What the latest assaults on science education look like

Each year, anti-science education legislation is introduced in state legislatures around the country — and, in a few cases, has been passed. So what is an anti-science education bill — and how many have been introduced in 2017?

There are essentially two different kinds of anti-science legislation, according to the nonprofit National Center for Science Education.

One involves efforts to repeal the adoption of state science standards or challenge science textbooks. There are also bills that attempt to allow science (and other) teachers to present unscientific criticism of scientific principles as legitimate — usually aimed at affecting classroom discussion on evolution and climate change.

Since 2014, more than 60 such bills have been filed in state legislatures all over the country; two have been enacted, in Louisiana in 2008 and in Tennessee in 2012.

These bills are worded as “academic freedom” bills, but they really are efforts to present foundational science as controversial. For example, evolution is the animating principle of modern biology, but these laws attempt to allow creationism and evolution to be debated in a science classroom as though they had equal scientific basis. There is no scientific basis to creationist thinking.

So far this year, nine legislative efforts aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution and/or climate change have been introduced in state legislatures:

  • Texas House Bill 1485, introduced Feb. 2, supposedly offers science teachers the academic freedom to teach “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” covered in the state science standards,” including “climate change, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.” No vote has been scheduled yet.
  • Oklahoma Senate Bill 393, which was passed by the chamber, encourages teachers to teach “scientific controversies” and protects them if they do. Essentially, this would give teachers the freedom to teach nonscientific principles as equivalent to actual science.
  • South Dakota Senate Bill 55 died in a state House committee earlier this year after passing the Senate; it would have allowed teachers to essentially teach anything they want as science as long as they used certain language.
  • Indiana Senate Resolution 17, which targets the teaching of evolution in public schools, passed the state Senate in a 40-to-9 vote in February. It ostensibly urges the state Department of Education “to reinforce support of teachers who choose to teach a diverse curriculum.”
  • Alabama Senate Joint Resolution 78 passed in committee. Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center on…

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