The amendment proposed regarding HB 2341 by Senator Steve Russell would add a new section of law known as the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.” This proposed amendment is a resurrected form of HB 1551, which died in the Education Committee of the Senate this session.
The proposed amendment warrants a down vote for five reasons:
1) Senator Russell’s proposed amendment will very likely result in the “dumbing down” of Oklahoma’s schoolchildren. A person would be hard-pressed to find a non-bibilcally-influenced scientist who would attest to there being any major controversies to the “premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology” or “physics.” Biological evolution, for example, is considered a principle of modern biology, which is why it has not been debated by scientists for over half a century. Oklahoma already has comprehensive school science standards in place, therefore rather than alleviating uncertainty in teachers the amendment would generate a great deal more uncertainty. A greater uncertainty in teachers is not conducive to producing career and college-ready adults.
2) The language of the proposed amendment is imprecise and misleading. It erroneously throws together the “hard” sciences of biology, chemistry, meteorology and physics with the “soft” science of bioethics. “Hard” sciences such as biology, chemistry, meteorology and physics rely on strict and rigorous testing, quantifiable empirical data, focusing on accuracy and objectivity, and other evidence-based procedures, which is termed the scientific method. By contrast, a “soft” science such as bioethics rarely lends itself to this method, since it can be difficult to establish strictly measurable criteria, which often translates to a reliance on subjective, rather than objective, forms of data. The language of the proposed amendment illustrates why scientists, rather than politicians, should be those outlining standards for public school science education. The imprecise and misleading language of the proposed amendment can lead to confusion not only on the Senate floor but in the implementation of the act it proposes, should HB 2341 be passed with this amendment in place.
3) The proposed amendment will achieve the opposite of “developing critical thinking skills” It is stated that public school officials and school boards would “endeavor” to “develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” This is antithetical to the way science works and illustrates another deficiency in the caliber of students churned out by the U.S. public school system. Science is not a product of “opinions.” Unlike with religion, scientists change their views when the facts they base their views on are proven false. Since reputation is typically the most important factor in furthering a career, scientists are a conservative lot and tend to refrain from elevating theory to fact unless the theory undergoes – and withstands – rigorous testing known as the scientific method. This process demands that an explanation not be taken for truth if the evidence is not observable, measurable and testable. It includes replication of results in subsequent testing, including by rival scientists, and finally peer review. It is the very essence of science to consider all scientifically valid information on a subject since new discoveries may negate a theory (these days this is not common, but it is nevertheless a necessary and accepted part of the scientific process). Therefore the proposed amendment is also redundant.
4) The proposed amendment will not adequately prepare students for college-level coursework. The language of Senator Russell’s proposed amendment states “no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.” Evolution is regarded as a “fact among scientists” and a biologist cannot operate without knowledge of this science. To conjure up non-existent “controversy” by comparing evolution with notions that directly contradict established science such as “Intelligent Design” corrodes understanding of the scientific process. This is why the Texas-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR) closed its science graduate school in 2010 after being denied accreditation by the State and losing a lawsuit appealing the decision. On ICR’s appeal, the District Court sided with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which stated, “Our primary objective in looking at this program is to make sure any master’s degree in science education will prepare teachers who can get students in high school ready to do college-level work in science.”
5) The proposed amendment will almost certainly create an extra burden on the courts and taxpayers. Academic freedom, as Senator Russell proposes, cannot be used to override state standards and it cannot be used to violate federal law.However, teachers with a religious agenda may use his proposed legislation as an excuse to inject “Intelligent Design”/creationism into their curricula. As such, the proposed amendment would encourage violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting government sponsored religion thereby spawning potentially hundreds of court cases.
CONTACT: Troy Boyle, President of the National Atheist Party, by phone at 224.210.1211,
by email at NAP.President@usanap.org, or by post at PO Box 371 Florence, KY 41042.