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On that South Dakota Academic Freedom Bill, Here’s More Bad Journalism — and Science Censorship — from Patrick Anderson

Casey Luskin

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I have already noted the grossly inaccurate reporting by Patrick Anderson with the Argus Leader in South Dakota, who falsely claimed that the academic freedom bill in that state would bring intelligent design into public schools. Now I’ve discovered another article by Mr. Anderson, “S.D. plan allows evolution critique in class,” which is even more inaccurate.

It opens with the statement that “Creationism would be easier to teach in South Dakota classrooms if a bill in the state Senate becomes law, according to a California-based nonprofit.” Of course that innocuous-sounding California-based outfit is the National Center for Science Education, whose mission is focused on censorship. They constantly relabel credible scientific viewpoints as “creationism” and other forms of “religion,” in hopes of using the law to censor those ideas and keep them hidden from students in public schools. Anderson, as we’ll see, is following their lead and becoming a science censor himself.

He quotes NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch. But does he quote the language of the bill itself, which clearly excludes religious advocacy from protection under its provisions? Take a wild guess. The answer is no.

To Anderson’s credit, he did talk to us here at Discovery Institute as well, and wrote:

But the model bill and South Dakota’s do not advance intelligent design or creationism, said Casey Luskin, research coordinator for the Institute.

“If a teacher were to teach creationism in a state that has an academic freedom bill, they would not be protected by that bill in any way, shape or form,” Luskin said. “We actually do not support teaching or pushing intelligent design in public schools.”

Debating evolution doesn’t mean invoking religion, Luskin said. His group’s model legislation offers protection to teachers who question the science of evolution, so they don’t have to worry about losing their job, Luskin said.

If something is written into curriculum, such as climate change or evolution, an academic freedom bill allows teachers to, in the case of South Dakota, “understand, analyze, critique, or review” without being stopped by school officials.

“Schools should teach the evidence for and against evolution,” Luskin said.

But that last comment merely serves Anderson as a foil, as he immediately thereafter cites the president of the South Dakota Teachers Association, Julie Olson, who could hardly be more dogmatic:

Evolutionary principles are central to science, not just biology, and they’re not up for debate, Olson said….

“I don’t know what their arguments would be,” Olson said. “What’s the proof?”

Olson is candid in stating her view that students should be prevented from debating and questioning Darwinian evolution. She claims ignorance about what the scientific challenges to Darwin’s theory might be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she really is unaware of those challenges.

But the reporter, Patrick Anderson, is aware of them. I know that because I sent him the very answer to Olson’s objection in an e-mail — information that he apparently did not see fit to print in his article. Here’s what I wrote (the numbers in parentheses refer to PDFs of papers from the mainstream technical literature that I also sent to Anderson):

Per our conversation I wanted to send you some mainstream scientific papers that discuss scientific challenges to core tenets of neo-Darwinian evolution, especially as they’re taught in textbooks. Please note that many of these authors are neo-Darwinian evolutionists. But they all nonetheless recognize scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinian theory that challenge common textbook claims about the evidence for evolution, including:

(1) Major conflicts in the tree of life (011; 274b). It’s not religion to note that genome sequence data does not fit the treelike pattern seen in textbook diagrams.

(2) Problems with textbook discussions of vertebrate embryos (064; 300). It’s not religion to note that vertebrate embryos start off development differently, contradicting textbook diagrams.

(3) Non-speciation and limited change in “Darwin’s finches” (015, Speciation Undone). It’s not religion to point out that Darwin’s finches can still interbreed and only exhibit small-scale oscillating selection which does not show the evolution of fundamentally new types of organisms.

(4) The lack of importance of evolutionary theory for doing good biology research (020). It’s not religion to point out that you don’t need neo-Darwinian evolution to figure out how molecular machines like ATP synthase work.

(5) Challenges to the adequacy or primacy of natural selection and random mutation for causing evolution (023, 373). It’s not religion to point out that living organisms contain features which would require multiple mutations to arise before giving any advantage, and that population genetics models shows that evolving these structures by mutation and selection would be infeasible given normal population sizes and timescales.

This is just a small smattering of what’s out there in the peer-reviewed literature as far as challenges go to the evidence that’s cited for the mainstream neo-Darwinian viewpoint.

The papers I sent him provide strong documentation of the scientific criticisms, found in the mainstream scientific literature, of core neo-Darwinian claims, especially as they are taught in textbooks. Here are the full citations of the papers that the numbers refer to:

  • 011: Trisha Gura, “Bones, Molecules or Both?,” Nature, 406 (July 20, 2000): 230-233.
  • 274b: Graham Lawton, “Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life,” New Scientist, 2692 (January 21, 2009).
  • 064: Michael K. Richardson, James Hanken, Mayoni L. Gooneratne, Claude Pieau, Albert Raynaud, Lynne Selwood, and Glenda M. Wright, “There is No Highly Conserved Embryonic Stage in the Vertebrates: Implications for Current Theories of Evolution and Development,” Anatomy and Embryology, 196 (1997): 91-106
  • 300: Elizabeth Pennisi, “Haeckel’s Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered,” Science, 277 (September 5, 1997): 1435.
  • 015: Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant, “Unpredictable Evolution in a 30-Year Study of Darwin’s Finches,” Science, 296 (April 26, 2002): 707-711
  • Speciation Undone: Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant, “Speciation undone,” Nature, 507 (March 13, 2014): 178-179.
  • 020: Philip S. Skell, “Why do we invoke Darwin?,” The Scientist, 19 (August 29, 2005): 10.
  • 023: Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues,” Protein Science, 13 (2004): 2651-2664.
  • 373: Eugene V. Koonin, “The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?,” Trends in Genetics, 25 (2009): 473-475.

So the reporter was informed that there are serious scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinian theory — especially as it is taught in textbooks. Yet he makes no mention of any of it. Instead, he tries to rebut me by quoting a teacher who frankly admits her own lack awareness of the relevant data, and who leaves readers with the impression that there are no legitimate scientific criticisms of Darwinian evolution that could possibly be introduced in schools.

This makes Patrick Anderson not only an inaccurate reporter, but a censor. He withholds from readers crucial facts in his possession that are directly relevant to the story.

That’s exactly how media censorship works in the evolution debate. You’re seeing it right here before your very eyes. I’ve seen before, literally hundreds of times.

Image: South Dakota Capitol Building, by Samir Luther [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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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