Saturday, July 12, 2008

Heresy! “Scientific” Orthodoxy Allowed to be Challenged in Louisiana

From National Review online:
To the chagrin of the science thought police, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law an act to protect teachers who want to encourage critical thinking about hot-button science issues such as global warming, human cloning, and yes, evolution and the origin of life.

Opponents allege that the Louisiana Science Education Act is “anti-science.” In reality, the opposition’s efforts to silence anyone who disagrees with them is the true affront to scientific inquiry.

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.

Yet in many schools today, instruction about controversial scientific issues is closer to propaganda than education. Teaching about global warming is about as nuanced as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Discussions about human sexuality recycle the junk science of biologist Alfred Kinsey and other ideologically driven researchers. And lessons about evolution present a caricature of modern evolutionary theory that papers over problems and fails to distinguish between fact and speculation. In these areas, the “scientific” view is increasingly offered to students as a neat package of dogmatic assertions that just happens to parallel the political and cultural agenda of the Left.

Real science, however, is a lot more messy — and interesting — than a set of ideological talking points. Most conservatives recognize this truth already when it comes to global warming. They know that whatever consensus exists among scientists about global warming, legitimate questions remain about its future impact on the environment, its various causes, and the best policies to combat it. They realize that efforts to suppress conflicting evidence and dissenting interpretations related to global warming actually compromise the cause of good science education rather than promote it.

The effort to suppress dissenting views on global warming is a part of a broader campaign to demonize any questioning of the “consensus” view on a whole range of controversial scientific issues — from embryonic stem-cell research to Darwinian evolution — and to brand such interest in healthy debate as a “war on science.”

The Louisiana Science Education Act offers such teachers a modest measure of protection. Under the law, school districts may permit teachers to “use supplementary textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” The act is not a license for teachers to do anything they want. Instruction must be “objective,” inappropriate materials may be vetoed by the state board of education, and the law explicitly prohibits teaching religion in the name of science, stating that its provisions “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine.”

The law was so carefully framed that even the head of the Louisiana ACLU has had to concede that it is constitutional as written.
Of course, this bill only allows balanced treatment of “hot button” scientific issues. It doesn’t require it, and it should -- with the unfortunate proviso that teachers who want to present one-sided indoctrination will do so, regardless of any state mandate.

(My students tell me that teaching of abstinence was required in their high-school sex education classes, but it was a “joke” since liberal teachers sneered at the idea that teens should abstain from sex.)

The author goes on:
Second, the idea that the current scientific consensus on any topic deserves slavish deference betrays stunning ignorance of the history of science. Time and again, scientists have shown themselves just as capable of being blinded by fanaticism, prejudice, and error as anyone else. Perhaps the most egregious example in American history was the eugenics movement, the ill-considered crusade to breed better human beings.

During the first decades of the 20th century, the nation’s leading biologists at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford, as well by members of America’s leading scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Museum of Natural History, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science were all devoted eugenicists. By the time the crusade had run its course, some 60,000 Americans had been sterilized against their will in an effort to keep us from sinning against Darwin’s law of natural selection, which Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin dubbed “the great law of evolution and progress.”

Today, science is typically portrayed as self-correcting, but it took decades for most evolutionary biologists to disassociate themselves from the junk science of eugenics. For years, the most consistent critics of eugenics were traditionalist Roman Catholics, who were denounced by scientists for letting their religion stand in the way of scientific progress. The implication was that religious people had no right to speak out on public issues involving science.
Of course, the proponents of scientific orthodoxy turn suddenly open-minded about heterodox ideas that serve their interests, or come down on their side of the Culture Wars.

Economic science condemns the minimum wage as forcefully as biology affirms evolution. But nobody would think of questioning a teacher who presented arguments in favor of the minimum wage.

Conspiracy theories thrive among high school teachers. These range from the entirely unsupported notion that the Oil Companies are conspiring to fix prices, to bizarre conspiracy theories about 9/11, to the more popular (but disreputable in the history profession) theory that a conspiracy killed John Kennedy.

So liberals are perfectly tolerant of dissenting and heterodox opinions -- except where they run afoul of their anti-religious biases (being critical of evolution) or their interests (global warming).

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Blogger PaulNoonan said...

first of all, evolution is ture and ID is a non-scientific trojan horse used to try to unconsitutionally insert science into public school science curriculums. But don't take my word for it, just listen to National Review curmugeon John Derbyshire:

Whether or not the law as signed is unconstitutional per se, I do not know. I do know, though — as the creationist Discovery Institute that helped promote the Act also surely knows — that the Act will encourage Louisiana local school boards to unconstitutional behavior. That's what it's meant to do.

Some local school board will take the Act as a permit to bring religious instruction into their science classes. That will irk some parents. Those parents will sue. There will be a noisy and expensive federal lawsuit, possibly followed by further noisy and expensive appeals. The school board will inevitably lose. The property owners of that school district will take the financial hit.

Where will the Discovery Institute be when these legal expenses come due? Just where they were in the Dover case — nowhere! What, you were thinking that those bold warriors for truth at the Discovery Institute will help to fund the defense in these no-hope lawsuits? Ha ha ha ha ha!

Helping to defend creationist school boards in federal courts is not the Discovery Institute's game. Their game is to (a) make money from those spurious "textbooks" they put out, and (b) keep creationism in the news so that they don't run out of lecture gigs and wealthy funders. So far as those legal bills are concerned, Discovery Institute policy is: Let the dumb rubes fund their own stupid lawsuits.

Or, as the Discovery Institute's John West put it in an interview with a New Orleans news service:

"This bill is not a license to propagandize against something they don't like in science," West said. "Someone who uses materials to inject religion into the classroom is not only violating the Constitution, they are violating the bill."
See, the Discovery Instutute does not want any Louisiana school boards bringing religious instruction into science lessons. Heaven forbid! They would never encourage that. Absolutely not! Why, that would be wrong.

All they do is encourage state legislators to pass, and clueless governors to sign, laws that tempt local boards to unconstitutional behavior. The sucker school boards are then on their own, stuck with spending their taxpayers' dollars on the defense of hopeless lawsuits. But, you know, the Discovery Institute had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nothing! Not a thing! All they did was offer some mild support to a perfectly harmless bill. Heck, they didn't even lobby the Governor. From that same news story:

At the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes intelligent design and backed the new education act, senior fellow John West said he and his colleagues did not directly lobby Jindal.
The creationists have pulled off their little stunt once again, and Bobby Jindal has been their patsy. I know there is a pro-Jindal factor among my colleagues here on The Corner, and I'm not stepping on toes for the fun of it. I must say, though, I can't see voting into national office a guy who is duped as easily as this into acting against his voters' interests. I'd prefer that my President or Vice President not be such an easy mark for a gang of sleazy confidence tricksters.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty happy to have differences of scientific opinion presented in science classrooms. Heck, there's a lot of interesting and fecund debate between graduated evolution and punctuated evolution.

But, you know, for something to be explored in science classes, it should be science. DI fails here. It is not falsifiable.

Science cannot prove nor disprove god. Get over it.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Nicea said...

I believe Mr. Derbyshire is spot on and it sounds like you may have been duped by The Discovery Institute. Your article could easily have been written by them. The people of Louisiana stand to lose from this bill as it will suppress economic development and further weaken Louisiana's reputation. Not to mention the many constitutional violations set to take place. This is nothing but bad news and not needed. This bill was for the Christians only.

5:08 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

It's interesting to see what the three liberals who have already posted comments are saying.

Liberalism used to be about divese views and open debate.

Now, it's about enforcing an orthodoxy.

I personally have no problem with evolution, although I also believe in Intelligent Design.

But I don't see why either -- or any other theory -- should be the state enforced orthodoxy.

What are you folks afraid of?

Perhaps that, in a free market of ideas, people will not come to the conclusion you wish them too?

5:26 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Science cannot prove nor disprove god. Get over it.

So what?

5:26 PM  
Blogger PaulNoonan said...

It's interesting to see what the three liberals who have already posted comments are saying.

I am a libertarian.

Liberalism used to be about divese views and open debate.

Now, it's about enforcing an orthodoxy.

Well, that's certainly true of Milton Friedman style classical liberalism. I'm pretty much like that. I'm against basically all "Orthodoxies."

I personally have no problem with evolution, although I also believe in Intelligent Design.

This sentence makes little sense, as least using the standard definition of intelligent design. If you believe that God set up the rules, or designed evolution, fine. Typical ID deals in pseduoscientific principles like "irreducible complexity," claiming that God is necessary for complex organic machines to exist. Evolution explains complex evolution without resorting to the supernatural. This is simply not a scientific theory.

But I don't see why either -- or any other theory -- should be the state enforced orthodoxy.

Alternative theories are allowed, but to be in a science class they have to be scientific in nature. ID is based on religion, and as you well know, public schools are prohibited by the constitution from advocating for particular religions. Those pesky cdesign proponentsists always trying to sneak their religion where it doesn't belong.

What are you folks afraid of?

I just don't want my children to learn a bunch of garbage in science class when they could be learing about falsifiabilty and the scientific method.

Perhaps that, in a free market of ideas, people will not come to the conclusion you wish them too?

Their teachers are supposed to teach them. If their teachers teach them nonsense, many will believe nonsense. Of course, that's how religions work so I'm not surprised you're advocating for that approach here.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice follow-up, Paul.

Again, for something to have any place in a science classroom, it must qualify as science.

Scientific theories are falsifiable. ID is not.

Scientific theories are tentative. ID is not.

Scientific theories are empirically testable. ID is not.

A social scientist should have some grasp of these criteria, no?

3:39 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

You people just repeat the same old dogmas, which you never seem to critically examine.

The notion that something is the result of intelligence is in fact a scientific hypothesis.

An anthropologist who finds an artifact in a dig, for example, may have to decide whether it is the result of random processes, or was actually designed by some ancient man.

Further, discussion of the adequacy of naturalistic models is perfectly acceptable in a science class.

It's worth pointing out, for example, that scientists have no idea what the origin of the Big Bang was.

8:55 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Their teachers are supposed to teach them. If their teachers teach them nonsense, many will believe nonsense. Of course, that's how religions work so I'm not surprised you're advocating for that approach here.

OIC. You think religion is "nonsense" and that's why you want to keep anything even vaguely religious out of the schools.

You want your atheist beliefs to be enshrined as the government orthodoxy.

In a free society, people (including high school students) should be free to decide for themselves what is "nonsense" and what isn't.

But you can't accept that.

You demand that the orthodoxy be enforced.

8:58 PM  

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