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A second antiscience bill in Oklahoma

A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, deprive administrators of the ability to prevent teachers from miseducating students about "scientific controversies" is back from the dead. House Bill 1674 (PDF), styled the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, was supposed to have died in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on March 14, 2013, when a deadline for bills to have their third reading in their house of origin passed. But it is now listed as available for consideration on the House floor in the afternoon of February 18, 2014. The first antiscience bill in Oklahoma for 2014, Senate Bill 1765, sponsored by Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), is currently before the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 1674, would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught," prohibiting administrators from interfering. As introduced, the bill specifically mentions "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as subjects which "some teachers may be unsure" about how to teach.

The House sponsors of HB 1674 are Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) and Sally Kern (R-District 84). In 2012, Blackwell revived House Bill 1551, which was originally introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by Kern in 2011. HB 1551 was rejected in the House Common Education Committee in 2011, but Blackwell resurrected the bill in 2012, adding a reference to controversial "premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics." The revised bill quickly passed the House Common Education Committee, which amended it slightly to provide "Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding, and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards."

HB 1551 passed the House of Representatives on March 15, 2012, by which time it managed to attract condemnation from national scientific and educational organizations. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's chief executive officer Alan I. Leshner expressed his concerns with the bill, for example, writing in a March 21, 2012, letter, "There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution," and adding, "asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them." HB 1551 died in the Senate Education Committee in April 2012.

The new bill, HB 1674, is apparently identical to the final version of HB 1551 as passed by the House of Representatives and unconsidered by the Senate, and only slightly different from Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 from 2009, which a member of the Senate Education Committee memorably described to the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009) as one of the worst bills that he had ever seen. In its detailed critique of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution."

In The Oklahoma Daily (March 6, 2013), Richard E. Broughton of the University of Oklahoma described HB 1674 as "a 'Trojan horse' bill specifically crafted by an out-of-state, religious think tank to open the door for the teaching of religious or political views in school science classes. This is clearly understood by everyone familiar with the bill on both sides. HB 1674 would write false claims about science into state law, contradicting the wealth of scientific evidence, our own curriculum standards and the expertise of Oklahoma's scientists and teachers." He concluded, "Passage of this bill will damage the education of our students, diminish the ability to attract scientifically-based industries to Oklahoma and will likely lead to costly lawsuits over constitutionality."