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What Science Education “Journalism” Looks Like at Nature

Casey Luskin

Last month, a reporter for Nature got in contact with me about an article she was researching about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an initiative seeking, among other things, to nationalize Darwin-only K-12 science education. She also wanted to ask about academic freedom laws that Discovery Institute has supported.

Nature is a highly respected journal. It’s the New York Times of the science world, and then some. The reporter, Lauren Morello, seemed intelligent and curious, and I got the impression that she was tracking what I told her. We spent about 45 minutes on the phone and then I followed up by email.

Imagine my surprise when her article appeared and reflected nothing — I mean nothing — of my comments to her. Instead, Ms. Morello simply reproduced the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) talking point — a false one — that academic freedom laws enshrine the teaching of “creationism.”

“[T]hose who oppose evolution have sought to enact ‘academic freedom’ laws that would allow creationism to be taught alongside evolution,” Ms. Morello explained to the readers of Nature. Above a chart supplied (according to the credit) by the National Center for Science Education, the article notes again, “U.S. legislatures are increasingly introducing ‘academic freedom’ bills to allow educators to teach creationism.”

As we’ve said here many times before, this is flat out false. Academic freedom bills expressly do NOT protect the teaching of religion. For example, consider this provision from the Tennessee academic freedom law passed in 2012:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

Academic freedom laws that Discovery Institute has supported clearly exclude promoting religion in the science classroom. Creationism is religion because it starts with particular interpretations of the Bible, and then seeks to promote those interpretations of the Bible. Since creationism is religion, it is not protected by academic freedom bills. Instead, academic freedom laws protect teachers who introduce students to peer-reviewed scientific critiques of Darwinian theory, alongside the scientific arguments for Darwinism.

Now if you’ve followed us at ENV this week, what I’ve said about this article by Ms. Morello may sound familiar. My colleague Joshua Youngkin already commented on it. Josh rightly observed that Nature allows only the National Center for Science Education to explain what academic freedom laws are and he urges journalists to reach out to us here at Discovery Institute instead of, or in addition to, the disinformation artists at the NCSE. That’s excellent advice.

Of course Josh, like any reader of Ms. Morello’s article, would have no way of knowing that in fact she did get in contact with us. But she ignored everything I said to her. Is this science “journalism”?

What exactly did I say in our interview? I explained that (a) academic freedom bills don’t take anything away from class time devoted to teaching about the evidence for evolution, and in fact (b) such laws allow student to learn more about evolution. I also explained that (c) academic freedom bills contain an express provision that prohibits the teaching of religion, and that this means creationism could not be taught under the protection of an academic freedom bill.

Ms. Morello never quoted me in her story, nor did she mention any arguments from other proponents of academic freedom bills. It’s as if we never spoke. As for my point (c), she showed no awareness that I had explained during the interview why it is false to claim that academic freedom laws allow the teaching of creationism. In the article, she only permitted critics of academic freedom bills to speak. On science education, this is evidently the sort of “journalism” practiced at Nature.

The article goes on to laud the new and controversial NGSS, which have now been adopted by five states. On that topic, Ms. Morello ignored my e-mail to her that politely explained why the NGSS present students with a dumbed-down and inaccurate take on the evidence relevant to evolution. Here is what I said:

Dear Ms. Morello,

Greetings and thanks for speaking about the NGSS. As I mentioned on the phone, our main concern about the NGSS is that they fail to inform students about the facts of biology and instead give them a dumbed down, one-sided view of biological evolution.

The paper I mentioned from Nature is Kalinka et al., “Gene expression divergence recapitulates the developmental hourglass model,” Nature, 468 (December 9, 2010): 811-814, which states:

“Despite its intuitive appeal, the principle of early embryonic conservation has not been supported by morphological studies. Counter to the expectations of early embryonic conservation, many studies have shown that there is often remarkable divergence between related species both early and late in development, often with little apparent influence on adult morphology.” (internal citations removed)

Contrast that is what the NGSS state when discussing “Evidence of Common Ancestry”: “Comparison of the embryological development of different species also reveals similarities that show relationships not evident in the fully-formed anatomy.” (LS4.A)

Yes, there are some similarities between vertebrate embryos in certain stages, but the NGSS emphasize the “similarities” and leave out any mention of the differences which might contradict the expectations of common ancestry. This pattern is found throughout the NGSS’s coverage of evolution, and shows how the NGSS fail to inform students about the data, and instead give them a very one-sided, biased, and inaccurate understanding of the evidence regarding biological evolution.

If you would like to see more information about what we recommend public schools should teach, please visit:

Please feel free to let me know if you have further questions.


Casey Luskin

I never heard back from Ms. Morello. And as I told you, I was surprised by her article — but by now, perhaps I shouldn’t be. Science journalists and Darwin lobbyists have an agenda to relabel legitimate scientific questions about evolution as “religion,” for the purpose of censoring discussion of those questions from the classroom. It’s an abuse of the First Amendment.

Nature seems determined to maintain the NCSE’s false storyline, the simplistic and grossly inaccurate claim that there are only two sides to this discussion: those who want to teach evolution, and those who want to replace it with religious “creationism.” Nature‘s readers, and students, surely deserve better.


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.