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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Wyoming Gives Science Education the Cold Shoulder

By Phil Plait

Update, April 21, 2014: It's official: Science-denying Wyoming legislators have rejected adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (local media in the state have some choice words for those politicians). Sorry, Wyoming schoolchildren, but if you want to learn more about evolution and climate change in class you're on your own, unless you move to a state with a more enlightened government, or at least one with fewer science deniers making the rules.

I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party stood for good science. And I’ve been paying attention over the years as that stance of the leaders of the party has not only eroded away, but actively reversed itself. I don’t think it’s too big a leap to associate that with the growth in power of the religious right when it comes to topics like evolution and with fossil fuel funding when it comes to climate change.

The latest battleground for the GOP attack on science is Wyoming. While many states are adopting new national science education standards—a set of benchmarks outlining students’ science understanding in schools—the Wyoming Legislature has taken steps to specifically prevent the adoption of the new science standards outlined.

In a recent budget proposal, an amendment was proposed by state legislator Matt Teeters (R-Lingle), which makes sure the new science standards wouldn’t get adopted:

… neither the state board of education nor the department shall expend any amount appropriated under this section for any review or revision of the student content and performance standards for science. This footnote is effective immediately.

This amendment simply defunds any attempt to review the science standards, killing any progress in that area. It’s very much worth noting that these new standards include stating as facts such things as evolution and climate change, and that’s precisely why the standards met with resistance in other states. Apparently, in Wyoming, the new science standards are such anathema that the legislators don't even want those in charge of education to review them.

I contacted Rep. Teeters' office asking for a statement about the amendment but did not receive a response.

We’ve seen state legislators fight against science in these exact same circumstances over and over again, and virtually every time it’s because of far-right opposition to exactly these topics (and the Texas State Board of Education threw in other topics like history as well, hoping to improve the legacy of much maligned figures like—and yes, I’m serious—Joseph McCarthy).

The Wyoming governor, Republican Matt Mead, is an outspoken supporter of fossil fuels (not surprising, given that Wyoming is the No. 1 coal producing state in the union) and is also on record as denying global warming. He even went so far as to parrot the tired and long-debunked trope about having cold weather when the planet is heating up.

Despite recommendations from Wyoming educators to adopt the new science standards, Mead approved the new budget, science-standard-defunding amendment and all. Lisa Hoyos of Climate Parents claims the amendment was created specifically to stop the teaching of climate change.*

It’s astonishing to me that so many people are trying so hard to stop reality. Perhaps what’s worse is that I’m getting used to it. I’ve been clear over and again that I have some agreement with some overall Republican ideas (like having a government be no bigger than needed, for example) but the modern GOP establishment has grossly overreached many of its asserted planks and has become a parody of its former self. Republican lawmakers claim they want the government to stop legislating our lives, and then they spend every day legislating our lives. And now they want to legislate reality itself. They can try, but the thing about reality is, it’s real. The planet is heating up, and it will continue to do so whether or not we sign bills into law that force us to stick our heads in the sand.

Science itself has many laws, but it doesn’t give a damn about ours.

If you live in Wyoming and want to contact your state legislators, the Wyoming government page helpfully tells you how.

Correction, May 5, 2014: Lisa Hoyos' last name was originally misspelled.

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