voting to endorse science-based ones.
These supplements are for students to use in classrooms in addition to their textbooks. A passel of creationist ones had been submitted for approval by the BoE back in April by a creationist special interest group, as well as materials based on science submitted by mainstream publishers. Last week, the BoE voted on which to use, and science won.
The links above go to the National Center for Science Education. They are a group that fought valiantly for the science-based materials, which is clearly why they won the day; they greatly outnumbered witnesses for creationism. Clearly, showing up is half the battle. At least. My congratulations to everyone at the NCSE for this victory.
Josh Rosenau, who writes the Thoughts from Kansas blog and was one of the people at the Texas hearings, has written about this debate in detail (including earlier posts here, and here) if you’re looking for more info from an insider’s viewpoint.
So, because of this, I am happy to create this new graphic:
I hope I have many, many more chances to use it in the future.
On Friday, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) — incredibly, a Presidential front-runner for the Republicans — said this:
I support intelligent design […] What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.*
Terrific. But then, in a sense, I agree. That is, when Intelligent Design proponents actually have any science, they should speak up. And if there were any reasonable doubt that would be fine too. But they don’t, and there isn’t.
And ID isn’t science, it’s religion. It was even ruled to be religion by a judge — a conservative Republican judge — so teaching it would be in violation of the Constitution that Representative Bachmann is sworn to uphold.
*Incidentally, this quote from her is in response to a question asking her to name Nobel Laureates who support Intelligent Design; she previously made the claim that many do. Note that in her answer quoted above she totally dodges the actual question; she never names a Nobel prize winner who supports ID. Actually, there are a couple who apparently do, but then no doubt some Nobel Prize winners are religious in one form or another… and many have believed in very dubious things. Having a Nobel is not inoculation against nonsense. Interestingly, having said that, I have seen no evidence that any Nobel Laureates in biology favor ID over evolution, however.
Anyway, I’m not a big proponent of "my expert is bigger than your expert"; that’s just a version of argument by authority. In the end, ID must be judged on its merits, and as has been shown countless times, it has none.
Some (kinda) good news: a bill designed to promote the teaching of creationism in Tennessee public schools has been put on hold until at least next year.
Earlier in April, the Tennessee House passed this bill, which basically says teachers can help students find weaknesses in scientific theories — and while that sounds legit on its surface, it’s actually very thinly veiled creationist rhetoric for attacking evolution (read the link above for more on this).
To be made into state law, the Tennessee Senate would have to pass the bill as well, but they decided to put it on hold. The thing is, it was tabled basically due to scheduling and not because the bill is antiscience, antireality, and potentially unconstitutional. I imagine when the Senate reconvenes at the next session it’ll pop right back up, as these creationist whack-a-mole bills do. After all, this is the same legislature that grossly mischaracterized a quote by Einstein to support creationism.
So science education in the Volunteer State is safe… for now. Therefore:
With the seeming onslaught of attacks on reality coming from all over the country, I hate to add to the bad news… but I will because the bad news shows just how silly antiscience legislators can be, and there’s also some good news to go along with it. So that’s nice. And I’ll end with an article that shows us why those of us in the reality-based community have such a hard time pushing back against nonsense.
A couple of years ago Louisiana passed a law designed to destroy good science, allowing teachers to use creationist materials in the classroom, despite this being a clear violation of the US Constitution. So why is this good news? Because a bill has been filed to repeal that awful law. Even cooler, this bill came about because of efforts by a high school student in Baton Rouge named Zack Kopplin, who has been working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science.
In high school I was busy goofing off with my friends. Zack Kopplin is busy taking on the entire Louisiana State legislature.
Good on him! And while it’s still in the early stages of this fight, it shows that grassroots efforts can get things done.
A bill clearly intended to promote and protect antiscience passed in the Tennessee State House yesterday, by a vote of 70 – 23.
Let that sink in. 70 to 23.
The bill is another in a long series of creationist (and broadened into other antiscience topics) wedge bills designed to weaken the teaching of real science in public schools. The summary makes that clear:
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.
On the surface this sounds like legit science; after all, science thrives on understanding the weaknesses in ideas so they can be improved. But if you read that last part, conservative antiscience rears its head: the two specific cases mentioned are evolution and global warming.
That doesn’t sound like real science is the motivation behind this bill — and reading quotes by its supporters confirms it. What this really means is that if a teacher wants to declare the Earth is 6000 years old (or make some other clearly wrong ideologically-based claim), that teacher cannot be stopped.
Similar antiscience bills (usually given the Orwellian title of "academic freedom bills") have been created in Oklahoma (though defeated, barely), Mississippi, and in Louisiana, where creationist and part-time exorcist Governor Bobby Jindal signed it into state law.
So this bill passed the House, but it still has to pass the Tennessee Senate. They have their own version up for vote targeted for April 20. If you live in Tennessee, I urge you to go to the NCSE website, read up on this, and then write your local representative.
Because if this bill passes into law, then…
You know what happens when you cut education in your state? Businesses may start to leave.
Basically, Arizona is looking to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to K-12 and University education in order to save money — despite the incredibly obvious problem that cutting that money means gutting your future work force and depriving them of the education they need to get the high-paying jobs. This did not escape Craig Barrett, a former Intel Chief Executive, who serves on the Arizona Commerce Authority. In that article it’s clear he thinks cutting education makes Arizona a less desirable place to set up business.
I’ve often wondered if biomedical research companies would start leaving states that promote creationism over evolution teaching. Now I have to wonder if I was being too narrow in my thinking. I would be interesting indeed if big businesses start telling state legislators that if they cut education funding, businesses will have to look elsewhere for their future employees. Hopefully Arizona will get that message… one that many other states (like oh, say, Tennessee) need to hear as well.
I think it’s clear that a lot of legislators don’t care all that much about education when it comes to actually teaching the kids science (aka reality). Maybe a poke at their bottom line will stir them to do the right thing, even if not for the most important reason.
Tip o’ the brow ridge to a) Fark, and 2) Robert Luhn of NCSE for the Tennessee article. In fact, you should use their RSS feed to keep up with their tireless fight against antireality!
A few weeks ago I wrote about Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, who had submitted a bill to the state legislature that would significantly weaken science education in that state. Basically, the bill would bar teachers from grading students down on science tests because of that student’s particular belief. In other words, the student could say the Earth is 6000 years old, and the teacher couldn’t fail them.
Well, some good news: that bill failed to pass the vote. The bad news? It only failed 7-9. Nearly half the people in the state’s Education Committee felt it would be OK (haha) for students to fail to learn actual science, and not be penalized for it.
And Kern, the bill’s sponsor, will no doubt not take this defeat lying down. She has a long, long history of blatant anti-reality leanings — she once compared being gay to having cancer — and I’m sure she’ll be proposing some new version of nonsense soon.
But there’s some hope. Fred Jordan, another member of the Education Committee, said,
"We’re opening the door for teachers to kind of say whatever they want to say, whether it’s religious issues, creation, evolution. I really feel like we’re opening the door to where any and everything can come in."
That is precisely right. So given that statement by Jordan, I’ll leave you with this:
Tip o’ the knuckle-whacking ruler to Mandy Qualls.