Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A state Senate committee erred in choosing to let stand the Louisiana Science Education Act. By Walter Pierce

It was a dogged by phonies show in the Hainkel Room at the state Capitol last week as the Senate Education Committee heard testimony for and against repealing the misnamed and ill-begotten Louisiana Science Education Act. Led by newly minted high school graduate Zach Kopplin — I’d buy that kid a beer were he a few years older — and the sponsor of Senate Bill 70, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, proponents of the repeal laid out a solid case that the act signed into law by our biology major governor in 2008 following nearly unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature is little more than a Trojan Horse for creationists to sneak their sneaky asses into high school biology classes under the guise of Intelligent Design and “critical thinking.”

Indeed, the LSEA promotes critical thinking — thinking critical of evolutionary biology, which is so overwhelmingly and widely accepted among mainstream scientists that it’s, well, overwhelming. No reputable state or national science organizations lobbied for the LSEA three years ago. Only the right-wing Louisiana Family Forum. And some wackadoos.

Repeal of the LSEA has been backed by more than 40 Nobel laureates — all of them in the sciences — along with no small number of major organizations representing biologists, biology teachers and science education. High school and university educators spoke in favor of the repeal, as did the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Sierra Club.

The vote to repeal the LSEA and move it on to the full Senate garnered but a lone vote, from Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, a Baton Rouge Dem. Ultimately the committee voted to defer the bill, which is tantamount to letting it shrivel up and die on the vine.
No surprise there. It was clear midway through the roughly two hour hearing, following testimony from the bill’s supporters, that repeal of the LSEA was doomed. That clarity came compliments of Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, who leaned on sophomoric rhetorical devices — Quinn is an attorney — in an effort to paint supporters of repeal into a corner. It didn’t work, but it was a bellwether for the remainder of the meeting.

Supporters of the LSEA were of course led by the pharisaic LFF, the most vocal proponent of the act.

The committee also heard testimony from Dr. Wade Warren, who has a Ph.D. in zoology and is a professor and chairman of the biology department at Louisiana College. Warren spoke evenly and eloquently against repealing the LSEA, leavening his argument with scientific jargon. He neglected to mention that the mission of Louisiana College, according to its website, “is to provide liberal arts, professional, and graduate programs characterized by devotion to the preeminence of the Lord Jesus, allegiance to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, dedication to academic excellence for the glory of God, and commitment to change the world for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

How Warren squares mainstream biology, assuming he teaches something remotely akin to it up there in Pineville, with the Holy Scriptures’ account of creation is a mystery. Even the Vatican has decreed that Darwinian evolution and Christianity can and should coexist.

A rep for Gov. Bobby Jindal also addressed the committee, reaching for the low-hanging fruit by smugly attacking the only honestly debatable facet of the repeal argument — that it endangers economic development. What Jindal’s winged monkey failed to mention is that in 2009 the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology, in response to the LSEA, voted to hold no more meetings in New Orleans — a favored location — moving its next conference to Salt Lake City instead. In a letter to Jindal critical of the LSEA, the society’s president pointed out that the SICB’s previous meeting in Boston attracted more than 1,850 members.

Have you ever seen tipsy biologists in a souvenir shop? They get divorced from the content of their wallets.

Ultimately I was thankful to Sen. Quinn, and I let her know it in an email I fired off following the committee meeting. Her enthusiastic obliviousness and awkward gamesmanship, albeit painful to watch, spared me the anticipation of imagining that our state might actually be slipping free from the grasp of medievalism.

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