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Antiscience legislation in Arizona

A new antiscience bill was introduced in the Arizona Senate. A typical instance of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution and climate change, Senate Bill 1213 would, if enacted, call on state and local education administrators to endeavor to "create an environment in schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies."

The targets of the bill are explicitly listed in a section that presents as legislative findings that "1. An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens. 2. The teaching of some scientific subjects, including biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy. 3. Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such topics."

Somewhat redundantly, SB 1213 provides both that "teachers shall be allowed to help pupils understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught" and that state and local education administrators "shall not prohibit any teacher in this state" from doing so. The bill also insists that it "protects only the teaching of scientific information and does not promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

The prime sponsors of SB 1213 are Judy Burges (R-District 22) and Chester Crandell (R-District 6), with Rick Murphy (R-District 21), Steve Pierce (R-District 1), Don Shooter (R-District 13), and Steve Yarbrough (R-District 17) as cosponsors. The bill is the first antiscience bill introduced in Arizona in at least the past decade; the last statewide controversy over the teaching of evolution was evidently in 2004, when the Arizona state board of education was lobbied, in the end unsuccessfully, to include a directive for teachers to discuss "intelligent design" in the state science education standards.