A bill designed to repeal the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act went the way of the dodo Thursday in the Senate Education Committee; members voted 5-1 to defer the bill, tantamount to killing it.
Backed by letters from more than 40 Nobel science laureates, a heady array of national science organizations, university professors, high school biology teachers, the Louisiana Association of Educators and a petition with more than 60,000 signatures — all of them in favor of repealing the act, which Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law in 2008 after near-unanimous passage in the Legislature — Sen. Karen Carter Peterson’s Senate Bill 70, alas, fell on the deaf ears of a committee evidently beholden to or fearful of the forces of epistemological regression. (Yes, I just wrote that.) Only Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, a Baton Rouge Democrat, backed passage of the repeal and opposed shelving it.
The intrepid, ill-fated charge to repeal the act, which opponents consider a conduit by the religious right for introducing Intelligent Design, i.e., creationism, into Louisiana public school science classrooms — no reputable state or national science organizations lobbied for the LSEA — was led by Zach Kopplin, a 2011 graduate of Baton Rouge Magnet High School and the son of Andy Kopplin, the former chief of staff to Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco who now serves as first deputy mayor and chief administrative officer for the city of New Orleans.
“This law undermines science because creationism is not science. It does not belong in public school science classes — put it in a religion class, a philosophy class, a history class, but not in science classes,” the grad told the commission at the start of the hearing, adding that there’s “no scientific debate over the theory of evolution — there’s only a political debate because some people want to suggest evolution is only a theory. In everyday use the word ‘theory’ is sometimes used to describe an unproven conjecture like, for example, the theory that Carl Weiss wasn’t Huey Long’s murderer — that’s open to debate. But in science a theory is very different. Major theories like gravity or the theory of evolution undergird entire branches of science and have been thoroughly tested and retested and shown to have predictive ability to explain natural phenomena. They are hardly unproven conjectures; they are the basic building blocks of modern physics and modern biology respectively.”
Peterson made a final, impassioned plea for the repeal’s passage moments before the committee’s vote, although at that point it was clear via the body language of the panel and an inane rhetorical gambit by Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, that the bill was dead in the water. “We’re selective in when we want to listen to experts. When we’re talking about the economy we bring in economists. When we’re talking about roads and bridges we bring in engineers. Why don’t we afford the same to science? How do you ignore 42 Nobel laureates?” Peterson asked the committee. “It is fundamentally embarrassing to have this law on the books.”
Hear, hear, Sen. Peterson.