Matzke's Kitzmas tree!

12.17.2015

Figure from "The Evolution of Antievolution Policies After Kitzmiller v. Dover"

In a new paper (PDF; subscription required) forthcoming in Science, Nick Matzke shows that even though creationism is getting stealthier in the wake of legal defeats such as Kitzmiller v. Dover, techniques from modern evolutionary biology reveal how creationist legislation is evolving. Using data collected by NCSE and state-of-the-art phylogenetic analysis, Matzke constructed a phylogenetic tree of seventy-five distinct antievolution bills and policies, reconstructing their genealogical relationships with a high degree of confidence.

"The Evolution of Antievolution Policies after Kitzmiller v. Dover" identifies the common ancestor of the bills as a series of bills proposed in Alabama in 2004 and 2005. It also discerns two main lineages, the "academic freedom act" lineage and the "science education act" lineage, which resulted when "academic freedom acts" began to target not only evolution but also global warming and human cloning. The latter lineage thrived, with the passage of such bills in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012.

Matzke stressed the importance of understanding the history of such policies. "If enacted, these bills would require or encourage teachers to misrepresent science — to present creationist arguments against evolution and climate change denier arguments against global warming — in the classroom. And they also prevent administrators from doing anything about it. We already know that one in eight public high school biology teachers present creationism as scientifically credible; the passage of these bills would worsen the situation."

Now a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award Fellow at the Australian National University, Matzke began his research on these antievolution policies while a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. Previously he worked at NCSE from 2004 to 2007, where he was the staffer who worked most closely with the legal team for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case that established the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools.