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Two Cheers for the Washington Post, Which Accurately Reports on Virginia's Academic Freedom Bill

VA state seal.jpg

We've already told you about the academic freedom bill under consideration in Virginia. See Joshua Youngkin's reports here and here. Now today's Washington Post carries the headline: "Teachers oppose Va. bill challenging mainstream science."

We braced for this one, but especially considering past reporting by the Post, writers  Michael Alison Chandler and Michael Laris did a wonderful job. We're especially impressed by Ms. Chandler, to whom we spoke. She sounded friendly on the phone, which is usually an ominous sign. Not in this case, it turns out. We sent her background information that she actually read. Wow!

See here:

The bill, sponsored by Del. Richard P. Bell (R-Staunton), would direct school systems to encourage students "to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes."

It says teachers should not be prohibited from helping students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

The bill states that its provisions are not intended to promote or discriminate against any religion, nor does it single out scientific "controversies." But Bell said in an interview Wednesday that evolution and climate change "might fall into that category."

...

Such bills are part of a wave of so-called Academic Freedom legislation promoted across the country by proponents of biblical creationism or intelligent design, the theory that life in all of its complexity cannot not be explained without a higher, intelligent cause.

Look, by any objective standard, it's not that the article is great -- especially the sentence where intelligent design seems to be lumped with biblical creationism without explanation. (See David Klinghoffer's post yesterday on that.) But it's a relief when reporters do some homework and exert themselves to try to be objective.

The article accurately quotes and describes the bill, including the language clearly excluding the promotion of religion. That's practically a first. Almost no one does that, let alone at the top of the article. Their definition of ID is much better than what we get from most reporters.

They close this way:

A policy statement by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which funds intelligent design research and has developed model Academic Freedom legislation, says that efforts to mandate instruction of intelligent design only serve to "politicize the theory." The group instead seeks to expand teaching of evolution to include current debates about "unresolved issues" within the theory.

"Evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," according to the statement.

The institute says three states have adopted laws that protect the rights of teachers or students to debate the scientific underpinnings of evolution or other theories, as Bell's bill would do.

"What is the crime of allowing a teacher in an objective manner to talk about" such debates, asked John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute. If that's not allowed, he said, "you are turning science into some kind of propaganda class where all you promote is dogma."

This is a remarkably fair presentation of where we stand. They accurately describe our policy on science education, noting that we don't favor teaching intelligent design in public schools. They accurately quote John West. And the article links to our academic freedom petition site.

As a bonus, the headline (which of course isn't written by the reporters) doesn't mention creationism. The reference to "mainstream science" is wrong, since critiques of evolutionary theory are legion in mainstream peer-reviewed science journals, but it's not as bad as claiming that the bill promotes "creationism." Compare that to Karl Giberson in the Daily Beast.

For accurately describing the bill and our relevant positions, we bet these reporters get savaged.

Image: Virginia State Seal outside State Capitol, MudflapDC/Flickr.