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Academic Freedom Bills Don’t Kill Jobs; People Who Oppose Academic Freedom Do

Casey Luskin

One common piece of rhetoric being lobbed against academic freedom legislation is the claim that the bills would kill jobs and have a negative overall economic effect. An anti-academic freedom op-ed in The Tennessean stated that Tennessee’s academic freedom bill would have “adverse economic consequences for the state” and asked “What high-tech employer will want to open up shop in a state that allows ideology and prejudice to trump science education?”

Obviously in this tough economy, the economic consequences of any legislation are important to consider. But are these dire predictions remotely realistic?

In answer to the critics’ question, at least one high-tech employer in Tennessee has expressly come out in favor of academic freedom. Robin D. Zimmer, a PhD biologist who is President and CEO of EDP Biotech in Knoxville, recently (and courageously) signed an open letter to the governor of Tennessee supporting the academic freedom bill. As he wrote last year:

As a PhD with 30 years of experience within academia, government and industry, I am appalled that anyone interested in improving science education within the state of Tennessee could be opposed to William Dunn’s House Bill 368.


Amazing biomedical advances are on the horizon, and these will drive economic growth in the decades to come, and the seeds of creativeness and innovation are sowed early in the high school years. Let us not deprive our kids, our state and our nation of the opportunity to regain our world prominence in science, technology and economic might.

It sure doesn’t sound like high-tech employers are moving their companies out-of-state because students are being taught to think critically.

In contrast, the anti-academic freedom op-ed quoted a different biotech guru ominously asserting that by adopting academic freedom, “we are greatly diminishing our chances for future scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations, and are endangering our health, safety and economic well-being as individuals and as a nation.” Really? Do they genuinely expect us to believe that teaching students to “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught” would diminish our economic well being?

Not only do these false fears fail the theoretical tests, they also fail real-world tests.

One nearby state that passed a model academic freedom bill into law, Louisiana, has been thriving economically, even in this bad economy. In late 2010, two-and-a-half years after it passed its Science Education Act, Louisiana won the “State of the Year Award” from Business Facilities magazine, in part because of its burgeoning high-tech industry. As the magazine noted:

“The diversity and growth potential of Louisiana’s top projects in both high-tech and traditional manufacturing, as well as healthy total investments, overall job creation and innovative incentives made Louisiana a clear winner of our annual State of the Year Award,” said Business Facilities Editor-in-Chief Jack Rogers.


To determine the winner, Business Facilities reviews each state’s top five projects in terms of overall investment and job creation. The magazine also evaluates the state’s execution of its economic development strategy, and the diversity and growth potential of its target industries.

“We were particularly impressed with the diversity of Louisiana’s strategy for developing high-growth sectors, including digital media, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, and modular nuclear power plant components,” Rogers said.

The Business Facilities editor noted that Louisiana “has emerged unbowed from a series of disasters that would have brought less-determined locations to their knees — including a major hurricane, an oil spill and the national economic downturn — and charted a course for the future that positions the state to be a national leader for years to come.”

So despite a massive recession, manmade and natural disasters, and — most terrifying of all — an academic freedom law, Louisiana’s economy appears to be doing better than most all other states that don’t have academic freedom laws. It appears that in the experimental laboratory of the real world, the Darwin lobby’s claim that academic freedom bills harm the economy is resoundingly disproved.

Sadly, there does appear to be one connection between academic freedom bills and lost jobs — but it’s not what the Darwin lobby claims. The real job killer isn’t academic freedom bills, it’s people who oppose academic freedom bills.

The truth is that some folks in the Darwin lobby would be more than happy to move jobs out as a fitting punishment for a state that chooses to teach evolution critically. This hasn’t been a huge problem, fortunately. But in Louisiana one scientific society threw a fit about the academic freedom law and moved its annual conference out-of-state. That doesn’t seem to have hurt Louisiana’s economy too much.

It’s a shame that a few intolerant evolution activists would threaten to kill jobs in order to oppose academic freedom. That means economic arguments against academic freedom are being made by people who stand ready to harm the very states in which they live. What these Darwin lobbyists are really saying is: “If you pass this bill I don’t like, I’ll intentionally try to harm the economic health of your state.” There’s a word for that: extortion.

In the final analysis, claims that academic freedom bills truly harm the economic health of a state deserve only a one-word answer:


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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