Fossilized Thinking in South Carolina

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May 15 2014 11:00 AM

Fossilized Thinking in South Carolina

South Carolina mammoth
Oh, South Carolina. Tusk, tusk.

Photo by Paisan Homhuan/Filip Bjorkman/ Phil Plait

Oh, reality. How you are abused over and again, yet always seem to come out on top.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

In South Carolina, an 8-year-old girl named Olivia McConnell found out that her home state was one of the few without an official state fossil. She did some research, then wrote her state representatives making the case for them to adopt the Columbian Wooly Mammoth for the honor.


Easy peasy, right? And what legislator can resist being implored by a smart little girl who just wants to do something cool for her state?

I believe the name you’re looking for is Republican state Sen. Kevin Bryant. He is not exactly the biggest fan of science. He’s a creationist (and also, shockingly, a climate change denier amongst other regrettable stances) and despite the clear and obvious path on this was unhappy with having a fossil older than the Earth itself made official. So he tried to wedge religion into the bill by quoting the Bible, which gummed up the whole process. His amendment was tossed out (on a technicality, not because it was grossly inappropriate), but then he added words to the bill saying the mammoth was created on the sixth day along with the beasts of the field. Another creationist, Sen. Mike Fair, then wanted to add his own spin on the bill, stalling it further.

That’s where things sat back in March. Well, this week, things finally resolved. Perhaps someone took those two men aside and told them that all this foolishness they were doing to hold up a bill suggested by an 8-year-old might make them look, y’know, foolish.

Whatever miracle occurred, they backed down. The bill was rewritten to simply say, “The Columbian Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina,” and will be sent to the governor for her signature.

I don’t think I can sum this up any better than Rachel Maddow could. Watch.

I’ll note that bills declaring official state whatevers don’t have the force of law behind them, so putting religious language in them isn’t strictly unconstitutional. But it can be very, very embarrassing for your state.

Tip o’ the tusk to Wonkette for the Maddow clip.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  



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