This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It is also the 25th anniversary of Edwards v. Aguillard. Each work is a milestone in the centuries-long debate on the role of science in society.
Structure basically said what history could say about the limits of science. Edwards, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, basically said no to creationism (i.e., religion) in the nation’s science classrooms.
In the light (or shadow) of Structure, Stanford Law School and its Constitutional Law Center recently hosted three panel discussions on Edwards. The last panel — titled “Why Does the Debate Matter?” — included Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, philosopher Michael Ruse, and Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), among others.
Although the full discussion is worthwhile, an exchange between McConnell and Scott furnishes the best lines.
At a little over 52:00 minutes in, McConnell urges Scott to embrace open inquiry on evolution in public schools (i.e., academic freedom), if only for the good of the NCSE, because “this fear of debate is not very attractive.”
The question, says Scott, is which topics are open for debate in science class, and which are not. Scott then gives examples of which topics she’d open up for debate, and which she’d close.
In contrast, academic freedom law and policy would put that decision in the capable hands of teachers. Teachers know better than the central planners of the NCSE when, say, a particular student’s question about a particular proposition warrants instruction in critical thinking.
Perhaps Dr. Scott would be open to an appointment to the Department of Education as czar of academic freedom, a new cabinet level post, from which she’d issue inquiry licenses.