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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Antiscience “Academic Freedom” Bill Dies in Kansas

By Phil Plait

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 âteach the strengths and weaknesses of scienceâ things that sounds fair enough until you actually, yâknow, read it.

The bill was simple enough:

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 itâs rather hard to miss. These science-denying legislators canât 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 (specificallyâcan you guess?âevolution), and sometimes more focused topics like the Big Bang. What all these scientific fields have in commonâbesides being trueâis that many on the far right hate them, either for ideological or religious reasons.

Of course, reality doesnât care what you think. The planetâs still warming up whether you know it is or not.

Anyway, isnât 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 Newtonâs laws?

Maybe itâs 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. Itâs 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 waitâwe donât have to ask ourselves that, since that exact thing happened in Louisana. Letâs just say that Representative Valarie Hodges was quite surprised to learn that Christianity isnât 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. Thatâs 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 wasnât 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, youâll have to try a little bit harder. Iâll note that very similar bills in three statesâIndiana, Oklahoma, and Arizonaâalso 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. Thatâs the way things are.

Hereâs something we really do need to teach our children: You canât legislate reality.

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