Bethesda, MD, July 3--ASBMB President Greg Petsko, Brandeis University, sent a letter to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana urging him to veto the Louisiana Science Education Act, a bill that would open the door to anti-evolution materials being distributed in the state's public school system. As Dr. Petsko notes:
"Contrary to its title, the bill in fact undermines science education in Louisiana by singling out several areas of scientific inquiry, including the theory of evolution, for "critical analysis." In fact, the bill is nothing more than a thinly disguised attack on the theory of evolution, and is only the latest in a long line of efforts by proponents of creationism to get this non-scientific doctrine accepted in the public schools as a valid explanation for the incredible diversity of life on this planet."
Unfortunately, Governor Jindal signed the bill sometime in late June without announcing it to anyone.
ASBMB will be holding its annual meeting in New Orleans in April 2009 in conjunction with EB. The Society public affairs staff is organizing an EB-wide symposium on the political and legal aspects of the battle over the theory of evolution, now in its 150th year. Keep an eye open for more information on the symposium as planning progresses.
For a detailed discussion of the bill and the machinations surrounding its passage and signing, please see the August issue of ASBMB Today. Dr. Petsko devotes his monthly President's column to the issue, and ASBMB Science Policy Fellow Angela Hvitved has written a very good think piece about the issue of "academic freedom," the rubric under which the bill purports to advance science education in Louisiana
July 1, 2008
The Honorable Bobby Jindal
PO Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004
Dear Governor Jindal:
I am writing as President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), a nonprofit scientific and educational society with 12,000 members, including many at various universities and other institutions in the state of Louisiana.
My purpose in so doing is to urge you to veto the Louisiana Science Education Act. Contrary to its title, the bill in fact undermines science education in Louisiana by singling out several areas of scientific inquiry, including the theory of evolution, for “critical analysis.” In fact, the bill is nothing more than a thinly disguised attack on the theory of evolution, and is only the latest in a long line of efforts by proponents of creationism to get this non-scientific doctrine accepted in the public schools as a valid explanation for the incredible diversity of life on this planet.
Creationism is by definition not science. Science is based on observable and measurable phenomena, and the hallmark of good science is rigorous experimentation to discover and validate observations of the natural world. Creationism, on the other hand, is based on unobservable and unverifiable assertions. While the doctrine of creationism might have a place for study in a comparative religion or philosophy class, it has no place in a science classroom and efforts to get it included in science curricula should be vigorously fought.
If creationism is allowed to be taught in public science classes in Louisiana, the ultimate losers will not be scientists or politicians but rather the people, and more immediately and importantly, the students of your state. They will suffer by receiving a distorted science education—ill preparing them for the modern workforce and for making informed public policy decisions. More broadly, all Louisianans will suffer because of the long-term economic damage that will occur from the state having a workforce whose education has been slighted, which will do little to encourage new employers to move there. The state will also subject itself to the ridicule that Kansas experienced a few years ago when its state school board was taken over by creationists (later ousted). The law will almost surely bring on a protracted legal battle, causing Louisiana to incur millions of dollars in legal expenses. Finally, there is a decided possibility that, in the future, scientific organizations may decide to hold their conventions in other venues more friendly to science, rather than in Louisiana.
Because of long-standing contractual obligations signed long before this bill began its journey to your desk, ASBMB is planning to hold its annual meeting in New Orleans in April 2009, and it is our sincere hope that when we get there, the Louisiana Science Education Act will have long since been consigned to the “dustbin of history.”
In closing, we urge you to veto this bill, thus demonstrating your commitment to good science and a bright and prosperous future for the people of your state.
ASBMB stands ready to assist you in any way you require in resolving this matter.
Gregory M. Petsko