Kansas Antiscience Bill Dies, But for the Wrong Reason

The entire universe in blog form
March 7 2013 1:45 PM

Antiscience “Academic Freedom” Bill Dies in Kansas

Earth on fire

I have some good news on the climate change denial front, kindof. A thinly disguised antiscience bill recently died in the Kansas legislature. This was another one of those “teach the strengths and weaknesses of science” things that sounds fair enough until you actually, y’know, read it.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.

The bill was simple enough:

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The legislature recognizes that the teaching of certain scientific topics, such as climate science, may be controversial. The legislature encourages the teaching of such scientific controversies to be made in an objective manner in which both the strengths and weaknesses of such scientific theory or hypothesis are covered.

Emphasis mine, but it’s rather hard to miss. These science-denying legislators can’t seem to help shooting themselves in the foot. Look, this is pretty simple. Science is all about introspection, examining data, beliefs, ideas, even methodology, to look for any place where there might be bias, where we might be fooling ourselves. This is true for every field of science.

But somehow, these champions of nonsense in state legislatures always seem to want to point out only some fields of science, like climatology, biology (specifically—can you guess?—evolution), and sometimes more focused topics like the Big Bang. What all these scientific fields have in common—besides being true—is that many on the far right hate them, either for ideological or religious reasons.

Of course, reality doesn’t care what you think. The planet’s still warming up whether you know it is or not.

Anyway, isn’t it odd that the crafters of these bills always choose those particular topics? If they really care about science, why be so specific? Why not teach kids to think critically about, say, gravity? Or chemistry? Or Newton’s laws?

Maybe it’s because these legislators have an agenda.

OK, snark aside, this bill, like so many antiscience attacks, is rich with irony. The people proposing them have no desire whatsoever to promote actual critical thinking; they simply want teachers to be able to plausibly teach nonsense like global warming denial and creationism. It’s really that simple.

Ask yourself: How would these same folks react if their attempts at changing the law allowed a Muslim teacher to teach their own religious beliefs? Oh wait—we don’t have to ask ourselves that, since that exact thing happened in Louisana. Let’s just say that Representative Valarie Hodges was quite surprised to learn that Christianity isn’t the only religion out there.

Mind you, upon taking office most of these people have to swear to uphold the Constitution. Like I said, the irony is thick.

Anyway, I mentioned that the death of this Kansas bill was only kindof good news. That’s because this bill was not voted down by a reality-based majority, nor did the sponsors have a change of heart due to pressure from the population who understood how full of hot air this bill was. Nope. Instead, this bill died due to missing a deadline for filing.

Yup. It wasn’t a noble defeat. It was ignominiously choked to death by red tape.

So, Kansas state legislators, if you want to relive the glory days when creationists embarrassed Kansas while the whole world watched, you’ll have to try a little bit harder. I’ll note that very similar bills in three states—Indiana, Oklahoma, and Arizona—also recently died, and for the exact same reason. Incredible.

I have no doubt these same state governments will continue to try to pass bills that curb our children from learning and blind them to the real world. And while they do so, that very same world is still warming up. And species are still evolving. And the Universe adds another few years to its already considerable 13.73 billion year age. That’s the way things are.

Here’s something we really do need to teach our children: You can’t legislate reality.