I live in Boulder, Colorado, which is a bastion of scientific research. There are four major space science centers here (CU-Boulder, SwRI, the Space Science Institute, and Ball Aerospace), two major atmospheric research centers (UCAR and NCAR), as well as NIST and many other well-known science research centers.
But the state of Colorado, apparently, still wants to live in the 15th century: Just a few days ago, a bill was introduced into my home state’s legislature that would allow teachers “to miseducate students about evolution, whether by teaching creationism as a scientifically credible alternative or merely by misrepresenting evolution as scientifically controversial.”
Those words are from my good friend and tireless hero for science Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, an organization that has the goal of educating people about real science. The antiscience bill HB 13-1089 is one of the Orwellian-named “Academic Freedom” thrusts by creationists, where legislators claim they just want teachers to have freedom about what they can teach, but is in fact a clear and obvious attack on scientific fields that disagree with the beliefs of the conservative lawmakers. Don’t believe me? Here is the opening shot of the bill:
“The provisions of the acts direct teachers to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.”
If this were really about academic freedom, why is it so specific? Why not include all fields of science, instead of just those three? In fact, why not include all academic fields? I’d be fascinated to see literature, art, and math added to that. Or religious study…how about supplementary texts that show the contradictions in the Bible? I wonder how that would go over.
I’ll note that all the co-sponsors of this bill are, to a person, Republicans.
The bill was sent to the House Committees on Education and Appropriations for study. In a stroke of good fortune, one of the members of that committee is Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Colorado District 10: That includes Boulder, so she’s my Representative!
I decided to send her the following letter.
Dear Ms. Hullinghorst-
First, congratulations on winning another term in the Colorado State House! I was very pleased to see you win in the 2012 elections.
I am an astronomer and writer. On my blog at Slate.com, called Bad Astronomy (which receives several million views per month), I frequently write about the attacks on science in this country that have been increasing at a worrisome rate. Most concerning to me are ones that are legislated at the state level, and one such bill has recently come to my attention: Colorado HB 13-1089, submitted by Mr. Stephen Humphrey (R-District 48).
This bill says it is about academic freedom, but the real purpose is quite the opposite: It is designed to allow the teaching of religion in the public school classroom by allowing teachers to use “supplemental materials” for “controversial topics”. The topics specifically listed in the bill are global warming, cloning, and biological evolution, which are a clear indication this is a bill motivated by politics, and not an effort to better educate our children.
Bills like this have popped up all over the country, and every single one of them is a transparent attempt to teach creationism and global warming denialism in the classroom. Let me be clear: These are not scientifically controversial topics! The science has been long established; evolution is real, and global warming is real. Any controversy is manufactured by political and corporate ideology, and not by science.
The impact of teaching such antiscience allowed by this bill is profound. If allowed to pass, we will be cheating our children out of a real science education. This will create an entire generation of children who will be mis- and undereducated, ill-prepared to join the 21 st century workforce. The state of Colorado will suffer economically when technology industries look elsewhere for qualified employees. You can read more about this at these websites:
Those are from the National Center for Science Education, which is a clearinghouse for antiscience bills such as this one. They are experts on it, and communicating with them will prove very helpful. Their main website is http://ncse.com/ and they can be reached at (510) 601-7203.
I saw that local and state educational associations endorsed you in the 2012 election. This bill weakens education at all levels, and will prevent students from succeeding. In the long term it will also severely damage the state economy. Please kill this anti-education bill in committee, and do not let it get to the House floor. Our children deserve far, far better.
When I get a reply from Ms. Hullinghorst, I’ll follow up on the blog.
If you live in Colorado and feel as I do, then please write your own (polite and respectful) letter to your State Representative. The members of the committee are listed at the Colorado State government's website, and their individual contact information is available as well*.
And if you know science teachers, specifically those who cover biology and environment, please let them know about this as well. Send them here to this article, and ask them to write letters on their own. Teachers in the trenches will carry even more weight.
Actually, that metaphor—“in the trenches”—may be apt. If this bill gets through committee it may very well pass into law; legislators tend not to want to be seen voting against religious beliefs. If that’s the case, then teachers will be the front line of defense we have against the forces of antiscience.
*Correction [Jan. 22, 2013]: I had originally listed incorrect committee membership information due to an outdated page on the Colorado government site. The link has been corrected here. Also, Ms. Hullinghorst is no longer on the committee, since she is now Majority Leader in the House. Due to this, I have sent a copy of the letter to Ms. Claire Levy, the new Committee Chair.