Will Tomorrow's Academic Freedom Story in The New York Times Accurately Reflect Discovery's Science Education Policy on Teaching Evolution?
UPDATE: A sentence in the original post has been corrected to read: I stopped her right there and explained that we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design -- as is so often misreported -- but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it.
http://www.academicfreedompetition.comTomorrow The New York Times will publish an article about academic freedom bills being considered in a few states. We've obviously had some involvement: in 2008 we created the Academic Freedom Petition, which has sample language that legislators could adapt for use in their own states. That led to a very good piece of legislation, the Louisiana Science Education Act, that was finally signed into law last year.
Months ago NYT reporter Leslie Kaufman interviewed CSC associate director John West about academic freedom bills, our views on science education policy, and whether or not we were turning our focus to the global warming issue. As usual, West explained our longstanding science education policy position, which is: "As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community." Bills that don't follow this approach are not ones we're likely to support. When they do, we're glad to lend our seal of approval, for what it's worth.
I greatly appreciate that Leslie had the integrity to call us today and verify the quote she wanted to use from West and to make sure it still reflected our general position. I spoke with her briefly and she told me she also planned to describe Discovery Institute as leading the movement to get intelligent design taught in science classes. I stopped her right there and explained that we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design -- as is so often misreported -- but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it. She said that was too long to fit in her story (in the New York Times, remember, where they promise to report "All the News That's Fit to Print"; maybe letting people speak for themselves isn't fit to print, we shall see). So I was encouraged when she read back to me a sentence that describes the Institute as endorsing the teaching of critiques of modern evolution. I agreed to that. Upon reflection I probably should have insisted on finding out how she plans to define both "critiques" and "evolution." Again, we shall see what sort of meanings are implied and what perceptions readers are likely to take away from the story. I hope her context is as accurate as the sentence she read back.
She might just as well call it what it is, the teach the controversy approach. As I've explained it previously:
One of the reasons CSC has advocated for the teach the controversy approach is because it is a good way to teach critical thinking to students who all too often are not learning to analyze things and think critically about the arguments for and against.See here for some other good reasons this is a good approach.
Darwinian evolution is mostly taught as if it were a done deal, as if there were no unsolved problems, as if the theory had been proven. Such is not the case. Telling students about the debate amongst scientists over certain evidences for Darwin's theory is not only necessary for good science, it is a pedagogically sound way of teaching a controversial subject.
The important point of couse is
exactly what West told her, and what I reiterated: that our main focus is making sure that when Darwinian evolution comes up, teachers have the academic freedom to present both the evidence that supports it, as well as the evidence (right out of the mainstream scientific literature) that challenges it. It will be interesting to see if the NYT editors let Leslie leave in her story these key distinctions, or whether readers will walk away from the story believing -- as Leslie apparently did at first -- that Discovery is leading the charge to get intelligent design taugh in science classes. We're not. I've seen NYT, AP and other major media editors change reporters' descriptions of things to the news they want to fit their print.
As for Academic Freedom Acts, they're coming in somewhere new every year. This year there are apparently a few, and the only serious one that I've perused is in Kentucky. I'm no attorney so I'll leave serious analysis to legal eagles (hint, hint Casey Luskin and David DeWolf), but it seems to me they've followed Louisiana's lead and crafted legislation in the academic freedom spirit which we've always intended.
We have a small staff and few resources, so we usually find out about these various state-based bills the same way everyone else does, through Google News. It is rare that we are asked to advise on such pieces of legislation. But when we do, and when they take our recommendations, the end result is good legislation like the Louisiana Science Education Act that was passed and signed into law last year. or the stronger Texas science standards adopted in that state last year. Again, we have a perfectly good model piece of legislation that people can review and use if they so desire on the Academic Freedom Petition page. And while you're there, considering joining the more than 40,000 people who have signed the petition and show your support for academic freedom on evolution.