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