An Open Letter to The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology - Evolution News & Views

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An Open Letter to The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

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The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) has announced its decision to boycott the State of Louisiana in retaliation for Louisiana Science Education Act passed last year by the Louisiana Legislature and signed by Governor Jindal. The effect of the new law is to allow teachers in Louisiana to use supplementary materials to teach controversial scientific theories without threat of recrimination.

In a letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, SICB president Dr. Richard Satterlie has announced that his organization will hold its 2011 meeting in Salt Lake City, rather than in New Orleans as had been planned. Dr. Satterlie wrote:

We will not hold the Society's 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans...the Executive Committee voted to hold the 2011 meeting in Salt Lake City in large part because of legislation SB 561, which you signed into law in June 2008...SICB wrote to the Louisiana legislators opposing SB 561. After the bill passed both the House and the Senate, we joined the American Institute of Biological Sciences (ABIS) and other national scientific organizations in urging you to veto this legislation...[t]he SICB leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula. SICB is joining other scientific organizations in suggesting professional societies reconsider any plans to host meetings in Louisiana. As scientists, it is our responsibility to oppose anti-science initiatives. We urge you to take actions to repeal SB 561 in the upcoming legislative session.

Of course, the SICB's censorship is the real "anti-science initiative" that "weakens science education." The Louisiana Science Education Act strengthens science education by promoting academic freedom and promoting open discussion of scientific evidence, which are indispensible to science. It protects teachers who present various sides of scientific controversies, and doesn't "attack evolution in science curricula," unless one accepts Dr. Satterlie's inference that open discussion of biological evidence inherently "attacks evolution."

The SICB's opposition to academic freedom in science classrooms and its interference in the right of the citizens of Louisiana to set educational policy for their children in their schools without interference by national scientific organizations is repellant. The lobbying and boycott conducted by the SICB is contrary to fundamental scientific ethics, which encourages free inquiry and respect for differences of opinion. Such unethical tactics demean the scientific profession. In fact, they show precisely why these academic freedom bills are needed.

This is my open letter to Dr. Satterlie and the SICB:


Dear Dr. Satterlie and the membership of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology,

I have learned of your decision to boycott the state of Louisiana because of the recently enacted Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The LSEA is a landmark academic freedom bill that allows teachers to use supplementary materials to teach controversial scientific theories without threat of recrimination. Your organization lobbied against this law, and has lobbied in support of censorship in public school science classes and in support of punishment of teachers who use supplementary materials to teach their students about scientific controversies. You have now announced your decision to change the planned venue for the 2011 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting from New Orleans to Salt Lake City in retaliation for the decision of the citizens of Louisiana to allow academic freedom in their science classrooms.

Your organization has now gone on record as opposing academic freedom in public schools. The formal alignment of several organizations of professional scientists -- of which you are the most recent -- with censorship of scientific discussion is an ominous development.

Your opposition to academic freedom and your astonishing decision to boycott the people that you unsuccessfully tried to censor will only serve to further alienate ordinary Americans who already doubt your commitment to honest non-ideological science. Your attempt at censorship and your boycott are a sneer at the citizens of Louisiana. They will no doubt draw the obvious inference that you wish to insulate your scientific viewpoints from public scrutiny and that you endorse censorship in their schools because you think that the citizens of Louisiana don't have the same right to educate their children in their schools as you have to educate your children in yours.

But you misunderstand the people for whom you clearly have such disdain.

Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don't accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools. They don't share your passion for ideological purity in science classes. They have a quaint notion that science depends on the freedom to ask questions, and their insistence on academic freedom is catching on. They don't want religion taught in the science classroom, but they know that students are not learning about all of the science surrounding evolution. Seventy-eight percent of Americans support academic freedom in the teaching of evolution in schools, and that number is rising fast -- it's up 9% in the past 3 years. People clearly resent your demand for censorship. After all, it's their children in their schools, and they aren't happy with a bunch of supercilious Darwinists telling them that they can't even question Darwinism in their own classrooms. So if you're going to boycott all the creationists who despise you, you'll eventually have to hold all of your conventions in Madison or Ann Arbor. Keep up the arrogance and eventually you won't have to boycott people at all. People will boycott you.

Folks in Louisiana don't actually care if the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancels its convention in New Orleans. There are a lot of other organizations that will be delighted to hold their conventions in cities you boycott. There are a lot of big organizations out there who don't exactly like you. The National Association of Evangelicals represents 40,000,000 people and represents 40,000 churches. The Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology has 2300 members. Just one organization of evangelicals has 17 times as many churches as you have members. There are thousands of churches that are larger than your organization, and I'm sure many members would be happy to come to New Orleans for tourism or meetings.

In fact, if I were Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, I'd change the Louisiana State Motto to "Boycotted by Darwinists Since 2009." It'd be a stroke of advertising genius. Boycotted cities could market themselves as "Darwinist-Free Zones." I doubt that many localities could even accommodate all of the new visitors.

Worst of all, "boycott" is a very bad meme for Darwinists to be spreading. Where do you think the money that you're denying the citizens of New Orleans came from? Your grants, mostly, which come from... creationists. You guys are utterly dependent on taxpayers, most of whom are creationists of one stripe or another, and most of whom rank Darwinists on an ethical scale somewhere below Caribbean hedge fund operators. They think you're a bunch of atheist brownshirts -- can't imagine why. These ordinary citizens might notice that you boycotted them while suckling at the public teat -- their teat. The ordinary taxpaying God-fearing Americans you tried to slap down in Louisiana are paying your way, and they've always paid your way, while you sneered at them, ridiculed their faith, and used a judicial cudgel to indoctrinate their children in their schools. And now you think that you can blackmail them by...refusing to visit their state?

My suggestion: lose your attitude. Boycotting true academic freedom -- which is what this law is all about -- is bad p.r. Your grants to study evolution don't really come from NIH or NSF. They come from creationists, the ones you take to court and censor all the time. You've always played them for dupes, but "boycott" is a word you don't want them to learn. There are a couple hundred million of them, they don't much like or trust you anyway. Times are hard, and don't make the mistake of thinking that the work of evolutionary biologists is indispensible. Evolution is worthless to experimental biology and worthless to medical research. The most "evolution-denying" country in the Western world -- the United States -- is the world's undisputed scientific leader. A lot of taxpayers realize that Darwinist "just-so stories" are of little value to the real research going on in biology and medicine. Evolutionary research -- like the research that claimed that the human brain evolved because apes got better spit -- is a real "shovel ready" project, in the sense that a lot of folks would like to take a shovel to it.

If you're not careful, "creationists" (80% of Americans) might notice this irony: you boycott their states, but you forgot to boycott their money. If one percent of the people you've censored and boycotted wrote letters to their congressmen demanding a defunding of evolutionary research -- a boycott of you -- the grant money currently allocated to advancing Darwinist ideology (it's ideologues, not scientists, who censor) would be re-allocated to genuine non-ideological science.

Do you think they'd be successful? The arguments that your allies have used would be the basis for defunding you. The appellation "consensus science" could be used as a litmus test for withdrawal of funding. Why fund research on "settled" science? Why waste precious research dollars on studying a "fact" like Darwinism, when there are so many pressing problems in medicine and other sciences that remain unsolved? Research funding properly goes to controversies, not settled issues. How many scientific theories that are taught to public school students as non-controversial are the basis for substantial federal funding? How much money does the NSF devote to research on Newtonian gravitation or heliocentrism?

How's this for a rallying cry:

"Americans should be allowed to teach their children about the evolutionary controversies in which publicly-funded research is being conducted."

or

"Evolution: No controversy? -- no funding."

Fits nicely on a bumper sticker. It could catch on.

Your arrogance and disrespect for academic freedom demeans the scientific profession, and your boycott of people who don't capitulate to your censorship is risible. You're actually debasing Darwinism, which, after eugenics and a century and a half of third-rate science, is no mean accomplishment. Most people don't see your refusal to visit their state as a "threat." Honestly, they'd rather you made your boycott all-inclusive, so you'd miss all of their legislative sessions and federal court hearings as well. So back off the "boycott" stuff. Just say you misspoke, or pretend you never said it at all. You Darwinists are good at covering your tracks (remember "junk DNA"?). Keep in mind that you're living off the people you're censoring and boycotting. Your livelihood is dependent on their largesse, and, in "comparative biology" vernacular, it's unwise for parasites to boycott their hosts.

My advice: just keep suckling at the public teat and pretend the boycott never happened.

Cordially,

Mike Egnor, M.D.


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