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Education Reporter

Teaching 'Critically' About Science
The first state law passed to protect public school teachers who teach students to think critically about controversial scientific topics easily survived its first challenge in May in Louisiana. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to kill a bill intended to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which permits teachers to use supplemental materials in addition to state-approved textbooks for topics such as evolution, global warming, and cloning.

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Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D- New Orleans) sponsored the repeal bill at the request of Zack Kopplin, a recent high school graduate from Baton Rouge. Kopplin said he spearheaded the repeal effort because he believed the LSEA "makes it harder for Louisiana students to get cutting-edge science-based jobs" after they graduate because companies would not "trust our science education with this law on the books."

Repeal supporters made much of a letter signed by 43 Nobel laureates stating that the LSEA creates a pathway for creationism and other nonscientific instruction. That assertion ignores the fact that the LSEA explicitly prohibits promotion of any religious doctrine or "discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

Louisiana College biology professor Wade Warren countered by presenting a letter signed by 15 scientists who asserted that the Nobel laureates urging repeal "do not speak for many scientists who support open and objective inquiry." Their letter accused LSEA opponents of "seeking to confuse the issue" by mislabeling scientific critique of evolution as creationism. "If science educators follow the approach of LSEA critics, science education will become science indoctrination," they warned.

Professor Wade refuted the LSEA critics' repeated assertion that there is no real controversy and no credible critique of evolution to present in science classes. He testified about a previous hearing where one anti-LSEA biologist had the "audacity" to claim "there is no controversy among professional biologists about the fact of evolution," right after other scientists had spoken about problems with evolution.

Legal professionals also came to defend the 2008 law. Retired judge Darrell White read a letter from Southern University law professor Michelle Ghetti advising that there are no constitutional grounds for repealing LSEA because both the language and intent of the law pass constitutional muster.

The victory for academic freedom and free scientific inquiry in Louisiana may prove important because it has the potential to embolden other states to adopt similar laws. In fact, since January, legislators in nine states have proposed bills that promote critical analysis of evolutionary theory and ensure academic freedom for faculty regarding contentious scientific issues, but all of them either died in committee or have been postponed until the next legislative session. (nola.com, 5-26-11; washingtonpost.com, 4-22-11; evolutionnews.org, 5-27-11)

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