The reporting this year on academic freedom legislation seems to get worse as you move west. We’re hardly a month into 2015, but media distortions are already multiplying.
It started in Indiana with misunderstandings that a proposed bill opened the door to intelligent design. Then in South Dakota a reporter actively misrepresented Discovery Institute’s science education policy. Our policy states that we oppose introducing intelligent design in public schools, but the reporter couldn’t keep get that straight even after I patiently, patiently explained to him.
None of this bad reporting, however, compares to what we’re seeing in Montana. Multiple news sources in that state have picked up the same story with the headline that more-or-less says “‘Anti-evolution’ bill would protect HS teachers who teach creationism.”
It started in the Billings Gazette and then spread to other papers including the Independent Record of Helena, and the Daily Interlake which serves northwest Montana. They all repeat the identical false claim:
A Billings legislator has reintroduced a bill that would encourage high school teachers to present evolutionary biology as disputed theory rather than sound science and protect those who teach viewpoints like creationism in the classroom.
If you’re familiar with academic freedom bills, then you already know why that’s wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court holds creationism to be a religious belief , and the bill expressly says that teachers who advocate religion are not protected under its provisions. The Montana bill couldn’t be clearer:
(5) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
How could this bill that explicitly does not protect the advocacy of religion protect teachers who are advocating a religious belief like creationism? The answer is, of course, it couldn’t.
But you wouldn’t know any of this from reading the news reporting about the bill. None of the articles I mentioned cite that language, or mention that the law excludes religious advocacy, or that it only protects the teaching of science.
Instead, the Montana news stories quote extensively from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a group whose main goal is to censor science, concealing from students any scientific evidence that challenges neo-Darwinian evolution:
The supposed controversy doesn’t exist among scientists, say advocates and educators.
“It’s all bunk,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education based in Oakland, Calif. ” [Representative Clayton Fiscus of Billings] thinks that these whole fields are scientifically controversial, and that’s not true.”
Of course if you only talk to “advocates and educators” who advocate for censorship when it comes to the controversy about evolution, then you might well think that there is no scientific controversy. In line with its sources at the NCSE, the story itself censors all mention of scientists, advocates, and educators who dissent from modern Darwinian theory and support the academic freedom to talk about its weaknesses. Indeed, the reporter didn’t even attempt to contact us, the main group that advocates for academic freedom bills, here at Discovery Institute.
So is there a controversy over neo-Darwinian evolution? Don’t take my word for it. Read the peer-reviewed scientific literature for yourself, and there you’ll find that the answer is yes. In a state with an academic freedom law, a public school teacher would be free to cite peer-reviewed scientific papers and discuss weaknesses in neo-Darwinian theory including these:
- Difficulties and obstacles in reconstructing a “tree of life.” You don’t have to talk about “creationism” to note that much genome sequence data reported in the peer-reviewed literature does not fit the treelike pattern seen in textbook diagrams and expected by Darwinian theory.
- Inaccuracies in textbook discussions of vertebrate embryos. You don’t have to say anything about “creationism” to acknowledge that peer-reviewed papers show vertebrate embryos start off development differently, contradicting textbook diagrams and the expectations of evolutionary biologists.
- Non-speciation and limited change in “Darwin’s finches,” contradicting textbooks which hold the birds out as examples of speciation, demonstrating the great power of the Darwinian mechanism. The peer-reviewed literature shows Darwin’s finches can still interbreed and exhibit only small-scale oscillating selection, not the evolution of fundamentally new types of organisms. Pointing any of this out has nothing to do with teaching creationism.
- How unnecessary evolutionary theory often is to doing good biology research, contradicting textbooks that claim evolution is the “cornerstone” of biology. To discover how many biological systems work, leading scientists confirm that you don’t need neo-Darwinian evolution at all. Making this argument does not involve arguing for creationism.
- Challenges to the adequacy or primacy of natural selection and random mutation for generating evolutionary change, contradicting textbooks that claim the Darwinian mechanism can account for the complexity of life. Again, you don’t have to be a “creationist” to point out that peer-reviewed research shows living organisms contain features that require multiple mutations to arise before giving any advantage, and that population genetics models show that evolving these structures by mutation and selection would be infeasible given normal population sizes and timescales.
According to a myth foisted on the public by the media, if you challenge modern evolutionary biology, then you’re promoting either religion or bad science. That’s just false. In fact, it’s one falsehood among many that afflict the public discussion of evolution and education.
When reporters choose to talk only to the NCSE, refusing to report on this issue in a balanced or objective manner, they perpetuate science censorship, and prevent their readers from hearing the truth. That censorship is itself one reason that academic freedom bills are so urgently needed.
Image by U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.