Ohio: They're baaaack (again)

Ohio is back in the news because yet another creationism-inspired proposal may come up for a vote tomorrow (Tuesday, September 12). This time it’s called The Great Evolution Debate, er, Macroevolution on Trial, er, The Great Macroevolution Debate, er, Critical Analysis of Evolution, er, Critical Analysis of Evolution, Global Warming, and Stem Cells, er, the “Controversial Issues” Template. (Yes, all of these are policies or proposed policies that the creationists in Ohio have tried to shove down the throats of public school students and teachers. See this amazing analysis of the history by Ohio Citizens for Science, which includes images of actual drafts of the “Critical Analysis of Evolution” lesson plan that was in place in Ohio until it was voted out in February 2003. I will try to post a text version of the OCS analysis later.)

The Akron Beacon Journal has come out against the new “Debates Template” (see “They’re back: The intelligent design crowd wants Ohio to consider again a place for religious faith in the science classroom,” Akron Beacon Journal, September 10, 2006). Alan Leshner, the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has come out against it (“Design: Critical deception?Akron Beacon Journal, Sept. 11, 2006). Apparently 14,000+ 140,000+ people sending email to the Board of Education think the same thing (“Ohio Board Deluged With Protest E-mail,” Red State Rabble, Sept. 9). And the key creationist shill on the Board, Deborah Owens-Fink, who usually runs unopposed, faces a strong challenge in the November election. I have heard rumors that she has the Discovery Institute on speed-dial and even calls them during breaks in the school board meetings. Heck, even Paul Nelson, a core member of the ID movement, has expressed opposition to the endless attempts by the ID movement to get its challenges to evolution into the schools via political machinations instead of honest, hard scientific work (he has yet to really do the right thing, which would be to unequivocally condemn this pseudoscientific hackery and dissociate himself from the movement until it completely disavows the “cut in line” approach, but we will take what we can get.)

Will all of this be enough? We might see tomorrow, if the proposal actually comes up to a vote. Unfortunately, there is a history in Ohio of creationists dodging votes to fight another day, if it appears that they might lose. Apparently they sometimes hope that they can float the proposal again when fewer people are paying attention. But given the long, shameful history in Ohio of creationists trying to get the government to endorse pseudoscientific objections to evolution that they can’t sustain for five seconds in a fair fight in the real scientific community, it seems unlikely that people will forget any time soon. That’s the thing about science: it doesn’t have all of the answers, and it’s not perfect, but often enough it is pretty darn clear that particular assertions are wrong. In fact, distinguishing correct and incorrect assertions about the natural world is basically the whole point of science. When creationists with a few sympathetic votes on a school board try to use political fiat to overturn reality established by decades of hard scientific work, it really sticks in the craw of the scientists and teachers who know it is wrong, and the annoyance steadily increases until the mistake is corrected.