NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/03/09
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The effort to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law is back. A creationist teacher in Ohio receives a further legal defeat. NCSE announces the 2012 recipients of its Friend of Darwin award. And a court ruling protects a climate scientist undergoing what he called a "witch hunt."
REPEAL EFFORT REVIVED IN LOUISIANA Senate Bill 374, prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on March 1, 2012, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. The bill was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), who sponsored the identical SB 70 in 2011. That bill died in committee when the Louisiana state legislature adjourned in 2011, but Zach Kopplin, the student who spearheaded the effort, then vowed, "we'll come back with an even stronger repeal next session." True to his word, Kopplin (who was recently named as a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin Award for 2012) announced in a March 6, 2012, press release that the repeal effort was back -- now with "the unprecedented support of 75 Nobel laureate scientists -- nearly 40% of all living Nobel laureate scientists in physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine." Peterson commented, "This year the Governor has asked the Louisiana legislature to focus on education ... If this Legislative session is truly about improving Louisiana?s education system, then the first place to start is to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act." 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. Endorsing the repeal effort in 2011 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. For Louisiana's Senate Bill 374 (PDF), visit: http://legis.la.gov/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=779058 For the press release, visit: http://www.repealcreationism.com/678/75-nobel-laureate-scientists-call-for-repeal-of-louisiana-science-education-act/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncse.com/louisiana A FURTHER DEFEAT FOR FRESHWATER John Freshwater's legal challenge to the decision to terminate his employment as a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, was defeated again, on March 5, 2012, when Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's rejection of his challenge. It is still open to Freshwater to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio, however, so the case -- which ultimately stems from a complaint against Freshwater lodged in 2008 -- may continue to linger in the Ohio court system. In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity -- including teaching creationism -- and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate Freshwater's employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. Freshwater challenged his termination in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas in February 2011, but the court found "there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education's termination of Freshwater's contract(s) for good and just cause." Freshwater then appealed the decision to Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals in December 2011. NCSE filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appellate court, arguing that Freshwater's materials and methods concerning evolution "have no basis in science and serve no pedagogical purpose." Documents relevant to Freshwater's termination and the subsequent court case are available on NCSE's website. Extensive blog coverage of the Freshwater saga, including Richard B. Hoppe's day-by-day account of Freshwater's termination hearing, is available at The Panda's Thumb blog; search for "Freshwater". Hoppe also recently contributed "Dover Comes to Ohio" -- a detailed account from a local observer of the whole fracas, from the precipitating incident to Freshwater's appeal -- to Reports of the National Center for Science Education 32:1. For NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing For The Panda's Thumb blog, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/ For Hoppe's "Dover Comes to Ohio" (PDF), visit: http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/article/view/99/92 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit: http://ncse.com/news/ohio FRIEND OF DARWIN AWARDS FOR 2012 NCSE is pleased to announce the winners of the Friend of Darwin award for 2012: Judy Scotchmoor, the Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs at the University of California Museum of Paleontology who led the development of the popular Understanding Evolution website, and Zach Kopplin, the young activist who as a high school student in Baton Rouge in 2011 launched a drive to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law. In a March 5, 2012, press release, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "It would be difficult to think of another person who has done more, and in such a sustained way, to promote and improve the teaching of evolution" than Scotchmoor. The release also quoted Kopplin as vowing that despite the failure of the repeal effort in 2011, "[i]n 2012 I plan to fight the LSEA and keep fighting every year until it is repealed." Scotchmoor and Kopplin join Carl Zimmer, Brian Alters, Marjorie Esman, Kenneth R. Miller, Niles Eldredge, Philip Kitcher, Lawrence Krauss, Howard Van Till, Steven Schafersman, and the Texas Freedom Network, to name a few, as NCSE's Friends of Darwin. The Friend of Darwin award is presented annually to a select few whose efforts to support NCSE and advance its goal of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools have been truly outstanding. For the press release, visit: http://ncse.com/evolution/master-educator-young-activist-honored-by-ncse For the list of Friends of Darwin, visit: http://ncse.com/about/friend-of-darwin "WITCH HUNT" AGAINST CLIMATE SCIENTIST BLOCKED Climate scientist Michael Mann's private e-mails and research notes will remain private, thanks to a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court. "Virginia's highest court has ruled that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli cannot compel the University of Virginia to turn over records dealing with the work of a former university climate scientist," reports the Roanoke Times (March 2, 2012). The Guardian (March 2, 2012) explains, "The court rejected Ken Cuccinelli's demand for Mann's email, research notes, and even handwritten memos from his time at the University of Virginia, ruling that the official did not have the legal authority to demand such records." Mann, who departed the University of Virginia for Penn State University in 2005, expressed his pleasure at the ruling, telling the Richmond News Leader (March 2, 2012), "I'm pleased that this particular episode is over." He added, "It's sad, though, that so much money and resources had to be wasted on Cuccinelli's witch hunt against me and the University of Virginia, when it could have been invested, for example, in measures to protect Virginia's coast line from the damaging effects of sea level rise it is already seeing." Mann rose to scientific prominence as well as a degree of popular fame thanks to his reconstruction of global temperature over the last thousand years, based on ice cores, lake sediment cores, and tree ring data as well as instrumental records. But his research drew fire from climate change deniers, who, as the Guardian explains, "accuse him of manipulating data. Such accusations multiplied after emails to and from Mann were made public as part of a batch released without authorisation from the University of East Anglia's climate research unit. Mann was cleared of wrongdoing by several investigations." The suit began two years ago, only months after Cuccinelli took office. Cuccinelli, described by the Richmond News Leader as "a global warming skeptic," claimed that a state law related to taxpayer fraud gave the state a right to review private e-mails stored on university servers. Mann resisted the request for documents, citing academic freedom. The University of Virginia joined Mann's resistance, "arguing that the demand exceeded Cuccinelli's authority under state law and intruded on the rights of professors to pursue academic inquiry free from political pressure," according to the Washington Post (March 2, 2012). The state supreme court voided Cuccinelli's request on narrow terms, ruling that the university is not covered by the law in question. Cuccinelli decried the court's decision, insisting, "From the beginning, we have said that we were simply trying to review documents that are unquestionably state property to determine whether or not fraud had been committed." In August 2010, a lower court judge concluded, "What the Attorney General suspects Mr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent ... is simply not stated," a conclusion affirmed in a concurrence to the Supreme Court ruling. Mann's allies in the fight celebrated the ruling. Kent Willis of the ACLU of Virginia told the News Leader, "If academic freedom means anything, it is that scientists and other scholars should be able to communicate freely without fear that the government is looking over their shoulders." The ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief supporting Mann, joined by the American Association of University Professors, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS also provides a timeline of the lawsuit and links to original documents on its website. For the article in the Roanoke Times, visit: http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/305722 For the article in the Guardian, visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/02/virginia-court-sceptic-access-climate-emails For the article in the Richmond News Leader, visit: http://www.newsleader.com/article/20120303/NEWS01/203030307 For the article in the Washington Post, visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/va-supreme-court-rejects-cuccinellis-bid-for-u-va-documents/2012/03/02/gIQAmo8inR_story.html For the lower court's 2010 ruling (PDF), visit: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics/2010-08-30%20Opinion%20Granting%20UVA%20Petition.pdf For the amicus brief supporting Mann (PDF), visit: http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/scientific_integrity/4-25-11-UCS-Amicus-Brief-for-VA-Supreme-Court-Cuccinelli-v-UVA.pdf For information on the case from the Union of Concerned Scientists, visit: http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/abuses_of_science/va-ag-timeline.html Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join