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I Got Canceled by the National Science Teaching Association

Charles Darwin statue Shrewsbury
Photo: Statue of Charles Darwin, Shrewsbury Library, by Bs0u10e01 / CC BY-SA.

Cancel culture reigns supreme in mainstream science, as I can tell you from personal experience. A recent instance involves the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) and its cancellation of my poster presentation, which had been scheduled for the NSTA annual conference going on right now in Atlanta, March 22-25.

In September 2022 I submitted a proposal to speak at the conference. My topic was “The Top 10 Scientific Arguments Against Darwin’s Theory — According to Darwin Himself.” Darwin took great care to reply thoughtfully to the scientific arguments against his theory and, by the time of the sixth edition of The Origin of Species in 1872, approximately one-third of his book consisted of his responses to 37 scientific arguments against his theory (all of which still have merit today). Based on Darwin’s discussion in The Origin of Species, I determined what Darwin likely would have considered to be the top ten scientific arguments against his theory. (For interested readers, see here for Dr. Casey Luskin’s own detailed take on the same subject.)

On December 29, 2022, I received an email from the NSTA conference team inviting me instead to submit a proposal for a poster presentation. The email stated that my topic was “evaluated as one that is significant and of interest to your colleagues.” On January 9, 2023, I submitted a proposal for the poster presentation, which was then approved and, beginning in January, was listed in the online conference agenda. The listing presented the main takeaway of the poster presentation as follows: “Darwin acknowledged that there were ‘a crowd of difficulties’ with his theory and stated, ‘Some of them are so serious that to this day I can hardly reflect on them without being in some degree staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, [they] are not, I think, fatal to the theory.’”

Working on My Poster

In February I worked on my poster presentation and also prepared a handout for it. On February 22 I went to a local print shop and had 50 copies made of the handout. In the evening of the same day I attended “Atlanta 2023 — Poster Session Support Web Seminar,” a webinar sponsored by NSTA to help those preparing poster presentations.

However, on February 24 I received an email from Tricia Shelton, NSTA’s Chief Learning Officer, stating that “it has come to our attention that your session may be promoting creationism. … The purpose of this email is to inquire about your poster presentation to find out if it is focused on creationism or on modern evolutionary science ideas articulated in our national standards.” I responded on February 25, “My poster presentation is not focused at all on creationism. It is focused only on Darwin’s ideas and what he considered to be valid scientific arguments against his theory.”

Resolved by Modern Science?

I then received an email from her on February 28 in which she asked if I was seeking to challenge modern evolutionary theory by using intelligent design. She also said my poster would need to explain how each of the top ten scientific arguments against Darwin’s theory has been resolved by “modern scientific evidence.” 

I replied that my poster presentation did not challenge evolution by using intelligent design. Rather, it only set forth what Darwin himself thought were the top ten scientific arguments against his theory, specifically, against his proposed mechanism for evolution, i.e., the application of natural selection to randomly produced variations. Thus, it sought to promote an objective evaluation of Darwin’s proposed mechanism. 

I also stated that the scientific debate continues with respect to this mechanism and that I did not believe the top ten scientific arguments have been resolved using modern scientific evidence. I stated that if I was mistaken, I would appreciate her help and asked her to let me know what modern scientific evidence has resolved each of the ten arguments.

A Final Email

I received a third and final email from Ms. Shelton on March 7. In this email, instead of pointing out any modern scientific evidence resolving the ten arguments, she stated that my poster presentation focused only on Darwin’s words and did not “reference Framework-aligned teaching approaches.” However, the guidelines for poster presentations do not require that a poster presentation “reference Framework-aligned teaching approaches.” It seemed she was just looking for an excuse to cancel my poster presentation. She said my poster presentation could not be accepted “in its current state” and canceled it without giving me any opportunity to bring it into compliance.

It is bizarre that Ms. Shelton canceled my poster presentation when, as indicated earlier, the NSTA conference team found my topic to be “significant and of interest to your colleagues.” In her zeal to protect the established narrative about evolution, Ms. Shelton was determined to shut down any debate about Darwin’s theory, even if it was debate fostered by Darwin himself.

The “Censorship Industrial Complex”

At a Congressional hearing earlier this month, held by the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, one of the witnesses, Michael Shellenberger, warned the lawmakers of “the growth and power of a censorship industrial complex run by America’s scientific and technological elite,” a complex that has eroded Americans’ freedom of speech. This censorship industrial complex has been at work for quite some time now in attempting to shut down any debate about Darwin’s theory.

Most people believe that when it comes to disagreements on policy and scientific theory, the best approach is to promote debate rather than censorship. Open and honest debate has always been the American way. However, in the case of Darwin’s theory, debate is rejected in favor of censorship. This is contrary to the hope of Charles Darwin himself, who wrote, “I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” Those “young and rising naturalists” are out there, and I’ve learned much from them. But the National Science Teaching Association, for one, has no interest in doing so.