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Why Censorship Works: The Case of Zack Kopplin

David Klinghoffer

Zack testifying.jpeg

Here is your reminder for today to send in nominations for the Censor of the Year prize, to be awarded in honor of Darwin Day 2014, recognizing remarkable efforts in choking off criticism of evolutionary dogma. Given the bad reputation censorship has, or used to have, you might wonder what makes our censors so powerful and able to intimidate. After all, no one is obliged to listen to even one word from Zack Kopplin.

As you know, he is the venerable 20-year-old best known for agitating against the Louisiana Science Education Act as a "creationism" law, who was formerly enrolled at Rice University, now an "activist," "journalist," and "television personality." Meaning, I believe, that he is currently neither a student nor otherwise employed.

Yet here is Mr. Kopplin getting a respectful hearing from Education Week and at Slate where he blows the whistle on some Texas charter schools that "discredit evidence-based science," teaching "lies" such as "that the fossil record is ‘sketchy.’ That evolution is ‘dogma’ and an ‘unproved theory’ with no experimental basis." I have not looked into the "Responsive Education Solutions charter system" to which he refers. My question is, what’s the source of Zack’s authority over a substantial slice of the public or at least the media? (See our coverage of him here.)

There’s a personality type to whom Zack speaks, I think. I was entertaining myself on the way to work this morning listening to Rush Limbaugh, who railed against a law in South Florida that prohibits turning on the lights after dark in your beach-side backyard for eight months of the year. The rationale, which he finds questionable, is that the illumination endangers sea turtles, luring them to shore instead of out to sea where they’re supposed to be.

Rush was amusing in talking about contrasting attitudes to the law, which he evidently obeys (and should of course). When he banters with neighbors about how he’d love to say to heck with it and just go ahead and flick on a light overnight in his own backyard as an act of civil disobedience, there is a certain kind of personality that withdraws in horror, in awe of the government’s wisdom and stricken by the disparagement it has just suffered. Limbaugh cast such a response as more typically European than American, yet hardly unknown here.

Since ENV is a non-political news site, I take no view on this turtle-protection regulation. As Rush said, it’s the wide-eyed horrified response — basically, "You have insulted the law!" — that strikes me. Switching from law to the context of science, something like that is at the root of Zack’s authority. Even a squirt barely out of his teens standing up and invoking "science," like one of those kid preachers you see on the TV news, will command reverence.

One personality looks with a skeptical eye on such pronouncements, assuming as it does that thoughtful adults are capable of evaluating law and science for themselves. Another personality regards law and science as oracular, matters on which skepticism and levity are taboo, rendering the skeptic an object of abhorrence.

Without such an audience of the credulous and the overawed, a censor like Mr. Kopplin would be out of business. If he had a business. Remember to get us your nominations by Wednesday, January 29. Go here to email the editor of ENV.