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Repeal effort fails in Louisiana

Louisiana's Senate Bill 374 (PDF) was rejected on a 2-1 vote in the Senate Committee on Education on April 19, 2012, according to the Alexandria Town Talk (April 19, 2012). Three senators were absent and the chair abstained. The bill, introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008, and thus opened the door for scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution and climate science to be taught in the state's public schools.

The law targeted for repeal calls on state and local education administrators to help to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning"; these four topics were described as controversial in the original draft of the legislation. It also allows teachers to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner" if so permitted by their local school boards.

Since 2008, antievolutionists have not only sought to undermine the law's provision allowing challenges to unsuitable supplementary materials, but have also reportedly invoked the law to support proposals to teach creationism in at least two parishes — Livingston and Tangipahoa — and to attack the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks proposed for adoption by the state. Meanwhile, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology urged Louisianans to repeal the law in 2008, and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology decided to hold its conferences elsewhere while the law remains on the books.

At the hearing, Zack Kopplin, a first-year student at Rice University who launched the repeal effort while a senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, told the committee that the law was hurting Louisiana's reputation. Kevin Carman, the dean of Louisiana State University's Department of Science, confirmed it, saying that two scientists he was trying to recruit to the university cited the law as their reason not to accept and one scientist already at LSU departed because of worries about the quality of his children's science education. "Teaching pseudo-science drives scientists away," Carman said.

In a press release, Kopplin expressed optimism about the future of the repeal effort, noting that the identical Senate Bill 70, introduced by Peterson in 2011, was tabled by the Senate Education Committee on a 5-1 vote. Kopplin also observed that the support of the scientific community for the repeal effort continues to grow: "The repeal effort has the unprecedented support of 78 Nobel laureate scientists — 40% of all living Nobel laureate scientists in physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine." A list of the Nobelists endorsing the effort is available at Kopplin's repealcreationism website.

Also endorsing the repeal effort were the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for the Study of Evolution together with the Society of Systematic Biologists and the American Society of Naturalists, the Clergy Letter Project, the New Orleans City Council, and the Baton Rouge Advocate.