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Now We Know: How the National Center for Science Education Detects "Science Denial" and "Evolution Denial"

Recently, Glenn Branch, Deputy Director for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), provided a helpful post in which he explains how the NCSE determines whether any proposed education bill before a state legislature is "antiscience" and thus a cause for the NCSE to swing into action. He gives us three main criteria. The first:

1. A bill is antievolution if (a) it explicitly mentions evolution or a supposed alternative to evolution, such as "creation science" or "intelligent design," and (b) is evidently intended to, and if enacted would, have a deleterious effect on the teaching of evolution.

Branch explains:

Note that (a) alone is not sufficient: a bill that mentions evolution or a supposed alternative to it might be pro-evolution (such as Montana’s Senate Joint Resolution 8 from 2005). But what if a bill either fails to mention evolution or any supposed alternative to it, or isn’t evidently aimed at the teaching of evolution? Well, that’s why there are further criteria.

So merely mentioning the word "evolution" isn’t enough; 1(b) is there to allow the NCSE some lattitude, determining that a bill would have a "deleterious" effect on the teaching of evolution. What exactly is "deleterious"? Based on the group's past comments and actions, what the NCSE means by that word is anything that might cause a student to question or doubt what evolution is capable of explaining. Never mind that Darwinian evolutionary theory has no explanation whatsoever for the origin of complex, specified information in biological systems. Exposing students to that fact would be "deleterious" to their science education.

Let’s see what the second criterion entails. Branch writes:

2. A bill is antievolution if its legislative sponsors have acknowledged that it is intended to or is likely to affect the teaching of evolution in a deleterious way. (That is, in a way that NCSE deems deleterious, even if the sponsors wouldn’t concur.)

There’s that word, "deleterious," again. Branch still hasn't defined it for us. Instead, he admits that the quality of being deleterious is in the eye of the beholder. A bill is "antievolution" (or "antiscience") if the NCSE deems it to be so -- even if the authors of the bill state otherwise! That's chutzpah for you: telling other people what they really mean, while disregarding what they say: You say X and you may even think you mean X but we, being omniscient, know what you really mean is Y.

Branch gives an example of how the NCSE's power of mindreading works:

Indiana’s House Bill 1388 from 2006, for example, provided, "[i]n adopting textbooks for each subject...the state board shall not adopt a textbook if the state board knows the textbook contains information, descriptions, conclusions, or pictures that are false." Well, that seemed innocuous enough. But its sponsor, Bruce A. Borders, told the Indianapolis Star (January 11, 2006) that "Many of the things that have been used to support macroevolution have been proven to be lies...it will take those out." He previously told the Star (November 5, 2005) that he was "passionate" about "intelligent design" and intended to introduce a bill to require it to be taught in Indiana’s public schools. That, of course, was just before the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover, and Borders later acknowledged that while his strategy changed, his intention of undermining the teaching of evolution in the public schools remained the same. So HB 1388 was deemed antievolution.

It emerges that the NCSE has no problem with science textbooks including "information, descriptions, conclusions, or pictures that are false," as long as the falsehoods are not "antievolution."

Which brings us to the third criterion:

3. A bill is antievolution if it is relevantly connected (e.g., through similarities of language or continuities in sponsorship) to bills that satisfy criteria 1 or 2.

Thus if a legislator had previously sponsored a bill deemed deleterious under criterion 1 or 2 (or both), then any new legislation from that legislator, regardless of its language, is tainted and automatically deemed to be deleterious. Again Branch gives a helpful example from Kentucky:

Take Kentucky’s House Bill 169 from 2011 -- please! If enacted, it would have allowed teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." No particular scientific theories were mentioned. But its sponsor, Tim Moore, previously introduced House Bill 397 in 2010, which, by explicitly citing "the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as examples of scientific theories for which supplementary instructional materials could be used, satisfied criterion 1... So HB 169 was deemed antievolution.

Poor Representative Moore! He had no idea that the all-knowing NCSE could see right through his ruse, trying to sneak this horrible "antiscience" bill through in such an underhanded way, because, well, he has a history of such dastardly deeds. It should be noted that Branch doesn’t say what "supplemental instructional materials" are being referenced in the bill. But when it comes to the teaching of evolution, we certainly can’t allow any supplemental materials to be introduced to students because, again, that would be deleterious to their science education. Why, they might end up having questions about evolution, or worse, doubts about it. That would truly be deleterious.

Branch concludes:

Thus antievolution bills, as far as NCSE is concerned, are those that satisfy one (or more) of criteria 1 through 3; and ...you get a definition of antiscience bills chez NCSE.

If that sounds ridiculous, it's only because it is. Branch and the NCSE provide no objective means for determining what is or is not science, let alone what might be antiscience or antievolution. Of course, anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the philosophy of science knows that determining what is and is not science is a question fraught with all sorts of problems. Even philosophers of science hesistate to swim in such deep waters. That, however, doesn’t seem to be a problem for Glenn Branch. Knowing all things, as the folks at the NCSE evidently do, they can simply "deem" what is and is not science "denial."

This would all be comical were it not for the fact that some legislators take the NCSE seriously when Branch and his colleagues show up for a fight. The NCSE will brook no challenge to how they "deem" evolution needs to be taught and, by golly, anyone who thinks differently than they do should get ready to be put in the same drawer as Holocaust deniers.

We need to constantly remind legislators that the NCSE's stance on "science" versus "antiscience" is entirely a matter of subjective prejudice. A bill is "antiscience" if Branch and his colleagues don't care for it or if it bears any relationship to another bill that the NCSE doesn't like. Thank you, Glenn, for clearing that up.