As a general rule, scientists prefer to stay out of politics. Again, I say, it’s a general rule. It may not even be generally true anymore, though it was pretty rare even ten years ago for any group of scientists to endorse almost any political position beyond “fund my field of research,” a very limited sort of lobbying usually limited to grant applications.
But Louisiana’s recent “Science Education Act” is so frankly awful that 75 Nobel Laureates have committed their names to the cause of getting it repealed. Senator Karen Carter Peters’ Senate Bill 374 is intended to do just that. According to their press release, which is found on the Repeal Creationism website, these scientists actually represent some 40 percent of living Nobel Prize winners in the sciences (i.e., from the categories physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine).
The Louisiana Science Education Act was widely criticized by both educators and working scientists when it was first introduced in 2008, but passed anyway. Critics say one of its major offenses towards state science standards has been its attempts to undermine evolutionary theory in favour of coddling creationist thinking and fundamentalist religious sensibilities.
Though the scientific explanation for the history and origins of life on Earth is a sore point for some people, the simple, observed fact of inherited genetic change in populations cannot be considered a matter of political orientation or opinion. As just one example, rapid evolutionary change in bacteria and viruses, due to their short generation times, is highly relevant to epedemiology and human health, and an inability for doctors, scientists, and health experts to understand the process could be incredibly dangerous.
Besides the aforementioned signees, several other individuals and organizations have endorsed Bill 374. They include the city of New Orleans (their city council voted unanimously for the repeal), several Louisiana science and biology teachers’ organizations, and more than a half dozen national science organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Furthermore, the Clergy Letter Project, an organization of religious leaders and scientists with over 14,000 members, has supported the bill to repeal the Science Education Act. These individuals want legislators and their fellow citizens to know that their faith is not at odds with science, and anti-science politicos who cite religious conviction as a rationalization for attacks on science education do not speak for them.
Photo credit: Eugene van der Pijll via Wikimedia Commons