Friday, April 6, 2012

Vanderbilt Professor and 3,200 Tennesseans Urge Haslam to Veto Science Education Bill

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2012 at 5:10 AM

A letter delivered to Gov. Bill Haslam's office yesterday urges him to veto recently passed legislation that ensures teachers will be permitted to teach the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of theories like evolution. Along with the letter came a petition bearing 3,200 signatures, according to Mina Johnson, one of three individuals who delivered the message.

Haslam also recently received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, urging him to reject the measure critics are calling the "Monkey Bill."

After exchanging the documents, and pleasantries, with Haslam spokesman Dave Smith, the petition messengers spoke to reporters, who outnumbered them by about 3 to 1.

"We believe this bill will send the wrong message to children," said Johnson. "And also, as if, this bill will disguise denying otherwise scientifically proven fact. Kind of promoting other ideas. So we think this bill sets dangerous precedent."

Johnson acknowledged a provision in the bill that says it "only protects the teaching of scientific information and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine," but said the legislation creates a "muddy area."

"For the Tennessee state legislature to challenge or suggest [evolution and global warming] might be controversial, we believe it's dangerous. And it's not doing our children any service. The bill says 'critical thinking' but we believe it will limit or disadvantage the educational system," she said.

Haslam has said he'll "probably" sign the bill, which he says doesn't change the state's curriculum or scientific standards.

Below is the text of the letter, from Vanderbilt earth and environmental science professor, and petition organizer, Dr. Larisa Grawe DeSantis:

Dear Governor Haslam,

As a concerned Tennessee parent, I an writing to encourage you to veto recently passed legislation (HB 368/SB 893), which allows classroom teachers to position well-established scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as "controversial."

This legislation is unnecessary, misleading, and does a disservice to the children of Tennessee. That's why I've launched an online petition calling for your veto, which has already been signed by thousands of Tennesseans. More are adding their names every hour. In the coming days we'll be delivering their signatures and comments to you, and raising awareness about our concerns regarding the legislation. But in advance of doing so, I wanted to let you know about our collective concern, and ask that you move quickly to block passage of this bill.

As a professor at Vanderbilt University, I conduct research and educate students on both evolution and climate change. My husband teaches science in a public high school. Most importantly, our daughter will attend Tennessee public schools, and we want her education to be the best it can possibly be. The fact that Tennessee is increasingly seen as a leader in science education gives us great hope in that regard. But this bill points in exactly the opposite direction.

The central premise behind this bill is that scientific concepts like evolution and climate change are "controversial." This is a disturbing and inaccurate notion. Evolution forms the bedrock of modern biology. There are no legitimate scientists who question its core conclusions. The scientific consensus around climate change is equally strong. As the highly respected National Academy of Sciences puts it:

"Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities."

If this bill is signed into law, students in schools throughout Tennessee will receive a very different message, and will suffer the consequences. Scientific literacy is an increasingly important factor for college acceptance and job prospects. Furthermore, our children's future depends on an ability to deal with the very real impacts of climate change. Yet this bill permits teachers to instruct that climate change is not happening. At a time when we all need to be taking great leaps forward in our collective understanding of a rapidly changing world, this bill will be pulling us back.

As Governor, you have the power to veto this bill, and take a principled stand in support of sound science education. As a parent, educator, and scientist, I fervently hope you will use that power.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Larisa Grawe Desantis

PS: For the sake of clarity, I want to make sure you know that the opinions expressed in this letter are mine alone and do not represent the official views of Vanderbilt University.

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