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Non-Scientist Says, "You're Not a Scientist"

History undergrad Zack Kopplin, enfant terrible of Rice University, appeared recently on Bill Moyer's program to pump his latest campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). This will be Zack's third campaign against the LSEA in as many years.

By its plain terms, the LSEA is a law that protects from administrative reprisal the objective, multi-sided teaching of scientific controversies covered during normal curricular science instruction, including evolution, climate change, and human cloning.

The policy or purpose of the law, made plain on its face, is to use in-class, teacher-led critical and even open inquiry into matters of science controversy to induce critical thinking in students, and to bar religion from entry at the same time.

To achieve that end, teachers need legislative assurance, a grant of rights, really, that they won't get into trouble if they decide to teach this way. That assurance and nothing else is what the LSEA delivers.

Critics of the LSEA, including Zack Kopplin, say that the law is really an unconstitutional back door for getting religion into science class, that it is harmful to science education, harmful to an economy dependent on innovation, and therefore ripe for repeal.

Advocates of the LSEA reply that if the law induced unconstitutional conduct, or could even be read to encourage unconstitutional conduct, then there would have been a lawsuit long ago. Yet the LSEA remains unchallenged since passage in 2008.

Louisiana state senator Karen Carter Peterson recently filed SB 26, a bill seeking to repeal the LSEA. Before Zack testifies at an eventual hearing on the bill, he is laying a public-relations foundation by making his case for repeal in the media.

Until very recently, Zack had managed only limited attention. That is no longer the case.

Last Friday, he took his LSEA repeal message to Bill Maher's Real Time, his biggest stage so far, which he announced beforehand on Twitter.

That got Hugh Hefner excited, at least on Twitter.

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The attaboys really streamed in on Twitter after Zack managed a rhetorical takedown of the token skeptic on Maher's panel, Steve Moore.

During panel discussion, Moore questioned the wisdom of federal funding for research on snail mating and implied that a lot of government funding of scientific studies is similarly unwise. Without missing a beat, Zack reminded Moore of something more important: "You're not a scientist," Zack said.

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The audience laughed and clapped approvingly at Zack's argument, convinced by what now passes for science that the two million dollar snail sex study must go on for the sake of, say, national security. Or something.

And non-scientists everywhere learned a valuable lesson about asking questions in public: don't do it. Just don't.