The international science community’s consensus that the Louisiana Science Education Act is little more than a means for creationists to insert their decidedly non-scientific views into biology classrooms in Louisiana’s public schools continues to gain momentum as more Nobel science laureates sign on to an effort to repeal the act and pro-science organizations worldwide view the debate in the Pelican State as a referendum on reason.
The act was signed into law in 2008 by Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Ivy League biology major who doesn’t break a sweat pandering to the religious right, namely the Louisiana Family Forum, which lobbied vigorously for the LSEA’s passage and was rewarded with near unanimous approval in both chambers of a Louisiana Legislature increasingly dominated by Luddites and flat-earthers.
Seventy-four recipients of the Nobel Prize in the sciences have now signed a letter addressed to state lawmakers urging them to repeal the act. A 75th scientist, Sir John Sulston of Britain — Sulston was the 2002 Nobel winner in medicine — has endorsed the letter without signing it. And for the second year, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson has filed a bill that would do just that. Peterson’s effort died in committee during the 2011 session amid strong opposition from the religious right.
Here’s the full letter from the Nobel laureates urging the Legislature to repeal the LSEA:
Dear Members of the Louisiana Legislature,
As Nobel Laureates in various scientific fields, we urge you to repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008. This law creates a pathway for creationism and other forms of non-scientific instruction to be taught in public school science classrooms.
The warning flags many of us raised about this law have now been proven justified. Members of the Livingston Parish School Board recently announced their desire to include creationism in the science curriculum for the 2011-2012 school year. Clearly, the LSEA is well understood by Louisiana school administrators and public officials as having created an avenue to incorporate the teaching of creationism into science curricula in Louisiana schools.
Louisiana’s students deserve to be taught proper science rather than religion presented as science. Science offers testable, and therefore falsifiable, explanations for natural phenomena. Because it requires supernatural explanations of natural phenomena, creationism does not meet these standards. Seventy-two Nobel Laureates addressed these issues in 1987 in an amicus brief in the Edwards vs. Aguillard U.S. Supreme Court case, which originated in Louisiana after the passage of a 1981 creationist law:
“Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena. Science is not equipped to evaluate supernatural explanations for our observations; without passing judgment on the truth or falsity of supernatural explanations, science leaves their consideration to the domain of religious faith. Because the scope of scientific inquiry is consciously limited to the search for naturalistic principles, science remains free of religious dogma and is thus an appropriate subject for public-school instruction. . . .
The grist for the mill of scientific inquiry is an ever-increasing body of observations that give information about underlying ‘facts.’ Facts are the properties of natural phenomena. The scientific method involves the rigorous, methodical testing of principles that might present a naturalistic explanation for those facts. To be a legitimate scientific ‘hypothesis,’ an explanatory principle must be consistent with prior and present observations and must remain subject to continued testing against future observations. An explanatory principle that by its nature cannot be tested is outside the realm of science.
The process of continuous testing leads scientists to accord a special dignity to those hypotheses that accumulate substantial observational or experimental support. Such hypotheses become known as scientific ‘theories.’ If a theory successfully explains a large and diverse body of facts, it is an especially ‘robust’ theory. If it consistently predicts new phenomena that are subsequently observed, it is an especially ‘reliable’ theory. Even the most robust and reliable theory, however, is tentative. A scientific theory is forever subject to reexamination and — as in the case of Ptolemaic astronomy — may ultimately be rejected after centuries of viability. . . .
A thorough scientific education should introduce these concepts about the hierarchy of scientific ideas. Such an introduction would permit the student to relate the substantive findings of science to the process of science. Just as children should understand and appreciate the scientific theories that offer the most robust and reliable naturalistic explanations of the universe, children should also understand and appreciate the essentially tentative nature of science. In an ideal world, every science course would include repeated reminders that each theory presented to explain our observations of the universe carries this qualification: ‘as far as we know now, from examining the evidence available to us today.’ . . .
Scientific education should accurately portray the current state of substantive scientific knowledge. Even more importantly, scientific education should accurately portray the premises and processes of science. Teaching religious ideas mislabeled as science is detrimental to scientific education: It sets up a false conflict between science and religion, misleads our youth about the nature of scientific inquiry, and thereby compromises our ability to respond to the problems of an increasingly technological world.”
Scientific knowledge is crucial to twenty-first-century life. Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture. It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments. Because science plays such a large role in today’s world and because our country’s economic future is dependent upon the United States’ retaining its competitiveness in science, it is vital that students have a sound education about major scientific concepts and their applications.
We strongly urge that the Louisiana Legislature repeal this misguided law. Louisiana students deserve an education that will allow them to compete with their peers across the country and the globe.
Sir Harold Kroto, Chemistry, 1996
Sir Richard Roberts, Physiology or Medicine, 1993
Dr. Elias J. Corey, Chemistry, 1990
Dr. Steven Weinberg, Physics, 1979
Dr. Herbert Kroemer, Physics, 2000
Dr. Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry, 2003
Dr. Douglas D. Osheroff, Physics, 1996
Dr. Alan J. Heeger, Chemistry, 2000
Dr. Robert Curl, Chemistry, 1996
Dr. Kurt Wüthrich, Chemistry, 2002
Dr. Martin Chalfie, Chemistry, 2008
Dr. Jack W. Szostak, Physiology or Medicine, 2009
Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, Physiology or Medicine, 1993
Dr. Craig C. Mello, Physiology or Medicine, 2006
Dr. Stanley Prusiner, Physiology or Medicine, 1997
Dr. Roger Y. Tsien, Chemistry, 2008
Dr. David Gross, Physics, 2004
Dr. Roger Kornberg, Chemistry, 2006
Dr. Robert Howard Grubbs, Chemistry, 2005
Dr. Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989
Dr. Jerome I. Friedman, Physics, 1990
Dr. Thomas A. Steitz, Chemistry, 2009
Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan, Chemistry, 2009
Dr. Horst Stormer, Physics, 1998
Dr. Peter C. Doherty, Physiology or Medicine, 1996
Dr. Gerhard Ertl, Chemistry, 2007
Dr. Richard Schrock, Chemistry, 2005
Dr. John L. Hall, Physics, 2005
Dr. Riccardo Giacconi, Physics, 2002
Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics, 2001
Dr. Jack Steinberger, Physics, 1988
Dr. Robert C. Richardson, Physics, 1996
Dr. Frank Wilczek, Physics, 2004
Dr. Alexei Abrikosov, Physics, 2003
Dr. Roy Glauber, Physics, 2005
Dr. Susumu Tonegawa, Physiology or Medicine, 1987
Dr. Anthony J. Leggett, Physics, 2003
Dr. Russell Hulse, Physics, 1993
Dr. Eric Wieschaus, Physiology or Medicine, 1995
Dr. Rudolph A. Marcus, Chemistry, 1992
Dr. William D. Phillips, Physics, 1997
Dr. Dudley Herschbach, Chemistry, 1986
Dr. John Mather, Physics, 2006
Dr. Walter Kohn, Chemistry, 1998
Dr. Leon Lederman, Physics, 1988
Dr. Ivar Giaever, Physics, 1973
Dr. Paul Berg, Chemistry, 1980
Dr. James Cronin, Physics, 1980
Dr. Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry, 1988
Dr. Paul Crutzen, Chemistry, 1995
Dr. Sheldon Glashow, Physics, 1979
Dr. Phil Anderson, Physics, 1977
Dr. Aaron Ciechanover, Chemistry, 2004
Dr. Erwin Neher, Physiology or Medicine, 1991
Dr. Gerardus ‘t Hooft, Physics, 1999
Dr. Adam Riess, Physics, 2011
Dr. John Polanyi, Chemistry, 1986
Dr. Robert Horvitz, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Dr. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Physics, 1997
Dr. Christian de Duve, Physiology or Medicine, 1974
Dr. Brian Schmidt, Physics, 2011
Dr. Roald Hoffmann, Chemistry, 1981
Dr. Arvid Carlsson, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Dr. Antony Hewish, Physics, 1974
Dr. Ben R. Mottelson, Physics, 1975
Dr. Richard R. Ernst, Chemistry, 1991
Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, Physics, 1969
Dr. Mario Molina, Chemistry, 1995
Dr. Torsten Wiesel, Physiology or Medicine, 1981
Dr. Avram Herhsko, Chemistry, 2004
Dr. Albert Fert, Physics, 2007
Dr. David Lee, Physics, 1996
Dr. David Baltimore, Physiology or Medicine, 1975
Dr. Peter Agre, Chemistry, 2003