Honest Science Wins in Ohio

As readers of the Thumb no doubt already know, honest science won big in the Ohio State Board of Education elections yesterday. Four of the five candidates endorsed by Ohio HOPE won their races. In the fifth race, Ohio HOPE endorsed two of four candidates who unfortunately split 51% of the vote between them, allowing a third candidate to win with 38% of the total vote. Ohio HOPE was organized by scientists in Ohio a few months ago to support teaching honest science in K-12.

The most striking result of the SBOE election was the overwhelming defeat of Deborah Owens Fink. Owens Fink first brought Intelligent Design Creationism to the Ohio Board in 2000, offering a “two models” motion: teach both evolution and intelligent design. Later she followed the Disco Institute party line in advocating “critical analysis of education” (= Wells’s trash). When that was finally nuked in February 2006, Owens Fink commenced pushing a so-called “Controversial Issues Template” that in its original incarnation included global warming, stem cell research, cloning, and evolution as its targets. That effort was resoundingly rejected by the SBOE in October.

Now, it’s tempting to attribute Owens Fink’s defeat to the overall Democratic landslide in Ohio. She is closely identified with the religious right and has used their mailing lists to strong effect in her election campaigns and in the anti-science effort in the SBOE in 2002 and 2004. But I think that does not account wholly for her defeat. To give one counter-example, Sam Schloemer, a strong and outspoken defender of honest science on the Board and a Republican, won in District 4 with 67% of the vote, more than reversing the overall Democratic margin. The average Democratic margin in the statewide offices for which I have data at the moment was 55%-44%. Owens Fink got just 29% of the vote in her SBOE district, substantially less than the statewide average vote for Republicans and less than even Ken Blackwell’s meager 37%.

An important aspect of this win for Ohio is that it was a decisive statement by voters who knew what they were voting on. Owens Fink has been outspoken in her contempt for scientists. She told the NYTimes that the notion that there is scientific consensus on evolution was “laughable”. She and Chris Williams, a creationist biochemist ally, spent two hours on a young earth creationist’s radio program in the weeks before the election maligning mainstream science. When the “Controversial Issues Template” was finally deep-sixed by the SBOE, Reverend Michael Cochran, the other prominent ID advocate on the Board, complained that declaring an emergency and voting at the same meeting as the motion was made was merely a tactic to prevent careful consideration. Well, the voters had plenty of time for careful consideration and they resoundingly rejected ID creationist efforts to subvert the teaching of honest science in Ohio.