“Don” Krugman versus the windmills

Seth Cooper

Earlier this week, NY Times’ Paul Krugman published a column that, among other things, sounded alarm bells about a supposed invasion of creationism in college classrooms. This column has reprinted in papers across the country, and the editorial writers at smaller publications are now voicing fears about this highly unlikely scenario.
In “The Goldberg File,” National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg takes on Krugman in a recent article intitled “BullKrug.” Specifically addressing science education and academic freedom at universities, Goldberg says the following:

Krugman cites some moronic state legislator in Florida (or, to be fair, a state legislator in Florida with a moronic idea), who wants conservative students to be able to sue their professors if conservative ideas aren’t respected. From there he leaps to the conclusion that “Soon, biology professors who don’t give creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face lawsuits.”
How frightening! The scrotal-tightening horror of such a prophesy fills me with dread. Indeed, if this were an Airplane! movie, a giant spear would fly through the room and stick in the wall behind Lloyd Bridges for extra dramatic emphasis. Thwaauunnnggggg!!!!!
And I should be careful about characterizing the Florida legislator’s idea as moronic, relying as I am on Krugman’s version of events–and not just because he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. Krugman’s facts are sloppy.

Goldberg then goes on to challenge a number of Krugman’s factual assertions, which provide an interesting read.
I did a little bit of fact-finding on the Florida legislation Krugman discusses. Curiously, HB 837, the bill mentioned in Krugman’s column, says NOT A THING about science.
The bill does, however, mention some other subjects:

In the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, the fostering of a plurality of scholarly methodologies and perspectives should be a significant institutional purpose.

I’m still trying to figure out where to find the hidden fundamentalism is in THAT provision. The bill also states:

[Faculty and instructors] should make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate, and critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Covert creationism alert, indeed! Most of the bills’ terms are stated with a great deal of generality about viewpoint neutrality. Again, no mention is made about science. And there is certainly NO mention of creationism.
The cause of all the hyperventilation over creationism getting equal time in college classrooms apparently stems from some comments made by the Florida legislator who has sponsored the bill. The legislator is claimed to have stated that professors touting “evolution is a fact” are guilty of academic totalitarianism. We don’t know anything about this legislator’s experience in college or what he really did say about the bill. But at the very least, it doesn’t follow from the text of the bill that creationism would have to be given equal time.
Students for Academic Freedom—who have promoted this type of legislation—appear to be arguing that nothing in the bill restricts the academic freedom of university professors. According to their website, many of the bill’s provisions are drawn from previous AAUP statements on academic freedom.
It hardly seems likely that the completely unsuccessful creationist equal-time phenomenon from the 1980s is experiencing any kind of resurgence. Not to mention the fact the main SCIENTIFIC critics of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory overwhelming REJECT such a notion. But given that alarms over the same appears to have arisen over supposed comments by a state legislature, should this alarmism be taken seriously? The text of the bill, as well as Godlberg’s recent article, would suggest otherwise.
By the way, the U.S. Supreme Court declared as UNCONSTITUTIONAL the mandating of equal time for creationism in public school classrooms in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
(See a recent op-ed by Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell, offering an alternative proposal as to how to best teach about neo-Darwinian evolution, here.)

Seth Cooper