Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An update from Indiana

Yes, more about my home state's current flirtation with muddying its science classrooms with creationist teaching. This post will serve as an update about the SB 89's progress as well as a clarification on an amendment which has been somewhat misinterpreted in the blogosphere.

Square web graphic

SB 89 passed, with 28 of 50 state senators agreeing with sponsor Dennis Kruse that our school districts should have the option to require the teaching of competing theories of the origin of life to counterbalance those offered by science (video of the short proceedings available here). I especially appreciated the impassioned arguments of Sen. Karen Tallian, who kicked royal ass. It was personal to her, and it was affecting to hear her stand up for the constitution. "I can't even believe we're even considering this," she said. "We made this decision more than 200 years ago. I speak for the Constitution, and the Constitution sheds a tear today that we're even talking about this."

This does not constitute a law, not yet. As the NCSE reports in the above-linked story, "The bill now proceeds to the Indiana House of Representatives, where its sponsors are Jeff Thompson (R-District 28) and Eric Turner (R-District 32), who is also the house speaker pro tem."

This is idiotic, wasteful legislation. It's depressing that it was proposed, considered, and passed.

Before the bill came up for vote, it was amended by my own state senator, Vi Simpson. It states that the "curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology." This is indeed part of the bill now moving to the House. Various folks around the web, uninformed of the amendment's intention, have interpreted it as another example of the bill's stupidity. At Pharyngula, PZ Myers aims his scorn at Simpson's language in particular, writing that "They really don’t get it. None of them are science, and they shouldn’t be taught as if they were." PZ (and the creator of the cartoon included) is missing the point; this wasn't meant to improve the bill, make it more legally palatable, or soothe offended parties. It was intended to torpedo the bill. I have yet to hear back from Simpson regarding her intention, so this is nothing more than an educated guess based on her track record.

Here's the rub: even if PZ and others are missing the intention of the amendment, they're not missing its ultimate effect. Though I was tickled by the effort - and hearing Kruse include Scientology in the array of creation stories that may be taught was pretty funny - the fundies called Simpson's bluff. They know too well that there is only one creation story any school district in Indiana is going to favor in its curriculum. As Kruse himself admitted in regards to the amendment, "It wasn't something I initiated and I wanted, but it does open the door I think for the potential of allowing all religious views to be taught. To make it so it might stand up even better in a court challenge". Mr. Kruse: RELIGIOUS VIEWS DO NOT BELONG IN SCIENCE CLASSROOMS. Also, a middle finger held aloft to you for taking for granted the work of generations of scientists who make your comfortable American life possible.

Imagine being an upright science teacher put in such a position. What's next? Shall we dispense with the germ theory of disease? I mean, it's but one possible explanation for sickness, and perhaps our young children should have the choice to believe that their sniffles and coughs are actually the work of gremlins in Tudor gowns (that's what believe, and I'm highly put off that my views are not represented in our science curricula).

Better yet, imagine a young science teacher looking for a place to teach. What incentive would she have to come to Indiana? The vicious irony of it is that rural districts that would benefit greatly by giving their children a well-rounded science education would be the ones most likely to undermine it by watering down their science classes with lessons in the supernatural.

I also continue to be disappointed by the lack of a truly motivated science communication community in Indiana. Bloomington, in particular. For a research institution, Indiana University seems to have a remarkably passive community of scientists. The single post about SB 89 on the Facebook page of the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers garnered a single comment. One. Maybe I'm wrong about science teachers in these districts. Maybe it's not a big deal. Or maybe I'm just not looking in the right places or tuning to the right channels. If so - and I truly hope so - correct me. If you're an Indiana scientist or science communicator who is active on the web, let me know and I'll follow you (as well as the legion of others like you who must be hiding somewhere).


  1. Gremlins in Tudor gowns? Frankly, David, I'm appalled that you would have truck with such ridiculous nonsense.

    A passing glance at the Gremlins' attire should alert you to the too-wide shoulders and too-narrow sleeves, plus the fact that most of them clearly prefer kirtles to farthingales. A couple of them even sport full ruffs! If they don't scream "Elizabethan", I don't know what does.

  2. Gremlins don't cause any harm unless you get them wet or feed them after midnight. Science has proven this.

  3. As if it weren't bad enough already - Scientology. Unbelievable. The speech from Network comes to mind.

  4. I really pity those who had to deal with this stuff on a daily basis, here in Europe we´re a bit more fortunate since almost anybody takes this folk seriously- for now. Good luck.

  5. In my experience, many of the scientists who are also activists have already left or will leave. I'm a case and point- I grew up my whole life in Indiana, got my undergraduate degree at IU-Bloomington (Anthropology and Biology) and promptly left the state as soon as I could. (I'm involved with multiple grassroot causes where I live now too.) It's called brain drain and it's a serious enough issue that politicians will claim to be able to fix it every election year.

  6. I agree, Melissa. You're the second person to point that out to me since I wrote this. There's just no one sticking around. And the institutions who are here seem to be allergic to social media as an outreach venue. Thanks for commenting!


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