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Tennessee's top scientists oppose "monkey bills"

Eight Tennessee members of the National Academies — including a Nobel laureate — have signed a statement (PDF) expressing their firm opposition to House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893. Both bills, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." HB 368 was passed in April 7, 2011, but SB 893 was stalled in committee until March 14, 2012, when the Senate Education Committee passed a slightly amended version.

The scientists object to the misdescription of evolution as scientifically controversial, insisting, "As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm — along with the nation's leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences — that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals ('creation science' and 'intelligent design') and there is no scientific evidence against it."

The scientists also object to the encouragement to teachers to present the so-called scientific weaknesses of evolution, which, they contend, "in practice are likely to include scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. As educators whose teaching involves and is based on evolution, we affirm — along with the nation's leading science education organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association — that evolution is a central and crucial part of science education. Neglecting evolution is pedagogically irresponsible."

Their statement concludes, "By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's public schools, HB 368 and SB 893 would miseducate students, harm the state's national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy." The statement is signed by Stanley Cohen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, Roger D. Cone, George M. Hornberger, Daniel Masys, John A. Oates, Liane Russell, Charles J. Sherr, and Robert Webster; all eight are members of the National Academies, one of the world's most prestigious scientific organizations.

Updated on March 22, 2012, to reflect the fact that although there were eight signatories, all of whom are members of the National Academies, two are members of its Institute of Medicine and one is a member of its National Academy of Engineering. Three Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences were not originally signatories, although two, John H. Exton and Jon H. Kaas, subsequently endorsed the statement.